T&T political leaders agree on need for campaign finance reform

(Trinidad Express) Political leaders have agreed to President Anthony Carmona’s call to bite the bullet of campaign financing reform.

Those in agreement yesterday included Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal, People’s National Movement political leader Dr Keith Rowley, interim leader of the Independent Liberal Party Jack Warner and Congress of the People leader Prakash Ramadhar.

Warner, who returned to Parliament last Friday as MP for Chaguanas West, yesterday condemned the prevalence of political investors and financiers for what he described as their dominant role in the political process.

Warner told the Sunday Express that “financiers and investors are an evil to political systems”.

He said he was fully supportive of a call by President Carmona for campaign financing to be more transparent. Warner, who has been described as having “deep pockets” and a “bottomless pit” by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been previously described as a financier of the ruling United National Congress (UNC) and its successor, the People’s Partnership administration.

Yesterday he also dismissed claims that he had spent over TT$10 million in the Chaguanas West by-election and had allegedly paid certain UNC activists as much as TT$300,000 to deliver voting blocs in support of his party.

“I really don’t wish to dignify that with an answer,” he said, adding that it was foolish for anyone to think they can pay people to vote in their favour in an election. “How do you know who votes for who? I never indulge in this kind of foolishness. It would be ludicrous and foolish to do so,” he said.

Warner was at the time commenting on President Carmona’s speech at the opening of the Fourth Session of the Tenth Parliament last Friday at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain during which he called for campaign financing reform.

Carmona told parliamentarians: “Election campaign financing is a veritable juggernaut that results in financiers arrogating political power onto themselves  and thereby undermining the system of governance.”

He said when political parties were in opposition they lobbied for transparency in campaign financing, yet when they were in power “they conveniently neglect” to deal with the problem.

In calling for campaign financing reform, Carmona said this will “build citizen confidence and enhance our system of democratic governance”.

Warner said he was “fully in favour of it.  I think it is long overdue. I know when it comes into play a particular contractor who spent millions in the Chaguanas by-election would be exposed.”

He also felt it was time to institute procurement legislation so as to “correct those twin evils”, explaining that one cannot talk about transparency in campaign financing without talking about  procurement legislation.

“In the absence of procurement policies all rules are allowed to be broken, and special contractors benefit from Government’s largesse,” he said.

But he warned that any legislation to be put in place must be realistic, adding that campaign funding of TT$50,000 was “laughable and foolish”.

“You cannot have a candidate running for an election and not lift the level of spending,” he said.

Yesterday Warner hinged his success at the polls last Monday to the enthusiastic support of some 8,000 young people whom he said were attracted to the ILP.

He pointed out that service was everything.

He added that some 300 people had flocked to his office in Chaguanas yesterday for representation.

Congress of the People political leader Prakash Ramadhar yesterday welcomed President Carmona’s call for campaign financing reform.

“It is now absolutely necessary. There has been a loss in public trust with regard to governance but this also applies to prior governments. It is critically important that it be regularised,” he said.

He pointed out that the People’s National Movement (PNM) was now having a raffle for three BMW vehicles and it would be interesting to ascertain where the money for that activity came from.

The PNM said last week it paid for the vehicles without support.

Ramadhar said the COP has been proactive in this area in trying to educate its membership.

Questioned on what kind of time-frame such reform would become a reality, Ramadhar said that very often the public commentary on these matters forced change.


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