Subverting Democracy and Dark Money

It is an often repeated story that a prominent businessman donated the sum of one hundred million dollars to the 2015 elections war chest of the Coalition. That would not have been the only donation made to that group and it is certain that the PPP/C too would have had their own sources of financing to their campaign. Observers would have noted the huge sums being spent on all forms of expenditure including hiring foreign pollsters and consultants.

Sheepishly, we the voters never for one moment seem to think that funding and their sources matter to the democratic process. As Guyana rushes into becoming a petro-state with billions of dollars circulating annually, no less a person than Minister of Finance Winston Jordan has described, borrowing the term used by the PPP/C in 2015, that the 2020 elections will be the “mother of all elections.” But Mr. Jordan also reassured his political grouping audience, that “we” would keep the thieves away from the resources.” The irony may not have been lost on his audience that in fact, it was the definite “he” that denied that ExxonMobil did in fact pay to his Ministry the sum US$18 million, and that it was on his instructions that the US$18 million was kept far away from the Consolidated Fund. So far in fact that it was held in “foreign”.

The accounting for this hundred million has been hidden and guarded from party executives and members and gets no mention in any Treasurer’s Report. Strange but not surprising that it is unlikely that that and other sums were ever reported in any Suspicious Transaction Report to the Financial Intelligence Unit.

These grave but not isolated cases indicate that it is time that the Financial Intelligence Unit, GECOM, Civil Society and indeed all of us recognise the serious consequences of unaccounted money and the actions and persons involved. At issue are the money-laundering laws, personal and party accountability, potential for fraudulent conversion and yes, democracy.

There are two solutions to these issues: the regulation of political parties and campaign financing.

The late Sheila Holder, a founding member of the Alliance for Change had elevated campaign financing as one of the pillars of the AFC. In fact, so committed was that Party to transparency and accountability that it began its existence as a company with all the obligations and requirements imposed by the Companies Act. But despite that Party’s clear understanding of the link between campaign financing transparency and accountability, corruption and the development of the party system, as a major Coalition partner in the current Administration, it has done little to advance that cause.

About fourteen years ago, then President Jagdeo he agreed with former US President Jimmy Carter that the Carter Center would “send an expert to help draft comprehensive legislation requiring full disclosure of all contributions made to political parties and how funds are expended.” Yet, his Administration and Party have failed to act. Current President, David Granger has not pronounced on the matter, his style is to encourage donations to his Boat, Bus and Bicycle signature initiative. They both must know that the absence of campaign financing rules allows the worst elements of the business community, and the criminal class, to finance and assist – often with dirty money that appears nowhere in their books – contesting political parties to buy their way into office – often with money that they too do not account for.

It is time that all democratic forces in the country, including the political parties but also Civil Society, the media and important individual voices begin the call for campaign finance rules. It is time too for those Guyanese living abroad who fete our bounty hunters at election time recognise the harm they are doing when they make their contribution. They must stop it.

With Guyana now on the international map, it will attract the interest of countries and entities who would have their own preferences on which parties and individuals they would like to see in charge of the oil money and the economy. ExxonMobil, Hess and CNOOC/Nexen all have a huge stake in this country and would be nervous at any hint that the 2016 post-discovery Petroleum Agreement signed with the present Administra-tion will be revisited. But they are not alone. What have come to be known as the ABCE countries – America, Britain, Canada and the European Union – all have rules regulating campaign financing. They should promote no less in this country.

It is one of this country’s most dangerous ironies that a political

party is subject to less regulation than a trade union is, than a friendly society or that a credit union is. Again, constitutional reform was one of the major promises of the AFC as an individual party and later as a Coalition partner with the APNU in 2015. Like it has with campaign

financing, the AFC has exerted absolute no influence over its bigger partner on their commitment to constitutional reform. The words were clear and unambiguous but maybe they need repeating because the country continues to suffer from and is retarded by the absence of constitutional reform.

Under the construct that has been practiced for decades, political parties were up to their internal mischief with zero accountability. It is time that political parties are reined in by legislation and it is hoped that civil society will take the lead. Such legislation must provide for the registration of political parties, funding, accounting and accountability, a democratic governance framework and a strong regulatory body.

Hopefully, Civil Society can take the initiative on this project. It will be the real test of the maturity and sincerity of our political parties.

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