Warning that the absence of updated campaign finance legislation puts the country at risk, accounting firm Ram and McRae has expressed the hope that civil society will take the lead in ensuring that there is proper accountability for being made to local political parties.
“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,” the firm says in its Focus on Guyana’s National Budget 2019, which was published in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News.
The firm points out that with Guyana now on the international map due to the oil discoveries that have been made, it will attract the interest of countries and entities who would have their own preferences about 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 Administration 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 adds.
The firm notes that one of this country’s most “dangerous” ironies is that a political party is subject to less regulation than a trade union, a friendly society or a credit union.
It further says that 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 and 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.”
According to the firm, 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,” it adds.
Under the subsection “Subverting democracy and dark money” in this year’s budget review, the accounting firm refers to “an often repeated story” that the coalition government received a $100 million donation to help finance its 2015 elections campaign and notes that it is certain that the PPP/C would also have its own sources of financing for its campaign.
Observers, it adds, would have noted the huge sums being spent on all forms of expenditure, including the hiring of 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,” the firm states.
It notes that as Guyana rushes into becoming a petro-state with billions of dollars circulating annually, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan has said that the 2020 polls will be the “mother of all elections.”
It adds that the minister has sought to reassure his political grouping audience that the thieves would be kept away from resources.
Pointing out that ironically it was this very minister who denied that ExxonMobil did in fact pay to his Ministry the sum US$18 million as a signing bonus, and that it was on his instructions that the money be kept outside of the Consolidated Fund, the firm says that the accounting of the $100 million financing the parties received “has been hidden and guarded from party executives and members and gets no mention in any Treasurer’s Report.”
The firm adds “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.”
It says that these grave but not isolated cases indicate that it is time that the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Guyana Elections Commission, Civil Society and the public recognise the “serious consequences of unaccounted money and the actions and persons involved.”
Noting that at issue are the money-laundering laws, personal and party accountability, potential for fraudulent conversion and democracy, the firm states that the regulation of political parties and campaign financing are the solution to tackling these issues.
In setting the tone in dealing with these two issues, it was explained that the late Sheila Holder, a founding member of the AFC had elevated campaign financing as one of the pillars of the party. “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,” the firm points out.
It criticises both former president Bharrat Jagdeo and current president President David Granger for their lax approach to making campaign financing legislation a reality.
“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 says.
The firm recalled that about 14 years ago, Jagdeo, who was president at the time, agreed to the Carter Center sending “an expert to help draft comprehensive legislation requiring full disclosure of all contributions made to political parties and how funds are expended.” Despite this commitment, Jagdeo’s administration and party have “failed to act,” it added.
Turning attention to Granger, the firm, while noting that he has not pronounced on the matter, said that his style is “to encourage donations to his Boat, Bus and Bicycle signature initiative.”