By Sharon Austin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — The role of money in election campaigns nowadays has increased exponentially, to the point where large numbers of voters have become accustomed to a variety of goods and services being provided as part of the election exercise.
Prime minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart expressed this view on Wednesday while addressing a regional forum on strengthening the regulation of political parties and political financing systems in the Caribbean. Stuart stated that, while he accepted that large campaigns stimulated some economic activity, it was not sufficient justification for allowing expenditure to get out of control.
He noted that the use of money to compromise democratic processes was a universal problem and said data collected by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s (IDEA) Study of 2012 highlighted the need, not only for limitations on donations and expenses so that small parties have a chance, but also for regulations on disclosure, enforcement and sanctions worldwide to curb corruption.
“But, the fact that the problem is widespread, and exists all over the world, is no excuse for us to do nothing about it! I strongly believe that if the journey towards the realisation of our Caribbean civilisation, distilled in the crucible of suffering, is to be successfully completed, then we must take responsibility for curbing these excesses, without, however, denying genuine funders, political leaders and voters their human and constitutional rights to finance projects of their choice, and to do so with a degree of confidentiality. We, in our moments of creativity, should not create the chains that bound us in, and to, the past,” he contended.
The prime minister explained that political parties took responsibility for most of the fundraising and expenses for election campaigns, therefore the published income and expenditure of candidates gave no indication of the total receipts and expenses, simply because “that business” was handled by their parties.
“This is a loophole that must be plugged if we want to make progress in regulating campaign finances,” he said.
Acknowledging that a lot of what was done in the past was within acceptable limits, he stressed that ignorance of what was taking place within political parties had led to assumptions of corruption, and the related danger of possible manipulation of political systems for the benefit of aspiring monopolists, modern “carpetbaggers”, money launderers, criminal organisations, foreign governments and international swindlers.
He said that, during the OAS regional consultation on the model legislation for the registration and financing of political parties in 2010, some national politicians warned that competition for state contracts had the capacity to increase the tendency for bribery. It was stated that politicians responsible for important areas of procurement and large infrastructural contracts could be targeted by donors with funds to finance expensive election campaigns.
“Donations are then perceived, not as just donations, but as investments, guaranteed to yield returns. The link between these acts and potential large scale undermining of democratic ideals is clear. Hence, the gains intended to be achieved in the Caribbean during the past 60 years by the enlargement of democratic practices can be wiped out by this menace. Moneyed groups, both domestic and international, can conceivably, in this way, regain control of the democratic process through the back door,” he suggested.
The draft model law on the registration and regulation of political parties was drawn up in 2009 with the help of the OAS. Stuart said some might argue that that legislation was “idealistic and downright unrealistic”. He expressed the view, however, that it was an excellent starting point to reinforce the ethical dimension of politics, plug some of the loopholes and resolve many of the contradictions that result from existing inadequate legislative framework.
“This model provides us with a framework for drawing up legislation to protect our political systems from penetration and control by individuals and agencies that do not represent the interests of the majority of the voters. What is needed is knowledgeable representatives of the people in each country, who would be able to adapt the model to suit the special circumstances of their jurisdictions, in order to ensure the sustainability of the regulations,” he stated.
Forty-two participants representing electoral management bodies, as well as governing and opposition parties in 14 Caribbean countries are attending the two-day meeting in Barbados, which was organised by the Organization of American States and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.