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Yes, you read it here, maybe first. Jamaica is headed, not quite headlong or with breakneck speed, towards campaign finance reform. It will be with us soon…very soon. But, not this year. Maybe, sometime next year. Soon.

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Panellists during UWI Mona MSBM public forum on campaign finance reform

I spent a couple of hours last night at a public forum hosted by the University of the West Indies, Mona School of Business and Management (UWI MSBM), in the UWI Law Faculty. The turnout was not great, and the convener (Richard Crawford) wondered if the timing–so near to Christmas–was the reason.

I’m not sure that those interested in topics such as campaign finance reform would let a little thing like Christmas preparations (or early parties) deter them so easily. I got there early and was able to see the room being reading for a ‘star studded’ panel to rival The Voice–again, according to Mr. Crawford. Judge for yourself.

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Prof. Trevor Munroe, Executive Director, National Integrity Action

The overall message I took from the talk and questions and answers is that those closely involved in the process believe that there’s a good amount of political consensus over the need for, and direction of measures to implement, campaign reform. But, the process has been slow. Some would say “far too slow”. Professor Trevor Munroe (Executive Director of National Integrity Action) would be one of those.

There is dissent, but it seems muted. There were few foreigners in general, or diplomatic representation, in the audience, but the one who sat next to me commented that this meeting was for ‘the converted’. Agreed.

The quote of the evening came from Sen. Tom Tavares-Finson, who compared the process to “Trying to turn tiger into a vegetarian.” Nothing, if not vivid. He also told the  apochryphal story of rigged elections in Jamaica: how an electorate of 20,000 voted 10,500 for one candidate, who excitedly called his mother to tell her he’d won, only to hear that his opponent got 13,000 votes. We know that big money and little money are have been and continue to buy votes and favours in Jamaican elections and from Jamaican political parties. Can we stop that by legislation?

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Minister Phillip Paulwell speak about state of legislation for campaign finance reform

covered the ground really well (and we got a cameo performance from the Minister of Justice, Sen. Mark Golding, who came to the meeting, and will be responsible for dealing with new legislation).

The questions were not that difficult, but had one telling comment from a member of the Marcus Garvey Party, was that Jamaica’s first national hero had advocated two important measures as long ago as 1926: no private funding of political parties, and auditing of political parties’ accounts. Nearly a century later, we are still reading lightly. Was that the way to follow a man we deemed our hero?

Dennis Chung, who seems like a resident panelist, and is aptly the spokesman for the private sector, admitted that he had little to add after the politicians had spoken and he did not waste time, talking much. His comments were supportive. But, he focused on two points that go to link of better governance and economic progress: campaign reform helps improve the credibility of institutions, which helps to improve our competitiveness; we need to reduce the perception of corruption and improve confidence of investors.

Prof. Trevor Munroe (‘Mr. Integrity’)  was passionate about one of his babies–rightly so.  He was frustrated that progress had been slow. Ten years after he’d put forward proposals Jamaica was still ‘thinking about getting there’. He really did not want to see another special committee deliberating. If one of our former protectorates, the Turks and Caicos Islands could get it together and enact the legislation in quicker time, why couldn’t Jamaica–land of the fastest man in the world–get out of the blocks?

Here are snippets (my notes) from each of the ‘star’ speakers:

Prof. Archie McDonald (Pro-Vice Chancellor & Principal, UWI Mona):

  • True democracies need fairness and balance

  • Citizens should engage governments in dialogue

  • UWI obligated to lead the conversation

Prof Densil Williams (Executive Director, MSBM)

  • Corruption = economic costs

  • Special interests shouldn’t capture government

  • Need to turn light onto private sector regarding transparency, corruption, etc [On that, I wanted to engage him on the point that the private sector is facilitator of corruption]

  • Better resource allocation needed across many areas

Hon. Phillip Paulwell (Minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining; Leader of Government Business in the House)

  • Progress of legislation

  • Election Finance Fund

  • Bill on registration etc. should go forward to Legislation Committee by end-2013

  • Government organizations had issues with draft legislation

  • No current legal requirement for registration of political parties

  • State funding of political parties will come, based on audited Annual accounts, indicating sources of funds

  • Campaign financing: recommendations of ECJ

  • Impermissible donors, including government contractors

  • Lobbying goverment should be regulated

  • Need rules re. former govt officials as lobbyists

Sen. Tom Tavares-Finson (Leader of Opposition Business; ECJ Member)

  • Electoral reform = bright spot for Jamaica

  • Consensus across political parties

  • State funding of elections exists already

  • Trying to turn tiger into vegetarian: need carrot and stick

  • Separate political and campaign financing

  • Delay with legislation not government fault: ECJ is vehicle for campaign reform

Dennis Chung (CEO, PSOJ)

  • Not much left to say…But reform supported

  • Helps improve credibility of institutions, to improve competitiveness

  • Needed to reduce perception of corruption; improve confidence of investors

  • Support need for legislation, sanctions, fines

  • Keep level playing field

Prof. Trevor Munroe (ED, NIA)

  • Congratulate govt on amending legislation clamping down Ponzi schemes

  • Loophole: campaign finance reform needed to stop Ponzis financing campaigns

  • Big favours in return for financing

  • Turks and Caicos have enacted legislation, including public access to register of political donors; parties must also publish donations >US$3000

  • Jamaica been slow in action. What price paid?

  • Minister of Finance discretionary waivers problem, J$41m a month in 2013 under limited system, cf J$427m in 2011, J$427m in 2010

  • Attack unwarranted granting of permits, unjustified appointments, etc.

  • Need to know who’s exerting financial influence

  • Need to quell dissident voices

  • Consistent with UN Convention

  • Timing of legislation? [Paulwell: fast tracking, using consultants]

Questions

  • Principled auditing: no compromised work [Chung: international standards should hold accountants and auditors in check]

  • Previous ECJ Chair had promised quarterly forums. [Paulwell: more public education & discussion coming, but ECJ function]

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