Ram and McRae calls for cam­paign fi­nance laws to rein in par­ties

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

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.

‘Se­ri­ous con­se­quences’

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 mon­ey­laun­der­ing 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.”

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