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Needed: rules, laws to prevent corruption

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Still to be placed on the national agenda for action are the most important pre-election measures needed: rules, regulations and legislation to prevent political parties from selling to political investors billions of dollars in contracts from the national treasury. To define the issue in its rawness so that the population gains a complete understanding of what is being talked about, this columnist advocates an end to the euphemism of “campaign finance reform.” We need to describe it as it is.

Going back to the 1980s when the big-money spending began, corporations have been investing hundreds of millions, probably billions, in political-party campaigns as a means of purchasing special access to the treasury. 

It goes like this: corporations fund the campaigns of parties expecting that when their party (or parties) of choice wins, they will get an inside track to feed at the trough of government contracts. There are matters stuck in the court system for over ten years on such instances of corruption. That is what Section 34 is all about.

Just in case you think my description of the process is highly exaggerated and lacking in reality, there is a case now before the high court in which a corporation is seeking to retrieve some $60 million which was said to have been given to an official of a political party in the run-up to an election. That this matter has emerged in the public is because something went wrong with the deal, including the party not getting into government to repay the debt with interest.

Investing in political-party campaigns has become the “blue chip” stock (a collection of the most lucrative and assured stocks on the Dow Jones Industrial Market in the United States) of the local market. No stock on the local Stock Exchange pays dividends like those to be had by investing in a political party to gain office.

“We can no longer tolerate a system of campaign financing that makes our leaders accountable to donors rather than voters that makes it possible for money to buy political outcomes, to buy politicians. Until that change is made the relentless power players who control Washington will continue to rule silently.” John Gardner in his 1993 Rebirth of a Nation, indicating this is an international phenomenon. 

Investors must already be eyeing up the $64 billion expenditure package of 2015 and salivating at the prospect of receiving a chunk of what can be estimated as an annual average $65 billion package between 2016-2020—total $325 billion.   

Amongst the proposals/projects of the Finance Minister is the intention of the Government to seek out public-private partnerships for infrastructure construction and services; that would fire excitement amongst private-sector investors to line up for an inside track to the contracts.   

The corruption, the distortion of the economy to ensure preferred bidders get contracts in areas of the economy in which they have a capacity, kickbacks in the tens of millions which rob especially the poor from receiving benefits from the State, poor-quality work done by preferred bidders and the entrenchment of a culture of corruption and self-serving in the practice of governance are amongst the negatives of this practice of parties opening the door of the treasury to those corporations who fund their campaigns.

Seriously affected by the parties having hundreds of millions to spend on campaigns is the bribing of voters, the frivolous nature of campaigning, which have far more to do with partying and feting funded by campaigns overflowing with money, mauvais langue, wining and gyrating, multi-million-dollar media campaigns, rum-and-roti politics and reinforcement of the tribal pull as parties spread the funds received from corporations amongst their own.

The rules, regulations and legislation must cover issues such as the amount which can be given by individual and corporate donors to parties; transparency in giving must mean that donors must make public their contributions to parties. This will have the effect of alerting the national community to closely monitor contracts awarded to firms that have contributed large sums.

There must be official declarations by the corporations making the contributions and there must be a special requirement of the Board of Inland Revenue to pursue its fair share of revenue from these transactions between individuals/corporations and parties.  A monitoring mechanism to allow the law enforcement agencies immediate access to the transactions between corporations/individuals and parties must be established, and parties and corporations must file returns on these transactions.

A companion piece to the rules and regulations must be the finalisation of the procurement legislation that will establish a framework of transparency for the purchase of goods and services by the government. Vitally important is for corporations and their chambers of commerce across the country to demonstrate to the national community that they are serious beyond talk about ending the corruption in financing the campaigns of parties.

The challenge is for such corporations to refuse to make donations to parties unless the rules, regulations and legislation are in place to make the transactions above board. 


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