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‘Urgent call for campaign finance reform’

...as PM, Warner engage in war of words over $$ for UNC
Published: 
Sunday, May 31, 2015

The back-and-forth between Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and embattled Independent Liberal Party leader Jack Warner over financing of the United National Congress’s (UNC) 2010 election campaign has intensified calls for campaign finance reform in T&T. 

Yesterday, attorney Margaret Rose, founder of Caribbean Procurement Institute and Internet transparency platform Disclosure Today, contended that there needed to be significant public debate on the issue to ensure transparency of the political landscape. 

“We should be having the debate about transparency regardless of the situation Mr Warner finds himself in. This should not be a partisan debate. People should not approach this issue through the lens of their support or sympathy for the UNC, PNM or ILP. It is a debate which anyone who cares about the future of our country should take part in,” she suggested. 

The issue of campaign and party financing reared its head last week after Warner was indicted by the US on allegations of racketeering and corruption during his tenure as Fifa vice president and Concacaf president. 

The scandal has rocked the global football fraternity to its core. Following Warner’s arrest Persad-Bissessar denied that the former UNC chairman financed the UNC while he was aligned with the party. 

Instead, she said, he used his funds to finance his own political campaign, a claim Warner has denied. In fact, Warner called the Prime Minister a liar. 

Rose said Warner had not been found guilty of anything and like any other citizen of T&T, “he must be afforded due process.”

However, she said, the events raised “the question of the desirability or need for transparency in respect of political donations.”

The issue of transparency, she said, “is entirely distinct from circumscription, such as whether there should be limits on donations; whether foreign nationals or companies should be allowed to make political donations at all; and so on.”

Political parties, Rose contended, should realise that transparency in the area of political donations “can ultimately work in their favour—by eradicating rumour and suspicion; and by providing them with a tool to defend themselves against allegations of receiving funding from tainted sources.”

She said citizens would “be able to see what major donations have been made [which] gives them information that may be of significance in deciding how to exercise their constitutional electoral rights.”

Rose, who has strongly advocated for public procurement legislation and the need for transparency, said the Web platform being launched by Disclosure Today would assist greatly in giving citizens who want this sort of information to be made public the opportunity to campaign for change in this area.

Election campaign financing has also been a point of concern for President Anthony Carmona as well as Elections and Boundaries Commission chairman Dr Norbert Masson. 

Independent Senator Helen Drayton, a member of the parliamentary Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Election Campaign Financing, in a Sunday Guardian interview this month, said even with the best of intentions election campaign financing reform could not become a reality before the 2015 general election.

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