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Contributions to political parties and FINSAC inquiry

Tuesday, June 19, 2012    

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MANY Jamaicans are unhappy over the money donated by former Olint principal, David Smith - who is now serving a long sentence in a United States prison - to the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party for their 2007 general elections campaign. Former president of the PNP and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson categorically denied having received any money from Olint.

President of the People's National Party and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will have to set a new policy that all contributions or donations by private businesses to the party, especially for election campaigns, must be approved by her before they are accepted.

Simpson Miller denied any knowledge of the party receiving money from Olint. She said she had been totally unaware of the gift. It may be recalled that some years ago when asked about the donation of $31 million by Trafigura - the Dutch firm that does business for government - to the PNP's election fund, she referred the reporter to the party.

Simpson Miller should bear in mind that the buck stops at her feet, if not in her hand, and that as leader of the party she is held responsible whether or not she knows about the donation.

In the latest issue, it came out in a Confiscation Order from the Supreme Count of the Turks and Caicos Islands that US$1 million was accepted by the PNP in 2007 from Olint for the election campaign of that year. The Confiscation Order also mentioned a gift of US$2 million given to the PNP, but the party said it cannot identify this amount. Patterson denied that he received US$1 million from Smith or any such gift, while the Jamaica Labour Party also cannot identify the exact amount given by Olint to its election campaign, but explained the amount was nowhere near the US$5 million said to have been given. I find this strange. The JLP should have on record the exact amount it received. When the money was accepted by the political parties Smith was under investigation by the Financial Services Commission, a fact of which the parties should have been well aware.

Smith was sentenced to 30 years in prison by the United States District Court in Orlando, Florida, last August. He was charged with defrauding thousands of customers of more than US$220 million and was guilty of 18 counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The chairman of the PNP, Robert Pickersgill, said the party had no moral obligation to refund the money. In any case, I doubt whether it has the money to refund.

Last Friday I attended the thanksgiving service for my former colleague, Marcia Goodall, at the Kingston Parish Church. While I was waiting in the churchyard for the start of the service, a citizen drew my attention to the headline on the front page of The Gleaner which read: "No moral obligation to refund Olint Money - PNP".Then he asked, "What about a decent obligation?"

Contributions by big business to the campaign fund of political parties is nothing new, but the time has come for such contributions to be reported to the Electoral Commission. The commission should set up rules urgently that would guide such contributions. In the rules should be penalties which should be imposed on any politician who put any of the contribution to election campaign in his or her pocket, as happens in the United States of America.

There is also a great deal of concern by the public over what seemed to be a deliberate attempt by the government to stop the Finsac Commission of Inquiry from completing its work by not providing money in the budget. The thousands of investors who lost their businesses and homes as a result of the financial crisis in the 1990s and the Finsac fiasco which followed when Dr Omar Davies was in the driver's seat as minister of finance and planning in the PNP administration have a right to know what happened. There were businessmen who committed suicide and others who became mentally challenged by the shock.

The financial meltdown and the whole Finsac affair cost the country $140 billion and contributed to the country entering the dark age of financial management from which we have not yet fully emerged. The JLP government, therefore acted correctly in setting up the Commission of Inquiry in 2009 to find out what happened and make recommendations to prevent such a crisis recurring.

The PNP was in Opposition and it did everything to stop the inquiry. Now that it is the government, it is using its power to put an end to the work of the commission. What is the party afraid of? The government is not answering any questions about the future of

the inquiry. The current minister of finance, Dr Peter Phillips, seems to be "ducking" the media on the issue. It is hoped that Dr Davies will address the issue about the future of the inquiry when he speaks in the Sectoral Debate in Parliament today. Under the Commission of Inquiry Law, the commission must report.

Let the commission complete its report, although men may fall. Reports circulating over the past two years say that certain politicians were beneficiaries of Finsac money.

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