$250 million spent for elections

Saturday, January 23, 2016

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THE Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) says the Government has already spent $250 million on activities related to a general election that has not yet been held, and that a significant portion of those funds have gone down the drain.

Opposition-nominated ECJ Commissioner, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson made the claim yesterday during the debate on a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act (2015) to reform the way political parties are financed.

He told the Upper House that: "We fully recognise that the prime minister has the constitutional right to call an election whenever she decides to do so within the constitutional limit (and) the electoral commission takes signals from what is said publicly and privately submitted a budget for an election which was anticipated to be held before the end of 2015. As a result, monies were presented to the Electoral Commission and from the sum presented so far, $250 million has been spent. A significant portion of that money has been lost because it has been used for training of workers, rental (of property) and so on."

Senator Tavares-Finson explained that the monies were considered "lost" because persons who had been identified and trained to work within an anticipated time frame may not be available when elections are called.

"A number of persons, for example, were drawn from teacher’s colleges; they may find themselves available in November or December but may not be available in other months. A number of properties for which rental has been put up, may or may not be available," he stated.

The senator argued that the funds could have been used to implement electronic voter identification systems in more constituencies. "At this point it (electronic voter registration) is only being used in seven constituencies. This money could’ve been used for any number of other matters in the electoral system," said Tavares-Finson.

The Bill, which implements recommendations of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica on campaign financing is aimed at reducing corruption and improper influence, and promoting greater confidence in the democratic process through transparency and accountability of elected officials.

Among the provisions are the establishment of a national election campaign fund to receive contributions from persons, companies and diaspora groups for contribution to candidates and political parties, and for promoting the active participation of citizens in the process. The Bill also speaks to declaration by contributors who hold Government contracts; return of contributions in specified circumstances; use of contributions; reporting strictures; keeping of financial records; and limits on campaign periods.

The Bill was passed with six ammendments, including an increase in the limit on election expenses from $10 million as proposed in the Lower House, to $15 million.

In September last year, Director of Elections Orrette Fisher told the Jamaica Observer that by the end of the month, the Electoral Office would be in a position to successfully conduct an election, if the prime minister decided to announce a date. At that point the EOJ had received from the Ministry of Finance the $500 million it requested to start preparations.

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