THE Senate finally approved the recommendations on campaign financing from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) on Friday.
This now paves the way for the recommendations to be sent to the Cabinet for approval, after which a Bill will be drafted and tabled
in the House of Representatives for discussion.
Leader of the House, Phillip Paulwell, has committed to sending the bill to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. But it seems very likely that this Bill will spend some time in Parliament before it is finally approved.
Although Opposition MPs Everald Warmington and Daryl Vaz have been linked to concerns raised about the recommendations in the House, and so, too, KD Knight in the Senate, it seems that the parliamentarians, with varying concerns about the provisions, are in the majority.
There has been nothing yet to confirm whether this is also the case in the House of Representatives, as Paulwell was able to nip the Opposition in the bud during the debate on September 24 by offering the Joint Select Committee as a carrot. However, there also appears to be quite a number of MPs who have problems with one or more of the recommendations.
The position is that those with reservations in both Houses have agreed to await the Joint Select Committee's review of the Bill, and the debate and vote on that committee's report on its deliberations which will follow in both Houses. Therefore, it is quite unlikely that Parliament will complete its work on the Bill before the end of the calendar year. It is even possible that the contentious issue could be prolonged into 2014/15.
Minister of justice, Senator Mark Golding, who acted as Leader of Government Business in the absence of Senator AJ Nicholson, pointed out Friday that there is no immediacy in terms of implementing the recommendations, as they will be subject to Government's ability to finance the proposed campaign financing system.
Golding made the point as he pleaded for approval of the recommendations.
Senator Arthur Williams, the Leader of Opposition Business, also supported this position and said that the members would be able to air their grouses when the Bill is tabled. Maybe, fortunately for both, Senator Knight was absent.
The main issue affecting the progress of the proposals is the contention, by some members, that public funds should not be used to finance election campaigns. There is also considerable objection to the proposals to enable the ECJ to sanction persons for breaches of the provisions.
The commission suggests that State funding should be provided, based on set eligibility criteria and a prescribed formula. Accordingly, it would only be granted to: Candidates of political parties that meet the requirements of Section 12 of the Representation of the People Act; independent candidates who received at least five per cent of votes cast in the previous election; and political parties and candidates who poll at least five per cent in the election.
In addition, State funds would only be disbursed upon certification by the director of elections that the candidate is in compliance with the relevant provisions of the Representation of the People Act, and also upon certification by the political ombudsman that the candidate and/or relevant political party is in compliance with the Political Code of Conduct for elections.
Qualified candidates would be reimbursed from State funding to an amount not exceeding 40 per cent of total election expenditure, within the prescribed limits. State funding would be disbursed to a candidate on the basis of votes cast for that candidate multiplied by the total amount of State funding provided, divided by the aggregate amount of votes cast.
Parliamentarians, including Warmington and Knight, insist that public funds should not be used to finance the election campaigns of the political parties and the candidates.
But the ECJ says that State funding can act as a mechanism to restrict, or limit, the influence of money from illegal sources and its potential for corrupting and ultimately distorting the democratic process.
The ECJ also argues that State funding can serve as a hedge against candidates feeling obliged to turn to illegal sources or becoming obligated to certain permissible donors, and allows for greater demands for transparency and accountability from candidates and, as a result, enhances confidence in the electoral and governance process.
The ECJ wants to be empowered to monitor and enforce the legislation accompanying the regulations. However, these powers would be the direct responsibility of the selected or independent members and the director of elections, thereby excluding the commissioners from the two main political parties.
These commissioners would have the power to impose sanctions and penalties on political parties and candidates, including but not limited to, public apologies; return of contributions, fines; being debarred from participating in elections, whether temporarily for a fixed period of time or permanently; being disqualified from being a candidate; forfeiting contributions or donations, including donations to the National Election Campaign Fund; being suspended as a registered political party; and being struck off the list of registered political parties.
The ECJ has also recommended that an imposition of a sanction or penalty by the Electoral Commission "shall not preclude institution of criminal proceedings for contravening the campaign financing provisions",
There are also concerns about the various limits on financing that are recommended by the ECJ, but what is immediately at stake is the convention, which has held in the House for years, that the Parliament will not amend or refuse approval of the ECJ's recommendations.
Paulwell avoided putting it to the test in the House by offering a Joint Select Committee review and Golding, on Friday, reminded the Senators that it would create ample time and opportunity to have their concerns fully aired and discussed.
The indications are that the House leaders, in procrastinating, are hoping to find a solution in the meantime, but it is evident that something will have to give before this debate ends.
This week in Parliament
* The House of Representatives resumes sitting on Tuesday at 2:00 pm.
* The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee will meet on Tuesday at 10:00 am.
* The Joint Select Committee reviewing INDECOM's first three years in operation will meet on Wednesday at 10:00 am.
* The Joint Select Committee on the Suppression of Criminal Gangs/Anti-Gang Bill will meet Thursday at 10:00 am, followed by the Joint Select Committee on the Security Interests in Personal Property Bill at 2:30 pm.