PARTY financiers and other people contributing $50,000 and more to political parties will soon be required to publicly declare their contributions.
This is one of the requirements of the long-awaited and long-promised Campaign Finance Reform legislation which was tabled in the House of Representatives by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday.
Another significant provision is that all registered political parties will be entitled to receive State funding with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) responsible for the administration of the system of allocation and payment of the funds from the Consolidated Fund.
The Prime Minister said the bill would represent a new era in the country’s political history.
“It is part of this Government’s anti-crime plan. It is tied to the objectives of our Public Procurement legislation, and it underscores our strategic focus on brazenly tackling money laundering, fraud, corruption and rampant criminality in this country,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the bill proposed the imposition of a duty upon the executive officers of registered political parties to account for funding through audits, the filing of returns and the provision of statements of accounts.
The bill also proposes the regulation of the sources of donations and the process for receiving them.
For this purpose, a National Election Campaign Fund will be established and a specified category of people and entities would be permitted to contribute to a political party and candidate of their choice.
This category would include all citizens of T&T who are 18 years and older, citizens of the diaspora abroad, trade unions, friendly societies, NPOs, building societies and domestic companies.
A class of non-permissible donors such as foreign governments, agents of those governments, entities engaged in illegal activities and State bodies will also be established.
The bill also provides for election advertisements, stating that they must be authorised by a registered party or candidate and must contain the statement setting out the name and address of the promoter.
Link between Govt contracts and party contributions monitored
With respect to tendering for Government contracts, the bill provides that where a person, company or other entity makes a contribution of more than $50,000 to a registered political party or candidate, and within two years before making that contribution, had entered into a Government contract of over $2 million, it shall be declared to the commission no later than 14 days after making the contribution.
Noting that in many countries financiers have been accused of contributing to election campaigns for the sole purpose of unfairly benefiting from a reciprocal arrangement with successful candidates, the Prime Minister said the current electoral laws in T&T did not punish political parties for the misuse and misapplication of funding which creates the opportunity for corruption and money laundering, nor did it place an obligation on financiers of political parties and candidates to disclose the fact of their contributions to the public.
“The current law does not regulate an incumbent Government’s access to State resources before and during an election campaign period,” he noted, adding that this loophole allowed an opportunity to supplement a candidate’s resources with State resources.
The bill proposed to expand the remit of the EBC by establishing a division to be known as the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties responsible for the carrying out of specified administrative functions, and duties and to establish a Register of Political Parties, the PM explained.
The Prime Minister said the country must exercise great caution in order to safeguard its democracy.
“We simply cannot afford another Cambridge Analytica scandal where Trinidad and Tobago was identified internationally as the epicentre and ground zero starting point of neo-colonial socio-political manipulation through illegal data mining and micro-targeted political campaigning.
“Imagine this kind of activity could have happened to such detriment, but there was no requirement in law to record the actions of individuals or organisations and no accounting of the expenditure,” he said.
The Prime Minister pointed out the illegal data acquisition for the purpose of manipulating the electorate caused Facebook to pay a record US$5 billion penalty in the United States for “deceiving” users about their ability to keep personal information private, after a year-long investigation into the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
He said the steady rise in the cost of campaigning has consistently stirred significant public concern.
He said the gargantuan sums spent and the real reasons for such spending and the legitimacy of the financing sourced impacted on the public expectation of transparency and accountability and, moreover, the practice of democracy.
“Poor regulation creates ample opportunity for abuse of the democratic process and wrongful financial gain,” he said.
The bill will be referred to a Joint Select Committee, which the PM said, would hopefully report as quickly as possible.
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