House supports ECJ on Party Registration and Financing


The House of Representatives has accepted the report of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) on Political Party Registration and Financing.
The concluding debate on Tuesday (November 2) saw varying opinions from both sides of the House, with Minister of State for Water and Housing, Hon Everald Warmington, opposing public financing for the political parties.
“We cannot expect a poor person in Jamaica to finance the campaign of Members to come to this House it’s a privilege for Members to seek to be elected to Parliament, and I believe that if you want to enjoy this privilege, you should finance your own campaign,” Mr. Warmington stated.
He said that there should, at least, be a clause in any such legislation that would give candidates the option of declining public financing for their campaign.
But, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) for South East St. Andrew, Maxine Henry Wilson, claimed that there has already been some level of state financing for political campaigns, through subsidies. She pointed out that, for example, political party scrutineers (persons who scrutinize the conduct of the poll at the voting booths) are paid for by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).
Mrs. Henry Wilson also disagreed with the position that when persons seek political office, they do so as private citizens and should bear the full costs.
“What we are trying to guard against is where other countries have reached, where persons who can afford to be elected are not the persons that you would want in the electoral process. The public has an interest in who should be allowed to be a part of the electoral process,” she stated.
Government MP for East Central St. James, Clive Mullings, also raised concerns, stating that some of the stipulations for registration were unnecessary, and could be inimical to the deepening of democracy.
Mr. Mullings criticised, for example, the recommendation that independently elected MPs who decide to form a political party would not be eligible for state funding.
“It is an unnecessary hindrance, if you’re looking at deepening a democracy and allowing a contest,” he said.
“I think that, unwittingly, you may very well open the floodgates for issues and contest from those who don’t want additional political parties if members of the House decide to form a political party, they ought not to be deprived of state funding,” he stated.
Opposition MP, Peter Bunting (Central Manchester), said that the lack of a fixed date for general elections could present a challenge in determining the period over which campaign financing would apply.
“In the normal course of things, if we assumed a five year term, we could say year four would commence the period of financing,” he explained. However, Mr. Bunting said the issues in the report were not unique, as they are being studied by various electoral authorities and legislative bodies.
The ECJ is requiring all political parties to be registered with the Commission. To qualify for state funding they must receive at least five percent of the votes in an islandwide election, or produce 50,000 signatures. They are also required to have a constitution and to hold general meetings and select officers, annually.
Political parties which meet the criteria qualifying them for state funding would also have their finances monitored and regulated by the Commission. The report followed extensive consultations among stakeholders over the last six years.

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