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A Bill to make provisions for the funding of political parties and connected matters was piloted by Independent Member of Parliament (MP) for North East St. Catherine, Abraham Dabdoub in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (Oct. 10). Mr. Dabdoub, who presented the Bill in a private member’s motion, told colleague members that the Bill was seeking to establish a register of political parties to be maintained by the Electoral Commission under the Representation of the People Interim Electoral Commission Act.
“At present there is no requirement in law for accountability by political parties for the funding they receive whether by way of membership fees or donations or otherwise,” the Member of Parliament noted.
To this end, he outlined that the Bill sought to “make provision in law for political parties to file accounts, donation reports and other particulars in relation to their receipts and expenditures, and to ensure insofar as is possible, that the funding of political parties and political activities is derived from legitimate sources.”
It makes provision for political parties to be accountable to the Registration Authority for campaign funding for elections and the referendum.
He explained that the Bill would require treasurers of political parties “to give a true and fair view of the state of financial affairs of the party and explain its financial transactions including the source of its funds, its assets and liabilities”.
Mr. Dabdoub further explained that the legislation “requires the political parties to publish annual statements of accounts and file those annual statements of account with the Registration Authority, and that where a registered party’s gross income or total expenditure in any financial year exceeds $500,000.the accounts of the party for that year must be audited by a qualified auditor”.
In instances where the party’s expenditure or gross income does not reach the half million mark, “the Registration Authority in its discretion may require that the financial affairs of a registered political party that has less than $500,000 in expenditure be audited,” the MP pointed out.
On the matter of donations made to political campaigns, the Bill cites that permissible donors would include individuals registered in an electoral register and a company registered under the Companies Act or registered under the Partnership Act, which carries on business in Jamaica; a registered party; or a trade union registered under the Trade Union Act.
Other acceptable donors, he added, are any other unincorporated association of two or more persons, which carries on business in Jamaica, or other activities mainly in Jamaica, and whose main office is in Jamaica.
He emphasised that under the proposed Act, “donations from a foreign entity would not be acceptable unless that foreign entity was registered in Jamaica under the Companies Act either as a foreign company trading in Jamaica or registered under the Partnership Act and it must carry on business in Jamaica”.
Mr. Dabdoub indicated that donations not permitted under the Act may be forfeited by the registration authority. “In fact, any anonymous donations, the political parties are required to return the donation to the source from which they got it,” he said.
Turning to Part Four of the Bill, which details campaign expenditure, Mr. Dabdoub said it was proposed that individual candidates could spend up to $3 million under the Representation of the People Act, while political parties could expend no more than $360 million on an election campaign.
In relation to penalties, he noted that individuals breaching stipulations could be levied fines as high as $500,000 or 18 months imprisonment.
While lauding Mr. Dabdoub’s efforts in preparing the Bill, Opposition Leader Bruce Golding, raised concern that the proposed legislation was being put forward without the necessary input of the Electoral Commission.
“It can’t be done this way, we are pre-empting the Electoral Commission, and we are in a sense undermining the function and authority of the Electoral Advisory Committee,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for South Eastern St. Catherine, Dr. Paul Robertson opposed this view. “I don’t think that any of the understandings we have preclude the legislature making proposals to the EAC and therefore I don’t think that the spirit of the presentation is counter to the spirit of the establishment of the EAC and therefore it would seem to me that the two things can come together, the work of the EAC and the work of the legislation,” Dr. Robertson said. The Bill has been referred to a Joint Select Committee.