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JIS News

Transparency and accountability was high on the list of priorities, as the second in a series of public fora to discuss the issue of campaign financing for Jamaican political parties, took place at the Montego Bay Civic Centre, Montego Bay, St. James yesterday (July 10).
Being staged by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) in collaboration with the German organization, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), the series is aimed at heightening public awareness about the topic and to get responses and comments for possible amalgamation into a presentation of recommendations for Parliament.
The forum took the form of presentations by representatives from the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), and FES, group discussions on several related issues and topics, and presentations of the summaries of these discussions.
Assistant Director of Field Operations with the EOJ, Earl Simpson, in setting the stage for the discussions, underscored the importance of money in election campaigning, adding that history has shown that “unchecked and unregulated money in politics can, and will have perverse effects on democracy and the public trust.” He advised that regulation must be considered from a broad perspective so that it does not itself become a barrier to entry to the electoral process.
Mr. Simpson outlined the recommendations for political parties to be able raise funds either privately or from the public purse, observing that whereas one can lead to personal favours being sought unless it is properly regulated, the other would demand accountability and transparency.
Independent Member of the ECJ, Dr. Herbert Thompson, in his presentation described campaign financing for political parties as “one of the last remaining hurdles as we seek to protect or refine the electoral process in Jamaica, in the building of our democracy.” He explained that consultations held by the ECJ have revealed a nationwide concern of individuals, about personal financial contributions to political parties and the expectations of the donors.
The recommendations from the ECJ, if adopted by Parliament are expected to correct this issue, he explained.
“Until we find a way to make contributions to political parties and to political campaigns a public matter, we are going to continue to live under the shadow, it will be a questionable existence, and there will remain questions which we will not be able to answer,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Director with the FES, Judith Wedderburn, told JIS News that two more similar public fora will be held, one in Kingston and the other in Mandeville. She explained that a summary of the feedback from all four fora will be done to get a feel of the public’s view on political campaign financing and whether or not there should be full public disclosure.
“So we will take that information and we will share it with the ECJ, who themselves have been doing other stakeholder meetings, and this will help to guide them to a better understanding of what people feel about these things,” she said.
“So that when the report is tabled in Parliament before the end of the year, it would already have had some discussion,” she stated.
Mrs. Wedderburn emphasized that the process being embarked on has nothing to do with any one political party, but instead to do with ensuring that the way the Jamaican electoral system is funded is fair, and that no donations are made by individuals or groups that have hidden agendas.
She lauded the Jamaican democratic system, adding that it has carried the country thus far, but pointed out that if the funding of electoral campaign and political parties is not transparent then it represents a potential danger of undermining the system.