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Story Highlights

  • The ECJ has been lauded for its commitment to ensuring that political processes are conducted transparently.
  • This commendation came from Government Senator K.D. Knight.
  • Commenting on the positive changes in the political landscape since the establishment of the ECJ.

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) has been lauded for its commitment to ensuring that political processes are conducted transparently and in the best interest of the citizens of Jamaica.

This commendation came from Government Senator K.D. Knight, as he contributed to the debate on the ECJ’s report on campaign financing in the Senate on Friday, October 25.

“The Commission has achieved much from its days as a committee to its present days and I wish to thank them as a member of the Jamaican society who can now proudly go abroad and boast about the achievements that have been made in this regard,” he said.

Commenting on the positive changes in the political landscape since the establishment of the ECJ, Senator Knight lauded the Commission for its concerted efforts to bring politics to a higher level.

“I think that those who often are quick to speak disparagingly of political parties ought not to do so, without at least recognising that where we have reached in that process is due to the joint effort of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and of the People’s National Party (PNP) and of civil society. This is where there was a convergence of objectives and views and approach and we have reached very far,” he argued.

Senator Knight further congratulated the ECJ for bringing the report to the stage it has reached. The revised recommendations, which took into consideration, the comments and opinions of the members of the House of Representatives and Senate, is as a result of the ECJ’s report to Parliament in November 2011. The report was approved in the House of Representatives on September 24.

Mr. Knight raised the issues of the proposed limits on contribution and expenditure and increased powers which the ECJ seeks to possess.

In terms of the latter, Senator Knight said that the power the ECJ seeks in imposing sanctions and penalties on political parties and candidates for all offences “cannot be that wide”.

“I could not agree to situation where the selected Commissioners and the Director of Elections hold the power that they seek to have …Their power must be circumscribed and must accord with the power given to Commissions of that nature and distinguished and differentiated from the powers given to one of the arms of Government – the judiciary,” he said.

In his contribution, Justice Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding endorsed the general approach and the philosophy of the report, which speaks to regulating the way in which politics and campaigning by political parties is financed.

“This report is welcome as it represents a very important step towards strengthening Jamaica’s democracy and protecting it from the potential negative influence that campaign financing… and so on, can have, especially on the confidence of the people have in the process itself,” he said.

“It represents a significant departure from the past where limits on campaign financing and disclosure have been largely ignored in practice and what we have here is a fairly prescriptive and robust set of rules which the Electoral Commission is recommending be enacted into law that will substantially change the methodology of financing campaigns,” he added.

Outlining his concerns with some of the recommendations, Senator Golding pointed to page 15 of the report which speaks to the limit on campaign spending.

“The previous report had prescribed the limit that political parties can spend during the campaign period as $10 million per constituency, a figure which would have led, given that there are 63 constituencies, to $630 million which is a very substantial sum…that has however been increased by 50 per cent to $15 million per constituency which I think totals $945 million. And I really feel that as a limit on campaign financing, that is far too high and I think that we should have kept the original limit,” he said.

He also highlighted the matter of impermissible donors and how financing received by a political party can be used, as other causes for concern.

Government Senator, Wensworth Skeffery, who also voiced his support of the “general intent” of the report, noted that it is critical that campaign financing be regulated, particularly as it relates to concerns of money influencing the outcome of elections.

Senator Skeffery however, raised the issue of how to treat with Local Government elections, which  he said has not been addressed in the document in a comprehensive way.

“If you go to a local government election, how much would each candidate in a division be entitled to spend, what’s the maximum? Because while we have 63 constituencies across the island, you don’t have equal number of divisions within each constituency…So how would you divide that $15 million across each division to ensure that each candidate in a local Government election is spending that standard amount right across the division?” he further questioned.

Debate on the report in the Senate has been suspended until Friday, November 1.