By: Kiana Wilburg
Policy makers of the day continue to congratulate themselves on the “fine job” they are doing regarding the fight against money laundering and ensuring the return of transparency and accountability.
But what has become of campaign financing? When will this bull be taken by the proverbial horns?
The issue of campaign financing recently raised its head again during Christopher Ram’s show called Plain Talk. His guest at the time was Chartered Accountant, Anand Goolsarran.
Ram asked Goolsarran to state his views on whether political parties are really serious about fighting money laundering when they are still to address the worrying fact that one can give any amount of money they want to a campaigning party and no one ever knows who these persons are or how the said donation was obtained.
Ram did comment that none of the political parties seem to want anything to do with accountability in this regard.
Goolsarran in supporting comments said, “They don’t want to because they need the money and they don’t want to disclose the persons. The whole idea of having campaign financing regulation is to ensure that there is a level playing field.”
Ram, the host of the show, expressed the view that “if these parties don’t practice and don’t have a culture of accountability from the start then when they get into government it would not be a different scenario.”
Elaborating on his points in an interview with Kaieteur News, Goolsarran said that a lot of what is happening now can be traced right back to the implications which stem from the absence of campaign financing legislation.
The former Auditor General opined that if political parties benefit substantially from campaign contributions, they would do everything possible to frustrate any effort to have legislation in place.
He stressed that politicians must understand that there is no free lunch involved and those who make campaign contributions – businessmen, government contractors etc. – invariably do so with the high expectation that there will be preferential treatment.
Goolsarran said, “I recall being asked that if parties cannot practice this level of accountability, that is, revealing who their donors are, before getting into office then how they can be trusted to act differently in office? I think that’s the million dollar question. We need campaign financing legislation badly before the 2020 elections.”
In this way, the Chartered Accountant said that the nation will know who the contributors are.
He said that whichever political party gets into power, the nation would have a basis for determining if any of these contributors received preferential treatment in terms of fiscal and other concessions as well or in the award of government contracts, among any other special benefits.
Giving his take on the issue as well was Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds.
The political activist said that the government has not done a sterling job of articulating the positive things it has done since taking office. He believes that this is largely because it has left that work to Public Relations specialists who generally have little understanding of politics and of Guyanese political instincts.
Be that as it may, Dr. Hinds said that the government’s good work is also hampered by the scandals that seem to be more frequent than is normal. He said, too, that hampering the government’s good works thus far is its failure to make good on its campaign promise to prosecute those found culpable of corruption under the previous regime.
Dr. Hinds said, “I believe that this government is serious about fighting money laundering. The fact that they have moved relatively quickly to enact legislation to that effect and have set up institutions such as the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) and have sought to strengthen SOCU represent a clear intention of where they intend to go in this regard.”
He added, “The fact that Professor Clive Thomas has been at the forefront of this fight is another clear indication of the government’s seriousness. Thomas is known as a principled and fearless fighter for the democratization of the country’s political economy and one who has in his academic and political work agitated against the criminalization of the State and politics.”
But like all governments in post-colonial Guyana and the Caribbean, the University professor said that this one is a walking contradiction. He opined that on the one hand, the Government moves towards formalizing anti-corruption institutions. But at the same time he stressed that it appears to be in the business of rewarding campaign contributions with state patronage.
Dr. Hinds said that this is an old problem which has become chronic in the contemporary era of the super wealthy Private Sector coupled with the “marketization of election campaigning.”
The Executive Member of the WPA said that when one adds this to the fact that the Private Sector has developed a monopoly on social and other services, then one sees how this practice of government favours to a small group of favoured business is inevitable.
“I certainly would support legislation that compels political parties to disclose their donors and in that regard limit the amount that can be donated. But we have to find a way to make election campaigns less expensive so that political parties are less dependent on big donors. That is part of the problem at hand. If there is demand for big donations then there would be a ready supply big donors.”
The activist said that political parties by their very nature, are not democratic institutions. He said that they are socialized as institutions which care less about political morality and more about doing what is necessary to gain power.
“So it is very difficult to get them to pivot to democratic governance when they get into office; more often than not they take their bad habits into government where those habits benefit from the legitimacy of the State. Therefore, one can conclude that bad habits buttressed by State Power constitute a recipe for unaccountable and reckless government.”
While he does not believe that the government has reached that point, Dr. Hinds stressed that it has however failed to sufficiently curb its instincts for party paramountcy and has not drawn on its strength as a plural government.
More significantly, Dr. Hinds opined that if the Ministers do not sober up quickly and start to act more responsibly as servant-leaders, if parties such as the WPA do not fight against their marginalization and assert their voices more, and if the Coalition supporters do not lift their voices and demand a higher quality of governance, then the Coalition could easily go the way as the two previous governments.
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