– USAID Report
Campaign Financing has never ceased to be a topical issue within Guyanese politics and it was recommended 12 years ago that the matter be addressed by amending the Representation of the People Act.
The recommendation to amend the Act was among several outcomes from a United States Agency for International Development 2005 study, which dealt with the redrafting and modernising of the electoral laws of Guyana.
It has been touted that there should be separate legislation which deals with Campaign Financing; however, the USAID recommendation deals with the issue by suggesting amendments to an already existing law.
The report, which was completed by former Chief Elections Officer of Jamaica, Carl Dundas, said that the Representation of the People Act as it currently stands does not provide for a developed framework for reporting on political party campaign financing.
According to the study, the Act in its current form, addresses election expenses as they relate to candidates and not the political parties themselves. It was said that to give legal effect for the mandatory disclosure of financial information by political parties, the issue should be dealt with by amending the Act to include new sections 120A and 120B.
The election expenses of political parties is to be addressed in Section 120A and Disclosure by Political Parties is to be looked at in Section 120B.
Within the proposed Section 120A the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a political party in respect of a constituency, shall be at a general election, calculated on the basis of the number of electors residing in the particular constituency, multiplied by a factor of the equivalent in local currency of US$4.
Further, it was recommended that in respect of seat allocation based on a proportional representation system, the calculated amount shall be on the basis of the number of electors on the register in Guyana, multiplied by a factor of the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$5.
To ensure compliance, the report recommended that any political party who acts in contravention of the Section would be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$15,000.
Within the proposed new Section 120B, the USAID report suggested that every political party shall keep an account book, into which shall be recorded all monetary and others forms of contribution received by the party for the purposes of the election campaign.
Included in this record is to be the name and address of any person or entity that contributes money or otherwise, which exceeds the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$30,000.
It was also recommended that no political party is to accept any monetary or other contribution exceeding the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$20,000 unless the party can identify the source of the money or other contribution to the Commission.
Political parties would also be subjected to auditing, whereby each shall grant to any officer authorised by GECOM, access to examine the records and audited accounts kept by the political party. Each party would be mandated to give all information as may be requested in relation to all contributions received by or on behalf of the said party.
Further, each party shall have its election expenses account audited and shall be submitted as a separate audited return to GECOM within three months after an election in which a sponsored candidate would have contested.
The return will have to be accompanied with the signatures of the party’s auditors and Chairman of the party supported by a sworn affidavit by the signatories as to the correctness of its contents.
According to the report, the return submitted to GECOM will show the amount of money expended by or on behalf of the party on election expenses, the items of expenditure, commercial value of goods and services received for election purposes. This information will also include the name, address and occupation of all contributors of the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$30,000 or more.
Breaching this section would result in an offence being committed, which will attract a fine not exceeding the equivalent in Guyana dollars of US$10,000. Additionally, if an audited return is submitted outside of the stipulated time, the court may impose a penalty of US$2,000 per day until the return is submitted.
The information provided to GECOM would also be subjected to public scrutiny, since the audited returns will be available during regular business hours at the Commission’s national and regional offices.
It is unclear why none of the major political parties have made significant strides to implement laws and regulations to ensure transparency and accountability in this regard or to enact the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act.
It was suggested by Chartered Accountant Anand Goolsarran that political parties are not serious about implementing the law, since they are heavily dependent on the funding and as such would not want to disclose the names of donors.
In an interview with this publication, Goolsarran said that if political parties benefit from contributions towards their campaigns, they would do everything possible to frustrate efforts to have the legislation in place.
Last October, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams had said during a press conference that Campaign Financing Legislation is not on the present legislative agenda for Guyana. He said that he does not believe the issue has been addressed by government as yet and that there are other priority legislations to be considered at this time.
However, he did say that his government will be in office for five years and therefore has time to work on getting a specific piece of legislation ready. Williams’ comments had run counter to that of the Alliance for Change, since former General Secretary of the party, David Patterson had said that such legislation is high on his party’s agenda.
Last April, President David Granger had renewed his government’s commitment to enacting Campaign Financing legislation before the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
The law is expected to monitor the source of campaign funding to ensure that there is a fair playing field when parties are to access resources.
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