Dec 31, 2018 News
By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
Amidst speculations that he already used an oil tycoon out of Trinidad and Tobago to fund the fall of government, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo is calling for a public pact to be signed by all political parties to not take monies from oil companies to finance campaigns for the upcoming elections.
Following the events of December 21, which saw a government Member of Parliament (MP) voting with the People’s Progressive Party Opposition for a Jagdeo-sponsored No-Confidence Motion, elections are expected in three months.
This is the first time Guyana will be seeing General and Regional Elections after the public announcements of major oil finds. News of the oil finds made by ExxonMobil has triggered an influx of oil and oil-related companies. Many of these companies now operate in Guyana.
Traditionally, businesses operating on Guyana usually contribute to the elections campaign. This is usually unsupervised as Guyana has weak campaign financing laws and even those weak laws are hardly enforced.
At his most recent press conference, Jagdeo was asked if the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) will be taking money from oil companies to support its campaign.
He responded, “We never approached an oil company. But, we should be very cautious. Maybe we should have public pact that we will not take any money from any oil company. Let all of us sign on to that. People have to raise funds through local and other sources, we should have a public pact and say we will not take any money from any oil company; I am in favour of it. I can say that, you can quote me on that, that I am in favour of a public pact.”
The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has stated that it has proof that an oil tycoon paid AFC defector, Charrandass to vote to bring down his own government. PNCR claims to even have knowledge of the hotel where arrangements were made.
However, the PNCR provided no evidence and no police reports were made.
Anticorruption advocates have long been calling for changes to Guyana’s weak campaign financing laws. These calls were persistent over the last three years.
Advocates believe that the archaic laws leave the door open for influential oil majors to enter; oil majors with pockets worth more than the GDPs of 100 countries combined.
USA oil giant, ExxonMobil has made it clear that it has, and will not, be contributing to election campaigns here.
However, in its country of origin, ExxonMobil is a habitual contributor to the election cycle. In fact, Exxon is one of the largest energy company contributors to both Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress. In 2010, ExxonMobil spent $12.5 million on lobbying. It is also a staunch contributor in Canada.
Apart from USA and Canada, Exxon also reports on political and lobbying contributions in other countries (see link – http://www.exxonmobil.eu/en-eu/policy/reporting/political-advocacy-and-contributions/political-advocacy-and-contributions-overview).
According to the company’s website, it has a policy against election contributions outside of the USA and Canada, but would do so where laws are applicable (see link – http://cdn.exxonmobil.com/~/media/global/files/politcal-contributions/political_activities_guidelines.pdf).
Even though American’s laws allow for oil money to be pumped into election campaigns, there have been heavy concerns about the effect this money has had on the democracy of the superpower.
A report called, “The Chilling Effect of Oil & Gas Money on Democracy” speaks extensively on this. It was prepared by an environmental company called Clear Water.
The report exposes how oil and gas companies continue to have a major advantage over the rights of the American people when it comes to regulatory policy, mainly due to the legacy impact of their early influence in certain rulemaking processes.
It states that the weaknesses of campaign finance laws allow the oil and gas industry to help elect candidates who support efforts to undermine environmental protections, drive pro-industry legislation and secure taxpayer subsidies to the industry.
The report adds, “The money flooding into Congress and fueling lobbying efforts of the oil and gas industry has a chilling effect on our democracy. Simply put, oil and gas interests overshadow the public’s best interests. Balancing out the economics to incentivize positive behaviors over the business plans of a polluting industry should be at the top of the list for any political party.”
“Instead, policies are manipulated to benefit a sector of the economy that enjoys billions in taxpayer subsidies and has whole blocks of politicians willing to vote and introduce legislation in lockstep with industry priorities…”
Earlier this year, Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, noted that there has been little, if any sense of urgency regarding reform to campaign finance laws. Even when the government indicates that it is willing to address its promise to beef up anti-corruption legislation, the political commentator asserted that they don’t say much about campaign finance reform.
Dr. Hinds said, “Perhaps the last time the president frontally addressed the issue was more than a year ago, when he promised legislation before the next general election. Since then, we have not seen any movement.
So, it’s fair to conclude that there is no urgency. This is worrying– it makes the government look bad. These campaign promises which are in the manifesto represent the ingredients needed for an articulation of the hitherto elusive government’s vision.”
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