Election spending in Barbados and other regional countries can’t be allowed to get out of hand.
This was emphasised by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, even as he acknowledge that over the years Caribbean people have come to understand the role money has played in regional politics. Stuart made this observation today while delivering the feature address at a forum on political financing in the Caribbean at the Accra Beach Hotel.
Stuart noted that initially money gave the wealthy “an undeniable advantage to qualify both as voters and as candidates, and to sit in parliament to pass laws that invariably protected their interests”.
He further noted that even when universal adult suffrage was achieved in Barbados 1951, candidates still had to make provision for what the political analysts referred to as corned beef and biscuits in Barbados and in other parts of the region refer to as rum, roti and sardines. ††
The Prime Minister said: “The role of money in election campaigns nowadays has increased exponentially, to the point where large numbers of voters have become accustomed to a wide variety of goods and services being provided as part of the election campaign exercise. I accept that large campaigns stimulate some economic activity, but this is not sufficient justification for allowing expenditure to get out of control.”
Referring to an article written by Douglas Payne titled From Grassroots to the Airwaves, Stuart noted that media advertising had now become the single largest portion of party expenditure.
Stuart further noted that in addition to media advertising, foreign advisors charging sometimes exorbitant fees, now even offer a package of funding from sources unknown, to ensure that their costs are covered.
“To meet these escalating costs, candidates and parties can become vulnerable to the funders’ agenda, which are not necessarily compatible with good governace, and often not in the best interests of people who elect them.
“Of course, the use of money to compromise democratic processes is a universal problem. Data collected by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s study of 2012 highlighted the need not only for limitations on donations and expenses, so that small parties have a chance, but also for regulations on disclosure, enforcement and sanctions worldwide to curb corruption,” Stuart said.
Stuart suggested that because of their history of deprivation, Third World leaders must take responsibility for curbing excesses, without however denying genuine funders, political leaders and voters their human and constitutional rights to finance projects of their choice and to do so with a degree of confidentiality.
He pointed out that the objectives of the forum must include the development of laws and regulations in order to ensure transparent and equitable processes and the establishment of acceptable and sustainable mechanisms for political campaign financing.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the secrecy with which political contributions were made led the electorate to believe that the political systems were being manipulated for the benefit of aspiring monopolists, modern carpetbaggers, money launderers, criminal organisations, foreign governments and even international swindlers. ††Stuart further pointed out that politicians responsible for important areas of procurement and for large infrastructural contracts can be targeted by donors with funds to finance expensive election campaigns.
He suggested that the link between these acts and potential large scale undermining of democratic ideals was clear. (NC) ††