A leading political scientist today warned that there was no easy fix to the issue of campaign financing. In fact, Peter Wickham suggested it was virtually impossible to control it.
Speaking against the backdrop of numerous calls for regulation of the monies political parties spend on electioneering, Wickham also responded to the view that democracy was threatened when some candidates or one political party can outspend their competition.
“My sense is that it is a far more challenging problem to deal with because it deals with a practice which people may find distasteful, which is raising money for an election; but it’s absolutely necessary,” the CADRES director said on a Jamaican radio programme this morning.
“And I think that we need to take a realistic look that political parties have to raise money and the idea of having them declare their donors, having them declare every single cent that they raise is highly impractical.
“I think this is where I differ from most of the local analysts because there is a prevailing view in Jamaica that it is something that can be regulated. My sense is that it probably cannot be regulated as easily as people might think,” Wickham added.
In the wake of a recent campaign financing scandal that rocked the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) in Jamaica, Wickham cautioned that the problem was more widespread in the Caribbean than people may realize.
“The PNP has had two unfortunate incidents recently – there was the Trafigura scandal a few years ago and now this. It appears as though they have been tarnished a bit more than the others, but the fact is that the other political parties do pretty much the same thing, not only in Jamaica but across the region,” he said.
And while noting that in the Barbados context “there is less hanky panky . . . largely because the economy is smaller and there is less money about”, he said “you find in Trinidad and Tobago the problem is worse”.
“There is more hanky panky because there is more money about, the contracts are larger and that’s pretty much how it goes,” he said.
Wickham cautioned the Jamaican authorities against spending scarce resources trying to regulate campaign financing.
“I am familiar with the legislation that’s being pushed in Jamaica now which is the OAS [Organisation of American States] model. My challenge with it is I honestly don’t think it will solve the problem. I think that what will happen is that politicians will raise money privately but they will just do it more discreetly, which is essentially what the Jamaica Labour Party has obviously been able to achieve in that they have done exactly the same thing but they’ve been more discreet in terms of the way that they raise funds,” Wickham said.
“Jamaica will suck the energy and blood out of their national economy and their national budget trying to set up an administrative structure to deal with this type of thing and to me it is unnecessary.
“What I do believe needs to happen, in the context of Jamaica especially, is that you have to look at what exactly are these contributions used for and you need to look to eliminate line items; so political party advertising, T-shirts and paraphernalia . . . these are the type of things I think are far more practical in terms of bringing up to the forefront,” he added.