September 30, 2016

Misusing State funds for LGE

The People’s Progressive Party’s General Secretary, Clement Rohee has accused the governing APNU/AFC coalition leaders of using State funds to campaign for their candidates in the Local Government Elections (LGE) scheduled for this Friday, March 18. The issue of incumbents using their access to State resources to their advantage during elections has been a perennial source of tension not only in the newer democracies like Guyana, but also in older ones such as the USA.
At one level – that of the national government – the tension is almost inevitable, since the incumbents still have to engage in activities that can be deemed part and parcel of their constitutional duties. In the US, for instance, the use of their presidential aircraft Air Force One by incumbents has always been highly debated by challengers. The Government has responded to the challenge – as have most other democracies – by enacting regulations that constrain incumbents from abusing the State resources to their advantage. In the case of Air Force One, to use the example cited above, the President has to pay the equivalent first-class rates on domestic airlines for he and his aides. But opponents have pointed out that the few thousand dollars this amounts to is piddling compared to the US$85,000/hr it costs to fly the craft.
Immediately after taking office, several members of the Government, including President David Granger, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Ministers and their aides, made repeated trips to the US and Canada, ostensibly on “government business”, but which were clearly intended to reward their parties’ overseas supporters who had helped finance their election campaign. The Government officials, however, threw in some discussions on possible “diaspora investment” to provide the requisite fig leaf.
However, the issue is much more clear-cut in Local Government Elections, which is the specific instance cited by Mr Rohee. In the case of President David Granger flying at State expense to Berbice, Essequibo Coast, Bartica and soon, Linden, with at least four Ministers and a large entourage to explicitly campaign for local candidates, the matter is quite clearly a transgression of the spirit of democratic norms that are taken for granted in other democratic jurisdictions.
The common ploy to deny trips by incumbents to support candidates in national elections is “political” is to whip out the fig leaf of some national matter to cover what is obvious to everyone involved. But at least there is a genuflection to the democratic proprieties. In Guyana, during this first Local Government Elections in 22 years, there is not even the invocation of a fig leaf: the President and his team are engaged unabashedly in campaigning for local candidates.
In fact, during his Bartica LGE campaign trip, the President adopted such a partisan stance that he actually criticised one local group contesting the local elections for “splitting the vote”. In no way could the President, after this remark, even pretend to be conducting “national business” which the State should be asked to fund.
The issue of “campaign funding” has bedevilled the political waters for decades without any satisfactory resolution. Back in 2011, a motion was even tabled in Parliament “to establish a Special Select Committee to examine the existing laws and regulations regarding political parties’ electoral expenses, examine legislation in other countries in relation to political party campaign financing and report its findings and recommendations for this National Assembly’s consideration”. But it died stillborn.
While the motion needs to be resuscitated in time for reform to be in place for the general elections scheduled for 2020, the rules on campaign spending for LGE is much more clear-cut and should present much less of a challenge for an earlier enactment before the next LGE of 2019.
In the meantime, we would expect the members of the governing coalition to “do the right thing” and pay their way for the rest of the LGE.

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