Modern campaign financing laws governing the soliciting and spending of monies by political parties is likely to be enacted in time for the next General and Regional Elections in Guyana.
Appropriate campaign financing legislation will proscribe the acquisition of money from illegitimate sources, the spending of “dirty money” for campaign purposes, and will limit the amount of contribution that can be accumulated by parties contesting an election.
The current law is antiquated and there have been mounting calls for its amendment. For one reason, it stipulates that each contesting party is expected to expend no more that $25,000 on a single candidate.
President David Granger during his most recent broadcast of ‘The Public Interest’ committed the APNU/AFC administration to take the necessary steps to ensure updated campaign financing legislation comes into effect by 2020.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon
“I am convinced that over the next four years, we’ll be able to pass something through the National Assembly…I am not sure it will be in time for the next Local Government Elections (2019) but certainly in time for the next General and Regional Elections,” the Head of State guaranteed, despite having no related material before Cabinet.
For quite some time, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally has been advocating on behalf of the Commission for the archaic legislation to be amended.
GECOM’s Legal Officer Wanita Barker had deemed the existing legislation as having no value. She explained that the law does not stipulate when campaigning for elections should commence; therefore it would be a complicated task for parties to submit financial records for any campaigning period.
Additionally, the Organisation of American States (OAS) since 2009 has implored the Government of Guyana to introduce campaign financing laws – not just to capture the quantum of funding to political parties, but also the nature of the source of funding.
Both administrations have only given lip service to the introduction of such laws – one of which was ironically introduced since 2011 by the AFC – but they have studiously avoided making the law operational.
Both sides have stubbornly blamed the other for failing to make advancements towards effecting the legislation.
In January 2015, when asked about the lapse in not pushing through the legislation even when the combined Opposition held the majority in Parliament, the AFC blamed former Attorney General Anil Nandlall for them not doing so.
AFC General Secretary David Patterson said then that the party had always been concerned about campaign financing. “The question of campaign financing is something I must admit that we have always wanted to table… we have a draft and things like that but circumstances have overtaken us on that,” Patterson explained.
He however did not detail what those circumstances were that led to the AFC missing out on the opportunity to address this foundational issue.
Likewise, Chief Whip of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Gail Teixeira said previously that the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) had downplayed the proposal by the OAS for a model regarding campaign financing for the 2011 elections.
Teixeira had said then the party had stated that it was not necessary for the elections of that year. It was in that same year APNU announced ahead of the 2011 elections that it had secured some US$6 million campaign funds, but failed to disclose from where the money was secured.
Notably, the APNU/AFC coalition had committed to taking the first step towards engaging transparent and accountable practices and had promised to release crucial data on their campaigning finances by the first week in August 2015 but to date, no substantial information has been released regarding campaign financing.
The AFC arm of the coalition did disclose that it contributed an incredible $400 million towards the campaigning expenses. The signed Cummingsburg Accord between the two parties said APNU would provide 60 per cent of the funding of the coalition with the AFC, therefore if calculations are correct, APNU would have contributed at least $1 billion.
APNU General Secretary Joseph Harmon had clearly stated that the Party is willing to reveal the amount of money it utilised for campaign purposes but will not disclose where the money came from.
“You don’t ever do that… people like to be private and they are aware sometimes that there might be consequences in a small country like this if it is public,” Harmon had noted.
Harmon also adopted the position that despite concerns raised by sections of the society that several big businesspeople pumped millions of dollars into the then opposition campaign with the understanding that they would get big contracts, kickbacks and other gains if it won the elections.
In fact, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman during a post-cabinet press briefing told the media that businessmen generally donate monies to political parties as their way of making an investment.
“At the end of the day, the Private Sector in every country weighs its options when it comes to elections and most, as we know, support the major political parties… In a sense, they are saying that we are not going to get involved, but you’ve come to us for assistance so we’ll give both (political parties), some they give more to, some they give less to and in a sense, it is their way of making an investment and that is the way it is done throughout the world,” he pronounced.