Editorial | More openness in party funding | Comment

Jamaicans who believe strong opposition parties are good for democracy will welcome Mark Golding’s assertions about the health of the People’s National Party (PNP) finances and the party’s promise to return to publishing audited accounts.

Implicit in Mr. Golding’s engagement, during a forum with the newspaper’s editors and reporters, was a critical nod to transparency. This added significance to the insistence of the Leader of the Opposition and his party in Parliament earlier in the week that the government disclose all companies and individuals who funded the public relations element of Foreign Secretary Kamina Johnson Smith’s campaign earlier in the year to become secretary. Commonwealth general.

When Robert Nesta Morgan, the de facto Information Minister, did not provide all the information, Mr Golding joked: ‘He smiles and laughs like it’s a joke.’

Transparency in government, or the political parties from which they come, is serious business indeed. That’s why Mr Golding and the PNP can’t just push the government for partisan ends in the Johnson Smith case, or simply publish the PNP’s accounts – something the party has done for the first time ever. more than ten years ago, but quickly gave up.

GO THE WHOLE PIG

To be credible, Mr. Golding must rely on transparency. It must not only tell Jamaicans how much money the PNP has raised and spent, and what its assets and liabilities are, but must reveal who put money in its coffers. Mr. Golding is also expected to propose legislation — which he could draft himself and introduce in the House as a private member’s bill — to make public provision of such information mandatory for political parties.

In the meantime, Mr. Golding and the PNP should insist that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) fulfill specific obligations under the law, as well as craft regulations, as authorized by it, to improve the transparency.

The PNP is a registered political party. If the government proceeded with the budget allocation as permitted by law, the PNP would be eligible for taxpayers’ money to help cover its annual expenses. For this, it would be required to file audited annual accounts with the ECJ, along with reports, showing that it adheres to its constitution and regularly elects and installs officers.

But registered political parties must already fulfill most of these obligations. Indeed, under the 2014 amendment to the Representation of the People Act, registered political parties are required each April to file with the ECJ “an annual financial report drawn up by a certified public accountant as well as a “statement indicating the sources of political party funds”.

Unlike the requirement of eligibility for state funding, the law does not specifically say that these accounts must be audited. It, however, in Article 52Y, obliges the ECJ to “to keep a register of political parties, which should contain the names of political parties, their symbols, their leaders, their authorized representatives and such other information as may be prescribed”.

PUBLIC INSPECTION

This register must be open to public inspection at the offices of the ECJ, but the law also requires that it “also be available for consultation on a website managed by the commission”. Perhaps there is such a website with the required information. This newspaper couldn’t find it.

In today’s digital environment, online access to this information should be the norm – and easy. In his new drive for transparency, Mr. Golding could inquire about the status of the digital version of the register and propose, if not already the case, that his party’s accounts, including its sources of funding , be published there.

In addition, existing campaign finance legislation requires that during the declaration period (six months before an election is constitutionally required, or the date an election is announced, and up to six months after the vote), parties or donors must report contributions of $250,000 or more. This, however, is not public information. It should be. Mr. Golding should argue for it. If he doesn’t, his ridicule of Mr Morgan in Parliament over the Public Relations Bill affair rings hollow.

Michael J. Birnbaum