Constitution Commission’s Report.
THE Constitutional Reform Commission has suggested that political parties in St Lucia contesting elections should fully disclose the sources of all the financial contributions made to them and that failure to do so should therefore be an offence.
The following CHAPTER TWELVE of the report, deals with “Elections and Political Party Financing.”
The Commission considered proposals for the regulation of elections and political party financing against a backdrop of increasing cost of elections and interference in national elections by foreign Governments. Noting that global best practice requires some form of regulation for political parties, the Commission acknowledged that the Caribbean is one of the last refuge for parties in the Western Hemisphere where the regime of elections and political party financing is virtually unregulated. Thus the Caribbean remains one of the few regions that have yet to pass strong and effective legislation to govern its political parties and elections campaign financing. The Commission therefore strongly felt that the continuing absence of such legislation and regulation would not only facilitate the possibility of state capture by criminal, international and or commercial interest but would also jeopardise the Caribbean’s relationship with its international partners.
Mindful of the difficulties that small size and a political culture that has increasingly become marked by patronage, victimisation and dependency would have on devising a system, the Commission reasoned that this should limit the ambitions of any proposed legislation. Thus, as a Commission we grappled with the issues of enforcement of a full declaration of contributions, the impositions of ceilings, exclusions from contributions, sanctions for violations of regulations of a reformed system, state financing of elections and political parties, abuse, transparency and oversight. Ultimately the Commission anticipated that the reformed system which aimed to limit the influence of money on elections would lead to the development of a democratic system premised on fair electoral competition and political equity.
With the ever increasing demands for goods and services on the part of the Saint Lucian voting public, the price for party loyalty has become more expensive. This has therefore led political parties both new and old to search for more lucrative sources of financing, particularly from the external private sector sources in exchange for investment opportunities as well as leverage on the international scene. Worst, is the entanglement and possibility of entanglement of parties and agents of parties with the international, domestic and regional criminal community.
As a Commission we accepted that any proposal for the establishment of a new regime would be meaningless without wider systemic changes. We certainly felt that our targeted efforts at retooling the procurement system, the recommendation to create an office of the Contractor-General among others, would certainly limit office holders especially those in Government from dispensing favours.
We were consoled by the fact that combined with our many recommendations on limiting abuse, improving transparency; limiting political discretion and cultivating an environment build on greater accountability that this would ultimately lead to democratic consolidation in Saint Lucia. However, unpalatable, our final recommendations on the issue would therefore be to some circles, we were compelled by the end game and the realisation that failure to act propitiously and meaningfully would lead to the continuing erosion and corrosion of democracy and the long held democratic values in the country.
Emerging out of our discussions was a concern about the use of state resources for election purposes. While we acknowledged the difficulty of acquiring such evidence there is a general feeling among the populace that incumbency has a clear electoral advantage not only with respect to the use of Government’s physical resources but also with respect to the media. The media we agreed, is one of the most expensive election expenditure items.
The Commission’s overriding concern with the potential impact of the failure to seize the opportunity presented to it amidst growing concerns of “presidential style” elections campaigns, with its glossy billboards, huge rallies and concerts, t-shirts, glossy magazines, public relations experts, pollsters and other elections paraphernalia was sufficient to mobilise the members into making strong recommendations. At a minimum level, the Commission felt that the Elections Act should be amended to include provisions relating to elections and political party financing. For sure, we reasoned that such tightening of the regime would have a positive impact on the public’s growing disenchantment with politics, which was especially acute among the youth of the region.
Secondly, we anticipated that there would be a positive correlation between such regime change and the de-escalation of the erosion of the credibility of elections and the political parties that compete in them. Finally, we strongly felt that a comprehensive Act which would also allow for the monitoring of the acquisition of financial resources by political parties, would arrest the possibility of criminal elements affecting the outcomes of elections, through their campaign contributions, and or intimidation of voters.
In its deliberations however, the Commission considered that the constraints of small size often circumscribed the ability of political parties to raise money and would expose its contributors to public scrutiny and consequently adversely impact the capacity of political parties to survive. We considered that this would be counterproductive as it would endanger the very system we were hoping would flourish. Thus, the Commission surmised that a proposal for full disclosure of contributions must also be balanced by a counter proposal for state funding. This would also simultaneously create greater equity for all parties and limit the influence of private special interest groups. The net effect would be to reduce the possibilities of political corruption and influence peddling.
Further, the Commission accepted that political parties were crucial for the survival of democracy and while there was heated debate on what some considered to be the dismal failings of parties, the adversarial nature of the political organisations, and their contribution to the growing political tribalism that characterises the society, nonetheless Commissioners felt that there was need to give due formal recognition to political parties whether constitutionally or legally. In that way too, the Commission was of the view that it would lend itself to the ability of the oversight body to monitor and evaluate the performance and behaviour of the institutions.
With respect to Elections and Political Party Financing, the Commission therefore recommends the following:
(173) Saint Lucia should embrace the current global trend of creating a regulated environment for political parties and elections campaign financing.
(174) Political parties should register for the purpose of elections.
(175) A Political Party and Elections Campaign Finance Act should be enacted which would among other things provide for a system of both private and public funding.
(176) The new Act should require full disclosure of all the financial contributions made to political parties. Non-disclosure should therefore be an offence.
(177) Political parties should declare their assets and liabilities.
(178) Appropriate sanctions should be placed on political parties that violate the provisions of the Act.
(179) All foreign government contributions for election purposes should be banned.
(180) All financial contributions from foreign companies to political parties should be prohibited.
(181) A limit should be placed on contributions to political parties by companies and individuals.
(182) A ceiling should be placed on contributions that would not be required to be declared.
(183) All sources of anonymous contributions should be prohibited.
(184) The State should provide some form of funding to political parties. However, State funding should not supplant or dominate private funding.
(185) There should be greater equity in terms of the access of all parties to the State media.
(186) The Act should clearly define political parties.