NOW that general elections are over, we feel we should touch on a subject that has never been tackled, although it has been talked about over the years. We are talking here of campaign financing.
The past general elections, and those prior, have clearly showed that the manner in which money flows through political campaigns needs to be addressed, legislated if needs be, as the candidate or political party with the most money will always have the advantage in the race for an office at the Cas-tries Waterfront, or a seat in the parliament of Saint Lucia.
We should also address the source of funding for political campaigns. From whom and where such funding comes is critical information which must be known, as our leaders could find themselves ex-posed to the machinations of both criminals or non-criminals who have their own private agendas which could have dire consequences for individual politicians, political parties, our country and our democracy.
What we are saying here is what we have been saying every five years after general elections via this same column. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced on the number of political rallies held, the number of events staged, the number of media ads aired, the number of rentals of locations, tee-shirts printed and other paraphernalia distributed, very large sums of money were still spent during this last campaign.
In 2016 we called for the provisions in the Constitution Reform Commission’s Report to be enacted. In 2021 we are making that same call.
In 2016 we noted that there needed to be audits and capping of campaign contributions to political parties. In 2021 we are reiterating the very same thing.
When it comes to the flow of money during election campaigning in Saint Lucia, the patterns appear to be the same for 2016 and 2021, as both years have been associated with allegations of supporters be-ing induced (one might almost say “seduced”) with money and other material things for their votes.
On both occasions complaints have been registered by voters, of candidates and their operatives dol-ing out money in exchange for votes.
Even the Mission from the Organisation of American States (OAS), here to observe this year’s general elections, spoke to the issue of campaign financing.
The Mission noted that political finance in Saint Lucia does not have any legal norms exclusively dedi-cated to the regulation of political financing, nor do political parties receive any form of direct or indi-rect public funding. Further, there are no caps on contributions from private sources, including those from anonymous donors and foreign entities. The Mission noted that as political parties are not re-quired to report to any oversight agency on the use of funds there is little or no information available to the public on party finances.
The OAS Mission lamented that no action had been taken to address these issues over the last dec-ade, adding that stakeholders with whom the Mission met expressed their concern that the continued lack of oversight and accountability in the political finance system impacts the equity and transparency of the electoral process.
The Mission noted that, in the absence of public funding or norms to promote equal participation in the electoral process, new or emerging parties face challenges to finance their campaigns for office or promote their platforms through traditional media outlets, thus further tilting the balance in favour of established parties.
The Mission recommended establishing direct or indirect public financing for political parties and cam-paigns, including state subsidies for media access; establishing limits on private donations and in-kind contributions from individuals, businesses, and the media, and prohibiting anonymous donations and contributions from foreign sources; creating legal standards and practices for recording, managing and reporting political party contributions and expenditures; establishing political financing oversight measures and mechanisms, as well as penalties for non-compliance.
The Mission also recommended that the Electoral Department should be tasked with providing this oversight, and endowed with the authority and capacity to monitor and request reporting from parties on their finances (income and expenditures) and to make such information public. Further, that the Department should also be provided with the necessary autonomy, legal authority, and financial and human resources to enforce norms and impose penalties for infractions. And also create mechanisms that increase access to information regarding the financing of political parties.
The recommendations from the OAS Mission are well noted and if implemented would go a long way in determining the type of government Saint Lucia gets: It is either a government someone else paid for, and woe be unto the people if such is the case, or a government voted into office for the people and by the people.
We wholly support the recommendations of the OAS Mission, but we advise that the country does not hold its collective breath waiting for implementation.