MSJ: Pass party/campaign financing bill before local government elections

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

MSJ leader David Abdulah.

LEGISLATION to regulate campaign financing is again being raised as the two major parties prepare to contest the February 7 Debe South by-election.

The People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC) have both identified candidates, who are scheduled to file their nomination papers on Monday.

Judy Sookdeo is contesting the seat on a PNM ticket and the UNC has fielded Khemraj Sunil Seecharan to fill the seat left vacant bythe death of UNC councillor Purushottam Singh on February 14.

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is demanding that the parliamentary arms of both Government and Opposition immediately set up a new joint select committee (JSC), complete the public consultation process and have the bill debated and passed before the end of June.

The MSJ is not contesting the seat, but Abdulah said this is a matter of serious importance, as local government elections are constitutionally due later this year.

He said legislation should be enacted beforehand, to avoid the obscene spending observed in the recentl Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which the Prime Minister introduced to lay down regulations for political party and campaign finances, was referred to a JSC.

However, it lapsed when Parliament was dissolved and a general election held in August that year.

It was reintroduced in October 2020, and another JSC was set up to review the bill, and given until the end of December 2020 to report. It was chaired by Camille Robinson-Regis and included Cabinet ministers Colm Imbert, Shamfa Cudjoe, Fitzgerald Hinds, Clarence Rambharat, Nigel de Freitas and Randall Mitchell and UNC representatives Davendranath Tancoo, Saddam Hosein and Wade Mark as well as two independent senators,

“This JSC did not meet for more than six months. Not even one virtual meeting. This is a clear indication that neither the PNM nor the UNC is in any way interested in having their party’s finances and, especially their campaign finances, publicly scrutinised and made transparent,” Abdulah charged.

He said the MSJ made was invited to and made its first submission on January 6 last year and a further submission on February 26.

“As the committee itself reported, none of the major parties – PNM and UNC– even bothered to make a submission,” Abdulah said.

In its report Robinson-Regis acknowledged the inability of the committee to meet and recommended the resumption of proceedings in the second session, of the 12th Parliament.

“Some four months into the second session of the 12th Parliament, no new JSC has been established, as the PNM and UNC continue to frustrate the process. This is not surprising, given the PNM’s huge spending in the December 6 THA elections, and the local government elections due sometime this year,” Abdulah said. “The MSJ condemns the PNM and UNC, as they have in effect colluded to kill the bill.

“While the MSJ has concerns about sections of the bill and has made recommendations for its improvement, its intent is very important. If it ever becomes law, it would require political parties to be registered similarly to companies, mandate that parties present audited financial statements and account for all campaign contributions, among many other requirements.”

He siad it would be a major step towards “breaking the link between the controllers of economic power (the financiers) and the controllers of political power. It is important in the fight against corruption.”