OVER the next two years, Guyana is expected to hold two elections—the local government elections later this year and the general elections in 2020. Despite promises of campaign finance reform, the government is yet to tackle this troublesome area of our political process.
I am not sure whether the coalition government is going to push ahead with campaign finance reform legislation. There has been little if any sense of urgency in this direction. Even when the government indicates that it is willing to address its promise to beef up anti-corruption legislation, they don’t say much about campaign finance reform.
Perhaps the last time the president frontally addressed the issue was more than a year ago, when he promised legislation before the next general election. Since then, we have not seen any movement. So, it’s fair to conclude that there is no urgency. This is worrying– it makes the government look bad. These campaign promises which are in the manifesto represent the ingredients needed for an articulation of the hitherto elusive government’s vision.
I think the sloth partly has to do with the contraction of decision-making within the coalition. Everything is decided at Cabinet, but the cabinet is made up of ministers who are obviously primarily concerned with management of their individual ministries. Hence, they are less interested and in many regards less schooled in overall government policy direction. So, something like campaign finance, which does not fall under the purview of any subject ministry, except maybe the Legal Affairs Ministry, does not get the treatment it deserves.
The sloth also has to do with the absence of a cohesive and intentional legislative agenda. Governments tend to pay little attention to the legislative branch, except when they want to use their majority to hurry something through the legislature.
And the parties in the coalition have not been doing their work as far as pressuring the coalition to advance an aggressive legislative agenda that speaks to the overall direction in which the coalition wants to take the country. You never hear from the PNC, AFC, the WPA and the others about their legislative priorities. These parties seem satisfied that they are “in government” and are not prepared to lift their voices beyond support for the government when it finds itself in trouble.
So, issues such as campaign finance reform for which they vigorously argued when in opposition gets pushed to the sidelines. I therefore repeat my call for the coalition to set up a committee made up of representatives of member parties to do a “mid-term audit” of campaign promises. The objective is to determine what promises have been addressed and others that need to be urgently addressed. Such work cannot be left to the Cabinet.
A third reason for the sloth has to do with the inability of the government and opposition to agree on anything. Certainly, something as central and crucial as campaign finance reform should be done in a bi-partisan manner. But the PPP has shown little interest in cooperating with the government, even when the latter has reached out to them.
Having said the above, I think campaign finance is urgent, especially since oil money is coming. Businesses are always prepared to buy political access and decision-makers are always vulnerable. Experience in Guyana and other countries has taught us that we cannot depend on the integrity of politicians and parties, so we should legislate checks on their potential for indiscretion.
So, if this government is serious about turning a new page as far as cleaning up the cancer of corruption is concerned, it should act swiftly, even if it has to do so on its own and even if it has to disavow “bad eggs” in its own ranks. Failure to do so would hurt Guyana. Campaign finance legislation should expressly regulate financing to parties for elections. Legislation should aim to make elections a relatively low-cost activity and to take dirty money and other suspect sources of financing out of the system.
Parties should be mandated to disclose the sources of campaign funds and there should be stiff penalties if this is not adhered to. There should be a cap on such contributions, especially from corporate and commercial sources and rich individuals. We are a small country. Our election campaigns should not cost as much as parties want to make us believe.