“Let’s draw the line in the sand now”

Jamaica’s last General Elections were held February 2016 followed by the national Local Government Elections and several By Elections in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

We are now midway in the 5 year General Election cycle and it behooves us as citizens, candidates and political parties to know the legal landscape and to act accordingly.

The Representation of the People Amendment Act 2016, has established some obligations and offences relating to Campaign Finance Reform, of which all Jamaicans must be aware.

These herald the political parties’ clear statement of a desire for a political architecture which will promote integrity and reduce “capture” by persons and institutions. The law is underpinned by the Election Campaign Legislation & Regulations 2017.

Political Parties should educate their members and candidates.

I adopt the words of the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica in her forward to their publication on the aforementioned Legislation and Regulations, where she noted:
“We believe that campaign financing reform is key to Jamaica’s Vision 2030 goal of accountability and transparency in governance” and “…what is more important, is that all stakeholders embrace, uphold and demand the enforcement of its provision so that we, as a nation, may realize the true benefits within…”.

Part VII of the Representation of the People Act, establishes election offences and at:
Section 81, addresses Notice of Election Meetings and requires that during the election period, election meetings, marches or motorcades shall not be held unless the Officer or Sub-Officer of Police in charge of the parish has been notified at least eight hours before.

Breach of this section, gives rise to a fine or imprisonment or both on summary conviction in the Parish Court.

Section 82. makes it a requirement for a Printer, Publisher or person posting billboards, placards or posters related to an election to affix their name and address on the face of the election material and if they fail, on summary conviction, to face a fine or imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to twelve months. It further notes that if the person involved is a candidate or the agent of a candidate, the person shall be guilty of an illegal practice.

Section 91. addresses Bribery (vote buying) and Treating and deems a person who directly or indirectly gives, lends, contracts, reimburses, promises, offers money, valuable consideration, office or employment or receives any of the above for voting or refraining from voting, shall be deemed guilty of bribery and at S94, such persons, on conviction may be liable to a fine or imprisonment for a term of between three and five years with or without hard labour.

Section 96. sets rout the Disqualifying Effect of Offences such as bribery, treating, undue influence, bars the convicted person from:
– Being registered as a voter in Local Government or National Election; and
– From being elected or retaining his seat in the House of Representatives or Municipality for a period of seven years.

These expressly address some of the matters that have been mired in uncertainty, bad habits, impunity, excuses and finger pointing and are a sample of our commitment.

This is a line in the sand where political parties, candidates, public officials, contributors-foreign and domestic, and party supporters have the duty and opportunity to improve our political system to the benefit of all; notwithstanding any questionable actions by persons in previous elections or election cycles.

Persons and entities who have received government contracts are specially provided for and protected in the reporting period. Where the contributor has received government contracts of the prescribed value (currently $500,000) two years before or two years after the contribution, they are required to file a prescribed declaration on Form 2A within fourteen days of the contribution or face a fine of up to one million dollars on summary conviction in the Parish Court.

This provides a check and balance process when these are compared to reports of candidates and political parties.

Many civic minded individuals and companies contribute to candidates and political parties and such support is important to our democracy. They are to be commended as they enhance transparency and accountability when they provide the filings and invoices stipulated in the law.

It is to be noted however that certain contributions are now specifically prohibited at S52 AT(1) as impermissible. Some examples include:
a) Any foreign or Commonwealth government, or any agent of such government, whether directly or indirectly;
b) A public body as defined in section 2 of the Public Bodies management and Accountability Act;
c) An entity whose existence is or activities are illegal under any law.

The making and acceptance of such impermissible contributions may give rise to a fine of up to three million dollars or up to twelve months imprisonment.

This campaign financing reform, aligns with and strengthens the mandate of the Political Ombudsman as articulated at Section 12.- (1) of the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act
“Subject to this section, the Political Ombudsman shall investigate any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters, where he is of the opinion that such action action-
a) Constitutes or is likely to constitute a breach of any agreement, code or arrangement for the time being in force between or among political parties in Jamaica; or
b) Is likely to prejudice good relations between the supporters of various political parties”.

and the Agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct (Code), which provides that
“the parties shall take such actions as are necessary to ensure full compliance with this Code by all officials of political parties” to wit

1. Non-Violence and Non-intimidation
f) Candidates or others acting on behalf of candidates:
i) Must not use funds derived from any source, public or private, to improperly influence electoral choices; (bribery) and
ii) Shall exercise all reasonable care in ensuring that all financial donations are derived from legitimate sources (not impermissible).

7. Political Tribalism
The parties eschew the practice of political tribalism rooted in coercion, intimidation or violence of any kind and the parties commit themselves to removing any structures and resisting the development of any behavioural, cultural, social or organizational practices, which reinforce political tribalism” (garrison politics).

Officials should:
Repudiate any act of corruption in the discharge of their functions.

Jamaica’s political, private and public sectors, civic leaders and the citizenry at large have repeatedly demonstrated through legislation, our commitment to the Rule of Law, Integrity and Good Governance. Citizens must report breaches to the trusted individuals, churches, JP’s, Electoral Commission, the political parties, Police, the Political Ombudsman, MOCA and other key agencies for action.

Public knowledge and support for these laws and effective enforcement will bring the written words to life for the benefit of all. This will improve trust in our leaders and institutions, better policies and development.

Not every problem will be addressed but as we go forward let each and all of us do our part to educate and to repudiate wrong doing.

We can improve Jamaica if we enforce our Laws and Standards for Politics.

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