FRANKLY SPEAKING: Wake up, Mr Prime Minister!
When Freundel Stuart first became Prime Minister, it appeared from his inaction and indecisiveness that the burden of the office was too much for him to bear.
I was among the few who were saying that he should have been given a chance to develop since he was plunged unprepared into that role. I was of the view that he would have surmounted the circumstances of his elevation, and would have been able to emerge from the shadow of the late David Thompson to stamp his mark.
That belief now appears to have been wishful thinking on my part. Even so, I remain convinced that he was the best person, out of what was on offer during the last election campaign, to end up as Prime Minister. Mind you, that is not a vote of confidence in Mr Stuart as Prime Minister; rather, it is a sad reflection on the dearth of quality political leadership that this country is being forced to endure.
The Prime Minister does not often speak at great length , and sometimes when he does you get the impression that he can get lost. One of his recent revelations appeared in the DAILY NATION of May 9, when he declared that even though money now plays an increased role in election campaigns, there is still hope that campaign financing will be regulated by law.
Those words should not have fallen from the lips of any person who has fought several election campaigns. It is worse when that person happens to be the Prime Minister who has just led his party to victory. He must be aware that Barbados has more than enough adequate laws to regulate campaign financing, and to deal with any corrupt election practices. Unfortunately, those laws are observed more in the breach to the extent that it now seems that the Prime Minister is unaware of their existence.
Mr Stuart went on to say that a “loophole” currently in the political system involved political parties taking responsibility for most of their own fund-raising and expenses for election campaigns which resulted in the party giving no published income and expenditure of its candidates. He claimed that this had to be plugged. When I read that statement, I started to wonder if the Prime Minister was speaking of Barbados.
I would like to inform him that a “loophole” does not exist just because officers of political parties and contributors refuse to follow the law. It is enough to quote Section 47 (1) of the Representation Of The People Act to show that the Prime Minister’s “loophole” has already been plugged since 1971.
It states: No expenses may, with a view to promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election, be incurred by any person other than the candidate, his election agent and persons authorised in writing by the election agent on account of –
(a) holding public meetings or organising any public display; or
(b) issuing advertisements, circulars or publications; or
(c) subject to Subsection (2), otherwise presenting to the electors the candidate or his views or the extent or nature of his backing or disparaging another candidate.
Further, every person, including political parties, who spends money on behalf of a candidate, must make declarations to that effect, on forms that are provided by the Supervisor of Elections in accordance with Section 47 (3).
It states: Subject to Subsection (4), where a person incurs any expenses required by this section to be authorised by the election agent, that person shall within twenty-one days after the date of publication of the result of the election send to the Supervisor of Elections a return of the amount of those expenses, stating the election at which and the candidate in whose support they were incurred, and the return shall be accompanied by a declaration made by the said person or in the case of an association or body of persons, by a director, general manager, secretary or other similar officer thereof, verifying the return and giving particulars of the matters for which the expenses were incurred.
Also, Section 52 requires each candidate to declare his expenses to the Supervisor of Elections within seven weeks of the day on which the result of the poll was declared. Bear in mind, the law limits the amount of money that may be incurred by a candidate or his election agent whether before, during or after an election, in respect of the conduct or management of an election, to a maximum of $10 in respect of each registered elector in the constituency. A candidate who spends and reports more is liable to forfeit his seat.
And in accordance with Subsection (3), that return must contain the amount of money and the name of every person from whom the funds were received. We do not need another set of elections laws – we need enforcement.
It is therefore amazing to me to discover that Government has time like Nero to fiddle around with draft model legislation to fix problems that have already been fixed. The interest of Barbados would be better served if the Prime Minister were to concentrate more on solving the mammoth economic problems facing the country, rather than engaging in diversionary tactics.
If he is so concerned about election spending, he should insist that the relevant authorities enforce the existing laws and punish offenders, but that might precipitate a new election.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.