Election laws in the breach
My attention was drawn to the headline, Changes With Corruption Act, on Page 3 of the Saturday Sun of May 25, 2013. It declared: “When the Prevention of Corruption Act 2010 is proclaimed, political parties will be bound by law to reveal their sources of finance for general elections.”
That little titbit was hardly worth being mentioned: it would have been more newsworthy if the story were saying that once again political parties have failed to disclose the amounts that they spent on the campaign, as required by Section 47 of the Representation Of The People Act.
I get the impression that politicians from both sides are just playing with us. That requirement of the Prevention Of Corruption Act is nothing new: it has been required by law since 1971. The authorities did not need a new law to punish officers of political parties who fail to declare their party’s election spending.
According to Section 47(1) of the Representation Of The People Act, only the candidate, election agent and persons authorised in writing by the election agent are allowed to spend money in an election campaign. Political parties are not allowed to spend money on campaigns unless they are authorised in writing by individual election agents. Failing that, the most that they can do is raise funds and donate the proceeds to the candidates. The act goes on to say at Section 47(3):
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 the director, general manager, secretary or other similar officer thereof, verifying the return and giving particulars of the matters for which the expenses were incurred.
For completeness, Subsection (4) only exempts election workers who were employed for payment or promise of payment by the candidate or election agent.
It should also be of concern the delay in the publication of the returns. I sincerely hope that the excuse for the late publication is not that the Supervisor of Elections was waiting for all candidates to submit their returns.
Section 59 of the Representation Of The People Act requires the Supervisor to publish a summary of the return within 14 days after the receipt of a return. Additionally, candidates are required to file their returns within seven weeks after the day on which the result is declared, in accordance with Section 52. In essence, candidates were mandated to file their returns by April 15, and the publication of the summary of the return should have been published no later than April 30 since the 14th day was a public holiday.
I have often said that our democracy is a parody of what is practised in England. We have copied all the forms but none of the substance. When you look below the surface, our electoral system is something that should cause shame to all right-thinking Barbadians.
The breaches cited above are minor when you consider that the whole election campaign process was tainted with irregularities. Constraints of space would not allow me to enumerate all of the examples so I will only draw your attention to just a few.
It is no secret that the Prime Minister claimed that he witnessed vote-buying and the country is still waiting with bated breath to hear that the matter had been referred to the police. It has been acknowledged that several hundred workers were employed immediately before the elections with the understanding that those persons would have voted for particular candidates.
That too constitutes an offence that did not cause the independent law enforcement community to stir. By now your reaction would most likely be, these things have been happening for years, and I would agree. But the Election Offences And Controversies Act has outlawed those practices since January 7, 1971, and politicians continue without regard, in the full knowledge that they would suffer no adverse consequences. Section 6 (2) of that act states in part:
A person is guilty of bribery who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf
(a) gives any money or procures any office to or for any elector or to or for any other person on behalf of any elector or to or for any other person in order to induce any elector to vote or refrain from voting.
It would also be useful to quote Section 10A:
A person is guilty of an illegal practice who before, during or after an election supplies to another person, or wears any form of apparel or form of dress bearing a political slogan, photograph or image advertising any particular candidate or party in the election.
Yet during the campaign candidates were seen on platforms addressing crowds while wearing shirts with political slogans, and even now supporters can be seen daily wearing such clothing. As far as I am aware, the police have not taken any steps to prosecute anyone for breaching the law in their presence.
After all of this, no one can seriously say that elections in Barbados are free and fair. Yes, both parties breach the rules, but is it fair to the independent candidates who did not have the resources to cheat or found it repugnant to do so?
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator. Email email@example.com