Political campaign finance reform
MR RALPH “BIZZY” WILLIAMS is a heavyweight in the local business community, so when he speaks people from across all sectors pay attention. Such is the case with his comments on the need for political campaign financing reform. It’s a matter others have addressed previously, but their views have been largely ignored.
His wish for political parties to stop approaching businesses and wealthy individuals to finance their election campaigns puts in the open an issue both the incumbent Democratic Labour Party and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party would pretend does not exist. We can now stop the pretence and promote reform.
When the business community gives to a political party, it is only logical that business will expect something in return. This can lead to all types of manipulations and undermining of elected governments and democratic institutions. Where political parties accept large sums of money from donors, this will cloud the party’s independence in matters related to those donors. There is no free lunch. The situation raises all kinds of worries and can make a general election a sham.
The truth is that contributions to political campaigns have been made for a long time and the public can only question: Were contracts, licences, concessions and other benefits given in exchange for campaign contributions?
Mr Williams, in proposing an alternative method to funding for general elections, suggests that the money should come from the Treasury. It is not a new idea but one which many Barbadians may not keenly support at this time, given not only the perilous state of the nation’s economy, but that so many people are out of work with gloomy job prospects.
Still, this unregulated financing not only of the election campaign, but of the political parties themselves, remains the beast which must tamed.
Mr Williams can engender change in the campaign financing process. He should use his enormous moral suasion to get other private sector leaders to publicly state their position on the matter and to agree to disclose any political contributions – in whatever form. This, after all, is good corporate governance and full disclosure on the part of businesses.
It should also ensure that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission has a much more accurate record of contributions and whether the laws are being adhered. Policing of election campaigns, especially given the “vote-buying charges” which arose in the 2013 campaign, is necessary to maintain the country’s proud tradition of free and fair elections. We must not adopt the approach of the United States, where the individual and the party with the most money stand the best chance.
Given Mr Williams’ stature, his comments may very well start a much-needed national debate on the issue. The public must demand better governance while our political parties must be held accountable.