Jean-Pierre Kingsley Urges Campaign Finance Reform for Jamaica
Jean-Pierre Kingsley

December 4, 2008 - IFES

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Summary of remarks:
I am impressed by the achievements of the [Jamaican] electoral commission. Over the past decade, Jamaica's electoral system has truly matured to a level admired by both its neighbors and countries around the world.

In 2006, an independent electoral commission was established, based on a fine balance of party representatives and appointed commissioners. Significant progress, in terms of selecting viable, well-dispersed polling locations was made.

The elections 2007 report produced by the electoral commission stands out in illustrating significant progress in Jamaica’s electoral system and management. Its quality is comparable to that of electoral commission reports from established parliamentary democracies such as Canada and the UK. It emphasizes transparency and accountability of the electoral commission that is based on a deeply held conviction in Jamaica: elections belong to the people. That the Jamaican people have a right to know how their system is set up, how it performs and how problems identified are resolved. Congratulations on an excellent report.

At the core of every system however, there is an important and quite explicit requirement for improvement. Some issues remain to be addressed, and I am here today because within Jamaica exists a deep desire to came to term with the topic of money and its role in the political process.

In any modern democracy, the flow of money in the political process must be monitored closely. Money is required in politics and as in any other sphere of activity; it can be used for good or bad. When it is the latter, it undermines the process. Thus, measures must be made to regulate money in the political sphere. If the political system does not regulate money, then, one may expect money to regulate the system.

When it comes to regulating money in politics, approaches and solutions should be specific to the country in which they are implemented. They should reflect the political culture, history and particularities of a country’s electoral system. And, most significantly, they should reflect the expectation of its electors. This should be what political actors want from a regulatory regime as well.

Worldwide, there are some alarming developments in recent trends of political finance in many democracies. Thus, transparency and accountability of campaign finance expenditures must remain a top priority. Members of parliament and members of the electoral commission should incorporate this principle into legislation.

When considering reforms to political finance legislation, there are four considerations to regulating money in politics that are taken from my experience with other countries. They include: the absolute need for transparency; setting limits on campaign expenditures; setting limits on campaign contributions, including restrictions on who can contribute; and, the role of public funding.

Now, once one has settled on which system one would accept, one must also ensure an investigative function is put in place to handle all complaints as well as a prosecution function, with meaningful penalties attached to guilt.

The correct method for political finance reform can only be decided by the electoral commission, by the members of parliament, and more importantly, by the people of Jamaica.

As I said earlier, money is required in politics, and rightly so if the aims of democracy will be achieved; namely a duly, legally, and fairly elected parliament vested clearly with the authority of the people to govern on its behalf. A finely tuned regulatory regime for money is an essential component if such is to be achieved, one that is truly reflective of the expectation of the people.

Read about this event in an article by the Jamaica Gleaner
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