Bring on Campaign Finance Reform Now

By: Jack Warner

There is a need for Election Campaign Finance Re­form…… more than ever!

For more than three decades we have been listening to the many promises made by politicians on different sides of the fence but the need for it has never struck that nerve as it has done during the Lo­cal Government Election of 2019.
The spending by the PNM is vulgar, and fingers are pointed in the direction of the one whose promise for election campaign fi­nance reform in 2015 was most vociferous. It is, therefore, predicat­ed on the angst of the people that I wish to advise the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr Keith Christo­pher Rowley, that before he demits office to do the right thing and en­act legislation to regulate election campaign finance reform.
It never really dawned upon me the level of vulgarity to which we were exposed until Louis Lee Sing, at one of his political meet­ings in Port of Spain where he is trying to wrest the City from PNM rule, announced that the incum­bent was seeking to determine who was funding his party.
It was he who really sensitized the nation to this wanton waste and caused us to stop and take note because suddenly we all realized that during prime-time television, there is a feeling of anger with­out really recognizing the initial source of it.
No longer can we watch televi­sion or listen to the radio without being interrupted by at least five to six 30 second ads promoting the PNM. The dominance of the airwaves is so complete that it gives the unholy perception that the only entity that benefitted dur­ing the last four years was Dr Keith Rowley’s People’s National Movement.
There are close to five political parties contesting this Local Gov­ernment Election, one of which is the Opposition United National Congress, the only real alternative in this country’s two-party system. And where it seems all have tight­ened their belts under these austere economic conditions, the Govern­ment who made the call seems to have loosened theirs and gathered in the fat shed by the others.

The perception

The perception is not good Dr Rowley. People are now believing, based on your party’s spending, that you have conned the nation and if this is the kind of spending that the PNM could afford for the Local Government Election then it is imperative that you bring legis­lation before the Parliament to reg­ulate the kind of money that would be wasted by the time the General Election bell rings in 2020.
Advising you to enact legisla­tion is just a reminder of the prom­ise you made to bring it to the Par­liament; a promise that you have made on numerous occasions and a cry that you have echoed over many administrations. But my advice to you is simply to remind you not to go the way of all flesh and speak only of election cam­paign finance reform when it is expedient to do so.
It is extremely difficult to dis­agree with you Mr Prime Minis­ter when your rhetoric seems to be well thought out and you trans­form into a statesman role and de­liver the kind of narrative that is predicated on nation-building. Yes, it is extremely difficult to disagree with you.
There are many occasions that I can recall but the two occa­sions that come readily to mind are your acceptance speech after the UNC conceded defeat at the General Election of September 7, 2015, where you spoke to the na­tion as the leader of this nation. But, regrettably, the moment the shine wore off you regressed into the cut and thrust cloak and dagger politics which we thought would never have been a part of the poli­tics you promised. The second oc­casion is of more recent vintage, at the launch of the PNM’s campaign for the Local Government Elec­tion on December 2, 2019. In case you missed your own erudition let me register a recall probably that would steer you back to your orig­inal moorings.
You stated that “the adjust­ments you’ve made is all of us paying back the UNC’s short period of profligacy, outright thievery and recklessness.” All of us you said Dr. Rowley, not just some of us.
You reminded us that “the previous government spent us into bankruptcy, trying to buy themselves a second term, they took expectations to a point be­yond reality and sustainability and if we (the PNM) didn’t do the same, we’d be seen as heart­less, incompetent and uncaring.”
Then you advised that “it takes more care and discipline to be responsible with your money. When a government cares more about their own political future than they do about the people they serve, then they can prom­ise any and everything and the chaos comes. That’s your choice – between our party (the PNM) and the others.”
The wisdom of your rhetoric here cannot be denied. It is your practice that is being called into question.

There has to be a limit

If you knew that the PNM were planning to be this profligate if you knew that this was the kind of investment you were planning to make over the last few weeks why would you call the nation to com­pare the behaviour of the PNM and the others since what Kamla did, Rowley keeps doing?
It is for this reason that my ad­vice to you is to bring Election Campaign Finance Reform to the Parliament not just to regulate the amount of money that is spent and wasted but also to protect your good self from your evil self which will allow you to safeguard the good intentions you may have from the evil temptations which consis­tently arise to challenge them.
There has to be a limit to the spending. There has to be a bar over which parties are not permit­ted to go. Because failure to regu­late election campaign finance will corrupt our democracy and railroad our Constitution because big business will determine who sits in the seat of power and not the people whose right it is to so elect.
These are not empty words Dr Rowley because over time you too have recognized the reality of the situation. You too have seen how financiers disrupt the flow of rev­enue, deepen their pockets through investing in political parties dur­ing the silly season and we have all seen the effect on the economy.
The PNM’s war chest alone would have eased the burden of the many sycophants who fol­low the party shouting “Great is the PNM” but lack the ability to recognize that they have been de­prived of social programmes. The quantum of money being spent on this local government election could have helped them to at least climb up beyond the poverty line.
The PNM’s war chest alone would have been able to purchase water pumps to make accessible potable water for the people in Belmont, Cascade and St. Ann’s just to name a few places. But the tame surrender of the Opposition has resulted in the people being unaware of the choices this Gov­ernment makes, its own profligacy in its desperation to give its Coun­cillors a second term in office.

Not to renege on your promise

It is for this reason and many more that my advice to you is not to renege on your promise to ad­vance election campaign finance reform. Come to the Parliament and enact the legislation and show Trinidad and Tobago that for once you can keep a promise unlike what you and your government are doing with the Procurement Leg­islation in the face of multi-billion dollar contracts being given out to friends and families.
This is my advice to you my Prime Minister – save this country from cut-throat businessmen and errant politicians by regulating the way they seek to win elections in Trinidad and Tobago.