Inside Parliament: Election spending law easy to beat


December 04, 2015
Daryl Vaz

Daryl Vaz has already wrapped his campaign vehicle in anticipation of a general election which is due next December.

Vaz, the member of parliament for West Portland, said he has also purchased campaign shirts and armbands, which cost a pretty penny. That spending, however, will not be captured as election campaign spending, which means that he will be able to spend another $10 million whenever an election is announced.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill to restrict the spending on election and to regulate donations. But Vaz, who once served as deputy treasurer of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), said that the bill is not ready.

He said that the new guidelines regarding spending on political campaigns can be easily beaten, but his calls for the bill to be revised and tightened were ignored by members of the House of Representatives, which passed the bill without amendment.

finance bill

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Vaz said that while the campaign finance bill is ambitious, it will be difficult to police the activities of politicians.

"These brown paper bags or scandal bags will remain almost impossible to detect," Vaz said.

The bill makes it illegal for a candidate to collect more than $1 million in donation from any single donor to run an election. No individual contributor can contribute more than $31.5 million to a particular party.

The term campaign period means the period of time which commences three months before the day of the official announcement of an election date and lasting until the day on which the poll is taken.

Where no official announcement of an election is made, the campaign period refers to time which commences on the day immediately following four years and six months of the current term of office of the Government and lasting until election day.

campaign items

No candidate is allowed to spend more than $10 million on a campaign. However, Vaz said in parliament that smart candidates would spend money on many campaign items long before the campaign period has started.

"A smart candidate, like me, or political party, can therefore try to get his contributions in and most of its contributions in before the announcement is made," Vaz said.

He argued that the fixing of election dates will make it even more easy to beat the system.

"A candidate who spends $10 million prepaying his car rental, bus-hiring bills, paying for his car rental, T-shirts, armbands, etcetera, will still be able to legally spend another $10 million during the campaign period.

" And since July, in actual fact, when the finance minister put us on unauthorised election alert, I know for a fact that not only me, but several people, have bought their T-shirts, their armbands, wrapped their vehicles, and done so much in preparation for elections and those are very costly items. I have another $10 million to spend legally when this is passed."

Vaz said that money "distributed in envelopes to nice-up an area or buy votes" will still be a feature of the politics. He said that many of the illegal activities are cash transactions and, thus the absence of a paper trail makes enforcement of the law impossible.

"Someone putting on a campaign rally under the guise of a stage show or gospel concert, which is attended by large throngs of green or orange shirted people" is another example of how people can beat the system.

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