In the last few weeks, the buzz words in Belize are ‘campaign financing legislation’. The lobbying for this comes after it was discovered that former Minister of National Security, John Saldivar had received tens of thousands of dollars from Armenian national, Lev Dermen. When asked how much money he received, Saldivar said he was not keeping track and he does not recall. When asked how he used those monies, he says it was for the Belmopan people whom he has had to assist with program sponsorships, their daily expenses ranging from basic light and water to other necessities. This triggered the urgent need to have a system in place that would monitor the monies received by politicians for campaign financing; who are the donors? Are they expecting any favors in return? Is the politician being compromised? While a few members of the Barrow administration have conditionally agreed that the legislation is needed, the Government of Belize has been silent on the issue. Darrell Bradley, the President of the Senate, however, went several steps further and drafted the Political Parties Registration and Financial Reporting Act. Bradley has been vocal on the urgency for the laws to be brought about and did an in-depth explanation this morning on the Business Perspective segment of The Morning Show.
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “Nothing can happen if we do not have ethics in government and one of the things that I would just harken back on is that I’ve read the UNCAC several times and one of the big parts of the UNCAC that we always ignore is the public service and creating a merit based public service and the reason for that is they recognize the importance of service to overall national development that you are actually looking at the public service and the private sector as being vehicles for moving people out of poverty and moving the country forward and none of those things can happen until we get leadership questions correct in our country. We can want enough crime reduction strategies, we can want enough housing programs, we can want enough reform in terms of trade licenses but if we do not reform our political structure, if we do not create a system whereby it encourages people with vision and character to get involved in politics none of those things will happen and so the idea with this piece of legislation is it will set a framework for dealing with the involvement of money in politics so that we will control that, we will regulate it, it’s primarily a transparency legislation so a big part of it deals with the reporting requirement and people will come back at you and criticize is because people will say but ‘I don’t want people to know what I give to a political party as a campaign donation.’ and if that’s the case then it’s a non starter because the purpose of the core piece of legislation is to bring to light what people donate. So that aspect of it is fundamental and critical and people including politicians will fight back at that that’s privacy issues but that is a red herring to cloak what goes on in shadows and you know what would be undermining our democratic process. What the legislation does is two things, one is it regulates political parties which have never been regulated. The law gives a period of thirty days when the law comes into force for all existing political parties to register, so every political party has to register and then the second thing is that it provides for reporting requirements for campaign contributions and any person who is a candidate and any person who receives monies outside of the normal course of employment or business that would be considered a campaign contribution – you have to report that. So for example I’m involved in politics but I’m involved in law, I can show by my accounting records what monies I collect from law and when I was a candidate any monies that is collected from campaign you must be able to do that. The law prohibits co-mingling of funds so that you have to set up a campaign finance account and there has to be an accounting of that account.”
The establishment of laws governing campaign financing is one of six demands brought forth by the union last week as they pulled off a demonstration on corruption. The opposition has agreed to get it done should they be elected into office this year and they too had a demonstration on corruption over the weekend. The idea of such a law would bring limitations to the politicians as there would be a ceiling as to how much they are allowed to accept. It would also minimize corruption and the practice of buying votes. Bradley explained how it would work for politicians on the rural, municipal and national levels.
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “Village Council for example we omit that because village council really there’s not that emphasis on money at the village council level. Municipal elections also it’s different from a mayor because you’re more public so the mayor would be involved in campaign contribution receipts but for individual councilors so I can say ‘You know what I don’t want to fall under this legislation I do not accept campaign contributions.’ but the minute you solicit, you receive even indirectly any campaign contribution you have to report it and so I just want to underscore this, a lot of people will come back and they will throw this argument of privacy, privacy, privacy, privacy and in society what we do is there’s balance and a core feature of any campaign financing has to include reporting and public reporting has to have that. It’s a transparency law, without that the law would be defective and it would not achieve the purpose of it’s intention. All transactions have to be reported and one of the things that I think is a good feature of the legislation and also a good feature of campaign finance laws across the world which are good is in politics you have to track the money so you track monies going from receipt to expenditures. So that if I tell you that I’ve received $50,000 in a campaign contribution and at the end of a reporting period I show that I have zero dollars in there I have to show you where that money went, I have to show you that that money went on a legitimate campaign expenditure; it went on advertising, it went on fuel for transportation, it went on whatever it went on – we had a convention. If I show you that that money is gone but I can’t account for it it either means that I took the money or it means that I paid for votes. So what you’re doing is that you are actually tracking the expenditure from receipt to payment and when you do that you can clean up a lot of political activities, it’s the intention of the law so that it’s not saying that this law as drafted is perfect, it’s put out there for public discussion and debate and revision and so forth but the features of the law cannot be taken out because if you take out the reporting requirements you undermine the system. I’ve looked at other laws which talk about ‘oh this one you can make regulations for this and regulations for this.’ regulations in our laws are rarely made so if you actually say in the law that you’re supposed to do something down the road it will never happen because you’re asking really a very difficult question, you’re asking politicians to regulate themselves and that will never happen.”
Bradley went on to say that if the Campaign Financing legislation is not done now, the momentum will fade and other priorities will take the forefront. He went on to say that the issue of personal enrichment of politicians is also an issue that needs to be looked at seriously.
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “It does need to be done now because I think now you do have a certain amount of interest in this and there is a lot of dialogue on quarters which is what government should be about, it shouldn’t just be about this that we talk about, every law we should have this kind of conversation because it’s about all of us. I think now is the correct time and if it is social partner senators, if it is opposition senators, if it is the government whomever introduces it it should be introduced and I think that if we wait until a general election then we will have a new fervor there and there may be other priorities, you’re dealing with the possible changes in government and you will lose that moment. I think the moment right now is critical for this to be passed in this time because we may not have this change any time in the future. Transparency law but there is the scope for what is called an unjust enrichment act because you’re really just dealing with transparency in this law, reporting requirements, but you also want to ensure that whatever persons have in political office they can account for. So if I know- I mean I’m a lawyer if somebody sees me flying a plane like where did I get that from ? That’s kind of common sense. If you’re a politician, I know how much the salary of a politician is and if you’re building a three storey house like where did you get that from so the transparency law is good and I think that this is a good move but there has to be wider mechanisms in place including other pieces of legislation that will make the system of leadership in our country very positive and promoting of good values and that piece of legislation likewise needs to be passed because we know that this is going on and we can have transparency, I can report a campaign contribution but like what then ? You have to have another piece of legislation that says that if there is any like I can look at what you have and I can say ‘You know what you need to account for what you have.’”
Host: That’s one of the points that we never debate because what are the consequences based on your proposal if somebody breaks any of these rules.
Darrell Bradley, Senate President: “If you break this law you’re gonna go to jail. So on every section you have penal provisions. So if you don’t report, if you commingle, if you give a prohibited donation there are fines and there are terms of imprisonment. There is also a mechanism in here, because I know that this has happened in the past where you try to have private prosecutions, there’s a provision in here that if this law is not being followed any citizen can sue for this law to be enforced so the law itself has several enforcement mechanisms including at the last point that any person who thinks that ‘hey this law isn’t being followed’ I can go to court and I can demand that this law be followed.”
While Bradley is a member of the National Assembly and a part of the UDP, he says the draft of this Act was done on his own accord.