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MSJ: The PNM and UNC have ‘colluded’ to kill Bill to regulate campaign financing

“[…] The MSJ condemns the PNM and UNC, as they have in effect colluded to kill the The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill.

“[…] If it ever becomes law, it would require political parties to be registered similarly to companies and mandate that parties present audited financial statements and account for all campaign contributions, among many other requirements…”

The following media release on the presumed reluctance of the PNM and UNC to pass legislation to regulate political campaign financing was submitted to Wired868 by MSJ political leader David Abdulah:

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley enthusiastically acknowledges cheers from a portion of the crowd during the 2020 General Election campaign.
(via PNM)

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) draws to the attention of the national community a matter of very serious importance which is quietly dying in the Parliament as a result of the collusion between both the parliamentary parties, the PNM and the UNC. 

In 2020, prior to the general elections of that year, the Prime Minister laid in Parliament a bill entitled The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2020. Dr Keith Rowley did this with great fanfare as he promised that, with this Bill, the PNM would bring about regulation for political party and campaign finances. 

The bill was then referred to a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament where it promptly lapsed due to Parliament being prorogued and general elections held in August.

The bill was once again introduced in the Parliament on 24 October 2020 with the same name but tagged as (No 2). Another Joint Select Committee (JSC) was set up to review the bill and was given until end December 2020 to report. 

Stakeholders were written to and requested to submit their comments by 27 December. The MSJ received this request by email of 2 December. To complete its work, the Committee then requested an extension of time to the end of June 2021 and extended the time for stakeholder submissions to 1 March. 

Photo: MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

For the record, the MSJ made its first submission on 6 January 2021 and a further submission on 26 February 2021. Our submissions, which ran into 19 pages, were extremely detailed as we did a clause by clause examination of the 85-page Bill. 

The MSJ never did receive an invitation to meet with the JSC, as is the norm. What then has happened? 

Our investigation found the ‘final report’ of the JSC dated 28 June 2021 and signed by Mrs Camille Robinson-Regis, MP and chairman of the JSC.

That three-page Final Report states:

‘INTERIM REPORTS 1. The Committee’s Interim Report was presented in the Senate on Tuesday 15 December 2020. Your Committee requested and was granted a six (6)-month extension to Wednesday 30 June 2021 in order to complete its work.

MEETINGS 2. Since the presentation of the Interim Report, your Committee has been unable to hold any meetings. (our emphasis)

Photo: Minister of Planning and Development and Arouca/Maloney MP Camille Robinson-Regis.

WORK TO DATE 3. Due to its inability to hold meetings, the Committee has been unable to advance its work schedule. However, the Committee agreed, at the request of stakeholders, to extend the deadline for written submissions from its stakeholders to 1 March 2021.

5. Submissions are still outstanding from major political parties, as well as other key stakeholders such as The Election and Boundaries Commission (the ‘EBC’) and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago…

8. Consequently… your Committee wishes to report that due to the imminent prorogation of the First Session of the Twelfth Parliament, it is unable to complete its work. 

RECOMMENDATION 9. Your Committee therefore recommends the resumption of proceedings… in the Second Session, Twelfth Parliament.’

This very important Joint Select Committee of Parliament had as members PNM jefes Mrs Camille Robinson-Regis, chairman, Mr Colm Imbert, Mr Fitzgerald Hinds, Ms Shamfa Cudjoe, Mr Clarence Rambharat, Mr Nigel de Freitas, Mr Randall Mitchell; and UNC jefes Mr Davendranath Tancoo, Mr Saddam Hosein, Mr Wade Mark as well as two Independent Senators.

Photo: Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein holds forth in the Parliament.
(Copyright Newsday)

This JSC did not meet for more than six months! Not even one virtual meeting! 

This is a clear indication that neither the PNM nor the UNC is in any way interested in having their party’s finances and, especially, their campaign finances, publicly scrutinised and made transparent. 

As the Committee itself reported, none of the ‘major parties’ (read the PNM and UNC) even bothered to make a submission to the JSC. And the Report made no mention of any effort to get these two offending parties, which were well represented on the Committee, to submit their views.

The MSJ condemns the PNM and UNC, as they have in effect colluded to kill the Bill. While the MSJ has concerns about sections of the Bill and have made recommendations for its improvement, its intent is very important. 

If it ever becomes law, it would require political parties to be registered similarly to companies and mandate that parties present audited financial statements and account for all campaign contributions, among many other requirements. 

Photo: UNC leader and Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre, in jacket) on the campaign trail during the run-up to the 10 August 2020 elections.
(via UNC)

It would be a major step towards breaking the link between the controllers of economic power (the financiers) and the controllers of political power. It is important in the fight against corruption.

Some four months into the Second Session of the 12th Parliament, no new JSC has been established as the PNM and UNC continue to frustrate the process. This is not surprising given the PNM’s huge spending in the 6 December 2021 THA elections and the Local Government elections due sometime this year.

The MSJ calls out these two parties and demands that their parliamentary arms immediately set up a new JSC, complete the public consultation process and have the Bill debated and passed in the Parliament before the end of June 2022.

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