There needs to be an end to the “pay to play” culture in campaigning, Executive Director of the Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Matt Aubry said yesterday while lamenting that yet another election cycle has passed without campaign finance laws.
Campaign finance reform was a cornerstone of Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ 2017 platform as he vowed at the time that passing legislation to bring about more transparency in which individuals or companies fund political parties would be a priority of his government.
In fact, in December of 2018, Minnis said legislation to regulate campaign finances would be implemented before the end of his term.
Aubry said campaign finance transparency is critical in setting the tone of an administration’s policies.
“Folks are struggling to find their next meal, whether they get a job, whether their kid is going to get the education they need in order to be successful,” he said in an interview with Guardian Business.
“So how does this tie into that? The reality is there is not enough money to have a system that wastes the money, there’s not enough resources to feel like the governance process should cater to just those that already have or are doing well.
“Campaign finance levels the playing field and puts campaigns and political candidates and parties in a space where they hopefully then have to lead with policy and lead with a plan that makes sense.”
The Organization of American States (OAS), which currently has representatives in country to monitor Thursday’s general election, made recommendations following the 2012 general election that the government implement a framework for financing political parties, and prohibit anonymous donations or international donors from giving money to campaigns.
“The fundamental benefit is a public trust in the process of an election,” Aubry said.
“In The Bahamas, we have numbers that are enviable across the Caribbean and other places, of [people] coming out and expressing the citizens’ will through a vote. We haven’t necessarily always seen that as making a choice for something so much as making a choice against something.
“So, I think when we think about campaign finance it creates a more transparent space for people to trust that the election process and the parties they’re representing are doing so without any underlying agenda and that are ultimately going to be in place to represent the agenda of the Bahamian people outside and above any big money players.
“That also is a part of our focus on making the culture around governance and elections more rational, making folks realize that a time like this should not be determined based on who has the most placards or who has the best PR machine or who can throw the biggest rally on wheels or not. If we put more emphasis on knowing that there is a culture of transparency and openness in elections then there’s a more likely belief that in the process of developing policy and providing governance on a daily basis that also happens with more transparency and accountability.”
Aubry said campaign finance laws go hand in hand with the Public Procurement Act, Ombudsman Act, the Integrity Commission and the Freedom of Information Act.
While the Minnis administration has enacted the latter two laws, the remaining, as well as campaign financing laws have not been legislated.
He said he hopes that whichever party wins on Thursday, they make campaign finance reform a priority.
‘They all work together,” Aubry said.
“They also can be working to change that perception that corruption and the pay to play model is the way of The Bahamas.”
Though in early 2020 Minnis boasted that he had seven years to bring campaign finance laws to Parliament, by the end of 2020 he said, “Campaign finance reform, I think it’s needed and at some point in time, I hope to see it come to fruition.”