Bermuda’s politicians are to consider crafting new campaign finance rules which would require political parties and candidates to disclose their funding arrangements.
Meanwhile, Whitehall has said it will not be imposing “direct rule” on its mid Atlantic colony in the wake of Craig Cannonier’s resignation from the premiership following corruption allegations.
While the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office notes that “in theory” Britain has the power to “override legislation and other constitutional arrangements in Bermuda”, it has ruled out suspending the Island’s constitution as happened in the Turks and Caicos Islands following the resignation of its Premier Michael Misick in the midst of alleged wrongdoing in August 2009.
An FCO spokesperson told Politica:
[The overriding of Bermuda’s constitutional arrangements] is not under consideration; nor do the circumstances of Bermuda resemble those which led to direct rule in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
However, the FCO added that it was “working to encourage the adoption of measures to promote high standards in public life, including electoral practices and finances.”
Britain imposed the second spell of direct rule in little more than 20 years in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009 after Misick, his Cabinet and elected assembly were suspended following an inquiry led by a retired British judge which found a “high probability of systemic corruption”.
Between 2009 and late 2012, when an election saw Misick’s Progressive National Party take power once again, Britain enacted a new constitution with tight controls on financial management and procurement, passed equality legislation and created an Integrity Commission, which has powers to investigate any corruption and fraud allegations.
While the FCO said the circumstances in Bermuda do not “resemble” those which existed in the Turks and Caicos, the scandal surrounding Cannonier’s handling of his links with US tycoon Nathan Landow could yet lead to action by authorities in Bermuda or the US.
Cannonier resigned following publication of our story Selling Bermuda which reported serious allegations relating to the Premier’s relations with Landow, who was interested in developing a casino on the Island. He admitted he had failed to be fully transparent about the matter but said he had not broken any laws.
We also revealed that the developer had, with other US businessmen, donated some $300,000 to assist the now governing One Bermuda Alliance’s election campaign – funds which top party officials had been unaware of.
The revelations prompted the OBA to launch an internal investigation.
Bermuda currently has no law that requires political donations to be publicly disclosed.
That could soon change.
Bermuda’s new Premier Michael Dunkley indicated to us in an interview on May 23 that he is open to the idea of reform.
And Junior Minister Leah Scott has tabled a motion seeking to establish a parliamentary committee to review the matter.
In other colonies and former colonies of Britain, there are scant controls or disclosure requirements.
Political parties in the Cayman Islands are not required to document donations or expenditures that occur outside of the election period. However, in the Caymans any candidate accepting a donation greater than $5,000 during the approximately six weeks of the election campaign must identify the source of that donation to the election supervisor.
There also remains no upper limit on political contributions made to either individual candidates or political parties in the Caymans, although a 2004 law does provide an expenditure limit within which candidates must stay. In the British Virgin Islands, a Registrar of Interests bill, in which all members of Legislative Council must declare their financial interests each year, was passed in May 2006.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Political Assistance, only two out of twelve independent Caribbean nations have laws requiring the public disclosure of the identity of donors, while none have bans on corporate donations to political parties.
This lacuna has recently led to some halting efforts at reform.
The Electoral Commission of Jamaica put forward proposals for an overhaul of campaign finance laws in August 2013. However, Jamaican Gleaner columnist Peter Espeut blasted these proposed safeguards against large donors buying influence as being “so weak as to be ineffective” and “full of loopholes”.
In a similar vein, historian Selwyn Ryan has noted that in Trinidad and Tobago, “there are no laws which regulate or limit the manner in which, and the extent to which, political parties are funded by either the private or public sector”.
In the Bahamas, a constitutional commission recommended in July 2013 the enactment of legislation for the establishment, regulation and funding of political parties to ensure transparency and accountability.
At the time, Prime Minister Perry Christie said his Progressive Liberal Party government was considering the possibility of campaign finance reform.
The Democratic National Alliance has also suggested that the nation’s “system of governance has been compromised” by the lack of regulation in the context of the confluence of government decision-making and pressure from the gaming industry and other corporate interests.
It has called for the PLP government to enact a campaign finance law that requires “all parties and candidates to disclose publicly all money raised, from whom it was raised and how it was spent” and for “limits on contributions to parties by individuals and groups”.
Laxity in the Caribbean is mirrored in the US. The Supreme Court there recently rejected overall limits on how much individuals can donate during a federal two-year election cycle. Canada, in contrast, has set strict limits on individuals giving to political candidates, while corporations and unions cannot directly donate to political candidates or parties.
The prospect of campaign finance reform in Bermuda and the other BOTs is complicated by their constitutional position, under which, despite their ostensible autonomy, they remain subject to direct intervention by London.
According to historian Peter Clegg, Bermuda is “one of the most devolved constitutional systems” out of the 14 remaining BOTs, which stretch from Pitcairn in the South Pacific to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean and Gibraltar on the southwestern coast of Europe.
The 1968 Bermuda constitution, which created “Responsible Government” and placed a large portion of executive power in the hands of an Executive Council (renamed Cabinet in 1973) chaired by a Government Leader (renamed Premier in 1973) has served as something of a model for territories such as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands to emulate.
In 2006, the Turks and Caicos constitution was reformed to create the office of Premier, more autonomy for local ministers and a diminution in the role of Governor. Similar changes occurred in the BVI in 2007 and in the Cayman Islands in 2009. However, this Bermudian-led model of autonomy recently faced a challenge in light of the imposition of direct rule between 2009 and 2012.
As a result of this precedent, as well as a generally more interventionist bent displayed by Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, the apparent potential for colonial intervention in the BOTs seems to have increased.
The Turks and Caicos Islands’ new constitution and transparency “ordnances”, conceived and enacted during the period of direct rule, include a campaign finance law that regulates the funding of political parties and campaigns, campaign methods and accounting practices. Thus, the decade of the 2000s, which had seen Britain devolve powers to local elites in the BOTs, climaxed in an episode that saw it act in a more interventionist way to regain those powers.
Following the UK Government’s publishing of the 2012 White Paper on the BOTs, in which it is asserted that the “UK Parliament has unlimited power to legislate for the Territories” and has responsibilities “to ensure the good governance” in them, it appears that this more interventionist stance may be part of a longer-term policy. British politicians are scrutinised by an Electoral Commission.
A 2000 campaign finance law stipulates that donations must be registered. And the 2012 White Paper outlines what the UK government sees as its responsibilities to ensure “the same high standards of governance” in the BOTs “as in the UK”.
An FCO spokesman told Politica:
The British Government will continue to encourage best practice in public life and electoral procedures, including finances and independent monitoring. The recent engagement of the Joint Ministerial Council, including the leaders’ commitment to peer review, is welcome and gives an opportunity for all Territories to make progress in this area.
Meanwhile, following the “Jetgate” scandal, which saw Cannonier’s replacement as Premier by his Deputy on May 20, the gravity of the lack of campaign finance
regulations been brought home.
Members of the public give their views on disclosure of political donations
As Professor Trevor Munroe of the University of the West Indies pointed out at a Cayman Islands conference on the issue in late 2012, disclosure of donations is more important than limiting the amount of those contributions.
Monroe noted that as a result of the lack of regulation, “none of us here in a parliamentary democratic system can know who is paying the piper….Not in Jamaica, not in Trinidad, not in Barbados, not in Guyana, and of course, not in Cayman Islands”.
But it remains to be seen whether Bermuda’s legislators have developed a strong appetite for political finance regulations, with even members of the Opposition PLP holding back from calling for major reforms.
As Shadow Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban stated in the House of Assembly on May 23: “I can accept, and I think many people can accept, that political donations are the business of political parties and most of the activities around that are private business between those who donate and those who receive.”
However, although it made no recommendations specifically about campaign finance reform, the House of Assembly’s Select Committee on Elections recommended in March 2014 the establishment of an Electoral Commission to “review best practices globally and propose amendments to improve the electoral system”. Opposition MP Walton Brown, who chaired that Committee supports disclosure.
This article belongs to Politica ! The original article can be found here: Bermuda moves toward campaign finance transparency rules
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