Money will be the elephant in the room this election campaign
Money has always corrupted Dominican politics but in this current election campaign cash is about to corrupt Dominican politics completely. Money is such a large elephant in the room of political campaigning here that it is amazing how quiet about the problem are leaders of the church and civil society.
Imagine Jerry George , the St. Vincent and the Grenadines host of the programme "Early in the Morning with Jerry S. George" was totally aghast when Atherton Martin, his guest, told him last week that one political party here had budgeted EC$72 million for the 2019 campaign. We were also much surprised at that huge figure.
Folks, $72 million is more than one million dollars per person in this extremely- poor-hurricane- ravaged country of less than 70,000 souls! The point is, if each political party was able to spend even fifty percent of that amount during the election campaign then we could argue that the playing field was somewhat level and not completely lop-sided towards the Dominica Labour Party (DLP). Remember, money buys everything- elections included.
Over the past few years, we have been talking a lot about electoral reform and hopefully Dominicans may soon have the right of voter identification cards and a cleansed voters list before the campaign actually starts. But don't hold your breath; we have observed that in every speech that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has given on the political platform over the past few months he has refrained from mentioning electoral reform. That tells us that this issue is such a very hot potato that he would rather leave completely to his surrogates; or that he cares so little about the issue.
It is obvious, based on the huge mobilisation of supporters that we have been witnessing, the DLP is extremely well-financed. From the grapevine we understand that the DLP has budgeted many millions for: the retention and payment of monthly professional fees to a team of campaign strategists and consultants; assistance to aspiring candidates; research and production of a party-in-Government performance document; stipends for full time canvassers; air transportation; design, production, purchase and shipment of campaign paraphernalia, including T-Shirts, billboards, posters, brochures, caps, hats, noise makers, manifestoes, stage management, lighting, pyrotechnics and other advertising and promotional aides; ground transportation for mobilizing and transporting supporters to and from mass national events; rental of vehicles, such as trucks, vans and SUVs for use by campaign management; acquisition of public address systems; retention of pollster and scientific tracking polls and focus groups of voters throughout the campaign; entertainment for major national rallies; conceptualization, production, publishing and transmission of radio, newspaper and television advertising; stipends to candidates and campaign teams; office rental, administration, furnishing and equipment.
This is quite a list that each political group from Pappy Baptiste's political party, to the Dominica Freedom Party, to the United Workers Party to independents must match if they are to be relevant candidates and political parties during the election. But where will they obtain these funds?
The public will never know for sure the source of funds that political parties use for campaigning and they do not seem to care. In a paper produced for the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy entitled: "Political Party and Campaign Financing in Dominica", Cecilia Babb states that the "culture of privacy, reinforced by the absence of requirements for public disclosure, predispose political parties to guard their financing information against the eventuality of it being made available to other parties. This precaution goes as far as not reporting to party branches given the possibility of changes in party membership."
Babb added: "Party officials and known contributors in the private sector were suspicious of the attempt to quantify the cost of an election and sought to keep that information private. The media was equally cautious about divulging information as to what a particular party had spent on advertising. Without access to records for comparing sources and destination of resources it is not possible to accurately and conclusively determine exact costs of campaigns beyond the average figures that respondents were willing to offer".
Party officials contend that political campaign financing is a party's private matter so long as it is legal money that is free from drugs and money laundering. In response to questions a few years ago about the source of DLP funds, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit stressed that it is nobody's business who gives the Labour Party money to finance its campaign. And he added a few choice words, for emphasis, about where people who ask these questions should go to burn forever, which we will not repeat here.
But most Dominicans will agree that political parties should not use campaign funds to bribe voters. Each political party has legitimate campaign expenses and these can amount to vast sums. The party must appeal to their supporters and other sponsors to raise these funds and no one can find fault with this.
However, political parties have been accused, by their opponents, of using campaign funds to pay candidates to contest elections or giving cash to individuals to cast their votes for the party. Of course, confirming this accusation is very difficult since no one will openly admit that he has paid or has received money for contesting an election.
The Dominican public should, therefore, be asking both major political parties about the source of campaign funds because it is important to know who will be the purchasers of our politicians. Are they foreign governments, terrorist organisations, and international drug cartels; or are they just ordinary people and businessmen who just want more than their fair share of this tiny Dominican cake?
Unless we ask those critical questions our next government, whether it is from the DLP or the UWP, could find our leaders dancing to the tune of foreign criminals, or a few rich but corrupt individuals and companies.