By Robert A. Emmanuel
Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) John Jarvis has called on the various political parties to work together to overhaul legislation relating to elections.
Jarvis’ comments were in relation to the lack of strong campaign finance laws that continues to pervade the country’s electoral process.
Speaking at ABEC’s post-election press conference yesterday, Jarvis said he hoped that once the Commission has completed its own report, relevant authorities will begin discussions on legislative changes.
“As it is presently, you are looking at legislation that was revived in 2004 with minor amendments down the road. I think it is time for us to have a complete overhaul as to the way forward.
“Until that is done, we are going to continue the way we are and people will find convenient loopholes with legislation to propel their own activities,” Jarvis articulated.
The observer missions of the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth and Caricom all called for stronger campaign finance laws in their preliminary reports released in the wake of the January 18 polls.
That recommendation has also been repeated by other observer missions throughout past elections in Antigua and Barbuda.
“The parties do talk about it you know but the willingness to go beyond the talking stage leaves a lot to be desired,” Jarvis added.
As the law currently stands, political parties are only required to provide details of donations given between the day the writ is issued and the day of the election.
The Representation of the People Amendment Act 2001 Section 83, states “Every political party shall keep a financing account book into which shall be recorded all monetary and other forms of contributions received by him during an election.”
The section goes on to say, “every political party shall have its accounts audited within six months after an election that it contested” and “the Commission shall impose a penalty of two thousand dollars a day on any party or organisation who fails to comply with this section”.
Nothing in the legislation forces political parties to share such accounting with the public.
Jarvis highlighted the fragility of this section, stating “it begs the question, at what point in time does the party begin to report as to the source of finances”.
He added, “the yardstick we have to go on until it is changed are the commencement or when the writ has been issued which is usually about three weeks before the actual election.”
The Chair noted the inadequacy of that timeframe as, according to him, “most of the financing would have already been obtained”.
The ABEC Chairperson was unwilling to give details of the proposed legislative changes the Commission would like to see during the interview.
Observer media noted the high number of billboards – both wooden and digital – plus radio advertisements, political rallies, and political paraphernalia by the United Progressive Party (UPP), Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and independent candidate, Asot Michael, over the last few months.