By MALCOLM STRACHAN
THERE are few things more frustrating in politics than promises that are never delivered.
For too long, campaign finance has been a carrot being endlessly dangled in front of the electorate – treating us all like donkeys.
Fully ten years ago now, Perry Christie had described campaign finance in The Bahamas as “repugnant” and said it had sunk sometimes to “criminal” levels.
But did his administration do anything about it?
In 2016, four years after those comments, the then Prime Minister said that it was not one of his administration’s highest priorities. No kidding, we could tell.
So when the former Deputy Prime Minister in that administration, now Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis, last week said that a campaign finance bill was not a priority of his government at this time, well… don’t hold your breath if you’re expecting anything to happen in this administration.
The FNM cannot hold up their heads on the issue either.
All around, there has been muttering of how campaign finance was an issue that needed to be tackled, but not a sign of any determination to actually do so.
When will this government do anything about it, Mr Davis asked: “Well, as soon as our personnel get around to doing it. Right now, there are sufficient comprehensive provisions in our law to combat it.
“The Attorney General has been given the mandate to consolidate and to do benchmarking against best practices, to identify what provisions we will have in our laws to combat the anti-corruption issues that impact our country.”
That runs against what officials from the United States have to say. Last week, the US government warned that election campaign financing in The Bahamas remains wide open to abuse that exposes this nation’s governance to “corruption and foreign influence.”
The State Department, in its annual Investment Climate Statement on The Bahamas, also took issue with the Public Disclosures Act, saying it was an inadequate mechanism for casting a spotlight on politicians’ personal finances because the latest declarations have neither been published nor independently vetted.
“The Public Disclosure Act requires senior public officials, including Senators and Members of Parliament, to declare their assets, income and liabilities annually.
“For the 2021 deadline, the Government gave extensions to all who were late to comply,” the report said.
“The Government did not publish a summary of the individual declarations, and there was no independent verification of the information submitted.
“The campaign finance system remains largely unregulated with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence.”
So, what we have is a free-for-all where there is no significant monitoring of campaign contributions – and the likes of a Peter Nygard is still free to buy influence, and even the legally required measures such as the Public Disclosure Act are treated as something that doesn’t have to be respected let alone enforced.
The press secretary, Clint Watson, said that new Members of Parliament had been briefed about their responsibilities, and yet a litany of excuses came up about people being busy and losing track of what they were supposed to be doing.
You try that excuse with police officers who stop you if your driving licence has expired, and see where that gets you.
You’ll end up in court. So should those who disobey the law while a parliamentarian.
Meanwhile, the former Minnis administration has come under criticism for contracts awarded under emergency legislation, and the current administration has faced questions over declarations of contracts awarded since coming to power.
How long must we wait before actual efforts to improve transparency?
Well, the Public Procurement Act was brought in by the Minnis administration – and that’s the Act the current government is ignoring when it comes to announcing contracts, as they protest that the regulations and guidelines were lacking.
Who benefits from the lack of transparency? The simple answer would be those in power at any given time, or those shaking the tin on the campaign trail, offering promises for funding.
Which prompts the question of why any government would not make it a priority?
If all is above board, you’ve nothing to hide. So naturally one wonders about the reasons for delaying any such action.
By endlessly promising improved transparency and failing to deliver on those promises, politicians of all stripes are insulting the electorate.
We’ve waited a decade and more for action on the issue – how much longer are we expected to wait? Mr Davis was part of the previous administration that pledged to tackle the matter, and still sees no urgency in dealing with an issue deemed almost “criminal” and which attracts international condemnation.
Every time this particular can gets kicked down the road, it is a blow to public trust in politicians.
There is no reason to trust people who make promises only to refuse to follow through.
If the government wants to show any kind of commitment to the issue, it can start by publishing this year’s declarations under the Public Disclosures Act.
Let’s see exactly who did and did not meet the requirements of the law. And let’s take action against those who did not.