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Influence of party financiers

Published: 
Monday, May 21, 2018

In the recent judgment in the court matter against Jack Warner, Justice Frank Seepersad commented that there was “a culture of kickbacks and corruption” involving the financing of political party campaigns and that “campaign contributions are the functional equivalent of bribes which ensure that favourable treatment is given by the government to those who provide the said funds.”

This statement is not a revelation. It has been known by many for a long time although one editorial writer would regard it as “an eye-opener.”

That this corrosive relationship between financiers and elected leaders has been ongoing for decades is due primarily to the fact that it is viewed by the party members and supporters as an accepted part of the political culture in order to obtain sufficient funds for the conduct of election campaigns with the foremost objective of winning. As the saying goes “one hand does not clap” and supporters “like it so.”

For supporters, there is no greater purpose in life short of devotion to God than seeing their party capture government and retain it, whether they themselves benefit or not. The means for doing so are not considered important.

Party leaders exploit this tenacious sentiment to form a government in order to keep elected members strictly in line and any semblance of dissent is characterised as betrayal and subversion of the party.

The ultimate sanction is expulsion from the party and ostracisation by its support base. I went through this experience for objecting to the overweaning influence and dictates of financiers and for insisting that allegations of corruption should be dealt with. With respect to the latter, I was told that if I have evidence I should go to the police with it. I was ridiculed and condemned for allegedly bringing down government.

While submissiveness to the demands of financiers is most likely a feature of the functioning of all governing parties, my experience has been confined to the Panday-led UNC administration. Mr Panday was a man of few secrets.

On the night of the General Elections victory of 1995, Panday would publicly identify three financiers for their efforts in achieving his party’s electoral success.

One was put in charge of the National Gas Company to vet all proposals for energy sector investments. Another was placed to head the Tourism Development Company to identify non-energy sector investments.

The trio determined investment project priorities and was adamant that the new Piarco International Airport Project was one of utmost urgency, which it was not. The Desalination and Inncogen projects were also undertaken to benefit financiers without a proper scrutiny and appraisal of the respective proposals.

One financier became a multi-faceted contractor involved in civil engineering projects, airport construction and equipment procurement, building construction and even the purchase of vehicles for the Police Service. This financier possessed the clout to have deadlines regularly extended, rules and procedures circumvented and cost-overruns routinely approved.

There was another who had lobbied for the staging of the under-17 world football tournament and was awarded a consultancy for stadium construction projects.

One financier, prominent for his support hitherto of the PNM, came on board after a couple of years.

He had ownership and control of an insurance company and was able to influence government to ignore violations of laws, regulations and best practices in the management of the company as outlined by the Supervisor of Insurance.

Through his close association with government officials, he had set plans in motion for the acquisition of a number of state enterprises including Tanteak, Caroni Distillery and Lake Asphalt. He also had instructed his protege to run for the post of deputy political leader of the UNC party.

Financiers even sat down with the then Prime Minister to determine the allocation of ministerial portfolios and even the selection of election candidates.

Suffice it to say that a mockery was made of democratic principles and politics where elected representatives were supposed to be in control.

—TREVOR SUDAMA

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