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Judge calls for proper framework for campaign financing

Published: 
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Warner ordered to repay $1.5m to businessman:
Jack Warner

A High Court judge yesterday called for proper regulatory framework for election campaign financing as he ordered former government minister Jack Warner to repay $1.5 million to a prominent businessman.

Delivering judgment in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, Justice Frank Seepersad said courts, in a developing democracy, should not have to decide whether sums of money received were spoils of campaign financing.

Warner was sued by businessman Krishna Lalla, owner of Real Time Systems Ltd, after he failed to repay Lalla the money which he loaned him in October and November 2007.

Lalla, who also owned Super Industrial Services Ltd (SIS), claimed Warner promised to repay him by February 2008 as he was expected to receive US$10 million from Fifa.

However, Warner claimed that the money was not loaned to him but was donated by Lalla for the financing of the 2007 general election party for the United National Congress of which Warner was a member.

“The veil of secrecy and anonymity must be removed and there should be full disclosure of financial contributors, with caps placed on the amounts which can be received by a political party from individuals, companies or institutions, the judge said.

Saying for far too long election campaign financing has played a central and dominant role in politics, the judge said, “There is an entrenched public perception that elected officers can be sold to the highest bidder and that campaign contributions are the functional equivalent of bribes which ensure that favourable treatment is given by government by those who provide the said funds. The evidence adduced in this matter demonstrates the perception may well be the reality that unfolds. In the absence of regulations, financiers can legitimately purchase goodwill and exercise undue influence over politicians and political parties.”

As a consequence, he said, the insular interests of those financiers may be considered paramount when executive decisions are undertaken.

“Such an approach to governance in untenable, unethical and inconsistent with the oath of public office which mandates that all decisions and actions should be made freely, fairly and in the best interest of citizens of the Republic. The absence of campaign finance regulations have led to a culture of kickbacks and corruption.”

The judge said even with the enactment of the procurement legislation and appointment of a procurement board, the dire need for a proper regulatory framework has to be priority and election campaign finance reform should be effected as matter of urgency.

Seepersad also said safeguards and/or prohibitions need to be formulated with respect to the award of contracts to financiers. He said taxpayers’ money and resources do not belong to any political party and cannot be used to court a party’s financiers. The judge also ordered that Warner pay interests and costs.

Attorney Neil Bisnath represented Lalla while Keith Scotland appeared for Warner.

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