The EBC chairman argued that the Representation of the People Act and the Constitution are “deficient” and “totally inadequate” in tackling the issue and noted that while there are limits on campaign spending, anecdotal evidence suggests these limits are not being respected.
“The law is very deficient on this question of expenditure by candidates and this is why I have proposed that the Constitutional mandate of the EBC be extended to include the ability to introduce a whole set of rules about campaign financing,” Masson said.
He noted that Section 48 of the Representation of the People Act imposes a limit not on advertising but rather on the campaign expenses of individual candidates. The legislation limits the spending of a candidate and his or her agent to $50,000 for parliamentary elections and $25,000 for local elections.
“We see a lot of advertising taking place and it comes up to a hell of a lot,” he observed. However, he noted that when candidates file accounts of their expenses, “they are all within the $50,000 limit. So you can come to your own conclusions.”
Generally, election advertisements are paid for by third parties who may or may not be members of official political party machineries. In this way, the restrictions of the Representation of the People Act are avoided, lawyers noted yesterday.
“I would like to see tighter and proper regulations relating to this thing,” Masson said arguing that the EBC should also be given better resources to deal with the issue. Asked whether parties should be called upon to respect the spirit of the current legislation, Masson said, “The parties can only comply with what the law says. I have suggested and made certain recommendations. The regulations need bolstering up. They have to be revamped, they are anachronistic.”
Specifically, Masson called for the establishment of a special body to regulate the issue and for a revision of the spending limits. “Clearly, $50,000 in today’s world is a bagatelle,” he said. On the issue of the use by the State of ministerial funds to promote Government ministries work during an election campaign, Masson agreed the issue was a clearly valid one that should also be subjected to the drawing up of regulations after consultations.
“All of that should be subject to scrutiny when the time comes to redraft the legislation. All of these maters will presumably be taken into account. One will have to discuss them with the relevant parties,” he said.
Masson’s comments came as reports emerged yesterday that the ruling PNM has issued directives to candidates to impose limits on campaign spending. According to reports, the directives were issued yesterday morning, two days after Prime Minister Patrick Manning accused the Opposition UNC of possible breaches of the expense limitations in the law. In response to that attack, UNC chairman Jack Warner accused Manning’s government of using tens of millions in state funds to promote Government ministries during the election campaign.
PNM chairman Conrad Enill did not return messages on the issue when contacted this week.