Op-Ed: A Watchdog for Jamaican Politics

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By Dmitri Dawkins
Op-Ed Contributor

In every election, political parties make promises, seldom kept, to garner votes. Jamaica is no different.

As a developing nation, Jamaica is highly indebted to foreign lenders, and in the last budget debate we were told that over 60 percent of every tax dollar will be spent repaying loans.

In what way, however, does the country benefit from the remaining taxes?

As political discontent increases — shifting based on which industry or union is marginalised — people begin to query what was promised to them in the election.

Unfortunately, however, outside of newspapers, there are few repositories of political promises and intentions.

Similarly, outside of the vitriolic diatribe of the next election campaign (and the jaded intolerance of never-ending veranda discussions), there are no real audits and reports of how well a political party has done in keeping its campaign promises.

While organising the Slash Roots Developers Conference in 2010, I learned about the Sunlight Foundation in the United States.

They are a non-profit political and government watchdog group that opens up key government data and information to the public. They help to shape government policies on transparency, while enforcing that the data is released on time and in proper formats. The Sunlight Foundation also watches campaign spending by major political parties.

Currently, politicians in Jamaica — supposedly answerable to the people of Jamaica — answer to no one. The only time many feel they have a voice is election time, but, even here, political grievances and apathy take their toll.

Enabling an NPO (Non-Profit Organisation) to oversee government transparency and election campaign spending will empower the people to hold politicians to higher standards.

Providing central repositories for election promises and projected milestones will also add transparency to a political party’s operations. Jamaica is a democratic country. This is 2012. We don’t need to block roads. We need the proper tools to measure the performance of our politicians so that we can hold them accountable for their activities and also provide the public with the information necessary for them to properly exercise their vote.

Yes, there will always be those who are staunchly affiliated to a particular political party. But reason will prevail for the majority.

In the same way that politicians promise results to the people of a nation, they also make promises to local businesses in exchange for campaign funding.

Jamaica may not have the hassle of super-PACs like in the US — that is, unregulated entities created to fund political parties — but today only large campaign donations are tracked.

For true transparency, the public should understand which companies fund political campaigns and what concessions have been made to those companies in exchange for this funding.

Not all political promises made to a business may be in the best interest of its customers or the general public.

Similarly, the public needs to understand the political agendas of companies for whom there are political agendas.

The purpose of the government is to serve the people; but without transparency and access to information in a timely manner, the nation cannot share the same vision with the government we have entrusted to national leadership, protection and development.

What is now needed in Jamaica is political growth and maturity.

I suggest that local foundations, businesses and even individuals should subscribe to the implementation of an NPO which would allow for political growth in the nation.

This NPO could even be government-funded, based on special levies (10 percent of campaign donations?).

Additionally, such an organisation would rally people to speak to local government officials to encourage and institute necessary changes.
The organisation could also lobby Parliament for amendments to laws. This could be a real voice for the people. Who is up to the task?

Disraeli said: “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation.” Disraeli also said: “As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.”

Dmitri Dawkins can be reached at pr@dmitridawkins.com.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

 

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