Culmer: FNM will deliver on campaign finance reform

Culmer: FNM will deliver on campaign finance reform
Free National Movement Chairman, Carl Culmer.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Minnis administration “will deliver on its promise” to regulate campaign finance in The Bahamas, according to Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Culmer.

He was responding to the United States’ 2018 Human Rights Report, which highlighted the issue.

The report read: “The campaign finance system is largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption.”

Speaking to Eyewitness News Online, Culmer said, “We are looking at it now.

“I know it is before the Office of the Attorney General, [which is] looking for the right language and the FNM will deliver on that, on the promise.

Asked whether the report, which also underscored challenges in the procurement process, reflected poorly on the country, the FNM chairman said the government sought to address both issues and has made headway prior to the report being issued.

He said the Minnis administration will seek to ensure each political party in the country operates on a level playing field.

“We want to give everybody the opportunity to go out there, express their mandate and platform; where they can say exactly what they are going to and the Bahamian people can hold them to it without [the government] being influenced by outside pressure or pressure from within, who have their own agenda,” Culmer said.

In January, Attorney General Carl Bethel said draft legislation for campaign finance was being prepared.

Among the package of legislation introduced to bring The Bahamas in compliance with the requirements of international financial sector regulators, including the European Union, was the Non-Profit Organization Bill, which provides for the regulation of NGOs and requires them to disclose proprietary information and report financial details, including donations of $50,000 or more.

The government has delayed the passage of that bill to further consult with stakeholders.

Political organizations did not fall under the NPO Bill, however, an issue Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper called troubling.

The PLP, ahead of the 2002 general election, pledged to deal with campaign finance reform.

On the last election campaign trail, 15 years later, then Prime Minister Perry Christie pledged that the PLP administration would regulate money in politics.

It was pointed out to Culmer that previous governments have pledged to deal with the issue, and faltered.

According to the FNM chairman, there was discussion on the issue among party officials in recent weeks and “we are looking at how we can implement it”.

While the timeline has yet to be established, the Culmer expressed confidence campaign finance reform will be in place before the end of the Minnis administration’s term.

Underscoring the challenges in the procurement process and issues of corruption alleged of officials, the U.S. report said, “The procurement process was particularly susceptible to corruption, as it is opaque, contains no requirement to engage in open public tenders, and does not allow review of award decisions.

“The government nevertheless routinely issued open public tenders.

“During the year (2018) the government launched a process for all vendors and suppliers to register on an electronic platform to increase transparency and to improve the procurement process.

“This Minnis administration government pursued allegations of official corruption after taking office.

“As of November, cases continued regarding two former ministers and a former senator charged with corruption in 2017.”