Louis D Brandeis was a well known Justice of the US Supreme Court. In 1913, three years before his appointment, while an outspoken advocate for financial and government transparency as a means of curbing corruption, he wrote a piece in Harper’s Weekly magazine in support of the regulation of banks. In it he made the statement: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
More than 100 years later, sunlight and disinfectant have again become linked, but the facts behind the current links between them are at such a high level of the bizarre that one might apply the popular response: “you just couldn’t make this stuff up”.
In literal mode, the presidents of two of the largest countries of the world have promoted the idea of an anti-malarial drug and ultraviolet light as treatment for Covid-19. Ultraviolet light is disseminated by the rays of the sun. Here at home, our Leader of the Opposition, unwisely and petulant at the Government’s initial success in containing Covid, has repeated that “sunlight will kill Covid”.
But laugh and cry live in the same yard. While many were still laughing at these ramblings, an example was revealed in this newspaper last week of how badly we are disadvantaged in our practice of democracy by this Government’s lack of implementation of the metaphor linking sunlight and disinfectant, in this case to the issue of campaign finance.
In May this year the Prime Minister came on strong in the Parliament that a Bill was being brought forward to meet his party’s commitment to campaign finance reform promised years before. This was a belated Bill. It went to Select Committee but did not make it out of Committee and into law. The Parliament was dissolved in order to have the General Election 2020 within the required constitutional deadline.
This was not a fault of the PNM 2015-2020 administration alone. The preceding UNC dominated People’s Partnership government of 2010 to 2015 also failed to deliver campaign finance reform. It is these types of essential but broken promises on each side that leave many wondering whether, on election day next week, to decide out of frustration “none of the above”.
Now here is last week’s revelation of how our democracy is hurt by the slackness in campaign finance reform, one major object of which is to place an obligation on financiers to make public disclosure of their donations to political parties and candidates.
Denyse Renne of this newspaper is one of our admirable journalists pulling things out into the sunlight, even though they get pressure fuh so. Last Monday she wrote a story entitled “Evidence is weak” concerning a police investigation into allegations of kickbacks paid to persons in public life related to the award of State-controlled contracts.
Renne’s story, based on access to a letter passing between investigators and leading counsel, reports that the letter states there is only circumstantial evidence regarding the allegations of kickbacks.
It continues: “Investigators believe that money paid through advertising agencies to the former regime were inducements to secure construction contracts.
However, investigators have hit a snag with this focus in the investigations since there is nothing illegal about political contributions, if the source of funds is legitimate. The onus is on investigators to prove such funds going towards campaign financing were obtained through fraud, deception or some other illegality.”
Whatever the alleged legal snags, the point is that the voting public should be able to know from disclosure under campaign finance laws who, among contractors and all others, had made campaign finance donations over the last ten years to those forming the past two administrations. That is the kind of information that would benefit us by exposure to the metaphorical sunlight for disinfecting. Both major parties have curiously deprived us of that sunlight.
Meanwhile, sunlight has not killed Covid. We must have our elections on time, but we have to deal with Covid’s ominous new spread. It is vital therefore that the Elections and Boundaries Commission puts out clear guidelines informing us of any additional, but voluntary, step we are to be encouraged to take in the voting process as a result of the spread of the disease.