US State Department report: No campaign finance laws leave country vulnerable to corruption

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

UNREGULATED campaign finance and an opaque procurement process continue to expose the country to potential abuses, according to the US State Department.

The country’s vulnerability to corruption due to campaign finance was flagged by the department for the eighth consecutive year in its 2018 Human Rights Report.

Yesterday, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest said campaign finance reform is “still on the agenda” for the Minnis administration but could not speak to its prioritisation.

“The campaign finance system is largely unregulated, with few safeguards against 'quid pro quo' donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption,” the 2018 report read.

It continued: “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,” it added.

The report noted the government’s roll out of its E-Tendering and Supplier Registrar System - an online automated system which allows vendors and suppliers to register and submit documents.

The department’s concern over unregulated campaign finance was first noted in its 2011 report, while the country’s procurement process first came under scrutiny in its 2015 report.

The Free National Movement promised on the campaign trail to implement campaign finance laws once elected.

In December, Attorney General Carl Bethel said a draft bill to regulate the campaign finances of political parties was presented to the Progressive Liberal Party.

The draft bill distributed by Mr Bethel is reportedly similar to a bill the PLP drafted in 1980 under Sir Lynden Pindling, one that never made it to Parliament.

A week earlier, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis pledged the legislation would be implemented this term, as well as the Freedom of Information Act.

In a section on corruption and lack of transparency in government, American officials also acknowledged the Minnis-led administration's pursuit of allegations of corruption in public office since winning the 2017 election.

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

Former Senator Frank Smith has been acquitted of all charges against him; meanwhile, the trials of former Cabinet ministers Shane Gibson and Kenred Dorsett have not started.