(CNS): All 61 candidates who campaigned in the elections now have until the end of June to complete their reports on the cash they spent over the eight weeks between Nomination Day and the General Election on 24 May. But the issue could prove to be the next controversial topic following the election result because of the “limited transparency” that was noted by the overseas election observers in their report. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association mission, which gave the election a clean bill of health, nevertheless raised concerns about the lack of campaign funding information being given to the public before polling day, among other issues.
Following amendments to the law last year, all candidates, regardless of whether they ran in a group or party, had a spending limit of $40,000 during that eight week period. No cash spent before 28 March needs to be revealed and the observers noted the lack of requirement for candidates “to submit, or for the authorities to audit or publish, reports on expenditure before polling day”.
The mission said that in the absence of public funding for either parties or candidates, the previous mission in 2013 had expressed concern that the “amount of funding from private Caymanians was too high and distorted the fairness of the campaign”, and issue that had not been addressed.
When the candidates have all submitted their finance reports, the elections supervisor will publish a summary, which will be available to the public. But the observers noted that there is no provision to check that candidates are telling the truth. In their report about the post-election finance declarations, they point out that there is “no obligation on any state institution to actually verify the completeness and accuracy of the expenses and contributions declared”.
The law does not require candidates to reveal the identity of donors unless they contribute more than $10,000 in a single donation to an individual candidate. This means that the actual total of the well documented investment by Dr Steve Tomlinson in at least ten candidates and supporting generic campaign posters and advertising goes well beyond that sum. But the voters will never know the exact amount he invested unless Tomlinson chooses to reveal it.
The mission has said that the new Standards in Public Life legislation calls for higher accounting and oversight standards, but although that law was passed by members of the Legislative Assembly in 2014, it has still not been implemented and there is no commencement date.
CNS understands that the regulations to support that law are being drawn up by the Constitutional Commission established under the Constitution, but there has been no indication when they will be ready to pave the way for the law.
The Elections Law reveals that the financial reports must be sworn before a justice of the peace stating that the election cash return “fully and accurately sets out all payments made by the candidate”, and the money or resources received by the candidates or agents from any source in connection with the election.
Although it does state that anyone who knowingly makes a false or incorrect return commits an illegal act, there is no means by which that could be investigated unless a report is made against a candidate.
Who backed which candidates, to what extent and why will remain largely under wraps, as is the general case in Cayman for any donation to parties or candidates outside of the official election campaign period. The public has no idea who most of the party financiers or donors are but they do know that lots of cash was sloshing around the economy over the last two months.
The elections observers also reported on complaints from candidates who accused some media houses of an “immense increase in advertising rates” during the campaign, which “allegedly took advantage of the limited media space available paired with the high demand”.
No specific media houses were named but CNS is able to confirm that we did not inflate any ad prices over the election period, despite the limited ad space.