(CMC) – A High Court judge has ordered former government minister Jack Warner to repay TT$1.5 million to the owner of a local company which was used to finance the 2007 campaign of the United National Congress (UNC).
The funds, which was organised by businessman and UNC financier, Krishna Lalla, was paid to Warner by the technology company Real Time Systems Limited over the period of two months.
Lalla, who also owned Super Industrial Services Limited (SIS), told the court that Warner had promised to repay him by February 2008 as he was expected to receive US$10 million from the International Football Federation (FIFA), of which he was then vice president.
However, Warner, who served at one time as national security minister in the UNC-led People’s Partnership government between 2010-15, argued in court that the money was not loaned to him but was donated by Lalla for the financing of the UNC 2007 general election campaign.
In delivering his judgement on Tuesday, Justice Frank Seepersad called for a proper regulatory framework for election campaign financing noting that in a developing democracy, courts should not have to decide whether sums of money received were spoils of campaign financing.
“The veil of secrecy and anonymity must be removed and there should be full disclosure of financial contributors, with caps placed on the amounts which can be received by a political party from individuals, companies or institutions.”
Justice Seepersad said that for far too long election campaign financing has played a central and dominant role in politics.
“There is an entrenched public perception that elected officers can be sold to the highest bidder and that campaign contributions are the functional equivalent of bribes which ensure that favourable treatment is given by government by those who provide the said funds,”.
“The evidence adduced in this matter demonstrates the perception may well be the reality that unfolds. In the absence of regulations, financiers can legitimately purchase goodwill and exercise undue influence over politicians and political parties,” the judge said, noting that as a consequence, the insular interests of those financiers may be considered paramount when executive decisions are undertaken.
“Such an approach to governance in untenable, unethical and inconsistent with the oath of public office which mandates that all decisions and actions should be made freely, fairly and in the best interest of citizens of the Republic. The absence of campaign finance regulations has led to a culture of kickbacks and corruption.”
Justice Seepersad said that even with the enactment of the procurement legislation and appointment of a procurement board, the dire need for a proper regulatory framework has to be a priority and election campaign finance reform should be effected as matter of urgency.
He also said safeguards and/or prohibitions need to be formulated with respect to the award of contracts to financiers.
The judge said taxpayers’ money and resources do not belong to any political party and cannot be used to court a party’s financiers. The judge also ordered that Warner pay interests and costs.