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May 9, 2013 - Bridgetown, Barbados.

I am particularly pleased to be present in Bridgetown to take part in the Regional Forum “Strengthening Regulation of Political Parties and Political Financing Systems in the Caribbean”.

Allow me to start, first of all, by thanking Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for inaugurating this event and taking the time to join us in this endeavor. We are sincerely grateful for his unwavering support; it further confirms the importance which the Prime Minister attaches to this topic.

The issue of political financing has become an increasingly important preoccupation to all those who are concerned about the wellbeing of our democracies. The financing of our political system is vital to a healthy and vibrant democratic political system. Indeed, political parties need funding in order to accomplish their functions in support of the will of the citizenry. But the system also needs to keep a keen eye on its financing with a view to avoid the pitfalls and abuses that sometimes arise.

This regional meeting brings to the table the underlying complex relationship between money and democracy.

The OAS has been addressing this issue for quite some time, ever so more through the decisive declarations and mandates given to our Organization. This is reflected in the incorporation of this topic in the agenda of the Third Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec in 2001, which led to the Inter-American Democratic Charter establishing that political funding is a priority to the point that we should pay particular attention—and I quote—“to the problems associated with the high cost of election campaigns and the establishment of a balanced and transparent system for their financing.” (Art. 5 of the Charter).

In light of the spirit of the Charter, it is clear that the effective implementation of the regulations on political financing is an important factor in strengthening public confidence in institutions and electoral processes. It is undeniable that a strong political and party system strengthens democracy and, on the other hand, the trust that a society upholds in their political system contributes not only to the legitimacy of its elected leaders, but also to the enhancement of democratic governance. In this regard, it is vital to be transparent or have the appearance of transparency as politics are, in large part whether we like it or not, made of perceptions.

Over the past six years, the OAS has deployed 17 Electoral Observation Missions in 12 of the 14 Caribbean member states attending this forum.

The vast majority of the reports of these observation missions included findings related to the lack of regulation of political parties and of political financing systems in the country observed. The reports all coincide that this lack of regulation has the potential to affect both the equity in competition and the transparency of the electoral process.

Furthermore, the reports have concluded that in most cases, there is no public funding for election campaigns. Parties fund their campaign activities with private funds. The result is that those parties with more resources and greater ability to raise funds are more competitive in elections.

They have also determined that there is very little regulation of private financing. For example, very few countries in the region have bans on anonymous or foreign donations, or limits on contributions. These regulatory weaknesses constitute risks that may affect the independence of the parties, with respect to economically powerful foreign interests and even organized crime.

It is often said that while democracy is priceless, it has nevertheless an operational cost.

The expansion of democracy, the increasing complexity of the electoral process and the rising awareness of the risks that corruption poses to the viability of democratic systems have placed the financing of public activity at the center of public debate around the world. Political funding should not be stigmatized, nonetheless, as it is an inherent support of a healthy and normal democratic life. However, it is undeniable that money is able to introduce important distortions to the democratic process.

In September 2010, at a Regional Consultation in Kingston, Jamaica, the OAS presented a model law to the leaders of the governing and opposition parties from 14 OAS member states from the Caribbean Community. The aim of that forum was to promote discussion about the regulation and registration of political parties and political financing systems and to provide a tool to facilitate potential reforms.

This Regional Forum is a follow-up to the activity held three years ago. Overall, this event pursues the same objective as the event in Jamaica. However, on this occasion, we wish to focus on four essential topics for strengthening democratic regimes in the Caribbean: party registration, gender and political financing, equal access to campaign financing, and disclosure mechanism.

Very few Caribbean countries have legal requirements for registering political parties or regulations governing campaign contributions or expenditures. Indeed, as you would hear from one of the experts, political parties in most CARICOM countries are not legal entities. This lack of such regulations not only provides an “uneven playing field” in which more endowed candidates or parties may have an unfair advantage in getting their messages across to the electorate, but it also opens the door to unlawful financing in the political process. If left unattended, this issue will continue to erode the credibility of elections, as well as the political parties that compete in them.

Moreover, a most disturbing scenario is the possibility of criminal elements affecting the outcomes of elections, through their campaign contributions, financing of political parties or intimidation of voters. Such a development, more than any other aspect, reinforces the need for strong regulations to be put in place for the registration and financing of political parties and eventually for the financing of electoral campaigns.

As I have previously stated, it is the perception of legitimacy that is at the core of this discussion, and it is one of the reasons why financing of the political system—not only the campaigns, mind you—has become a fundamental pillar of the OAS electoral observation processes. It is, indeed, part of a broader effort to expand the range of our observation to incorporate increasingly sophisticated aspects that may threaten the integrity of the democratic process.

Our presence in the Hemisphere today is a reflection of our resolve to foster the development of democratic principles and not so much to resolve crises, though we still address, from time to time, a number of them. Today, almost no one questions the results of the elections; fraud on the day of the election is less likely to occur, and the concerns and discussions that accompany many of the political processes that the region experiences are being made precisely around their financing, campaigning, voter registration, and the overall environment surrounding the election and not so much with issues regarding the vote.

It is, therefore, important not to confuse the process itself with the events that sometimes occur with elections.

What we have observed throughout the region is that there has been a clear trend to seek a balance in the influence of money in politics, and to strengthen the mechanisms for transparency and accountability. I would like to commend these efforts and encourage the pursuit of these activities in the Americas, a region where the presence of organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, is an indisputable reality, mobilizing billions of dollars a year and is, therefore, easily able to corrupt and undermine the very essence of our democratic institutions.

Political financing reform is inevitable in our path towards greater transparency, equity and effectiveness for the consolidation not only of free and fair elections, but for the strengthening of democracy. This is not only our duty, but our obligation so that the peoples of the Americas may concretize their aspiration for a fair, democratic system, and benefit from the certainty of liberty and equality, which are intrinsic to democracy and indispensable for greater freedom and justice for all citizens of the region.

Thank you very much.