Is it criminal?
Should a business contribute to political campaigns in Aruba?
We are less than two years away from the upcoming elections, and soon political leaders, political candidates, and their loyal and obedient lackeys will start calling and knocking on the doors of businesses. These days, we seem flooded with criminal investigations and criminal cases involving politicians who made it up to the level of senators or ministers in the government. Whatever happened to the integrity of good, honest politicians? Some of the cases we have seen involve money or other values that changed hands between businesses and politicians or misuse of those funds, leading not only to the disgrace of the politicians involved but also dragging businesses into criminal court and getting businesses convicted.
In this week’s column, I will address whether businesses should make or continue to make political donations or if, as a best practice, they should stop doing this to protect themselves from criminal liability.
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You know it is campaign time when the ones asking for money on the streets are not the homeless or addicts but the party leaders, the political candidates, and their trusted soldiers or family members.
They will try to sell you things like raffle tickets, bingo tickets, food boxes, cocktails, and coffee sessions, all to get businesses to pay tribute to their “noble” cause. Some will also ask that a business pay for certain expenses like printing branded t-shirts, campaign stickers, flags, posters, or billboards. In that process, “they” will or are likely to promise you the world or, at the very least, promise that you will be on their speed dial should you ever need anything from the government. For simple things like high-valued real estate in the long-lease (erfpacht), leasing any commercial property you may have, or sometimes selling your services to the government. One could doubt very seriously if a business that donates money to a politician does this with zero interest in mind. Of course, you run the risk that one in power will change their phone number and ignore you until the next election. If so, there is little you can do about it. Should you give them money, or should you pass on their request?
Before answering the questions, you should give them money; perhaps the question is: Why do politicians require your money? Should they not be self-funded if they aim to give to the people instead of taking from them?
The political parties are associations. Associations have members. Members pay dues. Are these members paying dues? Or do the parties prefer loyalty from their members over membership dues? The members should be paying membership dues for their parties. The minister, senators, and coordinators make money from the government. Why are they not making monthly salary contributions to fund their political beliefs? I am afraid the answer to those questions is that politicians prefer to keep their money and use “O.P.P.” (other people’s money!) to fund their political adventures.
The politicians are just like sponges, always asking or wanting more, but have they ever shown up at your door with a copy of the approved financial statements of their party? Or with a budget approved by the party or signed by the party leader telling you ahead of time why they require the money or how they plan to spend it? Are the financial records published on their Facebook pages or websites? Can I see who has donated to a party or candidate? The (likely) answer to these questions is “NO.” Not much transparency here, yet these are the same party leaders that promise you transparency in government, and you believe them? If so, I am afraid you are less bright than I thought.
Foundations of the candidates
Have you not wondered why the party leaders are not the ones receiving the cash or are they? Why is that? And have you not wondered why every candidate had their foundation to “raise funds”? How exactly can they use this money? Who controls them? And have you ever seen a financial statement for these foundations? Why not? How do you know that your money isn’t used for personal use? Do you care, or do you want to be on their good side “just in case”?
We already have one conviction because of misappropriation of foundations funds or commingling these funds. We also already have criminal convictions of staff members of the (former) ministers and businesses. That is right, one or more businesses that gave money or other value to politicians have been convicted in criminal court. How do you know you won’t be next? Think about this before you give your next check to the lackeys of the leaders or candidates of the leaders or candidates of the big parties. The same applies to the other smaller parties. You know who they are.
Isn’t it time to put the political parties under the same supervision of the Central BankCentral Bank, like notaries, lawyers, accountants, car dealers, casinos, and jewelers? The courts have already made a conviction for money laundering. Should the Central Bank not supervise the political parties to protect the reputation and integrity of Aruba? Would it not be great for Aruba if all political parties were required to have an MLRO (Money Laundering Reporting Officer) MLRO and an MLCO(Money Laundering Compliance Officer) and be forced to have a manual for compliance and be subject to ad hoc audits by the Central Bank of Aruba?
No, but we donate to all
One famous line I hear when I ask folks why they make political contributions is:
“No, not us, because we donate to all the parties; therefore, we don’t do anything wrong.”
What I have also heard from our close neighbors is:
“Nosotros le damos a todos los partidos, asi que estamos bien. Ademas haci se hacen las cosas en Aruba”.
Two wrongs don’t make one right. How naive can you be? Suppose a political donation to one candidate or party can create criminal liability for you. What makes you think contributing to 10 parties or candidates gets you a get-out-of-jail-free card? If you are a business owner or manager and have applied this philosophy, perhaps you should reconsider your position for the next election. Or perhaps you are happy “greasing” the politicians?
What is it to you?
Is making a political contribution so vital that you risk getting a SWAT team to storm into your house at 5 a.m. and scaring the living daylights out of your family? Sure, the wife would be ecstatic if that should happen. Or are you banking on the lighter version, i.e., that you will get a friendly call inviting you to the police station to answer some questions? Either way, before you know it, hours of your life go by, you start to rake up legal bills, and people around you suddenly become distant because you are now contaminated with the odor of corruption. Is it worth it? Not to mention that once your house is searched, “your” party leader will likely get a sudden selective amnesia and not remember who you are, ever meeting you, or ever dealing with you.
The political leaders, like savvy salesmen, will quickly target the prime candidates to ask for donations. One can imagine that they scout out the hotels, real estate developers, and other high revenue companies of Aruba as the “low gaming fruit” or those with “deep pockets,” especially if these businesses believe in the mantra that by giving to all politicians out of a sudden they are no longer exposed to criminal prosecution. Ignorance is bliss.
On the other hand, hotel owners, hotel chains, developers, or any other business that is owned or is in a franchise-type arrangement with a U.S. company or individual run the risk of being prosecuted in Aruba and running the risk of violating (U.S.) federal statutes. The one that most vividly comes to mind is the FCPA . The FCPA, the Foreign government corrupt act practices act (1977), makes it unlawful for a U.S. person or company to offer, pay, or promise to pay money to any foreign official to obtain or retain business. The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions would make it a federal offense for a U.S. public or private company, a U.S. citizen, or a resident to make campaign contributions to a local minister, parliament, or even department head to obtain or retain business. How many honestly can say they give to the politicians without (ever) wanting something in return? The USA Company or person is not exempted from the FCPA if the “pay for play” is done in Aruba!
My 2 cents
You can wine and dine me all you want. Still, if you do the same with a politician or government official or make political conditions in the form of money or if you open your freezers and let them load ribs and chicken for their next fundraising BBQ sale, you are treading on thin ice. You might be labeled a suspect even if you don’t realize it. How do you know that your phones are not being tapped by detectives? How do you know your bank or accountant hasn’t flagged your payment as an “unusual transaction” to the Financial Intelligence Unit?
How to avoid the risk of criminal liability
How to avoid the risk? One way to prevent this is to say “NO, THANK YOU” This is the simplest and safest way to protect yourself. If they ask you why? Ask them why you should give them money. Ask them why so many politicians from both sides of the aisles and business people get detained on suspicion of corruption charges.
Try getting it in writing.
Ask them to ask you the request in writing and have that letter signed by the leader of the political party and not by some loyal party soldier that is foolish enough to be the culprit (or conspirator) to provide the leaders with plausible deniability. Curious to see if you will ever get such a letter.
Ask for the leader of the party to confirm to you in writing that he: (i) approves the request for money; (ii) declares the intended use of funds, and (iii) offers a personal indemnity for all losses that you may suffer, including the cost of your criminal lawyer should you ever become criminally liable because they requested a contribution.
Why should he do this? Because he is asking for your confidence, vote, and money. Should he not reciprocate the trust?
Do you want to be a good citizen?
Donate money to charity if you want to be a good (corporate) citizen. Help feed the kids who go to school without breakfast. Contribute to the animal shelter. Help stray dogs & cats. Give to the orphans. Plant a tree. Help save the planet.
Think of something, but don’t give money to politicians. If you decide to give to the politicians, don’t be upset when the police come looking for you. #YourFavoriteLawyer #BoAbogadoFaborito
See you next week!