The government is confident that existing legislation is adequate to address any cases of bribery and treating which may take place in respect of political campaigns.
Sections 40 and 41 of the Representation of the People Act speak widely to both offences and the consequences facing any person – whether they are candidates or not in an election campaign – should they breach these laws.
Accusations of bribery against Prime Minister Gaston Browne made their way into the media this week when videos circulated of him giving what appeared to be cash to people who approached him as he drove through his constituency.
On Thursday during the post-Cabinet press briefing, Ambassador Lionel Hurst made it clear that the accusations raised by the United Progressive Party (UPP) were a political tactic to distract the public from their failures.
“Political parties – especially the opposition political party in Antigua – will say and do anything in order to change people’s minds, and we say that those people are intelligent enough to know the difference between a gift that is sourced from any political party member at any time, and what is intended to compel people on election day to vote in a particular way.
“There is a significant difference between both,” said Ambassador Hurst.
Hurst added that the UPP’s bribery accusation smacks of hypocrisy, as just this weekend they too organised activities which involved the exchange of money with business owners in the St. John’s City West Constituency.
“When the opposition political party pulls up at a store and the candidate for the area goes in and purchases goods that he really doesn’t need, it’s not regarded as bribery, but if someone who asks for a little help is given a cash component, and the person handing out the cash is connected to the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party, somehow it becomes bribery.
“These are political terms that are being used rather loosely.”
Under the Representation of the People Act Section 40, bribery, in summary, involves the corrupt exchange of money, gifts, or the promise of the procurement of an office in exchange for either voting for, or withholding their vote, whether by the candidate as the beneficiary, or by any person acting on their behalf.
Treating, which is addressed in Section 41 of the Act, speaks of a candidate, or any agent acting on their behalf, corruptly covering the cost of food, drink or entertainment for the purpose of influencing a person to vote or abstain from voting.
As he expounded his position, Hurst said nothing in the videos circulated this past week indicates that Prime Minister Browne’s engagements with his constituents last week breached any laws related to bribery or treating.
“There is no evidence, one, that the person who received the money is a resident or a registered voter in that constituency.
“Second, there is no attempt on the part of the person handing out the money to make any deal with the person receiving it not to vote or to vote in a particular way.
“The…law is very specific about what constitutes bribery. Clearly, none of this which takes place would fall into the categories that would define what takes place as bribery,” Hurst said.