Rising campaign spendingFailure to ensure financial transparency will facilitate corruption and cronyism.
Rarely do we find politicians admitting to what is perceived to be the truth. A recent statement by Nepali Congress parliamentarian Shashank Koirala on rising campaign expenses was not exactly music to the Election Commission’s ears. He nonchalantly stated that he had spent Rs60 million during his last election campaign in 2017, a staggering jump from just Rs80,000, which he claims to have spent during the first Constituent Assembly election in 2008. Regardless of how one perceives his statement (especially the Election Commission), the rising cost of election campaigns is definitely a cause for concern.
The concern is not just about the economic burden but about a host of areas primarily revolving around the opaqueness of funding sources and also the provision of a level playing field for all candidates. While the Election Commission of Nepal, in theory, has capped the amount of spending for candidates wishing to contest the various elections, there is no way to guarantee that the amount spent falls within what has been stipulated. There is no way for the Election Commission to ascertain whether the political parties comply with its code of conduct on spending either.
As long as an independent institution does not audit the records of income and expenditure of the parties, there will always be doubts raised. Failure to ensure financial transparency will undoubtedly facilitate corruption and cronyism. Campaigns don’t come cheap, and hence a candidate with lots of funds will always have the edge over the candidates that do not have access to the disproportionate amount of funds. And as is the norm, politicians and parties rely on donations from individuals and private institutions to fund their campaigns. It always comes with strings attached. There is a tendency for those financing the campaigns to recoup their investments through favours once their desired candidate assumes office.
No matter how scrupulous it appears on paper, it is an open secret that political parties have gotten away with falsehood for a long time. There is a vast discrepancy between what is reported to the Commission and what is actually spent due to the existing loopholes that continue to plague the system. For example, political parties do not receive donations as an institution, and rarely through banking channels. It is a well-known fact that donations received outside of formal channels rarely make their way into the accounting records, thus allowing for breach of standards.
While rules to deter unfair practices are a necessary tool, there is no better way to show compliance than through the actions of political parties. We often see bigwigs of leading parties drifting around in helicopters unabashedly while having the audacity to claim that their campaigns are conducted fairly. Unless political parties inculcate ethical practices in their dealings, no number of rules laid out on paper will make any difference to the way things are run.