Poll body takes action against candidates failing to report campaign spendingIt has imposed fines ranging from Rs7,000 to Rs20,000 on political parties failing to comply with legal provisions.
On Tuesday, the Election Commission announced action against thousands of candidates failing to submit their reports of election expenses.
The commission has decided fines of Rs15,000 each for 2,435 candidates including 1,037 for the House of Representatives and 1,398 for the provincial assembly elections.
A decision to impose a fine of Rs15,000 on 2,435 candidates of the 2022 elections was taken as they failed to present their expenditure details on time, the Election Commission said in a statement on Tuesday. The commission has asked those candidates to submit the fines to the commission within 35 days and make their expenditure reports public within seven days and inform the election office about it.
“If any candidates failed to submit their fine, they would be barred from contesting the election that takes place immediately,” the commission states.
In a bid to make the political parties responsible and transparent, the Election Commission has recently taken action against a number of them for failing to submit their audit reports on time.
The constitutional body’s move has been widely hailed as positive but also insufficient to make the political parties transparent as the lavish campaign financing is considered a root cause of corruption and inflation in the country.
Last year, the commission imposed fines of up to Rs50,000 on 41 political parties for failing to submit their audit reports. This is the maximum fine the election body can slap on a party for failing to submit an audited report for three consecutive years. The action seems to have alerted the parties as the commission didn’t have to impose the maximum fine this year.
But still, many others have failed to fully abide by the rules.
This year, the commission imposed fines ranging from Rs7,000 to Rs20,000, which it slapped on the parties that failed to submit their audit reports for one or two years. The fines are in line with the provision of Section 54 of the Political Parties Act, 2017.
Some parties submitted their audit reports after the deadline, but the EC said they need to give satisfactory clarifications for that.
Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai-led Nepal Samajbadi Party, former Maoist leader Prabhu Sah-led Aam Janata Party and Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives, and Poverty Alleviation Ranjita Shrestha-led Nagrik Unmukti Party were fined Rs7,000 each.
According to a recent statement by the Election Commission, a fine of Rs20,000 each was imposed on eight parties that did not submit their reports on time and did not respond to the commission when it sought clarifications. Fines of Rs7,000 each have been levied on 39 parties that did not submit their reports within the given time after making their expenditures public.
Fines of Rs15,000 have been imposed on two political parties—Muskan Sena Nepal Party and Shiva Sena Nepal—which submitted unsatisfactory responses after failing to submit audit reports for two fiscal years within the stipulated time.
Likewise, a fine of Rs20,000 each has been levied on three parties—Aam Admi Party Nepal, Rastriya Janamukhi Party Loktantrik, and Nepal Communist Party Loktantrik—that did not submit audit reports for two financial years and also failed to submit their responses to the commission’s call for clarification.
According to Section 41 of the Act on Political Parties 2016, the parties must conduct an audit within six months of the end of the financial year and submit a report to the EC within a month thereafter.
Commission officials say they will bar the parties that fail to pay up within the stipulated 35 days from taking part in the upcoming elections.
If a political party does not keep accounts, it cannot submit an audit report to the commission, in which case an explanation will be sought. If the explanation is not submitted on time, then a fine of up to Rs20,000 can be imposed.
Similarly, a party that fails to submit an audit report to the commission for three consecutive years may be fined up to Rs50,000 and ordered to make amends within six months. If the fine is not paid or they fail to rectify their actions on time, the commission can order such parties to not participate in the next election.
Experts say the EC should take stern action against political parties that don’t adhere to legal provisions even after getting warning notices.
“The adamant ones could be punished by the imposition of a reasonable fine. Those not responding to the EC’s notice could be even de-listed as registered political parties,” said Nilkantha Uprety, a former chief election commissioner. “If the fine imposed by the EC is waived off by a higher authority, the importance of the Election Commission gets compromised.”
In February this year, the President waived the fines imposed by the commission on local election candidates who failed to submit their expenditure details on time.
Another former chief election commissioner Surya Prasad Shrestha said the commission should take action against the parties flouting the laws to discipline them.
“This is vital to strengthening and stabilising the democratic practices in the country,” Shrestha told the Post.
Many parties have presented their audited reports to the commission but leaders and observers say that won’t resolve the problem unless they provide factual data.
“The audit reports of the political parties don’t represent their actual expenditures. Not only older parties, newer ones are also submitting fake expenditure details,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a former Maoist leader who left the party after he was denied an election ticket.
Bhandari said one can easily guess their tentative expenses looking at the lavish lifestyles of the party leaders which their report does not reflect.
On Monday, Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav said the expenses made by the candidates at an election were also a form of corruption and demanded a revision to the election system.
Costly elections encourage corruption, Yadav said at a function on Monday.
The campaign financing of the candidates generally exceeds the ceiling fixed by the Election Commission but the details of total expenses fall within the ceiling.
According to the report ‘Study on the Election Campaign- Local, Provincial and Federal Election in Nepal 2017’ by the Election Observation Committee-Nepal, the average expenditure made by a winning candidate in the federal election is Rs21.3 million, while the average expenditure by a runner-up is Rs14.9 million. The rest of the candidates spent Rs8.5 million on average.
A similar trend was observed in the provincial elections as well, where the winner spent on average Rs12.5 million, the runner-up Rs11.7 million and the remaining candidates spent Rs7.1 million.
The report showed that a candidate spends more than a political party, donors, and the government combined. A key reason for this is that the candidates and/or the party president, and not their parties, receive funds directly from their supporters.
“This poses a question on the independence of the candidates and any policies or programmes that they may advocate, once they are in office,” the report concluded.
Data from the study confirmed that a candidate who has the capacity to spend more in the campaign has a greater chance of winning the election.
Even though large sums of money are funnelled into elections, political parties do not accurately report their costs, candidates seldom maintain records of campaign income and expenditures while the business houses do not publish records of their contribution to the candidates and political parties, raising questions over the transparency of campaign financing, said the report.
Though the Election Commission has been trying to curb the election costs and ensure transparency through regulatory efforts, that has proved insufficient.
Experts say increasing election costs of the parties have become a headache for the Election Commission. That, in turn, has negative consequences for the country.
“We have made lots of efforts to make the political parties transparent on their election costs. The steps taken by the commission now are positive,” said Ayodhee Prasad Yadav, a former chief election commissioner who also wrote a book titled: ‘Election Cost and Political Party Finance’.
“Parties must follow the law and make their expenses transparent.”