A sound set of proposals | Daily News

A sound set of proposals

With the April deadline set by the Special Panel tasked with drafting a new Constitution to finalize the process fast approaching, views and inputs of various organisations, professional bodies and civil society groups are being studied by the Panel to explore the possibility of incorporating them in the draft proposals. Among those under study are a set of three proposals submitted by the Elections Commission (EC) seeking for itself powers to act against MPs relating to certain lapses and infringements.

Chief among these is a demand for each MP to submit the list of expenses incurred on the election campaign to be forwarded to the EC within 30 days of the conclusion of the election - failure to do so to be made grounds for disqualification. This is a welcome proposal and would not be objected to by any MP whose election expenses are legitimate.

This would also be a means of ascertaining if the election expenses of the MPs fall within their known earnings or if these had overshot the limits by a considerable margin which can imply that the funding may have come from illegitimate or questionable sources.

This will be ascertained from his/her asset declaration to Parliament which would necessarily mean that any demand for election expenses could follow the scrutiny of assets declared to Parliament. How many among the present lot have declared their assets is anybody’s guess. In the last Parliament fewer than 10 of the 225 MPs had done so.

Of course it is moot if all MPs who have so far declared their assets in keeping with Parliamentary custom have in fact bared all their assets. There are ways in which they could circumvent this by having most of their assets placed in the names of spouses, children and third parties.

The EC’s proposal in this regard ought to receive the nod of the Expert Panel. This will not only cleanse the entire electioneering process but also go a long way in eliminating unfair competition and ensure a level playing field. Under the current PR system only candidates with considerable means stand a chance of being elected with plenty of resources at their command to throw around in an entire district while the more deserving ones fall by the wayside. There has been much talk about changing the present electoral system and hopefully the necessary changes would be incorporated in the proposed new Constitution so that the next election will be held on a more even footing.

The Commission’s proposal for the declaration of all election expenses by the candidates would also expose the extent of black money being splashed around during elections, and the moneybags thrown on behalf of candidates by shady businessmen who naturally expect a quid pro quo which no doubt will be exacted from the public in the end.

Another proposal submitted by the EC to the Drafting Panel is for the Commission to be empowered to demand that a National List slot of a political party in Parliament not to remain vacant for more than three months following the first sittings of the new Parliament, on pain of losing the Seat or Seats as the case may be. This too is a salutary suggestion in that the failure to fill the National List vacancy could be constituted as a violation of the mandate of the voters under the current electoral system by denial of full representation in Parliament.

By dilly-dallying in the appointment of its sole National List member, the United National Party has not only let down its voters but also denied a voice on their behalf in the August Assembly. The National List should also not be abused. The whole rationale of introducing the National List was to accommodate learned men/women and professionals in its fold. Unfortunately all major parties have deviated from this principle and chosen lesser mortals and defeated candidates to occupy these slots going against better judgement.

The EC’s final proposal is to invest it with powers to remove an MP who repeatedly keeps away from Parliament for one third of its lifetime, i.e. an MP who fails to attend Parliament sittings for a little over one and half years, for whatever reason, will automatically lose his/her seat in the House. On the face of it this too appears to be a fair proposal. An MP is elected to Parliament to make his/her voice heard on behalf of his constituents and if he/she is absent sans a valid reason this purpose is defeated and a replacement ought to be found.

But the question arises if it would be fair to deprive an MP his/her seat for being absent for reasons beyond their control such as prolonged illness or some other mishap. What will become of their pensions? Will they still be entitled to their Duty Free Vehicle permits and continue to receive their salaries and other perks during the periods of prolonged absence? All these issues must be extensively discussed.