A welcome step | Daily News

A welcome step

The National Elections Commission (NEC) has decided not to accept or endorse political parties who had so far failed to submit their audited accounts for 2021 within the next 14 days as recognized political parties, according to our main story yesterday. The accounts of all recognized political parties should be submitted in terms of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981.

According to the NEC, repeated reminders to recognized political parties to submit their audited accounts had so far failed to elicit a response.

The NEC has already placed a ceiling on campaign funding and calling for the audited accounts of political parties is certainly a clear indication that the NEC means business. There is no reason for political parties to withhold their audited accounts if everything is above board. This procedure is strictly followed in Western democracies to ensure transparency. Why then are our own political parties acting coy? Do they have much to hide? Have funds been received from questionable sources? Are they unable to account for most of their funds? Is black money involved?

Political parties cannot operate outside the ambit of any other commercial venture or enterprise which has to abide by the laid down rules vis-a-vis their financial dealings and submit their duly audited returns. A political party in many ways is a business enterprise where funds are being continually received and expended and where financial transactions take place on a regular basis. Scrutiny of all such dealings by the proper authority, therefore, is a must.

There is also the issue of foreign funding received by political parties that ought to bear scrutiny since there could be a question of national security. Do some of our main political parties fear that their overseas funding sources would be revealed? In the past it had come to light how certain Marxist parties received overseas funding for election purposes. Today we see certain political entities with no mass base or known sources of local funding having enough and more to spend on massive poster campaigns nationwide. Are these entities holding back their accounts fearing the exposure of the identity of their foreign funding sources?

Even the major parties are known to have their overseas funding sources. Their ability to hire foreign PR firms to carry out their election campaigns using state-of-the-art tools, tells a tale. These details, no doubt, would not escape an audit.

Are party contributions made by big businesses in return for some quid pro quo? This way, the declaration of audited funds of political parties could also expose the businessmen or Mudalalis who stand to gain by the victory of a particular political party at the elections. To that extent calling for audit accounts of political parties by the NEC would not be viewed kindly by those who have a lot to hide. Is this the delay in their submitting the audited accounts as required by law?

Besides, it is the NEC’s duty to ensure a level playing field and the exposure of financial details of political parties to the public will certainly put things in perspective. The public can then judge how the funds keep coming and from where and form their own opinion of those political entities sporting a holier than thou exterior, when the extent of the funding both from local and foreign sources come to light.

The NEC should be commended for going that extra mile to ensure political parties and their conduct at elections is above board. Recently it has proposed cancelling the registration of political parties whose identities carry any religious or race label. It also introduced guidelines for the registration of new political parties.

We already have 64 political parties registered with the NEC - a good majority of them doing so with the intention of acting as proxies of the main political parties during election time, making a mockery of the democratic system. The NEC has also imposed a time frame by which political parties have to fill their National List slots following a Parliamentary election. Failure to meet the deadline will now compel the NEC to nominate the next in line in the order of names as per the List submitted to it.

The Commission in a revolutionary step will also now take action to legally challenge an elected Member of Parliament (MP) upon any revelation that he/she had got elected through fraudulent means, on its own volition, without waiting for a rival to file an election petition to oust the said MP.

This pro-active stand by the NEC to ensure a level playing field is a great fillip for the true functioning of democracy and deserves all support from all quarters. It will also mean that the sovereignty of people will be protected by debarring politicians from running roughshod over the voters. Had such a course been adopted before, Parliament certainly would have been a better place with all unsavoury elements and the riff-raff being blocked from entry into the August Assembly and opening the door for the intelligent, educated, and upright men and women of good social standing to grace its hallowed portals.

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