Bill to restrict polls campaign funding | Sunday Observer

Bill to restrict polls campaign funding

Election watchdogs and civil society groups last week handed over a draft bill calling for restrictions on polls campaign funding, to the Government. The ‘mooters’ of the Bill said their aim is to ensure a level playing field for all candidates and promote more women and intellectuals to join in the fray. The effort was a culmination of a months long exercise since September last year.

The draft titled a Bill to restrict campaign financing for political parties, Independent Groups and candidates, was handed over to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha by People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) last Thursday.

The election observer groups were asked to come up with a draft law on campaign financing restrictions when their representatives were called before the Cabinet Subcommittee on Local Government Elections in September last year. Shortly before the draft was tendered PAFFREL Chairman Rohana Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Observer, “If we don’t take action even at this late stage to regulate election campaign financing, the country will before long face a big disaster.”

Referring to a particular candidate who declared that his campaign at the last general election cost him a whopping Rs.80 million, he said, “The pertinent question would be, will he not try to earn back this huge sum of money with a profit once elected?”

“We are aware of the stupendous amounts being wasted on polls campaigns and how the voters are being bought over shamelessly by the ‘power hungry’ and the ‘money minded’ who have gotten in the fray,” he said.

He said, once such candidates are elected to office, they will not think of serving the people, their ultimate aim would be to accumulate wealth since they won’t feel obliged towards a group of voters whom they have already paid.

Since the late 70s, Sri Lankan elections have been lopsided and lacked ground for a fair fight, keeping away intellectuals and the women representatives from making any effort to seek public office. Before the draft was prepared, legal experts have been consulted and Hettiarachchi said, they consulted legal experts of the Elections Commission (EC) on the Bill, that will serve as a discussion paper for the legislators. Minister Musthapha has promised to present the paper to the Cabinet for approval. In the preamble of the draft bill, it says that the proposed laws will ensure transparency of fund raising and election campaign expenditures of political parties and candidates.

It will also ensure the freedom to elect the real representatives of people’s choice which is one of the key pillars of a democratic society and government. The draft bill proposes to cover all Local Government, Provincial Council, Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The law will be effective from the day the election notice is issued until the end of the poll day.

The following key features are included in the draft bill :

*The maximum ceiling for expenditures

A registered political party or an independent group can spend an amount equivalent to 50 times the total number of registered voters if they are contesting the entire country

- If contesting only a particular constituency, the limit is Rs.50 per voter (If the geographical area is vast, the amount can be increased up to 50%)

-If several parties have formed a coalition, the coalition will be considered as the contesting party subject to these restrictions

The party or candidate must maintain income and expenditure details. Within two days, such details must be properly accounted. The Election Commission must have access to these accounts at any given moment. The party is expected to audit these expenses by a reputed independent auditor and submit the records within 60 days of the election to the District Returning Officer.

*The EC is required to prepare regulations and a system of auditing. The set expenditure ceiling can be reviewed every five years.

*Propaganda expenditures –

-For all printed/issued/displayed - hand bills, flags, artwork, photographs or other propaganda material

-For Electronic or Print media advertisements

-For all hired vehicles, rented offices and other such material.

-Payments for campaign workers excluding family members

All these expenses have to be well documented (must cover propaganda work against the rival candidates as well)

* Open a separate account in a permitted Bank, exclusively for campaign expenses within one week of the polls declaration. Within seven days of the polls date, the account must be closed and the bank statements handed over to the Chief Returning Officer.

*Those who deposit money to the account must have written approval from the account holder and write the name, address and national ID number in the deposit slip.

*A party or a candidate cannot fund a propaganda campaign of a different candidate or a different political party

*The Election Commission should be able to take action against a non-contesting political party or civil society group trying to discredit a contesting party or a candidate

* Restrictions on donations

- A person can donate each candidate an equivalent of 1% of the total number of registered voters in his constituency. During Provincial Council elections this amount can be increased to 10%

-Business Institutions can donate an amount equivalent to a maximum of 5% of the population in a constituency. This amount can be split between candidates and the party, if willing.

*Institutions barred from election funding

-Foreign organizations and foreign Governments (Registered political parties are exempted from this law but their funding sources must be in accordance with the law)

-Those who own liquor shops and gambling businesses

-State affiliated private businesses or individual businessmen

-State Departments, Authorities or Boards

-Suspects and convicts charged with or found guilty of harming the environment

* In case of non-cash donations, the material should be subject to valuation (under current market prices) and account

-Such list with donors’ name and other particulars should be maintained in the campaign office

*Offences

-Exceeding the stipulated limits

-non-cooperation with EC officials

-Withholding information, false reporting or destroying records

-Crediting money to an account without prior written permission

*Litigation

-The EC has the power to file a case in the Provincial High Court. Within three months the case should be concluded

-If convicted, the candidate will lose his candidacy, if elected he will lose the seat. He will lose his franchise right for up to seven years and will be barred from contesting another election for seven years.

-If the convicted person is a non-candidate or a member of a registered political party, he/she will get a 1 - 5 year jail term and/or Rs.100,000 fine. He/she too will be barred from contesting another election up to seven years. 

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