The election expenses of all candidates and all political parties must be independently audited by certified auditors before submission to the SPR, writes Francis Loh.
It is well known that some candidates and political parties spend considerably more funds than others during the electoral campaign period. Invariably, those who spend more money develop an advantage. Left on its own, the excessive use of resources by particular individuals and parties can lead to the distortion of our electoral process, nullifying the principle of one-person, one-vote and compromising our electoral system.
As it stands, section 19 of the Election Offences Act imposes spending limits only for the candidates (up to RM100000 for a state seat; up to RM200000 for a parliamentary seat).
In fact, the candidates spend much more. The opposition estimated that the Barisan Nasional candidate spent some RM1.14m in nine-days of campaigning for the Indera Kayangan constituency in 2002. The expenditure included two million plastic party flags, 50 billboards, 6000 banners, 2000 T-shirts with the BN logo, 10 days of banquet dinners and lodging for 1000 party workers. Apart from this, some RM25m worth of development and town planning projects such as low-cost houses schemes were also promised (Aliran Monthly vol 22 no3, p. 7).
This was clearly beyond the limit allowed. Yet no action was taken against the winning BN candidate. Nor did the SPR express any comment on the matter.
As the law stands, the candidates are only obliged to file reports on their electoral expenses after the elections, but only as individuals. There is no provision requiring that the financial support provided to the candidates by their political parties (in the form of electoral paraphernalia, banners and pamphlets) be included in the accounting.
The law is also silent on ‘other donors’ (whether private businessmen or private companies or organisations), who donate cash or in kind (for instance, by paying for a dinner or publishing an advertisement in the newspaper or putting up a series of billboards along the North-South Highway) in support of a particular candidate or political party.
Indeed, the SPR considers the realm of electoral financing to be outside of the scope of its ambit. Apart from requiring that the elected representatives submit returns on election spending, there is no requirement that these accounts must first be audited independently. As well, the SPR does not scrutinise to verify the accuracy of these accounts. It is the burden of the aggrieved political party or voter to scrutinise and verify these accounts should they deem it necessary.
We propose that the election expenses of all candidates and all political parties must be independently audited by certified auditors before submission to the SPR.
The SPR, then, must scrutinise the reporting of election financing and ensure that they do not exceed the upper limits allowed.
The capacity of the SPR to verify the reporting of election financing should also be built up. This should be an ongoing process and should be given serious attention after the elections have been held.
Dr Francis Loh is president of Aliran