True it is that State financing is not likely to put an end altogether to occult and vested interests’ financing. However even if taxpayer’s money is involved, the long-run costs to the public would be minimized
There’s nothing new under the sun – no pun intended – as far as political financing by the corporate sector is concerned. It is generally assumed and taken for a fact that such financing has been taking place since the days when elections started to be held in the country – as it no doubt would have been the case everywhere else. One would recall the limpid statements of Tim Taylor in an interview a few years back about the private sector’s direct involvement in the financing of electoral campaigns of political parties and some of the candidates themselves.
What is difficult to ascertain are the exact amounts private sector groups have actually offered to political parties – to party leaders, to be more precise — which may depend on their own forecast of who is most likely to win at the polls. However, the sheer scale of spending that we see during the local political campaigns point to the invisible presence of private donors placing heavy bets on their horses.
It would be naïve to assume that private sector funding of political parties and individual politicians is based on altruistic motives. Several high profile politicians from different countries have had their insider dealings with the private sector uncovered. Few of them have been successfully indicted when in power for having taken political bribes in exchange for favours. It is always difficult to prove the link between the financing received and the favourable policy or administrative decisions taken in the context of the so-called “business-friendly” environment. Thus, there are not a lot of resounding cases involving abuse of office.
What may prove even more difficult to ascertain is the nexus between politics and the world of crime – in our case drug trafficking. Although nothing has been proved so far on the strength of compelling evidence that such a nexus does exist, we have had some snippets from the report of the commission of inquiry chaired by former Judge Lam Shang Leen. Proper investigations will hopefully inform us about the extent to which and how far traffickers might have spread their tentacles in the Mauritian governance structures – with or without the knowledge of the men at the helm. And that is pretty serious. Since nothing comes free, the quid pro quo in the politics-crime nexus can and will continue to wreak havoc in society, as reported almost on a daily basis by the press. It is to be hoped that it will be nipped in the bud so that we do not have a repeat of what obtained after 1983 with known traffickers allegedly gaining access to high profile political men.
As far as political financing is concerned, it has been reported that instead of the comprehensive electoral reform that opposition parties in particular were expecting, the government would instead come up with proposals for the financing by the State of political parties. To that effect, the Prime Minister stated in Parliament on July 24, that the Financing of Political Parties Bill is currently under preparation at the Attorney General’s Office, and that he was personally in favour of having appropriate consultation on the draft Bill and would seek the guidance of Cabinet on the matter before proceeding. It is unlikely that the government will be able to marshal the required majority to see its proposals for a comprehensive electoral reform go through, and it is to be hoped that it walks the talk as regards the financing of political parties by the State.
Corruption remains the true basis of the terms of trade in political financing by private and vested interests. This system helps politicians weave a web of unaccountability as regards the financing of their real campaign expenditures and the monies that they pocket for personal purposes. It is not in the public interest that a handful of private companies finance political campaign for pecuniary benefits, in the process prompting footloose voters with little or no political conviction to shift their loyalties, and hence electoral outcomes. We can try to mitigate the impact of this scourge by legislating that all political campaign funding should be by the State with spending limits prescribed and scrupulously observed by each candidate at the risk of invalidation of results.
True it is that State financing is not likely to put an end altogether to occult and vested interests’ financing. However even if taxpayer’s money is involved, the long-run costs to the public would be minimized as policies unrelated to the private interests of private companies can then be adopted. Moreover, there will be more sober political campaigns. Candidates will carry conviction if they have done their homework instead of being non-entities supported by the party for obscure reasons unrelated to real merits. Electoral bouts will then become more a battle of ideas than one of identities based on ethnicity and caste affiliations.
For this positive turnaround to take place in our political landscape, the private sector must come to terms with the fact that its funding of political parties is tantamount to supporting the perpetuation of a poor political platform that falls short of equipping itself with public men such as those in Singapore, etc. They may find it worthwhile to stop opening their purse, a practice which allows the transgression of bounds that ought to be respected by one and all.
As there is no one-fits-all formula for political financing and control thereof, every country, including Mauritius, must design the system that suits its local context. Specialists in the matter advise that countries should not rely on a single policy tool to try to control money in politics as, according to Andrea Abel van Es, Senior Research Fellow, Electoral Integrity Project at University of Sydney, it has been found that it is more effective to use a balanced mix of regulations fitting each country. Finally, policies must be applied in a consistent way.
* Published in print edition on 10 August 2018