Electoral Management bodies (EMBs) in many African electoral jurisdictions, shoulder one or more roles namely; the role of political party registrar (PPR) or the role of political finance regulator (PFR) yet many of them are not awake to the essence of transparency.
Too much money flows in election campaigns in several African countries and it is mindboggling where it comes from. When money flows in excess during elections, it distorts the principles of democracy in a sense that the outcome of elections ceases to be a reflection of the will of the people but rather an expression of the power of money.
Political parties and candidates receive funding from different sources and spend it on a number of things. However, the information on how much was raised, from which source, and how it was spent, is kept out of the public domain. Some of the money is channeled through third-parties with the aim of concealing it from public scrutiny.
The lack of a vibrant regulatory framework that guarantees transparency in political financing has unfortunately created a loophole that allows for large anonymous donations to political parties and candidates to slip in under the very nose of the electoral management bodies.
In many electoral jurisdictions, political parties are required to submit annual returns including audit reports, but sometimes these provisions are not always followed nor enforced. And when the information is submitted, there are no adequate mechanisms within the African EMBs to make the information public.
In the case of Uganda, elections are conducted in the month of January or early February of the election calendar year but the deadline for reporting is not until the end of the calendar year (December). This means that there is often a significant delay between the date of elections and information about how parties financed their campaigns.
Timely reporting and subsequent publication of campaign finance data such as information on candidates and political parties’ funding sources, contribution amounts, and spending, can help to ensure that elections are free, fair and sufficiently funded. The lack of these procedures in African electoral jurisdictions is a stumbling block for transparent financing of politics.
Thus, one of the major challenges related to money in politics is the lack of transparency surrounding political party and election finance.
Transparency would help to level the playing field, expose the risk of undue influence over politicians and help to protect against the infiltration of illicit sources of money—thus contributing to the broader fight against corruption.
The need for transparency of political party and campaign finances is enshrined in the
United Nations Convention against Corruption, which states that countries should consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures to enhance transparency in the funding of candidates for elected public office and, where applicable, the funding of political parties’ (UNODC 2005, Article 7).
African EMBs should explore digital solutions for increased political finance transparency. When an electoral jurisdiction builds online reporting and disclosure systems, it becomes part of a wider societal effort to protect and enhance the integrity of politics. Such a system complements other transparency and anti-corruption efforts, and in many countries is concretely linked to other systems through the sharing of data.