Corruption remains one of the biggest challenges in the world today. As Transparency International phrases it, corruption is one of the “biggest global issues of our time”.
In Kenya, corruption and politics are interlinked. There are many scandals to illustrate this, such as Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing. Corrupt political financing, particularly campaign financing, has become more prevalent since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1991.
There is no shortage of reasons to fight corruption as it chokes development, hinders economic growth and entrenches poverty. While there is little consensus on the most effective tool to fight corruption, democracy has been pointed as a powerful tool to reduce corruption.
At the heart of democracy, is free and fair elections. This process provides an avenue for citizens to express their freedom to choose the kind of leaders that they want to govern on their behalf. Of concern is how the candidates finance their campaigns. Election campaign financing is therefore a core component of any electoral process.
Private funding is mainly derived from financial support from individuals, political parties, political party membership fees, organisations that finance political processes, party or candidate’s fundraising activities such as sale of publications and campaign materials, sale of political party assets and social events. Public funding mainly consists of funding from exchequer, for example, as stipulated under Political Parties Act.
The main purpose of election campaign financing is to defray costs associated with the campaigns such as transport and logistics, campaign meetings, campaigner’s costs, publications and materials, media campaign and other related incidentals.
Since elections are critical in choosing the kind of leaders that form a government, their financing may lead to compromise of political leaders’ decision making on governance processes. Campaign financing may also be linked to illegal activities such as money laundering which compromise the integrity of political leadership.
Campaign financiers may be individuals or organisations that engage in illegal activities hence desiring to seek protection from political leadership upon victory after an election. In addition foreign governments or organizations may also seek to finance candidates or political parties to influence elections outcome. In the 2017 elections in Kenya very curious personalities were cited as being the financiers of the two forerunners into the election.
Among the principles of governing elections in Kenya is the free and fair elections provided by Article 92 of the Constitution which provides for the development of legislation to regulate the funding of political parties. In addition, the Political Parties Act 2011 establishes a framework for the registration, regulation and funding of political parties. The Act provides for the establishment of a political parties fund and the manner in which the funds will be sourced and allocated to political parties.
Election Campaign Financing Bill 2013 was enacted into law in December 2013 after the general elections that were held in March that year. To operationalize the Act, IEBC was required to develop regulations. These regulations should be gazetted at least one year before a general election and in the case of a by-election or referendum, at such a time as the commission may determine.
IEBC gazetted the Election Campaign Financing Regulations 2017 but the Committee on delegated Legislations rejected the Regulations on the basis that they had not been gazetted within the stipulated timelines. While making amendments to electoral law ahead of the general election, the National Assembly suspended the Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013.
Kenya’s 2017 general elections is estimated to have cost over $1 billion in aggregate spend and probably Africa’s most expensive on a cost-per-voter basis . The public and private spending were both at an all-time high, with both political parties and candidates spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
Election campaign financing has the potential to create unequal level playing field among political competitors and as such the recent elections in 2017 were an example of what you get if you don’t regulate campaign financing. Consequently, most of the winners in the elections tend to have been the candidates that had a lot of money to finance their campaigns as opposed to those who may not have a lot of money, irrespective of their quality, to finance election campaign.
In order to ensure integrity of elections, it is necessary to regulate election campaign financing through establishment of measures that promote transparency and accountability in elections financing. This would ensure that sources of election campaign funding as well as use of campaign resources are transparent and enhance democracy.
It would behoove that we go back and review the current legislative framework and amend provisions that were lofty and not implementable to ensure that we have level platform in 2022 as part of solving the electoral injustices. This would in turn ensure that we hold our leaders accountable and more conscious of the needs of the electorate.
(The writer works with Transparency International Kenya – firstname.lastname@example.org)