MONROVIA – Renowned Liberian civil society organization Integrity Watch Liberia (IWL) has raised a red flag over the failure of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and other political parties and candidates to disclose their respective sources of funding towards their political campaign activities in keeping with the new elections law of Liberia and to prevent a potential flow of illicit funds from organizations and individuals to gain undue influence or favors during this electioneering period.
IWL is a civil society organization dedicated to promoting transparent, equitable and inclusive governance and democracy through public policy reforms.
Addressing a news conference in Monrovia on Wednesday, September 20, IWL Executive Director Harold Aidoo disclosed that his organization deployed about 32 monitors across the 15 counties to monitor political parties and candidate’s compliance with the National Elections Commission (NEC) Political Party Campaign Finance Regulations.
He disclosed that initial findings from the monitoring exercise show the total of 816 reports from across the country.
Out of the total number received, he pointed out that, about 179 constitute reports on abuse of state resources, 279 contains issues of contributions and expenditure restrictions, 171 had to do with monitoring expenditures and 187 contain reporting on public disclosures issues.
He said on the basis of the initial monitoring data, IWL flagged that the non-compliance with campaign finance regulations has significant implications on Liberia’s democracy and said regulation is not being followed by political parties and candidates in Liberia.
He stressed that this noncompliance opens the door for corruption and the influence of money in the political process as candidates and political parties could potentially receive illicit funds from organizations seeking to gain undue influence or favors.
He said this could also undermine the integrity of the electoral process and erode public trust in the country’s political system.
Aidoo maintained that the non-compliance posture being exhibited towards the NEC regulations relative to the financing of campaign will also contribute to unfair competition among political parties and candidates during this campaign period.
“We have documented unfair level playing field among candidates. Wealthy individuals and parties with significant financial resources are outspending their competitors without due cognizance to the NEC campaign finance regulations. This is drowning out the voices of less affluent candidates and could potentially lead to lack of diversity and representation particularly women at the legislature.”
According to him, campaign finance regulations are designed to promote transparency and accountability in the political process by requiring candidates and parties to disclose their sources of funding and campaign expenditures, but the failure of political parties and candidates to follow suit will only promote the lack of transparency and accountability during the process.
Naming and shaming
Though Aidoo didn’t state the name of a particular political party or candidate that is violating this electoral regulations, he disclosed that all parties and candidates are involved and as such, his organization will very shortly commence the naming and shaming of those who are culpable.
“Our monitoring has shown a complete lack of transparency and blatant refusal from candidates and parties to disclose information on their expenditures and income sources to our monitors. We wish to state that when these regulations are not followed and enforced, it increases the risk of illicit activities in our campaign process.”
“Across all the parties and candidates-people who are contesting the presidency or legislative elections, they are not complying with the NEC campaign financing regulations. There are parties who are spending in gross violation of the campaign financing regulation which gives straight stipulation in terms of how much a party or candidate can spend whether you running for the presidency or legislative seat. In our subsequent release, you will receive dossier of all the candidates across the 15 counties and parties who are in violation. But across the board, everybody is violating.”
Distorting the people’s will
Aidoo emphasized that the non-compliance with campaign finance regulations has the potential to undermine the fundamental principles of democracy, such as fair elections, equal representation, and the voice of the Liberian people.
He maintained that when money plays an outsized role in politics, it can distort the will of the electorates, leading to outcomes that do not accurately reflect the preferences of the citizens.
He added that this can also erode public confidence in the democratic process and weaken the overall legitimacy of the government.
NEC should act
Aidoo further recommended that to safeguard Liberia’s democracy, it is crucial to enforce campaign finance regulations effectively.
“This requires strong institutions, independent oversight bodies, and a commitment from political leaders to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. We believe that our partnership with the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the provision of these real-time data will accelerate the enforcement of compliance of Campaign Regulations.”
He said IWL strongly believes that it partnership with the NEC and the provision of “real-time data” will accelerate the enforcement and compliance of campaign financing regulations in keeping with the data provided, adding that, “we are optimistic that with these data, NEC will begin to put checks and balances in place so that everyone can comply.”
Aidoo disclosed that IWL monitoring exercise is intended to bring violations of the elections law to the attention of the NEC and other stakeholders who are responsible to take actions and compel those involved to comply.
He said the failure of political parties and candidates to disclose their sources of funding is a serious issue of concern and the NEC must pay keen attention and act accordingly due to the evidences provided in the data released.
He stressed that “clear punitive measures” stipulated under the campaign financing regulations must be implemented by the NEC without fear or favor by penalizing those who are in violation of the law.
Regulations On Campaign Financing
The New Elections Law and the Campaign Finance Regulations of the NEC calls for all campaign financing activities conducted by political parties, alliances, coalitions and candidates to be governed by the Liberian Constitution. That is, only citizens of Liberia or people of Liberian origin (18 years of age and above) may contribute to the funds and election expenses of any political party or candidate.
Articles 82 states that: a) Any citizen or citizens, political party association or organization, being of Liberian nationality or origin, shall have the right to contribute to the funds or election expenses of any political party or candidate; provided that corporate and business organizations and labor unions shall be excluded from making and contribution to the funds or expenses of any political party. The Legislature shall by law prescribe the guidelines under which such contributions may be made and the maximum amount which may be contributed; b. No political party or organization may hold or possess any funds or other assets outside of Liberia; nor may they or any independent candidates retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to them from outside Liberia unless remitted or sent by Liberian citizens residing abroad. Any funds or other assets received directly or indirectly in contravention of this restriction shall be paid over or transferred to the Elections Commission within twenty-one days of receipt. Information on all funds received from abroad shall be filed promptly with the Elections Commission;
Article 82 (c) points out that: “The Elections Commission shall have the power to examine into and order certified audits of the financial transactions of political parties and independent candidates and their organizations.”
Section 7.1 of the elections law prohibits corporations, businesses or labor unions from contributing to the funds or election expenses of a political party or independent candidate.
Section 7.3 of the new election law specifies the maximum amounts that should be spend on campaign expenses for candidates vying for the Presidency (USD 2,000,000.00), Vice Presidency (US$1,000,000.00, Senatorial (US$600,000.00), and Representative (US$400,000.00)
Section 7.10 and Campaign Finance Regulations (Section 8.3) mandate that all candidates who participate in an election to also submit a final report of contributions and expenses to the NEC. It maintains that candidates and parties who fail to submit a final report on costs and donations shall be fined between USD 1000 and USD 5000, while defeated candidates who fail to offer such a report shall be barred from participating in subsequent elections until the information on contributions and expenses is presented to the NEC.
With the delay by political parties and candidates cleared by the NEC to participate in the October 10 general and presidential elections to disclose their sources of funding towards their political campaign activities, the possibility of establishing the total cost of campaign remains far from being accomplished by the commission.
For the past elections, the NEC in Liberia has not been on record for taking punitive actions against political parties or candidates who are violators of these regulations.
This has immensely contributed to political parties and candidates scouting out for finances from foreign and local companies and individuals to support their respective political campaigns even though their action rules contrary to not only the new elections law or regulations, but also the Liberian constitution which is regarded as the organic law of the land.