Why campaign financing aids graft cartels in government

Transparency International Executive Director Samuel Kimeu. (Photo: Willis Awandu/Standard)

Utterances on the campaign trail in recent weeks have brought to the fore an important issue we are yet to confront effectively as a country – the role of money in influencing electoral outcomes. Elections are no doubt becoming more expensive and candidates have to resort to all means to raise the much needed cash to fund their campaigns. The contributions of individuals and the private sector have attained prominence in funding campaigns.

There is nothing wrong with contributing to political campaigns. In fact, many see this as an extension of the fundamental right to self-expression. The challenge is however when such contributions are at a level that could influence not just the outcome of the elections, but the choices of those funded after assuming office, or from illicit sources.

This concern is not just legitimate but there are historical reasons for them considering that a sizeable chunk of the money stolen from the public ends up buying political support and more opportunities for further corrupt activities. This explains why since the advent of multiparty politics in Kenya, there has been a major or several corruption scandals associated with each General Election.

A common characteristic of all scandals associated with elections is that they are and may never be resolved. The reason for this is that these scandals are conceptualised and initiated or implemented from the highest levels of political and economic leadership.

What then manifests as inability of public institutions to hold suspects to account is in fact a facade – where there is no political will for accountability and state institutions are used to help everyone in the chain escape punishment.

In cases where institutions do their work as they should, they are victimised individually or collectively. It should be remembered that governments, put in place through elections, determine development priorities of the nation and how money will be spent.

How does this work in practice? Corruption cartels first identify a political formation or formations with a likelihood of success. Sometimes they will spread the risk and fund different formations so they don’t entirely lose out. They then offer their financial support during the campaigns. Their support is welcome as any campaign can do with extra cash.

This is aided by the fact that there is no effective law in place for candidates or political parties to disclose the identity of their financiers and the amounts they contribute, thus the transactions hardly come to light.

The Campaign Financing Act has no application to the General Election this year after Parliament suspended its application. The Political Parties Act could be helpful in this regard but it is fairly weak, having not been designed for purpose.

Tainted projects

This support is however conditional – premised on undertakings to isolate and award certain public projects to the financier or identified beneficiaries, and in some cases pliant appointments to certain positions in public service that serve to extend influence and protect vested interests.

The practical import of this is that some projects to be implemented are already identified and the contractors determined long before the procurement process commences. These projects are tainted irrespective of the public benefit to be derived from them. Secondly, the cost of execution will be exaggerated, meaning that the public pays way beyond the market value. The third, is the risk that the quality of workmanship is compromised in a bid to maximise returns to be used to pay ‘political debts.’ Lastly, accountability is compromised, caught up in an imbroglio of conflict of interest that everyone involved tries to make sure is never unraveled through any judicial or administrative process.

The question now is, how can we minimise the impact of money, especially illicit money, on our politics and preserve the integrity of our public and private sector processes? The first and perhaps the most important principle is disclosure. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. An enforced disclosure of the identities and the amounts or value of support to any campaign should be disclosed.

This helps in identifying any real or potential conflicts of interest that may arise in future. Secondly, the amount that any individual or entity can contribute needs to be capped at reasonable levels.

This is perhaps the time to throw a challenge at both Jubilee and NASA. If any of them wants to claim the moral high ground, they should publish details of all or major contributors to their campaigns and details of how that money was spent.

- Mr Kimeu is the Executive Director, Transparency International–Kenya. @[email protected]