Liberia: Abuse of Incumbency?

Herold Addo, Executive Integrity Watch Liberia highlighted the widespread violations of campaign financing, with the ruling CDC being identified as one of the highest violators

— New report highlights the ruling party’s flagrant violations of Campaign Financing Regulations

A corruption watchdog has released a report highlighting widespread violations of campaign financing, with the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) being identified as the primary violator.

Integrity Watch Liberia (IWL), in addition to shedding light on the abuse of incumbency and violations of campaign financing in its report, also highlighted the need for greater integrity and transparency in Liberia’s electoral practices.

The group noted that of the total of 1,390 pieces of evidence of violations documented, opposition Unity Party ranked second in terms of violations — a situation that campaign finance issues are prevalent across various factions within Liberian politics, raising concerns about the integrity and transparency of electoral practices.

Speaking at a stakeholder's conference on breach handling of the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) campaign regulations, Executive Director Harold Aidoo linked all the political parties and most of the independent candidates to the reported violations. The conference, funded by the United Nations Development Program, aimed to address these concerns and promote responsible campaign financing.

These allegations have raised concerns about the transparency and fairness of the political landscape in the country. 

“Campaign financing regulations are put in place to ensure that elections are conducted in a fair and equitable manner, and to prevent the influence of money in politics,” Oscar Bloh, Elections Coordinating Committee Chairperson noted at a press conference a few months ago. “These regulations are essential for maintaining a level playing field and promoting democratic values.”

However, as per Integrity Watch’s report, this was not the case in the October 10, presidential and legislative elections.

The violations cited in the report are diverse and extensive. They range from the misuse of state properties and vehicles donated by international partners to the practice of pulling students out of classes to wait for prominent individuals, as well as the failure to disclose sources of funding.

Though the report was not specific, it has also been reported that the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), as well as other major political parties, have exceeded the legal limits for campaign contributions and expenditures. This not only raises questions about the integrity of the electoral process, but also undermines public trust and confidence in the political system.

The European Union Election Observation Mission recently accused President George Weah and his CDC of using state resources to gain unfair political advantage — the “disproportionate” use of “state resources”, which the mission said distorted the political playing field.

According to a report by the EU, which was released on October 14, the President’s campaign team utilized a lot of state resources to establish a more dominant presence across the 15 political subdivisions of the country.

The report noted that “state resources” not only provided the President’s campaign with a substantial advantage but also contributed to a campaign environment characterized by significant disparities. 

“The disproportionate spending on behalf of the ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), distorted the fairness of the campaign,” said Andreas Schieder, the head of the EU Election Observation Mission. “EU observation showed an obvious disparity in terms of resources available to CDC for the presidential campaign in all 15 counties in terms of billboards, posters, vehicles, and t-shirts, etc.

“The widespread use of state resources in the form of official vehicles and buildings was widely observed by the EU EOM observers,” he added. “Many appointed officials at county or electoral district levels were publicly campaigning in favor of the ruling party.” 

Schieder noted that while the mission’s observation of the campaign period showed a high level of “monetization and bartering,” it also found that in “some counties, civil servants were pressured to attend the ruling party’s campaign events.”

The violation of campaign financing regulations is a serious matter that could have far-reaching consequences for the democratic process in Liberia, electoral experts say. It is crucial that political parties adhere to these regulations in order to maintain the integrity of the electoral system and ensure a fair and transparent election.

The National Elections Commission (NEC), the authority responsible for overseeing campaign finance regulations, has been urged to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into these reports — with the hope that if any violations are found, appropriate legal action would be taken to hold the responsible parties accountable.

But at the conference, NEC Commissioner  Boakai Dukuly rather emphasized the importance of citizens taking legal action against individuals who deliberately breach campaign financing regulations.

He expressed concern that some individuals willingly flout these regulations without considering the consequences for the Liberian people, highlighting a broader issue of disregarding laws within society.

Dr. Lenka Homolkona, the Chief Technical Advisor on elections at the UNDP, welcomed the involvement of civil society organizations to scrutinize campaign financing and stressed the significance of such scrutiny in ensuring a level playing field for all candidates, regardless of their political or societal status.

Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Liberia, Christine Umutoni, expressed gratitude towards Integrity Watch Liberia, the National Elections Commission, and the Liberian government for their efforts in promoting responsible campaign financing. Umutoni also highlighted the importance of Liberia taking ownership of its electoral process, with the country financing the elections independently for the first time.

However, other stakeholders stressed that it is imperative that the government and relevant institutions take steps to strengthen campaign financing regulations and enforcement measures. This could include implementing stricter reporting requirements, increasing transparency in political donations, and imposing harsh penalties for non-compliance.

In addition, civil society organizations and other stakeholders have an important role to play in monitoring campaign finance activities and holding political parties accountable. Their involvement can help ensure transparency and fairness in the political process, the stakeholders said.

Meanwhile, the conference, held under the theme “Strengthening Political Accountability Project,” brought together participants from various organizations, including the Liberia National Bar Association and civil society groups. It received funding from the United Nations Development Program and support from international partners and governments.

The report’s findings underscore the need for robust enforcement of campaign financing regulations and the promotion of transparency in political fundraising. Addressing these violations is crucial to ensuring fair and credible elections in Liberia.