Forerunners in the upcoming general and presidential elections have been involved in what could be described as a “showdown of financial strength” as fleets of vehicles that cost hundreds of thousands of United States dollar are being showcased in Monrovia. However, the sources of the funds for these fleets, remain undisclosed—a worrisome trend for Liberia.
These lavish spending sprees are happening in an impoverished country that is witnessing its worst economic period since the warring years—a situation that many of the presidential hopefuls are purportedly dreaming of reversing.
As a result of this political spending craze, many Liberians have not only started to wonder if political parties are being funded; but more importantly, the sources of these funds, the effects of illicit funding on the election process, and on a larger scale, the country.
Amid an undercurrent of murmuring in some circles around the country, one group that has formally spoken out on this national concern is the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL).
CENTAL, at a press conference in Monrovia yesterday, said the inflow of any illicit contributions into the election process in Liberia risks the nation being captured by private interests, and public resources diverted away from the people—a situation which the country is already experiencing.
It is during the campaign stage when candidates crave for funds to gain access to electorates that CENTAL’s Program Manager Gerald Dan Yeakula, warns about the resources and interests of the country and its citizens being mortgaged to individuals, corporations, and foreign financiers.
There is no doubt that money and elections are inseparable, but if the processes of funding campaigns are not regulated (a role that the National Elections Commission should be playing), it has the propensity to ruin the interests of the state—exposing it to the exploits of financiers who intentionally take advantage when beneficiaries of their funding largesse eventually win.
“As the 2017 elections campaign period draws closer, we are concerned about the unusual expenditure of political parties on fleets of new vehicles, motorcycles, party offices, and dishing out large sums of money to support various projects across the country,” Yeakula said.
This massive show of spending power despite the poor state of the Liberian economy coupled with a limited dues-paying culture of the supporters and partisans of political parties, raises many questions, he said.
One major ignored question is whether or not political parties and individuals are complying with NEC’s Campaign Finance Regulations (CFR).
“Where are the sources of these monies? Are Liberians the sole contributors of these funds? Are foreign contributions or illegal contributions making their way into our elections?” Yeakula asked rhetorically.
Some political parties, including the Unity Party, Liberty Party, and the Liberian People’s Democratic Party (LPDP), which recently joined the CDC coalition, have been parading fleets of cars of late.
Late last year LPDP brought into the country over 15 brand new pickups with a price tag of US$30,000 each. These cars are reportedly being used by the Coalition. UP and LP, on the other hand, have been showcasing 22 and over 50, respectively, of these expensive pickups along with motorbikes and other equipment.
The CENTAL Program Manager said at the press conference that Liberia should have reason to be concerned how these vehicles were purchased and what are the sources of those funds. “Because of the inflow of any illegal contributions, Liberia risks private interests capturing the state and public resources diverted away from the people.”
Liberia is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which recognizes that correct handling of political finance impacts a country’s ability to effectively maintain free and fair elections and effective governance.
UNCAC also encourages its members to “enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, when applicable, the funding of political parties.”
The organic law of the land, the Constitution, also recognizes this fact and therefore requires the NEC to regulate the financial activities of political parties and candidates, but whether the entity has been carrying out such a cardinal obligation is another thing.
Article 83 (d) of the CFR mandates every political party and candidate to submit their financial reports to the NEC. Section 9 (p) Chapter 2 of the 1986 Elections Law also mandates NEC to examine and audit the financial transactions of political parties and candidates.
Unfortunately, the NEC has defaulted on its responsibility to fully enforce this order as well as said provision of the Constitution, including its campaign finance regulations and the publishing of campaign finance reports of political parties.
“We are deeply worried about these developments and wish to draw public attention to campaign finance concerns,” Yeakula said.
CENTAL has, meanwhile, urged the NEC to shake off its casualness in dealing with campaign finance issues and proactively monitor and provide information to the public on the sources of funding for political parties and candidates.
“We also admonish political parties and candidates to conform to the relevant campaign finance regulations of NEC especially those related to mobilization of resources and logistics for campaign and other electoral activities,” he said.
CENTAL wants NEC to commit resources to scrutinizing the finances of political parties and individuals so as to determine the sources of funding for the large numbers of vehicles, motorcycles and other equipment paraded by politicians, political parties, and candidates.
“NEC should understand that elections is not just about registration, civic education and voting, but also the many processes such as how parties and individuals mobilize and expend funds, which can impact the outcome of elections,” he said.
He called on the NEC to publicize the financial and activity reports of parties and candidates since the 2011 elections so that the public understands the financial capacity and sources of funding of parties and individuals. Disclosure of campaign finance records from past elections as required by regulations would allow citizens to analyze the funding trends of most political parties, he added.
CENTAL also wants political parties and candidates to proactively inform the public about their finances for increased transparency, accountability and commitment to good governance and integrity “if parties claim that their members and associates are paying dues, from which these vehicles and equipment are being purchased.”
Spending more money has not always brought the needed results or successes like in the case of Cllr. Varney Sherman in 2005, Clemenceau Urey in 2009, and the President’s son, Robert Sirleaf—but that is of no interest to CENTAL which does not care who spends the highest amount of money, as long as it is clean.