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Political party finance: Which way for Zim?

When interrogating challenges to political parties financing in Zimbabwe, it is important to look at the role of incumbents and potential abuse on their regulatory mandate to pass laws and regulations that control behaviour.

By Elections Resource Centre

This regulatory prerogative includes anything from altering the criminal code to the order in which candidates appear on ballot paper. In some cases, incumbents find a way to ban opposition leaders from running in elections.

Political parties in power can also abuse enforcement resources through the use of security and law enforcement institutions to implement laws and rules set up using regulatory resources.

Whilst countries across Sub-Saharan Africa access opportunities owing to Political Parties Financing, there are numerous documented challenges in the process, and mainly relate to the untenable and weak financial position of political parties and the abuse of state resources by incumbent political parties. The following are some of the challenges faced by political parties.

a) Opposition political parties are generally in a weak financial position compared to incumbent political parties, a situation that creates uneven playing field. Most opposition political parties in Africa, Zimbabwe included, lack a sound and robust fundraising strategy which virtually leaves them over-reliant on public funding from the national fiscus.

Lack of financial contributions from political party membership is mostly a result of the debilitating poverty levels swirling within the majority of active political supporters. The over-reliance on money from the treasury has left most opposition political parties weak as most countries with provisions for public funding are faced with late and sometimes irregular disbursement of funds.

In addition, the levels of public funding are often quite low due to competing needs of the treasury. In the Zimbabwean case the period between March 2008 and July 31 2014 was marred with disbursement irregularities and more recently the 2014 allocations have not been received by the two deserving political parties in Parliament, with the minister of Finance and Economic Development, Patrick Chinamasa failing to release the funds, citing the biting liquidity challenges facing the economy.

b) The misuse of state resources for political gain by incumbent political parties is a common problem in Africa. Ruling parties tend to use state resources such as government vehicles, government facilities, public media and civil servants for their campaign activities because the separation between the state and political party resources is still blurred.

More often than not, incumbent political parties and politicians are often inventive in finding ways to abuse state resources. Magolowondo et al, (2012) argues that while there may be many electoral competitors, some compete and campaign as incumbents from a position of power.

The temptation to use resources available through state is often difficult to resist. The authors state that from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, accusations that public resources are used to support parties or fund the election campaigns of incumbent office holders are common.

This makes campaigning more difficult for other parties outside government.

c) Many African countries are highly dependent on foreign aid, which has resultantly left most parties also being donor and/or aid dependent, a situation that can impact negatively on national competition and national politics. Ohman (2013) articulates that if money from abroad is used in election campaigns, politicians may listen to interests outside of their country rather than voters.

If this becomes widespread, the sovereignty of countries can be threatened. In Zimbabwe, the Political Parties Financing Act prohibits foreign funding for political parties; however, all political parties in Zimbabwe are reportedly receiving support from external sources.

The ruling party, Zanu PF alleges that the opposition political parties are Western sponsored while recently Zanu PF was quoted in the local newspaper acknowledging support it received from China during the July 31 2013 elections. Clearly, the noted examples are indicative of the weakened enforcement mechanism for the existing political parties finance regulations.

d) Private funding plays a much larger role than public funding, but most countries have very fragile mechanisms to control private funding. Most countries allow private companies to make donations to political parties and election campaigns. However, in many countries there is fear that governing politicians may orchestrate a backlash to those corporates who supported the losing political parties. Criminals and fugitives may also use donations to exert influence on politicians to avoid investigations into their illegal activities.

Recommendations for Zimbabwe
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) makes the following recommendations compelled by the inevitable need to review the existing regulations on political party financing.

The recommendations buttress the need to adhere to the legal provisions and ethos governing financing of political parties in Zimbabwe. Accordingly, the following recommendations are appropriate for a more efficient, effective and balanced regulation of political party finances:

Reform policy model
The Election Resource Centre recommends that the current Political Parties (Finance) Act be reformed from a proportional model to a hybrid model that ensures equitability on non-monetary financing and proportional direct public financing of those political parties which would have garnered at least 5% of the total votes cast in a general election.

Furthermore, all political parties in Zimbabwe should have access to non-monetary state resources. The state resources can be in the form of public media and infrastructure like public halls, school halls. This will ensure that not only governing parties will benefit over other political parties on access to state resources.

Furthermore, an independent regulatory body, in this instance, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should play a central role in regulating political party finances based on their constitutional obligation to be independent arbiters of electoral processes and associated players.

Currently the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs administers the Act, which nourishes suspicions of bias since the ministry is headed by an interested party, who usually is a candidate during elections. There is need to effectively monitor the inflow of funding to political parties so as to eliminate foreign funding and also to minimise abuse of funds meant for other political parties by the incumbents.

Enforce transparency and accountability
Political parties should declare their sources of funding as this will go a long way in mitigating the effects of corruption and receiving illicit and terrorism moneys.

Political parties that have access to state funding should open up their audited accounts, allowing public accessibility because part of their operations is funded by the tax payers.

The legal framework should lead to disclosure of sources and amount received; reporting requirements for income and expenditures, debts and assets both during and in between elections.

There should be a perimeter to sources of funds as well as money given to political parties so as to avoid money from illegal activities. Given, the above, “Parties need to generate income to finance not just their electoral campaigns but also their running costs as political institutions with a role to play between elections” (Idea 2003).

As Zimbabwe is enmeshed in the process of aligning existing regulations to conform to the recently adopted Constitution, it is indeed a great opportunity to re-look at the Political Parties (Finance) Act with a view of bringing fairness and transparency to the flow of money to political entities.

Indeed a transparent and accountable process of regulating political party finances will not only strengthen political parties in Zimbabwe, but has the potential to minimise conflict, thereby legitimising triumphant political parties at every electoral event.

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