It is common knowledge that finance is a necessary component of any democratic processes. In fact, our politics has become a dollarised enterprise and money significantly amplifies the expression of political support and competition in elections. This undue influence of money on electoral outcomes, does not bode well for the democracy we are nurturing.
Indeed, lack of transparency in election campaign finance has long been an issue in Gambian politics, and calls to regulate it have so far fallen on deaf ears.
The EU Election Observer Mission has since 2016 been campaigning for transparency in electoral campaign financing in The Gambia. It argues that lack of transparency breeds room for “dark monies”, and that the inequity of access and spending in terms of political finance has significantly skewed the playing field between contestants.
In its final report on the recently concluded 2021 presidential elections issued in Banjul yesterday, the Observer Mission noted, rightly, with concern that little if any attempts have been made to address the issue of campaign finance in Gambian politics.
Outlining its findings in a detailed 68-paged document, the mission stated: “Regulations on campaign donations and spending are virtually non-existent. Parties and candidates may receive financial contributions from various sources. Anonymous donations are not banned while the Elections Act expressly prohibits funding from foreign and corporate sources. And contributions to contestants do not have to go through the banking system or a dedicated bank account and there are no reporting or disclosure obligations”.
It added: “No ceilings apply on donations or campaign expenditures. No public funding is available to political parties while the latter are required to publish their annual audited accounts and declare to the IEC or the public their revenues, assets, and their sources only. Whereas this could enhance transparency and accountability, there is no publication requirement or sanctioning of illicit campaign funding.”
What is particularly worrying, and why electoral campaign must be transparent is that, most of the campaign contributions are made by individuals, businesses, and special interests. The ancient adage states that to whom much is given, much is expected. In most of the cases, not only are the “paybacks” unethical and illegal, sometimes they are inimical to the existential interest of the state itself.
To address these undemocratic practices, and to put The Gambia on a better footing aligned with meeting international best practices, the EU observers recommended the establishment of a legal framework and independent oversight body to regulate and oversee political and campaign finance in order to enhance transparency and accountability in our politics.
They also recommended the introduction of periodic auditing, reporting and publishing obligations for political parties, and rules for contestants during electoral periods. If implemented, these recommendations will undoubtedly improve the conduct and fairness of our political process and electoral conduct.