THE year 2010 is promising to be quite interesting, politically speaking. Prospects of fielding independent candidates, should the court decide so; addition of a couple of political parties including the much-hyped CCJ; and more importantly, the recently passed legislation on election expenses now awaiting for presidential assent to become law and by all indications the president cannot wait to sign it.
Together, they are likely to turn the forthcoming elections into an important milestone on the rough path to full democracy, whatever that means. For our purpose here I intend to dwell on the election expenses law partly for what it promises to achieve and the challenges that lie ahead.
When talking to fellow citizens in his end of month address Mr. President dwelt at length on the prospective law. Indeed, watching, or listening to the first citizen lamenting the way our electoral process has been, caricatured by ‘dirty’ money from within and outside, one can appreciate the extent of the problem we are faced with.
However, what is not clear at this point in time is whether or not the proposed law is going to address the problem once and for all. While the framing of the law attempts to address some critical issues associated with the financing of political elections in the country, one cannot be sure whether the existing environment is conducive enough for its successful implementation. Here we provide some food for thought.
First and foremost, it is an undeniable fact that elections for public offices are quite expensive ventures by any standard. Expenses are of two types: one involves efforts by those seeking public office trying to get their ideas and/or policies across to prospective voters through various media outlets and physical appearances. Adverts in TVs, radios, newspapers, Internet, etc. are expensive to prepare and run; and campaign appearances are even more costly given poorly developed infrastructures (remember Chadema’s Chopper?).
Therefore, those with more financial muscles have an edge over those operating on fringe budgets. This is a very genuine way of raising and using money for political ends. More often we hear some politicians advising their constituents to “accept the money, food, drinks and clothes but deny them the votes.” Quite weird!
The second aspect involves acquisition and use of what has been described as ‘dirty’ money which is the target of the proposed law. Essentially, it involves an attempt by those seeking public offices (presidency and legislature) to use money to pay people so that they can vote for them. The ‘buying’ of votes comes in different forms: giving of cash, distribution of material goods (drinks, food, clothes, etc.). In addition, sources of such money can also qualify it as being ‘dirty’, such as drug dealing, stealing from public coffers, etc.
If my reading of the soon-to-become-law bill is correct (I stand to be corrected), the law is designed to achieve two main goals: first, put limit to the amount of monies to be spent in elections; and second, curb the undue influence of such monies on voters. There is no doubt that these are not only genuine but also noble goals for any democracy be it young/infant or mature.
In fact, many democracies have struggled, and are still struggling, against what seems to be the dark side of democratic process. The Americans have their own version of election expenses law in place despite the recent setback when the Supreme Court ruled out the clause limiting contribution by corporations to political parties and candidates.
While the goals are ideal, there are definite limitations on what the envisaged law can achieve under the circumstances. The assumption is that the financial system in place is such that one can easily find out the amount of money used as means for political ends and at the same time trace the sources of such money.
This is quite a tall order. Some time back I did write about this when our Bunge passed legislation on drug trafficking and money laundering (“Of drug and money laundering”, Thisday, 20 December, 2006). I did then argue that it will be difficult to enforce the law partly because of weak regulation, financial or otherwise. Perhaps the same can be said about implementation of election expenses law.
In a system where people can take to the bank boxes full of cash, may be in terms of millions if not billions, where billions of shillings can be withdrawn and never to be traced; where ownership of duly registered organizations accused of wrongdoing cannot be established with certainty; it will be expecting too much from the election expenses law.
Compare this with a system where even a cheque worth a few hundred dollars can be traced from source to end-use and still the use of ‘dirty’ monies does occur. The point is we don’t have in place a system to rein in the use of ‘dirty’ money in politics. In other words, having a law is indeed necessary but not sufficient condition for dealing with electoral fraud involving ‘dirty’ money.
The other day Mr. President ordered PCCB to prepare for a ‘crackdown’ on the use of ‘dirty’ money with the help of the new law during forthcoming elections. Not a bad idea at all. The Registrar of Political Parties was heard talking about regulations and guidelines being prepared on how to enforce the law. There is no doubt that these are good initiatives given the nature of the problem we are dealing with.
However, one should not be oblivious of some inherent dangers including abuse of authority and partisanship, especially when dealing with the ‘other parties’. Those old enough can still remember the days when being corrupt was equated to the amount of drinks one is able to consume during a single sitting! I am sure we are past that already.
Lastly, for the law to be effective in curbing the use of ‘dirty’ money in political elections, Tanzanian voters need to change their attitudes towards the electoral process. People should stop thinking in terms of “mkao wa kula” when it comes to elections as one cartoonist depicted the other day. In the 2000 elections someone earned enough to buy a plot; in the 2005 elections he started construction work; this time around he wants to complete the ‘kibanda’!
The choice of leaders in a representative democracy is not a simple matter of casting a vote. Making elected leaders accountable to the electorate is perhaps the most daunting task for any democracy, but especially so for emerging democracies like ours. It is even more difficult for leaders who buy their way into power.
One can only hope that the election expenses law is only the beginning and not the end of an otherwise protracted struggle towards elections free of ‘dirty’ money. We must reach a point where Tanzanian voters will be ready and willing to contribute, monetary wise or through volunteering, to elect political leaders they want. They should also be given the right to ‘recall’ those representatives who fail to deliver or do things which compromise their welfare.
Unfortunately, after more than one and half decades of democratization and the so-called ‘civic’ or ‘voter’ education, we have not been able to realize this kind of democracy despite billions of tax-payer and donor money being spent. Perhaps it is not meant for this generation of leaders and voters. But the way things are going, even the next generation of leaders and voters are already into it: business as usual!