The presidential campaigns concluded officially a day ago and the “Programme for Protection of Public Property” (4P) calculated and exposed the cost of advertisements by each of the two main presidential candidates. Incumbent president as UPFA candidate had spent LKR 377.9 million says 4P, while the UNF-JVP Common Candidate had spent LKR 80.5 million. The actual cost of running these mega campaigns are, far in excess of these calculated millions on advertisements. Advertising is only a part of the total campaign budgets. The total campaign costs may have been twice or even thrice the advertisement budget. Now, from where did these monies come ?
This is written on the day before January 26th the day of presidential polls that would neither bring in a “brighter future” nor a “believable change” for many reasons, unless the people have heart for such “believable change” for a “brighter future”.
First, the election day and its post election dawn, don’t seem any peaceful. Second, the lavishly doled out promises don’t seem any bit feasible. From the whole lot, the only promise that could be turned into something effective is the one on “corruption”. That too with a serious and responsible intervention by the people, irrespective of who sits on presidential power, after elections.
That needs to begin with the already declared assets by the presidential candidates. There was heavy publicity to say Gen SF submitted his and his family assets and liabilities when handing over nominations for elections. Although there were no such hype on presidential candidate Rajapaksa handing over his and his family assets and liabilities, the Sinhala daily “Lankadeepa” reported he declared his assets too. Perhaps there are other candidates too, who have done the needful in declaring assets.
This bit of law titled “Declaration of Assets and Liabilities (Amendment) Act. No 74 of 1988” that requires declaration of assets and liabilities by any individual aspiring to be an elected representative of the people, also provides for these declarations to be public documents, under Section 5(3) of the Act. The Election Commissioner at the time of accepting nominations and thereafter becomes the custodian of all documents declared under this Act No 74 of 1988 and thus is legally required to provide access to all information on assets and liabilities declarations of all candidates, under the same Section 5(3) of the Act.
Elimination of corruption begins here, where the elected president as in the case of all other elected representatives, have to annually declare their assets under Section 3(3) of this Act. It clearly says, that every person required to act under this Act, should declare assets and liabilities each year by 31st March, along with the first declaration made on assets and liabilities. Its this comparison of annual declarations and the provision for public complaints under Section 7(1) of this Act for investigations that would hold elected politicians accountable to society.
What is important therefore is to note that this process for transparency and accountability, provided for by this Act No 74 of 1988 had been already violated by the Election Commissioner himself, in denying access to the declarations of assets and liabilities of presidential candidates. According to a news report appearing in the “Lankadeepa” news paper, the Election Commissioner had refused the news paper any access to these documents by the two main candidates.
This denial by the Election Commissioner, violates the right to information of the people and also the Act which provides public access to that information. That information is necessary to asses what income sources and assets the candidates have or managed in order to spend so lavishly on their campaigns. The people have a right to know how a candidate could spend such millions on advertisements alone, apart from sustaining other campaigns and staff, costing additional millions over a period of about one and a half months, at the least.
What the whole country knows and the authorities do not investigate, is the money pumped into campaigns by business people. There is nothing wrong in accepting such money, as long as they are openly contributed and openly accepted. In most other developed countries in the West and in India by law, campaign funds are open funds and the sources are declared.
At the recently concluded Indian Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2009, Thrinamool Congress Leader in West Bengal, Mamta Bannerjee refused to accept the contribution officially sent in by the Tata group by cheque. Accepting the refusal, Chairman Tata group said it was nothing special and that they contribute to all election funds of other parties too. No other party said “No, we don’t get”.
If that openness is allowed, for which the Election Commissioner too should abide by the law of the land, then the candidates could certify, their campaign funds as separate from their declared assets and liabilities.
When it is not open, when big business keep buying and borrowing into political power, not with official cheques like the Tatas, but through black currency doled out for election campaigns, all promises for elimination of corruption, end up without content. Without credibility.
It is no secret here in this island where nothing can be kept within walls, that once in power, the financiers of election campaigns have to be – not “may have to be” – served first and with all in their menu card. The people, if at all they have to, are only a grumbling lot who are served on the basis of political affiliations.
Therefore, immediately after elections, may be after a short breather to allow for passions and emotions on victory to die down, those who voted who ever to power as President, should first ask for a clean balance sheet of the campaign fund. Not just from where the LKR 377.9 million and the LKR 80.5 million came. But the total campaign fund.
This is a necessity for a “corruption” free society. It is then the people could know which businessman funded whom and how and why tenders and contracts go a certain way to such businessmen. It is also then the Inland Revenue Department could know how much money had been left undeclared by businessmen, if they are “black money”. Elections have been where black money is laundered, even in the past.
If this is not made the beginning of “people’s responsibility” in demanding a society without corruption, if the people don’t assert their right for a society without corruption, it would be no fault of those who gave promises to roll them over and take them back.
The laws do not activate themselves automatically. Officers don’t do it as a duty and as social responsibility. Not in a society where the people would not want to play a responsible role to live with rights and with dignity. Not in a society where life is all about “making merry even when the ship sinks – neva gilunath band choon”.