Protection of the political process is critically vital to the preservation and development of our democracy. The reality is that corruption has the potential to derail the aims of any democratic system. Therefore, the need exists to fortify the architecture around our politics and governance.
Ours is a representative type democracy still very much in its formative stages. It is vital that we identify and respond to the threats to our governance culture and our democratic ideals. Beyond identifying the threats, we must, by our legislative initiatives, clearly underscore the premium value attached to our democratic institutions and their functioning.
A significant degree of threat is to be associated with the practice of political party and election financing. Of equally significant consideration is that we cherish the value of institutional integrity. It is the intention of this writer to make a case for far more fulsome party and election financing regulations. Intended too, is an attempt to support current initiatives to improve legislation geared to counter anti-corruption practices and to promote integrity in public life.
Some pertinent considerations must be put on the table with respect to Integrity in Public Life Legislation and the matter of campaign financing.
Let’s deal first with money in politics and its use in the practice of corruption. Here is a perspective on effective regulation of campaign financing from the Council of Europe:
“Raising public awareness on the issues of prevention and the fight against corruption in the field of funding of Political Parties is essential to the good functioning of democratic institutions.”
Ad hoc or less than strictly enforced laws and regulations in relation to election financing allows for the entrance and influence of unsavoury actors not motivated by anything other than their material interests unto the arena of policy and institutional governance. Corruption becomes the inevitable eventuality and sometimes the norm in such circumstances since political figures do not always appreciate that they have been given a high sense of responsibility; and that they must execute that trust in the most upright way possible.
It has always been a dangerous thing for politicians to be supported by the pockets of legitimate businessmen. What compounds the ill even more now is the trend of alliance formation between political figures and the monied criminal element. This latter development has serious implications for the functioning of our democratic institutions; the ethical calibre of our political practitioners and the usefulness of their policy offerings in relation to our national interests.
Proper handling of political monies in the context of robust regulations, Oham states, “will enhance a country’s ability to effectively maintain free and fair elections, effective governance, democratic government and regulation of corruption”. The UN Convention Against Corruption, in echoing this, encouraged its members to “enhance transparency in the funding of candidates for elected public office and, when applicable, the funding of political parties”.
Noted opinions, such as that of G. Alexander Heard, prudently consider state provision of party and election financing as part of “the costs of democracy.” This opinion avows that state financing equalizes money resources for the parties and immunizes the system against significant levels of corruption by effectively reducing access by private donors to policy makers.
Conversely, those who support private financing cite the enormous expense to the state. They advocate that it allows for the involvement of civic groups; that it counters government limitation on speech. But perhaps what is required is a mixed approach in a context where there is robust regulation and full disclosure; ceilings on contribution limits; and the appropriately required levels of accountability and transparency.
Corruption comes with high level costs to states. Monies are misappropriated; funds are diverted from needed programmes; contracts are awarded subject to special interests influence; public office and the privileges associated with it are assigned to the unscrupulous and unsuited campaign or party donor. That is the menace of unchecked campaign financing.
Any legislative regime for the promotion of Integrity in Public Life is insufficiently effective without similar requisite provisions for campaign financing.
It is imperative that any nation state which pursues the ideals of democracy, which seeks to develop and mature a representative system of governance, which is vested with limited resources, and which is exposed to the vulnerabilities associated with the formulation of policy platforms and the programme implementation flowing there from, seeks to put in place a well-conceived framework for anti-corruption and integrity in public life.
The Nolan principles constitute a highly desirable philosophical and practical framework for best practice in governance. But these precepts are always challenged and need legislative and regulatory architectural support.
The principle of selflessness struggles weakly in the face of and against the force of corporate interests and party strictures.
Influence is the perpetual nemesis of integrity.
Obligatory behaviour trumps merit consideration relative to honours and awards of all types.
Ours is a context counter-cultural to openness and one which rejects freedom of information, mandatory disclosure and other safeguard regimes.
But “for Integrity Legislation to be effective, it must empower the relevant authorities to take firm action against corruption in public life.” (Ken Gordon.)
Additionally, “Legislation can only provide the infrastructure for regulation… the final piece of the puzzle is the existence of personal integrity in politicians, public officials and persons in the private sector.” – Sir David Simmons.
Bishop Joseph Atherley J.P., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition