TISL urges public disclosure of campaign finance sources

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) in a statement yesterday said it was encouraged by the proposal put forward by President Maithripala Sirisena to control unlimited spending on election campaigns.

However, TISL urged lawmakers to be mindful of the importance of publicly disclosing sources of campaign funding as a minimum requirement, when drafting provisions to limit spending.

The approval of Cabinet on 17 October to amend the relevant laws is both timely and necessary. Sri Lanka was an early signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) of 2003, which compels State Parties to consider the adoption of legislative and administrative measures to enhance transparency in the funding of candidates and political parties. Article 156A of the Constitution, introduced by the 19th Amendment, enshrines the need to adopt legislation to implement the UNCAC and other international conventions relating to the prevention of corruption.

The vast disparity between the salaries of elected representatives and spending on election campaigns is alarmingly evident. The unregulated use of finances could have an adverse impact on the carrying out of free and fair elections. The disclosure of campaign contributions, both monetary and in kind (e.g. payments by a contributor to a third party supplier) will significantly reduce the avenues for election campaigns to facilitate illegal activity principally money laundering and undue influence in the electoral process.

TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere said: “The disclosure of campaign contributions is the first key step in understanding the nexus of politics and money – any system that allows voters to better understand the interests supporting a candidate can only lead to greater voter choice and a more vibrant democracy.”

Transparency and regulation increase the integrity of the electoral process. Given the complex nature of the subject of campaign finance regulation, it is essential that state bodies such as the Elections Commission, the Inland Revenue Department, the Auditor General and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption work together with civil society in identifying the specific issues to be addressed through campaign finance regulations.

TISL looks forward to contributing to the on-going discussion, but would reiterate that such discussions should not be used as a pretext to further delay long overdue elections.

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