Transparent political financing in the Maldives is moderately but unspecifically supported by legislation, however in practice political parties and candidates can easily manipulate funding with little consequence and leaving no clear trail of public accountability.
“In the Maldives political financing is mainly viewed as a book keeping and procedural issue rather than as an issue of accountability to one’s constituency that directly affects the level of democracy within the system”, reads the report.
“Transparency in Political Financing in Maldives” is part of the Crinis Project, a joint effort between Transparency International and the Carter Center that began in Latin America in 2006, and has since been executed in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Using surveys, interviews and analysis carried out between November 2010 and April 2011, the project measures 10 “dimensions of transparency” in the financial reporting practices of nine political parties, 15 MPs, eight presidential candidates from the 2008 elections, and various donors. Official legislation was jointly analysed.
Ratings for both ‘Law’ and ‘Practice’ were measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 indicates full compliance with standards of transparency and accountability and 0 indicates no compliance.
The project distinguishes between non-electoral funds, campaign funds, and funds received and managed by candidates independent of their parties.
The Maldives ranked 4.6 on the Crinis Index overall, qualifying as “average”. With ‘Law’ rated at 5.1 and ‘Practice’ rated at a lower 4.1, the report notes that “there is much room for improving both the legal framework on political financing and political financing practices in the country.”
Average aggregate scores in the categories State Oversight, Prevention (of manipulation), Disclosure (of information to the citizens), and Reliability, Depth and Scope of reporting leveled the total score at 4.6, the report states.
However, the majority of these categories barely reached above the ‘Insufficient’ rating, with Non-State Oversight and Sanctions, or penalties for non-compliance with the legal framework, received the lowest scores.
The only category to qualify as “good” (6.8-10) was Book Keeping, scraping in with the minimum score of 6.8.
In each category the Maldives’ legislation for political financing qualified as ‘average’ with a median score of 5.7. However the law was not rated for Reliability as it was a perception-based dimension, or for Non-State Oversight, as there is no mechanism stipulated in Maldivian law.
Practices in political financing were generally found to be‘insufficient’, notably in the categories of Reporting, Disclosure, and Prevention. Sanctions (1.0) and Non-State Oversight (1.2) scored the lowest.
Comparatively, Book Keeping and Scope (of reporting) scored positively with ratings of 7.5 and 8.4, respectively.
The report observes that the Maldives only introduced multi-party democracy in 2005 and did not have an independent elections commission (EC) until 2008.
Although reporting to the EC is mandated by law, the study finds that the legal framework enforcing this mandate ranks only at 4.5 on the Crinis scale. In practice, reporting received a score of 3.3 (insufficient), as “parties do not specify separate sources and amounts of funding” when they do report and “in most cases, the absence of the standardised reporting format also leads to inconsistencies on the information provided by parties.”
Moreover, information is poorly disclosed to the public. In the category of measures which prevent abuse of resources and conflicts of interest, the study ranked party behavior at 2.8 and practice at 3.2–both insufficient rankings. Meanwhile, the law scored an average ranking of 4.7.
“The Regulation on Political Parties does not require political parties to conduct their financial transactions through a bank account; nor is there a provision in the law prohibiting the acceptance of cash donations; nor is there an upper limit to cash donations which parties are allowed to accept,” the report states. “Since parties are not required to conduct all its transactions through a bank account, there is no way for Elections Commission to verify that parties have reported all of its income and expenditures, nor can the Elections Commission verify that parties have not accepted types of income which are prohibited by law.”
The report points out that the system of political financing is interdependent. “For example, the public’s access to financial reports depends on whether political actors submit reports to a state oversight agency. Such disclosure, in turn, is nearly impossible to obtain if parties lack an internal book-keeping system.
“As such, transparent political financing is not guaranteed even if the proper operation of one or two of these dimensions is confirmed in practice”, the report states.
The effort involved in assembling the report further highlights the system’s weaknesses.
“We had quite a bit of difficulty getting information from almost all sources,” said Project Coordinator Ma’rifa Hassan. “After a long time of asking and waiting for donors, political parties and politicians” to respond to inquiries, she said most information came from the EC “because they’re the only ones with the financial records”–in itself a surprise.
Of the fifteen candidates approached, Hassan said, only one provided a single set of records. “The rest just said ‘you can get it from the EC, we do not have it anymore.’ Our impression is that once the campaign is over and they’re elected, they don’t care about the financial aspects,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s quite absurd that a lot of political parties or campaign candidates claim they do not have those records.”
Approaching the EC was a struggle as well.
“Just getting the first appointment to explain our project was very difficult,” said Executive Director Ilham Mohamed.
Once allowed to access the information, researchers found that they had to sit with an official to look over the records, and could only copy the information by hand. “The average citizen, public official or a journalist is not going to have the drive or the time to wait and wait for an appointment, and then have to copy everything by hand,” she observed. “These things should be available, and people shouldn’t have to justify why they want to see the records in the first place.”
The team conceded that the research collided with the primary elections, and that the EC was understandably busy at the time.
Aside from their own experience, the team took the pulse of the public’s interaction with the information.
Sending out 14 volunteers from the public with a list of information to obtain, the team examined the level of proactive disclosure among donors, politicians, political parties and the EC. According to the team, none of the volunteers were able to obtain any information.
The team affirmed that the lack of transparency and accountability in political financing supports the recent finding that 90 percent of Maldivians believe that “corruption has increased” or remained level in the last three years and perceive parliament as the “most corrupt” institution, as stated in Transparency’s recent report “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in Maldives”.
“Asking about a party’s financial records and spending practices also labels you as suspicious,” Mohamed pointed out. “A majority of people we interviewed saw this as a privacy issue. But if you’re spending money or taking money from a budget to be elected to a public post, then it is a public matter. You’re privacy stops there.”
The team observed that although the country scored ‘average’ for its laws and clauses, “the objective of having those laws and clauses is not achieved. The EC is required by law to facilitate public access to records, but it doesn’t specify how.”
The Elections Commission received the brunt of the report’s constructive criticism, along with Parliament. The report charged the EC with streamlining and enforcing the reporting methods to be used by political parties and between parties, the EC and the public. Meanwhile Parliament was tasked with amending legislation to make financial transactions among political parties and electoral candidates more transparent, for example, by requiring that all transactions be done through a specific bank account.
Other recommendations included consistent and balanced media coverage and work by civil society organisations to inform the public of political financial operations. Political parties were tasked with reporting clearly to the public and the EC in a timely manner.
“Basically, we have a lot of work to do”, the Transparency team concluded.