Accountability of political accounts not so clear: Transparency

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.


Transparency to oversee funds for Climate Governance Integrity Project

The Climate Governance Network held its first meeting today to address the Climate Governance Integrity Project, a two-year pilot project headed by Transparency International and carried out in six countries including the Maldives and Kenya.

The project will identify suitable methods for allocating funds while establishing governing bodies to oversee climate change policies.

Transparency Maldives will assist the project by determining how authorities use funds received for climate change management and adaptation in the Maldives.

Today, the organisation discussed ways to work together with stakeholders within the project’s framework.

Transparency Maldives also raised concerns that corruption was a risk should governance of the project’s mechanisms and funds fail.


Public finds Parliament “most corrupt” institution: Transparency International

A new report published by Transparency International finds that 90 percent of surveyed Maldivians believe that “corruption has increased” or remained level in the last three years, while they dubbed the parliament as the “most corrupt” institution.

The “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in Maldives” report surveyed 1001 people in the Maldives between April 23 and April 29 of 2011 to capture public perception of corruption in the country. The survey was conducted by Gallup Pakistan of Gallup International, a leading polling service.

The report revealed that over half of the people interviewed (56 percent) believe the level of corruption in Maldives has increased over the past three years, while another 34 percent believed it remained the same. Only ten percent said corruption levels declined.

When people were asked to rate the extent of corruption in nine different institutions on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “not at all corrupt” and 5 meaning “extremely corrupt”, 55.9 percent of responders claimed 77 seat People’s Majilis (Parliament) is “extremely corrupt” – suggesting that the public perceive the elected legislative body as among the most corrupt institutions in the country.

Meanwhile, 55.4 percent of respondents viewed political parties as “extremely corrupt”. The judiciary received a similar ranking from 39.4 percent of individuals polled.

Military and religious groups were considered the least corrupt institutions.

In addition to measuring public perception, the report also evaluated the prevalence of bribes in the civil sector. According to its findings, six percent of responders claimed to have paid a bribe to one of the nine service providers over the past 12 months. The most bribes were paid to Customs, while the fewest were paid to the Police.

Bribes were reportedly paid to either accelerate procedures or minimise conflicts at institutions which provide land services, registry and permit services, utilities, education, and medical services.

Transparency officials point out that although the government or executive was not classified as an individual institution at the time of polling, the services for which people paid bribes are government components.

Most bribes were paid by men (8 percent) with women paying fewer than half that amount (3 percent). All bribes were paid by people of low income, the report reveals.

Speaking at the report release ceremony held on Thursday at Traders, Senior Program Coordinator at Transparency International Rukshana Neenayakkara pointed out that it is significant that 90 percent of Maldivians believe that the presence of corruption has increased or remained unchanged over the past three years.

Referring to the high perception of corruption within the parliament and judiciary, Neenayakkara said the figures reflect a “dismal drastic situation” of grand corruption in Maldives, which can create a “worse situation” in the coming years. “So we need action now”, he asserted.

According to Neenayakkara petty corruption is uncommon in Maldives though it is endemic in other  South Asian countries which were similarly surveyed.

Project Coordinator for Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed explained that “grand corruption” which spread across the judiciary, parliament and members of the executive is “more dangerous” compared to the petty cash corruption, and stressed on the need to address the problem through systematic change.

Faced with such endemic and high-level corruption, it is “up to the people of the Maldives to demand better governance”, he insisted.

The Maldives rose slightly to rank 134 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released in December 2011.

The country scored 2.5 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean), placing it alongside Lebanon, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

The score however is a mild improvement on 2010, when the Maldives was ranked 143th and below Zimbabwe. The Maldives still rated as having higher perceived corruption than many regional neighbours, including Sri Lanka (86), Bangladesh (120) and India (95).

Speaking with Minivan News in December, Rasheed said it was “up to the people of the Maldives to demand better governance”, and noted that the nation’s ability to address corruption would have political ramifications for the 2013 presidential election, particularly for young voters.

The “Daily Lives of Corruption” report concludes that 93 percent of Maldivians think that “ordinary people can make difference in the fight against corruption”.

Other countries surveyed were Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.


Complex election and “appallingly low” voter education could mean many invalid ballots

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has expressed “deep concern” at low levels of voter education and “backtracking of transparency standards” set by the Elections Commission after previous elections.

“Appallingly low levels of voter education combined with persistent media bias/propaganda, use of state resources by the ruling party, and backtracking of transparency and accessibility standards previously set by the interim Elections Commission in the presidential and parliamentary elections are issues of concern,” the NGO said.

TM is coordinating the national domestic observation of the local council elections, covering Male’, Hulhumale’, Villingili and 38 other islands across 14 atolls. Together with 20 partner NGOs, the observers will cover two-thirds of the country’s ballot boxes.

The TM team will also be scrutinising three main TV stations, four radio stations and three print media “for bias, objectivity and quality of reporting during the election.”

In a pre-election statement, the NGO commented that “an environment of mistrust between the election administration, the government, political parties, candidates and the media has contributed to a decline of trust in electoral systems.”

“Given the complexity of the election and the low level of voter education, Transparency Maldives anticipates a high percentage of invalid ballots. Transparency Maldives also believes that this will contribute to raising tensions as the margin for winning and losing will be low due to the small number of eligible voters spread over a high number of candidates.”

™ however commended the EC for “spearheading a meaningful, although a limited and delayed, voter education program in Male’ and the atolls.”

“Transparency Maldives also appreciates the readiness of the Elections Commission in preparing for the Election Day.”

A small team of international observers from the Commonwealth are also present in the Maldives, but are not formally monitoring the election.

“We don’t normally observe local council elections, but the Elections Commission asked us. We’re not formally monitoring the election – we won’t be doing press releases or making public announcements, but we will produce a report for the Commonwealth Secretary General and this will like by passed to the Elections Commission,” explained Alison Pearman, Policy Officer with the Political Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Besides Pearman, the Commonwealth team includes Commissioner Florence Kebbie (National Election Commission of Sierra Leone), Zenaida Moya-Flowers (Chairperson of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and Mayor, Belize City Council), Anuya Kuwar (Project Officer – Asia region, Commonwealth Local Government Forum).


Transparency Maldives granted Rf1m to assess financing of political parties

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has received a grant of almost one million rufiya (GBP£50,000) from the British High Commission in Colombo for a project investigating the financing of political parties in the Maldives.

The grant was given through the UK government’s Strategic Programme Fund (SPF) in a bid to promote “greater transparency and accountability in political processes and increased general understanding of democracy and democratic principles in the Maldives.”

Project Coordinator Thoriq Hamid told Minivan News that experts from Transparency International would be training the local NGO in the same tool and methodology that had been “very successful” in assessing the financing of political parties in Latin America and Pakistan.

TM would be cooperating with the Elections Commission (EC) during the one year project, Thoriq said, and reviewing the specific laws and regulations of political party financing relevant to the Maldives.

Thoriq said he believed political parties would willingly open their books to the NGO.

“We are counting on our reputation – we have a good relationship with most political parties in the country,” Thoriq said.

“The tool itself tracks accountability, so an obvious lack of cooperation would reflect a lack of transparency,” he explained.

Transparency International considers corruption to be a major obstacle to development in growing economies. The organisation’s Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries according to the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians, listed Maldives 130th in 2009, equal with Mozambique and Nigeria.

The country’s CPI declined to 2.5 from 2.8 in 2008 and 3.3 in 2007, indicating a worsening perception of corruption.

Transparency Maldives describes itself as a “non-political organisation that promotes collaboration, awareness, and other initiatives to improve governance and eliminate corruption from the daily lives of people.”