Monday, October 24, 2011

RSIEC and Public Funding of Political Parties

Public funding of political parties has been very contentious in Nigeria. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution in section 228 (c) and Electoral Act 2006 in section 91 contain provisions that enable the National Assembly to make grant available to the Independent National Electoral Commission for distribution to registered political parties. However, with the coming into effect of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, the provision for public funding of political parties was removed. It was therefore curious to read in the newspaper that River State Independent Electoral Commission has sustained the tradition of public funding for political parties operating in Rivers State.

A news item in Vanguard of October 12 reported that some 45 political parties under the aegis of the Rivers State Association of Frontline Political Parties have called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate the state’s Independent Election Commission, RSIEC, over the N4.7 billion grant by the state government for political parties for the conduct of the 2011 council elections. The parties alleged that 70 per cent of candidates in all the parties were disqualified by the Commission so that the money due the parties would return to the commission’s purse.

On Monday, October 17, RSIEC addressed a press conference where it responded to the allegations of the political parties. The Commission clarified that what was being given to the parties was not subvention but grant. It explained that while subvention is statutory, grant is discretionary. RSIEC admitted thus: “Since the inception of this Commission, grants have been given to Political Parties to enable them participate in Local Government Council elections. That was the case in 2008 and the 2010 elections into Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA). In 2008, Political Parties were granted Five Million Naira (N5m) each. In 2010, N3m was granted to each Political Party for the ONELGA elections.” The Commission also elucidated that contrary to the allegation that it received N4.7b from Rivers State Government; the amount it got was N550m only for all the Political Parties.

RSIEC stated further that “after the 2008 Council elections, these grants were not given carte blanche but subject to conditionalities, prescribed by the Commission in its Elections Guidelines made in exercise of the powers conferred on the Commission by the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission Law, as amended. The grant worked out at N8m for each of the Political Party, less administrative and bank charges. Of this N8m, the sum of N6m was designated for the 21st May 2011 elections into 21 Local Government Areas while the sum of N2m was designated for the 17th September 2011 Degema Local Government Council elections.”

The Commission explained further that “disbursement of the funds was on the basis of, (a) fixed/standard/across the board rate, and (b) pro rata basis. The across the board rate was paid either for or upon performance of the following milestones: Establishment of an Office in either PHALGA or OBALGA; Conduct of primaries of Political Parties in accordance with their Constitutions, by-laws and regulations; Submission of Names of Candidates that emerged from the primaries; Purchase of Nomination Forms; and Presentation of Candidates for verification and Eligibility of Candidates for elections.”

RSIEC clarified further that “In the administration of the grants, the Commission was confronted with many challenges and different scenarios. It was discovered that: Some Political Parties received the grant and did not hold primaries; Some Political Parties received the grants, and held primaries but did not purchase Nomination Forms; Some Political Parties held primaries, purchased nomination forms but did not return them; Some Political Parties held primaries, purchased forms, returned the completed forms and presented candidates for verification; In some instances even though the forms were returned, no candidate appeared for screening; Among the candidates presented by the Political Parties, some were qualified, while others were rejected. The reasons for the rejection were communicated to the Political Parties for necessary action; lastly, the success of the candidates at the verification was based essentially on the criteria earlier alluded to in the Guidelines. The qualification or rejection of the candidates had nothing to do with a latent desire by the Commission to conserve funds for itself.”

Hopefully the explanations given by RSIEC will douse the brewing tension between the Commission and the political parties.