Wednesday, March 27, 2013

EDSIEC and Campaign Finance Regulation

Edo State through its State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) is gearing up to conduct elections into the 192 Wards and 18 Local Government Areas of the state.  Six political parties are fielding candidates at the elections. The poll scheduled to hold on April 20, 2013 is being held in accordance with the provision of section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.   The forthcoming poll is guided by the Edo State Local Government Electoral Law 2012 and EDSIEC Guidelines for the Local Government Council Elections 2013. Of great importance to this writer are the political finance provisions in the state law.

Some of the grounds of disqualification of candidates as contained in section 16 (c) and (e) respectively are:” failure to produce evidence of tax payments as and when due for the period of three years immediately preceding the year of the elections” and inability to pay the non-refundable deposit as prescribed by the Commission. It was reliably gathered that EDSIEC demands a nomination fee of N100, 000 from chairmanship candidates and N50, 000 from Councillorship candidates. It is noteworthy that these candidates would have earlier been charged ‘expression of interest’ and nomination fees by their respective political parties. Political finance analysts are of the opinion that much as it is legal and legitimate to charge these nomination fees (more so in order to weed out unserious candidates), such fees add to the financial burdens of poor but good candidates and may therefore be a disincentive for this category of aspirants. It should be noted that a lot more resources are spent on campaigns during party primaries as well as the main elections. The whole essence of political finance regulation is to create a level playing field for all the contestants; however, attempts should not be made to deny access to genuine and patriotic aspirants through imposition of prohibitive nomination fees.

  In an attempt to ensure that no candidate contesting the poll is given undue advantage over the other, the Edo State electoral law criminalizes corrupt practices. It states in section 64 (1) that: “If any corrupt practice is committed by any candidate elected at an election held under the provisions of this law, the election of such candidate shall be invalid if the offence is proved in an electoral tribunal.” Subsection 2 of the aforesaid clause listed corrupt practices as any of the following: Impersonation; Cheating; Undue Influence; Bribery; Thuggery; Aiding, abetting, counseling or procuring the Commission of any of the aforesaid offences and Stealing of ballot boxes. It would seem this clause sends a strong message to those who may want to subvert the electoral system; unfortunately however, subsection 3 of that section makes it difficult for anyone to prove this offence in court or tribunal.

Section 64 (3) states thus: “A corrupt practice shall be deemed to be committed by a candidate if it is committed with his knowledge or consent or with the knowledge or consent of a person who is acting under the specific authority of such candidate with reference to the election.”   Given the smartness of most politicians, they are wont to deny any knowledge or consent to such misdeed should any of their foot-soldiers be caught.  Other relevant sections to this discourse are S. 66 to 69. Section 66 criminalizes provision of food, drinks or entertainment for the purpose of corruptly influencing voters at election. It categorizes that as treating.  Section 67 explicitly lay bare what constitutes ‘undue influence’ while S. 68 comprehensively deals with the issue of bribery. Section 69 says: “Every person who is guilty of bribery , or undue influence, or aiding, abetting, counseling or procuring the Commission of any of those offences, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment  for a term not exceeding twelve (12) months or to a fine not less than N100,000. The big question is: Is EDSIEC willing and ready to enforce these regulations?