FIJI NEEDS TRANSPARENCY IN POLITICAL FUNDRAISING

Editorial

FijiSUN

SUVA, Fiji (Feb. 5, 2008) - The move by the Interim Government to impose transparency on political party funding is as welcome as it is overdue.

For far too long, the sources of political party funds have been shrouded in mystery and the parties themselves have been extremely secretive about where their money comes from.

It's no secret that business houses donate to political parties. Most donate to more than one, in fact. But where there is secrecy there is suspicion.

Do the business houses expect favors in return for their donations? After all, these are hard-headed business people not in the habit of spending money for no reason and very much in the habit of expecting a return on their investments.

In fact, there is little or no evidence that this kind of influence buying has taken place - but that may be simply because donations can be given in secret.

Transparency in funding would go a long way towards keeping the parties honest - a comparatively new experience for most of them. The argument that political parties will be starved of funds as donors will not want to be identified and will therefore cease to donate will doubtless be deployed. But it doesn't survive careful examination.

On the contrary, experience elsewhere suggests that some parties benefit from such legislation as donors wish to be seen to be even handed by giving support to a range of political parties and organizations.

Many business houses and other donors in countries where political funding is a public activity see it as no more than a social obligation, a means of supporting democracy even.

Assuming the legislation proposed by Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum reaches the statute book, it will, one hopes, end once and for all the suspicion of sleaze that surrounds the funding of political parties.

The objective is not to stop people giving money to political parties. For without funds the political growth of the nation would be severely stunted. The objective is rather to level the playing field by making all donations - or as many as practically possible - public.

Donations have in the past bought access to the seat of power though there is no proof that they have bought party policy. But the suspicion brought about by secrecy remains.

Legislation to end the secrecy will also end the suspicion and thereby improve the political process.

The Interim Government should be commended for this initiative which should be pursued to its legislative conclusion.

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