The Financing of Political Parties: (2) The White Paper

owen bonnici + franco debono

In January 2014 Government published a White Paper with its proposals on the financing of political parties.

The proposals in the White Paper resembled Franco Debono’s Private Member’s Bill which he had presented during the Eleventh Parliament.

Alternattiva Demokratika emphasised that there was agreement in principle on Government’s proposals, however the details needed to be sent back to the drawing board. Although government has yet to explain the already existing instances of state financing, (even of political parties) it was agreed the first step should be a sense of order, transparency and accountability in the financing of political parties and that subsequently the issue of state financing of political parties should also be considered.

The identification of the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority was a major sticking point. This is due to the fact that the Electoral Commission is exclusively made up of persons enjoying the trust of the Parliamentary Parties.

AD proposed that in lieu of the Electoral Commission the regulatory authority should be the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life together with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Standards in Public Life.  These posts are being created as a result of a recommendation by a Select Committee of the House of Representatives.

It is proposed that the accounts of political parties are to be audited. However when this is considered by the legislator it should be borne in mind that not all political parties have the same financial means. The legislator should distinguish between political parties whose turnover is measured in millions of euros and those whose turnover does not exceed €15,000 per annum.

With this in mind AD proposed that in those cases where a political party’s turnover does not exceed €100,000 per annum the audit fees should be an expenditure shouldered by the regulator.

Alternattiva Demokratika did not agree with the classification of donations into four groups as the White Paper suggested; in particular AD disagreed with the concept of anonymous donations (up to €500 in one year) as well as with the proposed permissible limits for other donations,

AD drew attention that the White Paper does not make a reference to loans which a political party may have entered into without having the intention to repay the monies loaned. This was being stated in view of the “Cash for Honours scandal” in the United Kingdom,

Nor was the White Paper clear on the role of the accumulated investments of the political parties as well as the need to ensure that these are kept separate and distinct from the political parties themselves. It is to be ensured that the political parties do not make illicit use of the accumulated resources in their companies. It is to be furthermore ensured that no excuse labelled as “sensitive commercial information” is used to hide sensitive information.

The White Paper does not address the issue of public property which has accumulated in the hands of political parties. The required administrative steps should be identified to ascertain that rent paid by the parties for the use of such properties is periodically revised such that it will always be a commercial one.

AD disagreed with the new limits proposed for expenditure by candidates in electoral campaigns. They are much too high.  Alternattiva Demokratika also emphasised that the permissible limits for spending by the political parties during an electoral campaign are established.