By Takura Zhangazha*
In the midst of ruling political party factionalism, congresses for the main opposition party and endeavours toward unity of breakaway opposition factions of the MDC, there is the sharing of electoral spoils. In terms of the Political Parties Finance Act, the Finance Minster has allocated US$3million to all political parties that have at least 5% representation in Parliament. These parties are namely Zanu Pf and the MDC-T.
According to media reports earlier this year, Zanu Pf will get or has already gotten its US$2,2 million while the MDC-T will get a total of US$ 800 000. Reliable sources tell me that the MDC-T quota has been split into two.
So far, it is said that the MDC-T and MDC Renewal have each received at least US$250 000, meaning that they are still to share a further US$300 000. I don’t have any speculative figures for Zanu Pf but given the fact that it is literally constructing a temporary conference centre for its elective congress next month (with a new tarred road) on the open grounds behind the Magistrates Courts in Harare, I am sure it has received a significant portion of its expected US$ 2,2 million.
There are a lot of opinions on the issue of political parties getting assistance from the government. Especially where it comes to direct funding. Where it is done with broader accountability it makes democratic sense to assist in the institutionalization of competing political organisations. An opinion by the ElectionsResource Centre argues that there is need for greater fairness, transparency and accountability in the fiscal support given to political parties.
The key question that emerges however is twofold. Firstly is the challenge of broader public accountability to the taxpayer as to what exactly the money is going to be used for by the political parties. Secondly, internal party accountability as to the usage of the money. That is , whether party members and supporters are aware of what the money is being used for and whether it is not actually going into the pockets of political party leaders.
The issue of public accountability in the current case of the US$3 million that will be received by the two (three) political parties in parliament is key. None of the parties have a legal obligation to state what exactly they use the money for after receiving it. They will fight tooth and nail to get their allocations, but they ensure there is no further debate as to what they eventually use the money for.
Whether they use it to purchase a new car for their leader or to pay salaries, its really up to them. In fact this has been one of the major reasons why some politicians have stayed in the game for so long. Especially after the promulgation of the Political Parties Finance Act in 1992.
Their motivation has been to at least get a significant presence (over 5%) in the national parliamentary vote count. Once you get that, then there is the certainty of income. If one were to do a material audit of the manner in which these allocations have been used over the last ten years, it will be evident that it was most certainly not to build the institutional capacities of recipient political parties. Obviously part of the money has gone into campaigns given the fact that we have had at least four national elections in the last decade but this alone cannot be what the funds allocated can only be used for.
There is an urgent need for legal regulations that ask parties to not only account for the funds but also stipulate that some percentage of the money be used for specific capacity building projects within parties. For example there is evident need to develop youth leadership training activities or in the current context of the country having a new constitution, training and education programmes related to constitutionalism.
There is also need to have specific obligations on internal accountability processes of political parties that qualify for this funding. It is necessary for there to be some stipulation as to compulsory audits and reports as to how the money was used. This would mean that there would be legal obligations for treasurers or administration secretaries to table financial reports before their congresses or conferences as to how allocations were utilised.
The challenge however remains that our political parties now have a sense of entitlement to the funding. It gives the impression of being just reward for the political campaigns. That is why none of them have gone public with a report as to how they have utilised the money. Nor have they been wont to announce that indeed the money is now reflecting in their bank accounts. Where perhaps the initial intentions of the state financing of political parties may have been to prevent foreign funding, it has had the end effect of leading to a lack of accountability by parties.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)