Follow money trail
Posted on August 15th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Some polls monitors have called for a ceiling on election campaign expenditure. This, we hear in the run-up to elections like koha’s mating call during the Avurudu season. But nothing happens thereafter and the issue is forgotten. Politicians and moneybags carry on regardless, and corruption thrives.

The Election Commission (EC) takes pride in the fact that a wealthy candidate who spent more than Rs. 40 million at the last local government polls finds himself in hot water. He was not alone in throwing money around to get votes, but others are not facing legal action. Are they too big to be caught?

Will the EC explain why it has failed to figure out how much powerful government and Opposition politicians have spent on their election campaigns since 2010? How much did the two main presidential candidates spend on electioneering, in 2015?

The less said about the last government, the better! How much its leaders spent on their election campaigns is anybody’s guess. Those who dislodged it, promising to usher in good governance and expose corruption under the previous regime, are no better. They obviously outspent their predecessors, at the last general election. Before 2015, the Darley Road office of the SLFP was overflowing with funds; Sirikotha was so broke that it could hardly settle its electricity and telephone bills. But no sooner had the 2015 regime change occurred than the financial woes of Sirikotha disappeared. Where did all the money come from?

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe captured power, promising good governance, of which accountability and transparency are integral parts. Let these leaders be urged to reveal their campaign expenditure, in 2015 as well as last year, when they faced the local government elections, and how they raised funds for electioneering.

Sri Lankan politicians have mastered the art of bribing the people with public funds before elections. The previous government distributed roofing sheets, squatting pans, almanacs, sil redi an many other things among voters in the lead-up to the last presidential election. Some politicians and bureaucrats who followed orders from on high and allocated funds for those handouts are now in trouble. The current dispensation, too, has been bribing the people with concessionary loans, etc. at the expense of the public. The expansion of the Samurdhi scheme to include 600,000 more beneficiaries was also politically determined. New laws must be brought in to curb such practices.

The problem with undisclosed campaign funds is that they consist of black money. Big-time crooks have massive slush funds at their disposal to bankroll election campaigns of the candidates of their choice. They are so rich that they can even sponsor political parties. Funds for election campaigns here also come from external sources. Even drug dealers are believed to fund election campaigns. It may be recalled that, a few months ago, some MPs accused one another of having benefited from the largesse of drug baron Makandure Madush. The underworld boss is now in custody, and the police can ascertain the names of politicians and others he has helped financially, if they really care to do so. But it is highly unlikely that the government will allow a can of worms to be opened.

No campaign to cleanse the Augean stables that are Sri Lankan politics will reach fruition unless tough measures are adopted to control election campaign expenditure. And the money trail will have to be followed. This is not something that can be achieved by merely calling upon the politicians in power and their Opposition counterparts to legislate for a ceiling to be imposed on campaign expenditure. Sufficient pressure will have to be brought to bear on them to do so, and the campaigners may have to brave water cannon, teargas and baton charges in the process. Are they ready?

One Response to “Follow money trail”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    What about this SUDDEN SPURT of house building and giting to people on the eve of the election?

    Can the government, neck deep in debt servicing, and floating loans like crazy even to the last day in office, AFFORD to BURDEN the Nation even further with this kind of PROFLIGATE ELECTION-ORIENTED SPENDING?

    No one wants to begrudge poor people a new home, but can the Govt afford to do that at this time?

    I say these expenditures will make NECESSARY cutting of welfare payments, education spending and increases in tax in the near future. PROFLIGATE IRRESPONSIBLE SPENDING by Sajith to win the Presidency may well sink the ship of State!

    Who is OVERSEEING this SPENDING to verify whether we can afford it? WHO?

    Our country is a BUS CAREENING OFF THE CLIFF with a DRUNK DRIVER at the HELM with both the President and the PM playing at election politics in La La land!

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