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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Election spending sparks audit demands

Election spending sparks audit demands

FUNDING for commune election campaigning, scheduled to begin January 18, has become

a contentious issue with the opposition accusing the ruling CPP-Funcinpec coalition

of using the government machinery unfairly to their advantage.

The election monitoring group, Comfrel, has demanded that the National Election Committee

(NEC) makes provision for a financial audit of income and expenses on campaigning

by all political parties in a bid to ensure free and fair elections.

"How can the election be fair when some parties have all the access to money

and others find it difficult even to plan a campaign, and if the funds are splurged

by some on vote-buying activities rather than legal campaigning?" asked Panha

Koul of Comfrel December 20.

Article 10 of the Commune Election Law, based on article 16 of the National Assembly

Law, has assigned the NEC the role of scrutinizing the sources of funds filling the

coffers of political parties and how that money is spent. The NEC is not, however,

legally bound to do so. Nor does the body seem to have either the expertise or the

resources to carry out an independent audit.

Political parties are governed by a law that requires them to maintain clear accounts

specifying their income and expenditure in order to maintain transparency, a condition

that's rarely complied with.

In theory, parties depend on their members and supporters for donations that are

collected and then channeled throughout two weeks of campaigning activities including

printing posters, hiring loudspeakers, organizing political rallies and door-to-door

canvassing.

Comfrel said the Royal Government had committed itself in its official Governance

Action Plan to reform of political party financing during election campaigns.

Article 29 of the law regulating political parties prohibits them from receiving

financial support from NGOs, public institutions or foreign companies, but allows

them to finance their activities through "legal" ways of income generation.

The state may support campaigning but is required to disburse funds equally to all

parties.

However, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy said the ruling party favored its cronies

when awarding contracts for procurement of rice, uniforms and even construction projects.

These cronies often inflated their bills returning some of the money as kickbacks

for the party's election fund.

"I will not be surprised if their expenses ran into tens of millions of dollars.

Look how they [the ruling party] have diverted huge funds from the 2001 state budget.

Instead of allocating funds to different ministries responsible for various sectors,

finance ministry has handled all the money," he said while referring to recent

"irregularities" in the budgetary spending, allegedly to raise campaign

funds.

SRP's general secretary, Eng Chhay Eang, earlier accused the NEC of spending at least

$60,000 more than was necessary when awarding the contract to print the 72-page booklet

that describes the procedures and regulations governing the commune elections.

While the NEC paid for 72,150 booklets at the rate of $1.27 each, the SRP found a

printer who said he would have charged merely $0.50 for such a large volume since

the cost reduced with larger orders. The SRP suggested that the printer was favored

in a quid pro quo arrangement, adding that the absence of transparent procedures

in printing and designing election materials meant there were always chances for

similar irregularities.

One such situation open to abuse, he suggested, was that each of the 1,621 communes

will have distinctive ballot papers with different positioning of political parties

in the fray. The position of the party on the ballot paper will be decided by a draw

of lots in each commune.

Dr Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID), however,

said Cambodia's situation was no different from other countries in the region where

ruling parties were always in an advantageous position in organizing elections through

corruption funds.

"But Funcinpec and the SRP have been in parliament long enough to have pushed

for an amendment in the election law to ensure an independent audit of political

party accounts," he said. He added that if the government could ensure security

for political candidates and voters, and equal access to the media for all parties,

the prerequisite for a free and fair election would have been met.

For the election the SRP said it would spend around half a million dollars: half

from expatriate Cambodians, and the rest from domestic supporters.

"We haven't had to spend a single penny on opening our party offices. Some supporters

gave a part of their house for use, while others donated rice, coconut and other

goods," Rainsy said.

Funcinpec and CPP-though no official figures were forthcoming from them despite repeated

efforts-plan to supplement donations with regular contributions by their party MPs

and ministers.

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