LALIT calls for Opposition Parties and back-benchers to block the Jugnauth draconian “Political Financing Bill” and its concomitant Constitutional Amendment. The proposed law opens the way for a regime to control opposition parties. The Bill, by its repressive nature, actually discourages participation by ordinary citizens in any political party. The Bill reduces the very idea of a political party – an organization that ideally freely gathers like-minded people, without any State interference, behind a clear political program for change – to some kind of money-making private enterprise, like a Company. The draconian fines of up to Rs 1,000,000 for losing a receipt or missing a deadline all prove that the entire exercise of bringing this Bill is complete eye-wash. The Bill is not even intended as a serious means of limiting electoral bribery during campaigns, but merely as State control over parties.
LALIT accuses Pravind Jugnauth of wrongly framing the entire “Political Financing Bill”. The problem in Mauritius is over-expenditure on electoral campaigns. This is what haunts democracy.
So, why then, instead of attacking electoral expenses, does the MSM-ML propose this abhorrent Bill that constitutes a smokescreen; it pretends to control “financing” of political parties while, in fact, hiding continued over-expenditure by political parties? Surely this is merely the State gaining a bureaucratic control over the institution of political parties, themselves, the very organizations that most need to be free from State control? This proposed State control, together with hideously high, repressive fines, is a positive brake on the expression of democracy in Mauritius.
This Bill must be halted.
Why did Pravind Jugnauth not, instead, extend the existing powers of the Electoral Supervisory Commission and the Electoral Commissioner so as to apply tighter control over expenses? The Bill could then have closed the existing loophole and thus made it impossible, in future, for parties or candidates to hide behind expenses made by “supporters”? This would suffice to control over-expenditure. Instead, we see that what will begin as “state control” over political parties will become “regime control” over non-regime political parties. This is dictatorship. Already Pravind Jugnauth last year nominated his own personal attorney to the ESC, as a precursor to a further take-over with this Bill. We risk seeing the Jugnauth State getting a potentially permanent hold on the entire State apparatus. And, ironically, it will do this without actually controlling over-expenditure at all. In fact, the limit itself is very high, and the loophole (that supporters are spending money “all by themselves”) has not been addressed at all.
Notice that Mauritius already has a history of using existing law to disqualify an elected member, revoking him from Parliament. It was Ashok Jugnauth who had resorted to what was electoral bribery. The expenses law should just be made more air-tight. To get someone’s election quashed for over-expenditure is what is necessary, not fines, however draconian they may be.
This Jugnauth Bill, instead, reveals that it is “normal” to the MSM-ML and no doubt other major parties, to fix expenditure limits at the astronomical figure of Rs80 million for a general election: Rs1 million per candidate and Rs1million per constituency. It is outrageous.
And then the Bill criminalizes party treasurers and other committee members for any number of bureaucratic offences. At the same time, no-one who is elected MP after having over-spent, however grossly, can be knocked out as MP for electoral bribery. All that happens is fines between Rs500,000 and Rs 1million are threatened against the treasurer. These fines will be a strong disincentive for people to be active on the committee of a political party, thus reducing democracy.
The Bill is risking turning the ESC and the Electoral Commissioner’s office, two institutions known so far for their independence, into institutions like the “Registrar of Companies” or the “Registrar of Associations” – but for political parties. We all know how all genuine associations and well-functioning unions suffer under this colonial vestige i.e. constant bureaucratic interference and harassment, often of a partisan nature.
This Bill in its original version included the State financing political parties with big money. Therefore, this was the moral “justification” for all the State control over the political parties. Now, the MSM-ML having removed all idea of Government financing from the Bill, by sleight-of-hand, has left in the Bill all the bureaucratic controls and all the repression that was supposedly justifiable because of the subsidy from public funds. This is intellectual fraud.
The real power to control corruption, bribery and using undue influence in any way, is by ensuring more democracy, not more bureaucracy or repression. What is necessary in the face of “traffic d’influence” is for the people, i.e. the electors to have more control over their elected Members of the National Assembly, and for elected MPs, in turn, to have more power over the all-powerful Prime Minister in Cabinet.
At a more philosophical level, if rich individual capitalists and powerful private companies manage to bribe and otherwise corrupt a party’s leadership, we, the people, should reject this party. That is what democracy is. If we all continue to vote for parties that raise Rs80 million from capitalists, we will continue to be ruled by them. We need to build parties based on a common understanding of a program for change. The parties should rely on members and supporters donations and actions. And these parties will be harmed by this Bill, if it becomes law.
Of course, it is only natural that a pro-capitalist party alliance like the MSM-ML would propose a Bill that favours the capitalist class.
2 July, 2019