Financing political parties

The Royal Audit Authority, in its annual report to the Parliament, pointed out what we all know: that both our political parties are in serious financial problems. As of 30th June 2008, PDP owed Nu 20,326,924 to the Bank of Bhutan and Nu 3,588,232 to other various other suppliers. DPT owed Nu 14,253,975 to the Bank and Nu 7,708,010 to other suppliers.

Yesterday, the National Assembly spent a good hour discussing the Royal Audit Authority’s observations on the financial status of our two political parties. Actually, we did not really discuss the audit observations per se. Instead, we talked about, at length and in great detail, the need to provide state funding for the political parties.

This is not good. During our first session, about a year ago, we’d debated state funding for political parties. And we’d agreed that it would be unconstitutional. In fact, the Chief Justice, who at that time was still the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, publicly declared that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. But still, we discussed the issue again.

Some of the arguments our honourable members of parliament, including ministers, presented were shocking. Most of the members proclaimed that, upon closer examination, the Constitution did not specifically prohibit state funding for political parties. Many suggested that the foundations of our democracy would crumble if the existing parties were to fail. Some threatened that political parties, especially a ruling party with a huge mandate, would resort to corrupt means to raise funds. And, one brave member even proposed that laws could be amended to allow state funding.

My views are simple and straightforward. According to Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution, a political party can be registered if, among other things, “It does not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members, and the amount or value shall be fixed by the Election Commission.” Furthermore, the Election Act clearly specifies that political parties can raise funds from only three sources: registration fees, annual membership fees, and voluntary contributions. So obviously, I cannot support any proposal for state funding for political parties.

But what if one or both the existing parties were to collapse? Wouldn’t that affect democracy? Yes. But the show, so to speak, would go on. The importance of the existing parties is overrated. They are not indispensable for our democracy. Should they fail, it would be most inconvenient, and embarrassing, but other parties would surely come forward. And, they wouldn’t make the same mistakes, especially the excesses that have caused both PDP and DPT financial woes.

Now, if politicians, on the other hand, are prepared to knowingly violate the Constitution, we should be scared. It is dangerous for democracy. And it must not be allowed to happen.

Incidentally, less than a month ago, I’d expressed my concerns that our government may try to justify state funding for political parties (read Financing parties).

 

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  1. pingpong says:

    We know that “brave member” who boldly suggests to amend law to allow state funding the party! omigod, we can’t help, but just stay awed looking at their quality talks. Our Constitution seems to be in question under the hands of this lot. Interestingly, what I noticed was, KOL always quotes and reports only two MPs of DPT every time. It keeps me wondering if that could be because of their subjective comments or finds it entertaining?

  2. Samchhar says:

    Your Execellency..you stole my words. Exactly! The present two parties are not indispensable to the success of democracy in Bhutan. New and better parties perhaps will come up and not make the same mistakes that PDP and DPT made.

    But the old heads in DPT continues to think that only they can run the country and if they are not there the country would be in shambles…haha

  3. SPEN ROONEY says:

    No scholars or political scientists have ever mentioned or stated positiveness of such state funding to political parties. I agree it would benifit the parties but not the electorate. If it does benifit, then it is at the cost of their vote. This will just give birth to pork barrel and clientilism, which is being criticised all over. Given our demographic and literacy structure, we have made ourselves vulnerable to such things because of the CDG.

    Haha, and the Brave MP wants to amend the law huh… should we laugh at him or feel pity at him. Given his background I am not surprised, he is the Phuba Thinlay of our National Assembly.

    • Nemesis says:

      Mr. Looney,
      Please do some research before making such sweeping statements about the legitimacy of state funding. Many countries actually fund political parties and in some European countries, state fundign to a party is proportional to the number of seats that party wins. If we adopt such a measure, then DPT has no need to worry at all and PDP has a lot to worry. However, the MPs were not asking for such funding but rather the minimum support needed to sustain the parties witout having to resort to corrupt means of raising money. We cannot simply have a system, where it is not legal to raise funds in so many ways which are legal in other countries and have to fulfill so many criteria as per election laws to qualify as a party. I simply don’t beleive that PDP actually exists as a party if we strictly go by the election laws. The CEC really needs to examine the books as well as the modus operandi of both the parties.
      As far as the Constitution is concerned, it does not have any reference to state funding and therefore can be interpreted either way.

  4. There are thousands of people waiting for government to at least say that they would relook at the corporate salary because the one given right now is not an upward revision but downward revision. I guess the MPs have no clue about it.

    There are 8000 people waiting across the Mao Khola in Gelephu waiting for MPs to talk about their woes. If anything, they want their MP Prem to at least raise an issue in the parliament for a lasting solution while they still take a precarious boatride over the Maokhola for daily survival.

    There are at least 20000 people in Pema Gatshel waiting for a reliable bus service. They are fed up of staying overnight at Narphung while the driver sleeps with his girlfriend.

    What does all these snapshots show? We are looking at our MPs to at least make quality decision that would have positive impact on our lives. If MPs spend days talking about the health of their parties alone, and in the end don’t come to any concrete conclusion, we might as well not have the national assembly. They might as well go to their party office and make decisions there. Why use government facilities and government expenditure to talk about their party health.

  5. Discussions on financing Political parties was very good since this will enlighten the future political parties to prepare well. It was infact really encouraging when the Opp. party is reminding the majority Govt. to move in acc with the Constitution. Ours is a young Demogratic Country and therefore it will be wrong to think about the Amendment of the Constitution. And as is written by the authour, everything is well enshrined in the Constitution. All the more issues like this must arise but in good faith so that we will be more educated and more enlightened as Law Makers.

  6. Phub Dorji Wang says:

    Your Excellency,

    All your points were legitimate and I really appreciate your stand. But as a citizen, I am little distress about the survival of the political parties. In my outlook, when drafting the constitution, the drafting members felt that there will be overwhelming supporter of the political parties in terms of financial. This led to the framing of Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution, I believe. But the ground reality is that there is hardly anybody contributing to the political parties. Further, if political parties seek too much from too little contributors, it is not a healthy sign. This will surely set a trend for the future democracy to be run by wealthy people. We read many times in the media the difficulties in running the two political parties’ office.
    I sturdily feel that for a young democracy to thrive in the country, we need to rethink the state funding of the political parties. The equal funding of political parties will help in running all the dzongkhang offices in the country. These offices will surely facilitate in strengthening the young democracy in the country apart from creating employment. People will have easy admittance to the office to raise/solve problem.
    So in my opinion yearly equal state funding to meet the minimum expenses of two political parties’ in twenty dzongkhang office is a must for the survival of the two political parties. However, the state should not pay the existing political parties’ loan. All expenses should also be subjected to auditing.
    So your Excellency, please rethink.

  7. While I am no fan of DPT/PDP, I think political party funding should be okay. It is a far better option than forcing people to contribute voluntary. There is no free lunch. No one is going to give his hard earn money to any party without expecting anything in return.

    However, CDF is nonsense, and like the OL suggested, it should be given to the consituencies without the involment of the MPs.

  8. The question then is if there was expectation for adequate financial contribution, why is it not there now? The answer is people are not contributing because they do not appreciate what the parties do with their contribution. If a political party is deaf to people’s voice and bull doze against people’s concerns and constructive opposition, who will contribute?

  9. I don’t know whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional but my fear and worry is as follows:
    1. The existing political parties may collapse and new parties may just erupt before the election and then it will be vanished/closed down after the election. The question is whether we will be happy with this kind of parties or not? Will it be good for our democracy or not?
    2. The other possibility: In future, the rich people will form parties and one of them will win the election. But will they not have their own agenda while framing policies? Will it be good for common citizen like me? Will it be democratic to be ruled by few rich people based on money power?
    If state funding is unconstitutional, then I will certainly not support it. But certainly we should look for some other alternatives to solve it. So, how about giving give some better alternative ideas???

  10. Your excellency,
    Sometime I wonder what type of Government you would run, incase if you happen to be PM. You seem to suggest solutions to every problem but in reality things are different. Moreover your decisions seem to change from the opinion posted by few people.
    Some members of the parliaments are genuinely trying to convince us that our democratic system is at stake due to the shortest of fund in political parties (mind you they are talking about both the parties). You seem to agree but your solution to the problem made me crazy. What do you mean other parties will come up if these two parties fail? Do you consider PDP is no more a political party?
    I am a humble citizen, don’t know much about politics but I want peace and tranquilities and future of my children secured. I don’t care if state funding to political parties is the solution but I request your leadership, not to suggest wishy-washy ideas like “if these two political parties fail other will come”. Yes I do agree other parties will come but at what cost? Better not to endanger our unique democratic system due to your populous decision.
    I want my leader to be futuristic, so that small country like ours enjoys peace and prosperities.

  11. Looks like people are getting really frustrated. Someone has posted an appeal to His Majesty the King in Bhutantimes.com. Here below is the post:

    Your Majesty,

    I most humbly submit the following in the interest of the kind of democracy envisioned by Your Majesty and our visionary Fourth King, and not the one that is unfolding presently, in the hope as the final arbiter Your Majesty will intervene for the benefit of the people and true democracy in Bhutan.

    As a citizen of this country (and there are thousands like me)I am extremely and deeply disturbed by the blatantly unconstitutional maneuverings of the ruling government in the exclusive pursuit of their self-interest in the Parliament.

    The National Assembly is turning into a spectacle of one party gaming the entire system to such proportions that have few precedents in any democracy at any given period in the history of the world, including dictatorial ones.

    In the garb of establishing a “unique” and “world-class” democracy the ruling party’s covert and absolute intention is to strengthen their party and hold on to power unconstitutionally by bulldozing policies that do not benefit anyone but themselves and their party. I am not sure about “world-class” but it will indeed be the most “unique” failure of democracy (especially given that no other country in the history of the world had such favorable and peaceful conditions for the advent of democracy) if laws, including the Constitution are to be changed or misinterpreted intentionally to benefit the ruling party and its MPs.

    I humbly plead with you to consider the following: The only issues our ruling MPs have fought for tooth and nail are: (1) increasing their perks, benefits and priveleges, which includes their salaries, allowances, house rent, vehicles, driver allowances, patangs, special number plates for their vehicles, salutes from the armed forces, etc; (2) The CDG, which is 100% unconstitutional even to the illiterate mind and is nothing but an overt means to ensure that the ruling party remains in power. Do we really believe that the CDG is their noble intention of serving their constituents? The answer of any thinking person would be a resounding “No”. How can it be “yes” when the MPs will not even answer their mobile phones when they know it is their constituents calling them? The CDG smacks of absolute self-interest; (3) their attacks and not so subtle threats to the media for bringing to public domain issues that are of concern to, and affect the public and the principles of democracy just because they portray them in an unflattering light; (4) their party to be funded by the government and taxpayers. This will only promote and lead to a two-party system thereby ensuring that they remain inn power for all time to come (either as ruling party or opposition party). To achieve this end they are even seriously considering changing the existing laws (including the Constitution)in order to make it legal for the government to fund their party. They are putting their party above everything else including the principles of democracy and law. I say only “their” party because the opposition has realized that state funding of political parties is unconstitutional, as was the CDG, and that state funding does not promote participation of future political parties in Bhutan’s democracy and therefore the opposition is not fighting for state funding , as is the ruling party. This is their way of elbowing out future political parties from Bhutan’s democratic scenario. Yet they state with impunity that democracy will collapse in Bhutan if their party is not funded by the government. Does democracy in Bhutan depend totally on their single party? If the answer is “yes” then it is indeed the saddest day for Bhutan’s democracy. Why is the opposition party managing better without state funding than the ruling party? One reason could be that the ruling party MPs and ministers are not happy that they have to contribute 10% of their salary to their party and hope that if state funding can be obtained then they would not have to make this contribution. It was themselves who decided the 10% contribution and if they can foist self-serving policies down the entire nation’s throat through the NA then they can surely repeal the 10% contribution in one of their internal party meetings. We get the impression that they are clamoring for state funding just to save their 10% contribution. For want of their 10% they will cost the government, taxpayers, and development activities millions of Ngultrums annually. Should we the taxpayers be paying for a party that we no longer have trust and faith in?

    Apart from the matters mentioned above there has not been a single issue, and I repeat, NOT A SINGLE ISSUE, that the ruling MPs have fought for with so much vigor and interest in the NA.

    The ruling party should respect and follow the constitution instead of trying to make the Constitution respect and follow their party.

    The ruling MPs are subverting the very process of democracy that they are meant to protect and uphold. Although banning live telecast of the NA proceedings and processes makes a mockery of transparency and accountability (which they swore to uphold in their manifesto), we can somehow live with it. But the Speaker ordering the MPs not to disclose or talk about the proceedings of the NA outside the NA Hall is preposterous to say the least and reeks of autocracy. Is it not the duty of the MPs to report to and inform their voters about the proceedings and outcomes of the NA? How is such information going to be disseminated to the voters and public at large when live telecast of the proceeding is banned and when MPs are ordered not to talk about the proceedings outside the NA Hall? Or is it their intention to keep the entire nation in the dark while vigorously passing self-serving policies and laws secretely behind closed doors?

    It is only through Your Majesty’s intervention that Bhutan may be able to avert a national crisis that is looming on the horizon. If these issues cannot be resolved now in the best interest of democracy, it just might be too late in future.

    For the record, I am, as was almost 70% of the country, a voter who unfortunately voted for the ruling party that is fast becoming an autocratic and dictatorial one and whose self-interest seems to be preempting all other considerations.

    Yours most humbly,

    Karma Rigzin
    rigzinkarma@gmail.com

  12. I share the same concerns. I hope cool heads and good judgment prevail in this session. I sign up to your petition.

  13. The issue is NOT whether state funding of political parties would be unconstitutional.

    The real issue that needs to be debated first is whether the state ought to fund political parties. If yes, and if no authoritative interpretation of Tsa Thrim Chhenmo permits such financing, then the constitution has to be amended.

    What’s my view?

    Political parties are not private companies. They are not even public corporations that make stuff for sale like electricity. They are public institutions that move our democracy, linking the parliament to grass roots. And, a wholesome democracy needs a good party in government and an equally good one in opposition.

    So, I would rather see them both fully funded by the state – out of the taxes I pay.

    Why worry? Money matters. Think about incentives!

    What would I do, if my company’s livelihood depended on registration and membership fees? I’d go all out to maximize registered members, when I ought to be spending my time and resources running a successful business enterprise. Ditto, for parties.

    In reality, you might say, income from these fees pale in comparison with voluntary contributions. Indeed, financial statements of DPT and PDP show precisely that.

    But, what’s small for the organization as a whole can be big for each party worker. Getting members signed up and generating revenue for the “firm” could warp the party ethics at the grass roots where it matters most. No matter what party leaders profess, incentives and behaviors of grass-roots workers are where the party reputation is made.

    I went back to read the Election Bill again. It says contributions are permitted, “Provided that all such contributions shall be made voluntarily and must not be given to receive any favours, political or otherwise, and provided further that all such contributions shall be made by cheques that must be declared before the Commission.”

    You must be joking! The only contributions without any strings attached – real or perceived – are those placed in a blind trust. Meaning, political parties may know the grand total of all contributions, but will never know who wrote individual cheques.

    Think about incentives, again. What would I do, if anywhere between 70% (PDP) to 95% (DPT) — the last time I looked at their books — of my earnings came from contributors? They are the better-off segments of our society. Wouldn’t I hesitate to execute policies that may be good for the nation, but make the contributors angry? Worse yet, wouldn’t my policy judgment become biased in their favour, even when there were no visible strings attached?

    Besides, I know what losses and debts do to business psyche. It makes you anxious. Desperation makes you want to hang on, when the best solution may be to take the loss and shut your business down, as OL quite rightly states.

    Power is intoxicating even without the need to make money. I’d shudder to think what it would do to the business of politics.

    But, make no mistake. I mean the state ought to finance political parties ex-ante, not ex-post to finance their deficits.

    Why? Forgiving deficits is a bad idea. Think of incentives once again. The next time around, parties will be even more wasteful, since the government would come to rescue anyway. Economists call it moral hazard, and tell us to avoid it like a plague. Methinks economists got it right on this one.

    Money should not matter in good democracy. The only reward for political parties ought to be the voters’ approval – of their intended policies and their delivery track record. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  14. Yes, Zekom, I am with you there on the political funding. Good points there.

  15. freewill says:

    The political parties are not getting donations because they do not deserve one. After getting elected all they did was discuss about sitting fees, cars, kabneys and patangs, car drive money(even though they do not hire a driver, if everyone of them hired a driver it would mean unemployment would be down in out country by atleast 65 people), salary raise, etc…

    Do you think people would be willing to donate to selfish bunch of loaded people.

  16. Hey Nemesis,

    I mentioned about the criticisms that state funding all over the world is facing and not that it isnt allowed all over the world. Think you should get yourself a reading glass.

    Yes, there are countries not only in europe but the Americas, Africa and also Asia practicing state funding. But the question is what did it give rise to, mostly – Democracy without opposition. I think you should do some reading before defending your non-sense. Or are you a friend of the NA comedian.

    No offence but read the Book – On Democracy by Robert Dahl / Size and Democracy (same author) / Democracy without Opposition by Ethan Scheiner.

    Best

  17. I believe PDP’s former secretary Lam Kesang approached the DPT government to ask for state funding. This clearly shows that it was PDP that initiated this whole “state funding”idea. That makes sense because they are more at risk of dying out than the ruling government. Iam confused why the OL took a different stance and said they did not require state funding. There is something very fishy in this matter.
    As a concerned citizen, I would never want to see both ruling and opposition parties to come and fall, creating instability in our peaceful country. I was quite disturbed with Ol’s statement about the parties failing and others coming into power. Have you forgotten how there was ONLY two parties in our electionsin 2008. There were people forming parties but they could not get leaders.
    OL, pls do not be selfish. It seems you have no problem sacrificing the state of our country just as long as DPT is out of the picture. I am all for state funding because where else are our parties (ruling & opposition) suppose to get funding from in order to run a successful democracy. We all know that people in Bhutan are not rich and most are dependent on the banks. So , to have a CLEAN democracy, it is very essential for state funding. Iam sure DPT will have no problem getting funds if they resort to corrupt means…… money will readily be available from a handful of business people. I actually appreciate DPT for not resorting to corrupt means to get their funds and keeping our democracy clean. I hope OL will also realize how important this is for our country. If you as a leader prefer for our parties to dissolve and re-elect every now and then, we citizens are very alarmed and fear that we may become the next Nepal.

  18. Well, the one who wrote the petition really brought out some key points and the petition indicates that it was written with several hours of input. I hope that the sole intention of writing the letter was Tsa-Wa-Sum and nothing else. As a common man I would have liked to see at least some good points of the Government, our government as it is formed by MPs elected with full consciousness and will by the Bhutanese citizens.

    As for the funding of the parties, I agree with Zekom’s arguments. We are a small country with small population. If we have more parties, it will be unlikely that the
    parties can sustain on contributions and membership fees. We have already seen this problem. So state funding is the only way to sustain the parties.

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