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Political finance oversight during a global health pandemic

Image credit: Mike Lawrence@flickr  (Pandemic Covid/19 has been added to the image)
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

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In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been asked to consider telework and may have reduced capacity at times. This is no exception for political finance oversight agencies, political parties and candidates. Oversight agencies are required to explore an approach that is flexible while ensuring continued critical operations to ensure transparency and accountability in the flow of money in politics.

While many countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Sri Lanka and United Kingdom have decided to postpone their elections due to the current and emerging situation around COVID-19, political parties in many of these countries are still required to report regularly on their finances to oversight agencies. According to International IDEA’s Political Finance Database, regular reporting requirement exists in 76 per cent of the surveyed countries (out of 180 countries). At the same time, in order to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on their staff and their work, many political finance oversight agencies are putting in place temporary arrangements over the next few months. Here are some thoughts on effective approaches for oversight agencies to support compliance of political parties and candidates with political finance regulations in these difficult times.

1. Proactive communication

Communication is key to highlight that oversight agencies continue providing guidance to help political parties and candidates to comply with the reporting rules. Political parties and candidates might have a mistaken impression that, with oversight agency working remotely, political finance oversight is less active. It is important to stress that guidance and other services are available to political parties via website, telephone and online forms.

2. Leverage technology to support compliance with political finance regulations

Although this is more of a long-term solution, oversight agencies may consider investing on technology to support political parties and candidates to follow applicable reporting procedures in these difficult times. For example, an online reporting system refers to the process of submitting political finance reports online either via a website or using dedicated software. Such system allows political parties and candidates to conduct financial reporting and other electoral business with oversight agencies online without having to hand deliver their financial returns. Online reporting has a number of other advantages over paper reports for all stakeholders and International IDEA’s recent handbook “Digital Solutions for Political Finance Reporting and Disclosure” is a resource for those who are considering, planning or currently building an online reporting system for political finance data.

3. Collaborative working with political parties and candidates

If certain reporting requirements cannot be satisfied due to the exceptional circumstances such as the current health pandemic, it is important for oversight agencies to work collaboratively with political parties and candidates and agree to a modified process in writing and on a temporary basis. For example, in Canada, campaign return filing extension requests made by candidates and registered third parties have been reviewed and the oversight agency has decided to add 30 days to all extensions that were individually granted and confirmed in writing. Similarly, in the UK, the oversight agency prompted political parties and other campaigners to inform the agency if COVID-19 would affect them deliver any financial return on time. This allows the oversight agency to support political parties and take the circumstances into account although the deadlines cannot be changed by the agency.

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About the authors

Yukihiko Hamada
Programme Manager, Money in Politics
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