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The most expensive elections

Updated July 23, 2018

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Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad—File photo
Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad—File photo

The general elections are expected to cost the federal kitty more than three times the cost of the last two elections put together. A major part of it is likely to flow to the armed forces for the deployment of troops.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is anticipating that over Rs21 billion will be spent on the process, which includes more than Rs10.5bn on the usual polling exercise, such as training, printing, remunerations, transportation and related expenses. The funds to be paid to the armed forces are anticipated to be in the same range even though final estimates will become clear after July 25 based on actual bills.

The 2008 general elections cost Rs1.84bn out of the federal budget. It surged to Rs4.73bn for the 2013 general elections, showing an increase of almost 157 per cent. The Pakistan Army was paid Rs758 million in the 2013 elections compared to Rs120m in 2008.

All these expenditures do not include expenses made by the civil administration at the provincial level, including police expenses.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad told Dawn that the major increase in expenditure was caused by imported watermarked ballot papers. Secondly, the remuneration for the polling staff has been increased from Rs3,000 (for the presiding officer in 2013) to Rs8,000 this year.

On top of that, the ECP decided to provide female presiding officers with the assistance of a peon to carry election material on the polling day, which will have an additional cost. Subsequently, male presiding officers also demanded that similar assistance be extended to them.

The ECP believes the election law is insufficient because it does not impose any upper limit on campaign expenses by political parties

Officially responding to a question, the spokesman for the ECP, Chaudhry Nadeem Qasim, said it was difficult at this stage to quantify the election cost because polling activities were spread over a period of almost a year and involve two federal budgets.

In the first year (2017-18), preparatory works were set in motion for elections, including major procurements like non-sensitive materials, imported watermark paper, stationery items, printing of envelops, electoral documents and training of election officials.

During the current fiscal year, allocations have been made for election allowances and honoraria, transportation of material and arrangements for the actual polling on Election Day. The honorarium for presiding officers has been increased from Rs3,000 to Rs8,000 this year while the same for polling officers has gone up from Rs3,000 to Rs6,000.

Following is an edited version of a Q-and-A with the ECP spokesman.

Question: Are you satisfied with rules related to the financial conduct of parties and candidates? Don’t you think there needs to be spending limits on the election budget of political parties and not just contesting candidates?

Answer: We are not satisfied with the election rules about spending limits on political parties. But the system for spending by candidates is reasonably elaborate. Under the law, the limit on the expenditure by a provincial assembly candidate is set at Rs2m. It is Rs4m for the National Assembly. Candidates are required under the law to submit details to the ECP, which is subject to scrutiny within 90 days.

For political parties, the election law is not sufficient because there is no limit on their expenses. The ECP made a number of attempts in the past to have some sort of regulation on the parties in terms of expenses, but it was overruled. This needs to be improved going forward.

To some extent, the parties are required to file their accounts to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). But those are not election-related and the ECP feels that there is a need for the limit on campaign-related expenses.

Question: The spending limits on NA and PA candidates are notified, but does the ECP have the organisational capacity to monitor their spending patterns to independently assess the veracity of election budget statements that they submit later?

Answer: Yes, the ECP has enough organisational capacity through a number of monitoring teams across the country — like district monitoring officers under deputy commissioners — that have only two functions to perform: whether the candidates are conforming to the code of conduct issued by the ECP and if, prima facie, their expenses are in line with the limits.

This practice has just been introduced and has many bottlenecks. But based on its experience this year, the ECP will build upon the monitoring mechanism going forward.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad told Dawn that the major increase in expenditure was caused by imported watermarked ballot papers. Secondly, the remuneration for the polling staff has been increased from Rs3,000 (for the presiding officer in 2013) to Rs8,000 this year

On top of that, the ECP has created a full-fledged political wing for the scrutiny of expenditure results and the code of conduct within 90 days. It has the powers to subsequently co-opt the services of institutions like the Auditor General of Pakistan or auditors of government departments. It can also hire specialised auditors from the private sector.

Question: Interest groups and lobbies have high stakes and use money to buy influence in elections in all democracies. Why would it be any different in Pakistan? How do you see the issue of corporate funding for political campaigns? Do we need rules to provide legal space for an activity that we know exists?

Answer: This is an issue of the election campaign and a global problem. There are a lot of shortcomings on this front. It requires legislation with the support of the political parties. This is a grey area for both the ECP and candidates. Parliament should address this issue because it has far-reaching consequences.

Question: Do you favour the introduction of the election service in the administrative setup of Pakistan to build capacity at all tiers as recommended by the monitors?

Answer: The ECP is already a specialised cadre trained at the Federal Election Academy established for the periodic training of electoral managers from federal, regional, provincial and down to the district level. For the upcoming elections, the entire staff from provincial, regional and district administration has been trained at this academy.

Therefore, it would be unwise to create a parallel cadre when the ECP is capable of working at the gross-roots level with trained district returning officers, returning officers, presiding and assistant presiding officers, polling officers and security personnel, especially army personnel who were given elaborate training. This is for the first time in the country’s history that army personnel were subjected to comprehensive training and have been given dos and don’ts.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 23rd, 2018