Facing the reality of political funding
Business owners in Nepal have long complained that they are forced to pay money to political parties. During the conflict, the Maoists extorted funds from almost all sectors of society. This practice declined after the peace process began, but recently it seems that both the Maoist parties have once again started up a donation drive.
The radical Maoist party, led by Mohan Baidya, has been involved in collecting funds from schools and other businesses. The establishment faction too, it now appears, has been sending letters to various business houses, asking for donations for their upcoming general convention.
Political parties receive funds from business houses in all democracies. But the manner in which it is done in Nepal is deeply problematic. This is not an issue that is just limited to the Maoists. All parties collect funds from various private sources, and all of these transactions are shrouded in great mystery; none of the parties make their accounts public. It isn't even clear if they themselves keep accounts.
In many parties, it seems that large sums of funds are controlled by individual leaders, and these are kept separate from the party. As a result, it is impossible to find out how much each party has and how they have been spending it.
The owners of business houses have been demanding that there should be a legal limit to the amount of funds they are expected to pay to the parties. They are also insisting that these be made public so that they are no longer vulnerable to the excessive demands.
In fact, greater transparency in funding will be beneficial to broader society. Through funding parties, business houses cultivate influence with political leaders. When these leaders come to power, they are expected to fulfil the needs and demands of those they received money from. When party financing is opaque, the broader public has no inkling about what and whose interests the government is serving. The opacity only contributes to politics becoming the affair of narrow and influential coteries serving their own private interests.
A political party financing law is thus long overdue. Such a law should include a number of provisions. It should ensure that donations are made to the party itself, not to individual leaders, and that these donations are immediately made public. Furthermore, political parties should be required to release their accounts on a regular basis. It should also include limits on how much a single entity is allowed to donate.
Such measures may appear small when compared to the other crises of the political parties and government. But if they are implemented, they can go a long way towards strengthening Nepali democracy.