Candidates and their assets | Daily News

Candidates and their assets

Only a few MPs have declared their assets and liabilities in the present Parliament, as required by law, and the topic has not engaged much attention nor have questions been raised inside the House. This of course is understandable since MPs on both sides of the divide may not be overly keen to a revelation of their true wealth after waxing eloquent to the voters about their humble origins. However it is certain that Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya can be relied upon to act strictly in terms of the law that requires all candidates contesting a Presidential Election to submit their Assets and Liabilities Declarations along with their nomination papers, come October 7 - nominations day.

The National Election Monitoring Centre (NEMC) too citing Section 2 (1) of the Presidential Elections Act has called on all candidates preparing to hand over nominations to contest the November 16 Presidential Elections to make a declaration of their assets. Deshapriya has also pointed out that all assets and liabilities of those who contested the last General Election in India had been published by the media in that country, adding that such a measure would not in any way hinder the chances of the candidates. On the contrary these candidates would receive wide acceptance of the electorate and further enhance their prospects at the hustings if their true wealth is revealed to the public.

However, it is also important that no room is left for sleight of hand of any kind. There could be room for manipulation of the system by candidates especially in the Sri Lankan context. There is every chance that not all the assets will be declared since the bulk of it will be held by proxies. Candidates also run the risk of being exposed for their hidden wealth if all the assets are to be declared and risk being pursued by the taxman. Hence, they will necessarily be circumspect when declaring their assets.

If such be the case the so called asset declaration would turn into a charade that would fool no one. Politicians being who they are, nothing more could be expected. Besides, among the candidates there may be those who have their wealth stashed away overseas. Recently, certain prominent Sri Lankans figured in the Panama Papers which disclosed the identities of the world's rich who had hidden money in tax shelters (the disclosure led to the resignation and imprisonment of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif). This aspect too should engage the attention of the Elections Commission Chairman if credibility is to be attached to the whole exercise. There have been Parliamentarians who declared their assets apparently in earnest only to be exposed subsequently for their rampant profligacy that certainly would be out of proportion to the declared assets.

Flawed though it may, be the law calling upon candidates to declare their assets and liabilities at the time of nominations is a well thought out exercise. After all, the electors are entitled to know the financial background of the candidates who enter the fray. From this standpoint they would able to get a clear picture of the position when the candidate, whom they elected, eventually bows out of the scene and draw their own conclusions if indeed the politician concerned had used the position for lining his or her own pockets. After all, there is talk of politicians who did not own even a push cycle when they entered Parliament shortly thereafter travelling in swank limousines.

Ideally, a check on the assets and liabilities of politicians should be made periodically, like keeping a thumb on one's pulse. In this respect, full use should be made of the Freedom of Information Act that was one of the progressive pieces of legislation introduced by the present Government. In many countries, the assets of an elected President or Prime Minister is constantly in the public domain and any hint of a disproportionate surge in such assets is bound to cause a public outcry and demands for resignation. If Sri Lanka is to call itself a true democracy such checks and balances ought to be in place.

Not just assets. Campaign funding too should engage the attention of the Elections Commission to ensure a level playing field. There should be a ceiling per donor plus a ceiling for all donations with every cent accounted for. The recently drafted campaign financing laws have not yet seen the light of day in Parliament and we hope that the next Parliament would take this matter up expeditiously. In most instances black money is liberally thrown around during election time and it is not inconceivable that this election too would be any different, if the elaborate campaigns of some of the main candidates in the fray, already on display, is anything to go by. With the Elections Commission now enjoying full autonomy it is hoped that scales will be held even at the upcoming elections and a level playing field ensured in all aspects.


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