From fake marriage parties to carrying money in ambulances, politicians are always one step ahead of election officials
“Despite taking preventive measures, black money and unregulated money flow continues to be a biggest hurdle in the way of free and fair elections in India,” said Dr SY Quraishi, India’s Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). He was speaking at a seminar titled “Democracy at Crossroads—Need for Electoral Reforms”, organised by Moneylife Foundation and V Citizens Action Network (VCAN).
Dr Quraishi said, “It is common knowledge that black money is used in elections. In private conversations, after elections when we (Election Commission) cannot do any more harm, politicians tell us what they really spent. We do everything we can do to catch them. We keep track on the money flow and had seized crores of rupees during elections in the past. It does act as a deterrent. But they are always ahead of us and find some new modus operandi to circulate money.”
He gave interesting anecdotes about many ways candidates bribe voters, which in reality is an electoral crime. For instance, in one case, a marriage party was arranged by a candidate during election time. “Ironically, when one of our officers casually walked in that wedding there was neither bride nor bridegroom. On the contrary, a crowd of more than 1,000 people were enjoying the meal and drinks,” explained Dr Quraishi.
Another new technique of supplying money to the voters is by using ambulance and funeral vans. Dr Quraishi said, “Earlier money was easily transferred to the voters using cars. It was hidden in all possible parts of the car. But after our raids, they started using ambulances and funeral vehicles. We had received many complaints regarding the same, but checking these vehicles is a task. We cannot stop an ambulance on mere suspicion and run the risk of a genuine patient being affected. So our solution is to follow the ambulance and then check it the moment it reaches the hospital. This amounts to spending more time as well as money.”
According to the EC, the issue of black money used in election campaigning led to a debate if there is a need to increase the limit on the campaigning expenditure of each candidate. “People told us that the ceiling actually forces candidates to cheat. So we requested the law ministry to increase it. Accordingly, we increased it Rs16 lakh from the Rs10 lakh cap followed till last year in case of Vidhan Sabha elections, and to Rs40 lakh from 25 lakh in case of Lok Sabha elections. We considered 16 years of inflation,” said Dr Quraishi.
However, he added, “When we analysed the returns filed by these candidates, after elections we found that the average spending was Rs8 lakh. Now why would it be so low despite having Rs16 lakh as legal limit? …Because it is black money that has been used. White money is anyways not used. This is our concern.”
Dr Quraishi told that the efforts taken up EC to keep track on the money flow has yielded some results. “MPs (Members of Parliament) and MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies) tell us that this has encouraged them to manage with less money. Even our analysis shows that crime and money in election is a competitive phenomena. If one party puts a candidate with criminal background, another party will put candidate having more criminal cases. While we strive to curb the money power menace, somebody has to take a lead to break this competitive attitude.”
Chief Election Commissioner Dr SY Quraishi stresses payments by cheques and independent audit as the way out. He was speaking at Moneylife Foundation’s event, “Democracy at Crossroads—Need for Electoral Reforms”
One of the biggest problems in the conduct of free and fair elections is black money. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dr SY Quraishi, speaking at seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation and V Citizens Action Network (VCAN), brought up the issue of black money flowing into elections and that checking the use of this illicit money is one of the top reform proposals of the Election Commission (EC). “No candidate is spending white money, but black money. I don’t know how state sponsorship of elections will solve the problem. The moment a minister comes into power; his target is to recover the money he spent in the election. He convinces the bureaucracy to help him, and the people have to pay for them”, he said.
According to an estimate, in the recent elections the Election Commission confiscated over Rs45 crore of unaccounted cash. The answer, says Dr Quraishi is, “transparency in financial transactions and independent auditing of accounts of candidates. For this we engaged the Chartered Accountants Association to come up with accounting standards.” The accounts of political parties were often audited by their own accountants. It was not independent. We have now specified independent audits.”
According to a proposal by the Election Commission (EC) dated 15 July 1998, “The political parties should be legally required to get their accounts audited annually. The audited accounts should be put in public domain. There should be transparency in the fund raising and expenditure of political parties.” The EC considers that the political parties have a responsibility to maintain proper accounts of their income and expenditure and get them audited by agencies specified by the Commission annually. While making this proposal in 1998, the Commission had mentioned that there was strong need for transparency in the matter of collection of funds by the political parties and also about the manner in which those funds are expended by them.
In an amendment, vide the Election and Other Related Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003, a provision has been made regarding preparation of a report of contributions received by political parties in excess of Rs20,000. However this is not sufficient enough to ensure transparency and accountability. Sub-section (1) of section 77 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) says that “it is an obligation on every candidate at an election to the House of the People or a State Legislative Assembly to keep, either by himself or by his election agent, a separate and correct account of all expenditure in connection with the election incurred or authorised by him or by his election agent between the date on which he has been nominated and the date of declaration of the result thereof, both dates inclusive. Failure to keep such an account is a criminal offence punishable under section 171-I of IPC (Indian Penal Code). Every candidate, or his election agent, is expected to keep a separate and correct account of all expenditure in connection with an election to the House of the People, or to the Legislative Assembly of a State, incurred or authorised by him, or by his election agent, between the date on which he has been nominated and the date of declaration of the result of the election, both days inclusive”. However, there is no current provision where the account needs to be audited and many find ways to by pass these accounting requirements.
Therefore, the EC has proposed that the political parties must be required to publish their accounts (at least abridged version) annually for information and scrutiny of the general public and all concerned, for which purpose the maintenance of such accounts and their auditing to ensure their accuracy is a pre-requisite. The EC reiterates these proposals with the modification that the auditing may be done by any firm of auditors approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The audited accounts should be available for information of the public. For the same, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) along with the Election Commission has come up with auditing standards under which all expenses incurred should be by way of cheques, there would be independent audits ensuring complete disclosure.
The guidelines, prepared by ICAI, will soon be notified by the Election Commission to the concerned parties. The Commission approved the norms that ICAI has framed which will act as guidance for accounting and auditing of the financial records of political parties. The new norms will enable political parties to conduct their finances in a corporate-like manner by getting their accounts audited and publishing their audited finance sheets annually. The ICAI recommended norms will ensure that “all political parties registered with the Election Commission of India may be mandated to apply accrual basis of accounting (reporting transactions on a real-time basis).”
‘India's economic confidence jumped by 9 points to 74% in the month of February compared to the previous month, becoming the second most economically confident country after Saudi Arabia which tops the chart with 90%:’ research firm Ipsos
Indians have emerged as the second most confident people about their economy across the world on easing inflationary pressure and increased foreign investments, says a report.
According to global research firm Ipsos, India's economic confidence jumped by 9 points to 74% in the month of February compared to the previous month, becoming the second most economically confident country after Saudi Arabia which tops the chart with 90%.
Sweden is the third most economically confident country, where 73% are optimistic about their economy, followed by China (72%), Germany (71%), Australia (66%) and Canada (65%).
“The Indian economy has continuously recorded high growth rates and has become the second most preferred destination for foreign investments and business. India's economic growth is expected to remain robust in 2012 and 2013, despite likely headwind of double-dip recessions in Europe and the US,” Ipsos India CEO Mick Gordon said.
More than half of Indian citizens (51%) believe their local economy which impacts their personal finance is good and 56% people expect that the economy in their local area will be stronger in next six months, Ipsos said.
Mick further noted that inflationary pressure eased as the wholesale price index fell, making daily consumption items relatively affordable and giving hopes that Reserve Bank of India will ease its monetary policy stance by reducing the policy rates in the coming months which will further fuel economic growth of the country.
The report, which examined citizens' assessment of the current state of their country's economy said the overall global average economic confidence remained unchanged at 38% last month.
On the other hand only a handful of those in Hungary (3%) rate their national economies as 'good', followed by Spain (4%), Italy (6%), France (7%), Japan (9%) and Great Britain (10%).
Countries with the greatest improvements include India, China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while, countries with the greatest declines are Argentina, Poland, Belgium, Indonesia and Australia.
The survey was conducted in February this year among 19,216 people in 24 countries like Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the USA.