AS the nation swings into election year mode, step one of the formal preparatory process has already been made with the government's introduction just before Christmas of the draft bill for the much-anticipated Election Expenses Act, 2009.
Various observers have noted with some suspicion the somewhat stealthy way the bill was officially presented for public consumption - in the hectic week leading up to the X-Mas and New Year festival season, and in the form of paid adverts in a few select local newspapers.
"They (government) must have known most of us would be in holiday mood at that time. So what was the point?" remarked one man-in-the-street observer who happens to be a good reader of newspapers all and sundry.
Well, only the government might have a ready-made answer for that one. As it is, to this day (the fourth day of the new year 2010) too few Tanzanians are even aware of the existence of such a document already floating around in the public domain.
Which is a bit of a shame, considering how important the proposed legislation is bound to prove once election fever really takes hold.
Published for the first time in the government gazette of December 11, 2009 (two weeks before Christmas, it may be noted), the draft bill is now set to be submitted to the National Assembly for reading on a date not specified in the accompanying notice signed by the Secretary to the Cabinet, Philemon Luhanjo.
What it contains
In his official 'Objects and Reasons' appendage to the draft bill, the Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, describes it as a set of legislative proposals for enactment of a law which puts in place provisions for funding of the nomination processes and election campaigning that accompany presidential, parliamentary (and local government) elections in Tanzania.
According to the PM, the thrust of the proposed law is "to control the use of funds and illegal
practices in the nomination process(es) by political parties", and make provisions for the allocation, management and accountability of funding during election campaigning by the nominated candidates of each party.
"It will require each candidate who, and every political party which, participates in the elections to disclose the amount and sources of funds intended to be used as election expenses," explains premier Pinda.
Divided into a total of eight parts and 32 sections, the bill includes provisions on restrictions on
foreign funding for election expenses, accountability matters including what happens if a party or candidate fails to fulfill disclosure conditions, and what constitutes "prohibited practices" under the proposed new law - to name but a few.
It also outlines proposed penalties for offenders, plus the functions and powers of the registrar
of political parties, Judge John Tendwa, (and quite pointedly also the powers of the minister responsible for political parties.)
Turning to some of the salient parts of the bill, section 7 offers a description of the term 'election expenses' in the context of the proposed law, as being: "All funds expended or expenses incurred in respect of the conduct and management of nomination process, election campaign and election by a political party, candidate or government."
Regarding the prickly issue of disclosure, section 9 requires each nominated candidate to disclose to the secretary general of his/her political party the amount of funds in hand or expected to receive as election expenses within seven days of his/her nomination; and each political party to disclose to the registrar all funds intended for election expenses within 30 days after nomination day.
"Where in exceptional circumstances, a candidate or political party spends funds in excess of the amount disclosed earlier, the candidate/political party shall be required to make a report to the registrar containing reasons for the use of excess funds," the section (subsection 3) states.
Section 10 gives the minister responsible for political parties powers to set maximum limits to election expenses depending on electoral constituency sizes and candidate categories, and also vary the amount of expenses to be used by political parties during election campaigns.
According to sub-section 3 of the same section (10),: "A political party which, or candidate who, uses funds in excess of the amount prescribed by the minister, commits an offence."
On 'voluntary donations', the proposed law allows political parties to appeal for and receive such donations from "any individual or organization in the United Republic", and the source of every donation exceeding 500,000/- (for individual donors) and 1m/- (for an organizational or institutional donor) be disclosed to the registrar by the party concerned within 30 days of receipt.
It is stated that "each political party shall ensure that all cash donations received are deposited in a special bank account opened by the party for election expenses, and all election expenses are paid out of that account. And no candidate shall receive or accept donations for election expenses from any person, organization or institution other than through his/her political party."
No funding allowed from foreign sources
On the other hand, the new law is quite categorical in its virtually absolute restriction of foreign funding - whether from governments, international organizations or institutions - from providing any funds or suchlike support for election expenses.
To quote section 12, sub-section (1) verbatim: "No political party, non-governmental or community-based organization, other body or institution, member of any of the above, and no other person shall receive, bring or cause to be brought into the United Republic, any funds or anything which can be cashed or converted into funds which, as a donation or otherwise, is intended to be used or may be used to further the interest of any political party, own candidature or any other person already nominated or may be nominated as a candidate for any post in the general election."
In case that isn't succinct enough, the following sub-section (2) elaborates on the term 'funds' in this context, to include money, motor vehicles, aircrafts (helicopters?); the printing, publication or distribution of leaflets, brochures or any other publications; broadcast by radio or television, provision of food or drinks to voters, and "any other thing to be used for furtherance of election campaigns."
Any political party, body, institution, member or other person who violates the above, will have "committed an offence", the draft bill says without elaborating.
The NGOs factor
By the same token, the proposed new law also includes provisions for NGOs, faith-based or community-based organizations wishing to participate in election-related activities (restricted to advocacy and public awareness campaigns).
They shall be required to disclose to the registrar the sources and amount of funds to be used for any given activity, and not use more than the amount to be prescribed by the minister responsible for political parties.
But this admirable stance of independence and sovereignty is somewhat compromised in the following subsection (3), which states that: "Except as provided for under the Political Parties Act, the restriction imposed by subsection (1) shall not apply to any funds received within, brought or caused to be brought into the United Republic during any period 90 days before the General Election itself, or 30 days before a by-election day."
NEXT WEEK: A look at other sections of the proposed new Election Expenses Act specifically dealing with accountability issues, prohibited practices, penalties, and protection of whistle-blowers; plus the full extent of the powers of the registrar and the minister.