ONE of the main ways to discover how much the political parties are spending on their election campaigns is to examine the preliminary reports which they have to send to the Finance Ministry. But although these reports define the exact items that parties have spent money on, Gabriel Šípoš, head of the ethics watchdog Transparency International Slovensko, does not think that they are of any use since monitoring mechanisms to check the veracity of the submitted information are lacking.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Šípoš about ways to make the system more transparent.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Can the preliminary reports filed by the parties running for the March 10 parliamentary elections be considered reliable?
Gabriel Šípoš (GŠ): The truth is that we do not know, and [if they are not] the public will not find out about it. The law does not control the campaigns of candidates, only those of the parties on one hand, and [the activities of] third parties such as civic associations on the other. So the law is so weak that the reports are not very interesting. Moreover, nobody checks the submitted numbers against reality; the ministry makes only a formal check. Taking this into account, the monitoring of expenditures and sponsors is absolutely ineffective.
TSS: The 99 Percent movement has claimed in its preliminary report that it spent no money at all on its campaign, adding that the costs have been met by the civic association Citizen in Action. How do you think the system can be organised to motivate parties to reveal their real incomes and expenses without using such 'loopholes in the law'?
GŠ: First, there has to be strong monitoring. As there is not [such monitoring] in Slovakia at the moment, we suggest establishing an independent institution. In Poland, for example, it [monitoring of finances] is done by the Central Election Committee, which works all the time, not only during elections as it does in Slovakia, and has wider powers. The second possibility is the Supreme Audit Office – this is how it works in Hungary. The third tool is the implementation of the motivation for parties to declare the money. We propose a system of so-called matching funds, similar to the one run in Germany, i.e. linking state contributions to declared private [contributions], [a measure] which supports the revealing of sponsors.
TSS: Can an initiative similar to the one proposed to make the financing of parties more transparent also do the same for their stated incomes and expenses? If so, how?
GŠ: Yes, we were one of the authors [of the initiative in which parties promised to pass measures to make their financing more transparent]. During the pre-election period the parties are more open to promises because of the voters. The atmosphere after the Gorilla revelations also helped it. It was important that in our proposal we required concrete steps and a promise [to realise them] by a certain time, i.e. one year after the election of a new parliament.