A candidate can spend Tk 10 per voter for electioneering in the upcoming parliamentary polls. His/her total spending, however, in no way can exceed Tk 25 lakh, the ceiling of maximum expenditure, even if the number of voters in a constituency is more than 2.5 lakh, according to a notification issued by the Election Commission.
The EC yesterday send copies of the notification to all returning officers, assistant returning officers, chiefs of the law enforcement agencies and other officials concerned across the country to take necessary actions.
It is, however, not clear how they will follow the directive as no mechanism has been developed over the years to monitor the expenditure in an election.
In such a situation, political analysts and electoral experts apprehend that unauthorised spending during electioneering may influence the polls.
Exceeding the limit of expenditure remains an “open secret”. None of the past ECs had been able to take any effective measures to contain the influence of unauthorised money in electioneering.
A Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) study on the 2008 parliamentary polls revealed that candidates who contested the ninth parliamentary election spent about Tk 30 lakh each on average in excess of the expenditure limit set by electoral laws.
The study published in April 2009 also said the money was spent for campaigning since the last day for withdrawal of nomination to the polling day. Electoral laws had allowed a candidate to spend maximum Tk 15 lakh. The EC had fixed Tk 5 per voter.
Money spent beyond the limit is considered to be unauthorised money in polls.
Influence of such unauthorised money may appear as a major obstacle to ensuring a level-playing field for all political parties and candidates in polls campaign, political and electoral experts told The Daily Star yesterday.
Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain says it is very difficult to control the use of illegal money in elections in Bangladesh as well as in neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan.
He said the EC had formed a committee to examine the expenditure of candidates in the 2011 Narayanganj city polls. "The committee used to monitor the expenditure of candidates on a weekly basis. I think it was helpful for lowering the use of black money,” he said.
Sakhawat said the committee found anomalies in the accounts of the candidates who had showed the spending for hiring loudspeakers and printing posters less than the actual expenses.
“We have recommended forming a [similar] monitoring committee for each constituency for the parliamentary polls,” said Sakhawat, who was an election commissioner of the ATM Shamsul Huda-led EC.
That EC had sent proposals to the government seeking power to monitor candidates' election expenses during electioneering by devising its method of monitoring. But before the last parliamentary polls in 2014, the government rejected the proposal.
The then EC had drafted the proposal based on the experience it gathered in the Narayanganj polls. "But I don't think the current EC has gone through our proposal," Sakhawat said.
He then referred to Indian EC's efforts to monitor the expenditure.
In the last Lok Sabha election, the Indian EC had deployed 659 officers drawn from the central revenue services like the Income Tax and Customs and Excise departments, in all 543 parliamentary constituencies to curb the use of black money and illegal funds in the polls.
Officials in the EC Secretariat said the current commission a few months ago once discussed how to contain the influence of unauthorised money in the election. It also discussed formation of committees in each constituency to monitor candidates' spending during campaigning. But the EC did not move forward with the idea, they added.
Contacted, Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam said they would take necessary actions in line with the laws to check the use of unauthorised money in the election. “We have announced the election schedule so we can have discussion on formation of the committee,” she told The Daily Star.
Hafizuddin Khan, a former adviser to a caretaker government, thinks illegal money plays significant role in “buying” a nomination and electioneering phase.
He claimed that many lawmaker hopefuls have already spent over Tk 25 lakh even before securing party nominations.
"A committee for each constituency should be formed to monitor expenditure during electioneering. It can help reduce use of illegal money,” said Hafizuddin, also a former comptroller and auditor general.
The committee may be formed comprising “neutral” individuals who are seen as trustworthy, he said.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said fixing a ceiling for electioneering expenditure is a standard practice in many countries.
According to him, campaign-related expenses that are visible and measurable can be tracked and assessed in some reasonable degree and brought to the public focus as done by a civil society organisation like TIB.
"Investments for nomination business that are perceived to be ten times higher than campaign expenses are only known to leaders and other actors who are involved in transactions,” said Iftekharuzzaman.
Things have been worsening as over the years, successive ECs have also not exercised its legal authority to scrutinise the election expenditure statements submitted by the candidates after the polls.
Interestingly, in the statements, all candidates claimed they spent
less than the ceiling of maximum expenditure. But the EC has never scrutinised whether those who were elected as MPs and got defeated told the truth.