Leading political analysts and experts have said the income sources of the country’s registered political parties should be made public for the sake of transparency.
People are in the dark about the transparency of the financial statements of political parties as they do not disclose their sources of income, they say, advocating that such documents of parties registered with the Election Commission be made public.
They said political parties in other countries, including India, reveal their income sources to ensure transparency. Such disclosures would only enhance the image of parties among people, they felt.
Political leaders, however, say they submit their financial statements in accordance with the law and that it is up to the EC to make them public.
Former election commissioner Brig. Gen. (retd) Muhammad Sakhawat Hussain said the EC has laid down what constitutes sources of income.
According to him, they include subscription fees collected from party members and donations from corporate and business houses. He said the commission had also fixed a ceiling on individual and corporate donations.
The former election commissioner said the EC was free to make the financial statements public, as there was no legal bar to doing so. “There is no justification of receiving the financial statements of the parties if they are not disclosed,” he added.
He said the EC should discuss the issue with the parties and monitor if they were keeping to the guidelines.
Sakhawat said political parties in India were also expected to pay income tax.
Transparency International, Bangladesh’s executive director, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, described the filing of financial statements by political parties as a positive practice.
“We consider the submission of statements by them a positive exercise. But the depth and extent of the statements are not clear,” he said. He said doubts may arise about the parties’ sources of income as their documents are not made public. He said people were happy about the positive political culture and hoped the parties would continue to strive to earn people’s trust.
Local government expert Prof. Tofayel Ahmed said political parties in foreign countries disclosed their sources of income.
“But we do not know anything about the income sources of the political parties here and whether they are audited properly because the documents are not made public,” he said.
Referring to a recent court verdict, he said the EC was bound to place the documents for public scrutiny if anyone wanted to have a look at them.
“If the documents are not made public, questions will arise about the sources of income,” he said.
Prof. Tofayel Ahmed claimed that the EC had declined to provide the documents and the Information Commission had ruled in its favour when an appeal was filed before it.
Subsequently, a High Court bench on January 26 last year gave an order for the disclosure of the documents, he said, adding that the commission was now bound to provide them.
Secretary of Sushasoner Jonya Nagorik, an NGO, Dr Badiul Alam Mazumder, said the financial statements of political parties should be made public in the interest of transparency.
“If the financial statements are not made transparent, the activities of the political parties will not be transparent either,” he said. He appealed to political parties to reveal their sources of income and keep credibility high.
Dr Mazumder also demanded the Information Commission make political parties in Bangladesh provide income information to the people, saying that Indian Information Commission had done it.
When contacted, BNP standing committee member Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said they had submitted their financial statements to the commission after getting them duly audited. He said it was for the EC to make the party funds more transparent.
Awami League joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said they, too, had submitted their financial statements to the EC and were ready make them public if necessary. “We have submitted the statement to the EC with all that is required. You (journalists) can collect information from the EC,” he added.
The two major political parties—the AL and BNP—submitted their annual financial statements to the poll panel on Tuesday.
The AL spent around Tk. 3.73 crore, while it earned around Tk. 7.12 crore last year. The BNP spent around Tk. 1.87 crore against earnings of around Tk. 1.73 crore, showing a deficit of Tk. 14.26 lakh.
After submitting the statements, the party leaders revealed their income and expenditure information to reporters at the EC secretariat.
Election commissioner Md Shahnewaz said he was not aware of the statements and suggested the commission secretary be contacted on the issue.
EC secretary Md Sirajul Islam said there was a court directive and that information would be given on the basis of what it permits. The court, however, is yet to issue a written order.
In the UK, the Electoral Commission wants all registered parties and their accounting units to keep clear and accurate records of their accounts to show their true financial position.
Parties and accounting units with annual income or spending over a certain threshold must have their accounts independently audited, it added.