Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The lack of adequate regulations on campaign financing poses a major challenge to the spread of democracy in the developing world and opens countries to interference by foreign governments seeking to buy off politicians through campaign contributions, a watchdog organization says.

Poor regulation of political financing remains the greatest governance challenge for the third year in a row, according to Global Integrity, an international nonprofit that studies the issue.

According to the group’s latest report, which detailed anti-corruption measures in 57 countries, at least 38 of the governments surveyed earned a “very weak” score because they do not effectively regulate politician financing.

“In many countries, the greater danger is not one of wealthy domestic elites corrupting politicians, but of foreign governments funneling cash to ruling political parties in exchange for economic and commercial concessions - all with zero public disclosure and all perfectly legal under poor or non-existent regulatory environments,” the report said.

The report gave no concrete examples of such foreign funding.

However, Nathaniel Heller, Global Integrity’s managing director and co-founder, suggested that Iraq and the Palestinian Authority were particularly vulnerable.

“I think we could speculate that parties in Iraq and the West Bank are getting funds from the U.S., Iran, Israel, the Gulf states, and Egypt [all of which make obvious sense for different reasons], but no one, including the countries’ own citizens, has any way of knowing or providing oversight,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Seventy-seven percent of Palestinians think there’s corruption in the Palestinian Authority leadership, according to a June 2008 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Despite promises by the Palestinian Authority to implement reforms, leaders refuse to punish those involved in corruption, according to Khalil Shaheen, a Global Integrity reporter.

The Iraqi Embassy declined to comment. Nabil Abu Znaid, a representative in Washington of the Palestinian Authority, also declined comment on the issue.

The Global Integrity report also cited countries on the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia, where it said that corruption threatens to intensify an already fragile security situation.

Somalia, for example, received a score of zero for political financing and the lowest overall Global Integrity country score ever recorded, which researchers attribute to civil war, famine and a weak central government.

Global Integrity annually selects a range of countries to survey and does not investigate every country each year.

Ukraine, where Russia has sought to influence elections, was not surveyed in the 2008 report. In 2007, Ukraine received a “very weak” score for political financing.

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