The traditional mode of political party living completely or to a large extent on the regular contributions of their party members does not apply anymore in practice. The importance of other sources of income has increased enormously. Against this background, the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe commissioned a study in 2001 and the results strongly agreed with the above observation.
Two days ago a journalist who reports for an international news media organisation put to President Paul Kagame at a press conference a question to do with Rwanda Patriotic Front’s sources of income.
The journalist told the President that a group of foreign researchers had approached him seeking his view on RPF’s practice of engaging in commercially profitable ventures.
He said the researchers were sceptical in regard to whether it was possible for the competing field to be level when it comes to awarding contracts by government to successful bidders.
The question from the researchers was based on their doubting whether fairness can be guaranteed when government officials evaluating bids are party faithfuls, or people owing their jobs to the appointing system under the control of the ruling party.
The President’s response was that the world over, in very old democracies and developing ones alike, political parties, ruling or in opposition, own trading companies. Let us look at the example he may not have had time to give.
In Austria, for instance, the study mentioned above found out that political parties have developed commercial activities in areas such as marketing, shopping centres and house construction through companies owned or shared by them.
In a nutshell, the old type of party financing – funding exclusively or at least in most part through membership fees – can hardly be applied in practice any more.
Despite its fundamentally democratic character and far-reaching exclusion of opportunities for improper influence that may be exerted on a monetary basis, financing primarily based on party members is no longer adequate.
To this end, President Kagame said it becomes inevitable, especially in light of government sponsorship being regarded as inappropriate in Rwanda’s circumstances, for political parties to do business.
It is good that government has in place an effective legal system which checks and balances well would-be excesses by party members who may have influence in government.
The fact that RPF-owned companies have on several occasions lost bids to rivals attests to the fact that evasion of rules is tightly monitored.
The researchers are free and right to conduct the study. But it will most likely confirm what the Council of Europe established seven years ago – that the time of solely relying on membership fees and other non commercial contributions is well behind us.