ANOTHER ROUND of elections is upon us.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Election season is upon us. This is a time when the public focuses on the candidates, the campaigns and the new daily polls.
This time provides us with an opportunity to raise our voices on the need to regulate the parties’ conduct so that they operate transparently and are accountable to the public.
When new parties are born, others split and still others merge, it is crucial to ensure that these entities, subject to only limited obligations of transparency, conform to the principles of proper management.
This is all the more important because today’s party members are tomorrow’s Knesset members, ministers and prime ministers.
Relationships that are developed, promises that are made, and funds that change hands during the campaign, take on broader significance.
We must not allow the chaos of these months, when each party is launching expensive advertising campaigns and recruiting well-known strategists, to exempt them from operating in a transparent fashion which makes public oversight possible.
The Freedom of Information Law does not apply to parties. The reporting requirements for parties create a certain amount of transparency – but not enough.
Currently the only way to uncover information about parties is to pose questions to the Corporations Authority, study the State Comptroller’s reports, and examine the information voluntarily published on party websites.
This includes both formal parameters such as the party’s goals and contact information, as well as substantive information such as its assets, financial reports and accounts for the campaign period. Some of this information is available upon request, while other items can be found on the Corporations Authority and State Comptroller websites.
At first glance, it would appear that the current mechanisms for reporting to the relevant authorities allow for oversight and monitoring. What then, is the problem?
First, this information is in the hands of several agencies. It does not appear in a single place, is not displayed to the public on the parties’ own initiative, does not include all information about the parties, and does not make it possible to conduct cross-checks and comparisons. In addition, judging by the Registrar of Political Parties’ website, some parties do not provide the required information.
The situation is no better on the State Comptroller’s website. Data on donations and guarantees are only partially accessible and in an outdated process. Cross-checking and comparisons are impossible. In addition, there is no agency that receives information on parties’ deals with suppliers, whether in cash or in kind, and the parties themselves provide very little – if any – substantive information on their websites.
In this day and age, when there is broad awareness of the need for transparency, along with technology that makes it possible to share information in an accessible and user-friendly manner, we are entitled to expect that political parties will comply with these standards on their own initiative.
In addition, the relevant regulatory agencies must introduce some uniformity in their reports. Even more than the need for uniformity, there is a need for real-time rather than after-the-fact reports and the creation of a mechanism to apply sanctions against parties not meeting reporting requirements.
The transparency revolution has been led primarily by civil society organizations, which exert constant and heavy pressure on the authorities and on other relevant players.
Without their stubborn struggle, much information would continue to be concealed from the public. These organizations set the standard for defining transparency as first and foremost actively making information available, and defining accountability and reporting as inherent to the role of a public servant.
These same civil society organizations can spearhead the change regarding transparency of political parties.
In an interview prior to the last election, President Reuven Rivlin called on the public not to vote for parties that do not operate transparently. His advice applies equally to the April 9 election. The demand for transparency must come from the public – in parlor meetings, in meetings with candidates, and at the ballot box.
The transparency revolution must go on, and the next step must be to ensure the transparency of Israel’s political parties. Adv. Alona Vinograd is the director of the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions at the Israel Democracy Center.
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