… more candidates return campaign fund to ECB

Dechen Dolkar

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) spent a total of Nu 18.85 million (M) on the candidates in the fourth National Council (NC) elections, according to the election returns report released by the Commission.

On average, each of the 89 candidates spent Nu 211,896 for campaign purposes during the election, which was held in April this year.

In the 2018 National Council elections, ECB spent Nu 28.55M for 127 candidates.

However, as compared to the 2018 elections the refund to the government exchequer by the candidates has increased in this year’s elections. In 2018, 96 candidates refunded a total of Nu 400,167, and this year, 81 candidates refunded a total amount of  Nu 566,124.28 to the government.

The expenses included the campaign fund which is given in cash and the cost of sponsored activities such as public forums.

The ECB disbursed Nu 150,000 to each candidate.

ECB has disbursed a total amount of Nu 13.35M to 89 contesting candidates.

Candidate Rinzin Namgyal from Langthil gewog, Trongsa refunded Nu 73,785, which was the highest amount followed by Dophu Drukpa, a candidate from Punakha, who refunded Nu 54,303.

Tshering Norbu, the candidate from Martshala gewog from Samdrupjongkhar refunded Nu 46,918.

Besides the cash amount, sponsorship of a common forum, public debate, campaign materials, and media access were provided to ensure an effective election campaign.

According to the ECB around 39 percent of the total campaign fund was spent on hiring vehicles, 40 percent on daily subsistence allowance for candidates and their representatives, and 14 percent and 3 percent on stationery and communication, respectively.

Most of the candidates had hired two vehicles, one for the candidates themselves and one for their election representatives.

ECB has mentioned that some had claimed mileage and few had fueled their own vehicles. Overall, it is observed that almost half of the campaign fund expenditure was incurred on vehicle or transport-related activities.

A few candidates had incurred costs on hiring office space and purchasing stationery.

A total of Nu 269,426 was deposited to Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO) as TDS for the hiring of vehicles and office rental charges.

While campaign materials were also provided in-kind, some of the candidates incurred additional expenditure on advertisement, especially on the printing of visiting cards.

ECB stated that they observed differences in the pattern and amount of expenditure incurred by various candidates for meeting election campaign expenses. However, these were within the categories permissible under the Public Election Fund Act 2008.

It was also found that the DSA rates were applied uniformly as per the government’s existing rules and claims were made accordingly.

The election returns were also checked against the weekly report submitted by the candidates through the national observers and it was found that the election returns were found consistent with the weekly expenditure reports.

Meanwhile, three candidates return Nu 2 and eight candidates spent all the campaign fund amount.

However, the total expenditures include only those spent on the candidates’ election campaign purposes. The ECB has not released how much was spent during the whole election period, including allowances for election officials.

Earlier this year, the ECB had earmarked Nu 257.992M for the fourth NC elections.

In 2018, ECB earmarked a budget of Nu 250M, which in turn was an increase of 68 percent from 2013. In 2013, Nu 148.5M was spent on the NC elections.

The National Council elections in 2018 were run at a cost of over Nu 245M, almost Nu 15M cheaper than the upcoming election. The 2013 election was conducted at around Nu 148M while the one in 2008 was done at around Nu 99M.