Party donation reports still being verified on eve of election

Impossible to verify donations parties have recieved on eve of election because 2019 and 2020 reports are yet to be verified by Electoral Commission

A Labour Party fund-raiser, one of several conducted by the two major political parties throughout the year
A Labour Party fund-raiser, one of several conducted by the two major political parties throughout the year

The donation reports and accounts submitted by political parties for 2019 and 2020 are still not available to the general public as the Electoral Commission is still reviewing these reports after auditors identified “deficiencies” which required further verifications.

At law registered political parties have to present statement of accounts on an annual basis and name corporate or individual donors who donate over €7,000, in annual reports.

“Outstanding reports for 2019 and 2020 are still being reviewed by the Electoral Commission’s professional auditors, in line with the Financing of Political Parties Act,” Chief Electoral Commissioner Joe Camilleri told MaltaToday this week.

The Chief Electoral Commissioner explained that the reports can only be published on the commission’s website after passing through the scrutiny of the commission’s auditors.

He explained that whenever the auditors highlight any deficiencies in the reports presented by political parties, the respective parties involved are notified and asked to clarify or answer the observations, which would have been brought to their attention.

“When replies are received from the political parties involved, this feedback is referred back to the auditors for further review. As soon as the reports are finally cleared by the Electoral Commission, they are published on the Commission’s website.

Very few ‘donors’ identified in past reports

The last donation reports to be published were those for 2018. In that particular year the PN raised €1.57 million while the Labour Party collected €1.37 million. While the PL received €25,000 from Sensiela Kotba Soċjalisti, the PL’s publishing house, and €10,000 from the Ħamrun party club, the PN managed to get a €10,100 donation from Sam Abela, the son of former PN MP Tony Abela.

In 2017, which coincided with a general election, the Nationalist Party received over €3.36 million, significantly more than the Labour Party, which received just over €1.98 million.

The Labour Party received two donations over the €7,000 threshold – €15,000 from Marlene Gauci and one of €10,000 from Tarcisio Galea Properties, a corporate entity.  The Nationalist Party received a €10,320 donation from Sam Abela.

Corporate donations were more prominent in reports issued in 2016 when the Labour Party had collected €93,000 in donations of over €7,000. These donors comprised Attard Bros and Eurocraft (€10,000 each), €20,000 from Sea View & Sons, €10,000 from Camland, GAP Holdings, Hal Mann, and BV Formosa, and €13,000 from the Marsaxlokk party club. The PN received a single donation of €18,000 that came from former Nationalist MP Anthony Abela.

The party financing law, proposed and enacted by the post 2013 Labour government, stipulates that no party is allowed to receive donations by the same person or entity exceeding €25,000 in any given financial year.

Donations of up to €50 may be made anonymously; those of up to €500 can be kept confidential by the party, however the Commission may request information if it suspects wrongdoing.

Donations between €500-€7,000 cannot be received in a confidential manner and must show the donor’s name if requested. Donations exceeding €7,000 must be registered with the Electoral Commission and be published online.

Individual candidates are also subject to restrictions on campaigns. They may only spend up to €20,000 in donations from one district, or €40,000 from two, during general election campaigns. Local council campaign spending is capped at €5,000, while MEP candidates’ campaigns are capped at €50,000.

But crucially these limits only apply from the moment an election date is announced, which means that no law covers campaign spending during previous months of electioneering.

And although parties are obliged to publish the names of donors who give them more than €7,000, this does not cover commercial arrangements involving companies they own as well as loans made to political parties.

This issue came to the fore following revelations that donations by the DB Group to the PN were disguised as Net TV advertising. This prompted the Electoral Commission to appoint an investigative board to probe all the cases of alleged breaches of the law. But this investigation was brought to a halt after the Constitutional Court declared that by acting as investigator, prosecutor and judge, the Electoral Commission breaches the Constitution and the European Convention, including the right to a fair hearing.

And despite greater concern by civil society on corporate donations conditioning parties in matters like construction regulations and planning rules, no attempt was made to reform party financing laws. In a recent interview with the Times, Gozitan developer Joe Portelli confirmed that his companies donate monies to both political parties. “You can’t donate the amounts of money that people think we do. There are laws. But yes, we do help them. Out of respect. And we help both parties,” Portelli said.