Financing general election: A process; not an event

Saturday September 26 2020


By Honest Ngowi

 In such times as these of the general election in Tanzania, there are a number of issues for discussion, ranging from the political, social, legal and economic to ‘others.’

Among the economic issues of discussion include but are not limited to election financing at all levels including national, constituency and ward levels. More often than not, there are signs that funds for election expenses by the country, parties and those vying for various positions are mobilized in election year at least officially. This should not be the case for a sure event that happens after every five years under normal circum stances. This piece is of financing general election as a process instead of an event.

Election expenses

An election is a financially expensive democratic affair and correctly so. Given the sanctity of democracy as partly demonstrated in elections, the expenses that are incurred are generally worth it.

There are various expenditure posts related to elections. They include the national level preparations as partly seen in election year budgets at the central and local government.

They also include expenses incurred by parties and their candidates in the whole election process especially the campaign part of it. Arguably, it is normally at the campaign stage of the long election process that parties and their candidates incur the biggest part of their total expenses.


Some parties and candidates, especially ‘small ones’, do struggle to foot their bills in the many and varied long litanies of campaign expenses. This should not necessarily be the case for a sure event taking place after every five years.     

Elections as sure event

 Students of probability theory would recall that things like a general election after every five years in a country like Tanzania are sure events. These are events that have to occur, ceteris paribus (other conditions being constant).

 When it is know well in advance (at least five years ahead) that a general election would take place, there is no need to struggle much at the eleventh hour of the day to get the needed election finances. Proper planning and budgeting for a sure event like the general election would keep at bay the struggles of financing elections especially the campaigns part of it.

 It is a matter of planning at least five if not more years.

 Process not event

Attempting to mobilize all the funds needed for conducting a general election smoothly in a Tanzanian type economy should be a process not an event.

 The colossal amounts needed should not be ‘collected’ in the election year only. Turbulent, uncertain and unsustainable as most sources of revenues are, it will prove a very tall order to collect the huge sums in a year in a single election preparation event normally in the election year.

What should be done

 As opposed to an event, the process of financing general elections should start just after one election is over or even better before that. It should be at least a five years process not a one year or less event.

Powers that be should get the realistic total costs of undertaking an election five years ahead of time. The realistic cost should be one that is among other things inflation-, exchange rate - and interest rate adjusted.

 Inflation adjustment is necessary in an inflationary ridden economy. Interest rate adjustment is essential in the event the funds set aside for election every year are banked. Mathematics of finance experts can advise on this.

 Realistic costs should also factor-in contingencies for unforeseen events. The realistic cost needs to be sensitive to foreign exchange movements and volatility for the foreign components of the election cost drivers.

 These will include but not be limited to imported election goods and services. When the total election costs to be incurred five years to come are known, those concerned at all levels should set aside a fixed amount of funds in annual budgets for five years.

This can be national, party or individual contestants’ election funds. At the end of year five, there will be adequate funds for financing election collected over time through annual, semi-annual, quarter, monthly or even weekly and daily deposits.

 This will most likely reduce substantially the struggles that country, parties and contest- ants go through to raise election funds as an event instead of doing the same as a process.

The author is Associate Professor of Economics at Mzumbe University and Principal of Mzumbe University Dar es Salaam Campus