IFES Bangladesh, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a political finance BRIDGE workshop for political party activists, civil society representatives, journalists and Election Commission of Bangladesh (ECB) staff. As part of the Bangladesh Election Support Activities (BESA) program, the IFES team has been working on issues related to political finance in Bangladesh for close to three years.
The workshop was held at Paradise Garden Hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 23-24 November 2015. Twenty-two participants attended the training course (8 women, 14 men). The facilitation team consisted of three IFES accredited BRIDGE facilitators: Chief of Party Mr. Alistair Legge, Deputy Chief of Party Ms. Silja Paasilinna, and Sr. Electoral Advisor Mr. Md. Shahedunnabi Chowdhury.
Participants were given an overview of international best practices and examples from other countries on regulations, enforcement and reform, which informed the discussion regarding the political finance framework in Bangladesh.
There was a strong desire to use international examples and best practices but to also to discuss them in the Bangladesh context. A new activity customized for the Bangladesh context was created for this workshop, which called for participants to develop a fundraising plan and budget for an electoral campaign (based on four different types of elections in Bangladesh). The activity where participants are given examples of political finance frameworks in different countries was particularly useful for introducing the idea that political finance frameworks are different around the world and depend on the country context. Also, it became clear to the participants during the course that no matter how strong the legal framework for political finance, monitoring and enforcement is absolutely essential.
This was the first time this group of participants (aside from ECB staff) experienced the BRIDGE methodology. Participants from the very different stakeholder groups – who rarely come together to discuss electoral matters – also had the opportunity to interact and learn from each other’s perspectives. In the final session, participants came up with reform proposals for political finance, such as strengthening law enforcement, monitoring of campaign finance expenditures, and the establishment of an electoral law enforcement unit at the ECB. The ECB Secretary, Mr. Md. Sirazul Islam, joined the training on the 24th of November to deliver closing remarks to the participants.
Pre- and post-workshop evaluations from the training show that 28% of participants before the training rated their level of confidence in their knowledge of the role of money in politics as “above average” or “excellent;” after the training, it was 100%. Similarly, before the training, 52% of the participants rated their level of knowledge of campaign finance as “above average” or “excellent;” after the training, the corresponding figure was 94%.
Given the participants were a diverse group of stakeholders working on all angles of money in politics, the participants suggested continuing to work together as a group on monitoring and reform of political finance in Bangladesh.