Cost of elections in Ghana, corruption and the effusions of a former minister of state

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” — Albert Einstein.

 I am convinced without a shadow of doubt that, the high cost of contesting elections in Ghana, is the main cause of public sector corruption. Who knows how NPP and NDC come by money to contest for elections and how those monies are paid back?

 

The problem:

Reports of recent research, conducted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD)-Ghana, shows the cost of running for political office in Ghana went up by nearly 60 per cent over one single election cycle – between 2012 and 2016.

The report warns that, if the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels it may become the domain of the elite and wealthy and that may motivate and incentivise MPs to move from serving the public to recovering their own investment. I am aware that cost of elections got to unaffordable levels long ago and MPs are already working to recover their investments.

The research surveyed over 250 candidates and sitting MPs about their experiences in the 2012 and 2016 elections. The findings were complemented by individual interviews and focus groups. Four key areas of election expenditure – campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations – were analysed in detail at both the party primary levels and during parliamentary election campaigns.

 

The annual salary of a sitting MP is $51,000. Per findings of the research therefore, a successful election campaign, on the average, costs each MP the equivalent of the best part of his or her two years’ salary.  “This illustrates how much of a barrier to entry, the cost of politics can have on ordinary Ghanaians, who are often keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship,” the report said.

 

The spoils system:

A spoils system (also known as a patronage system) is the practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its sponsors, supporters, friends and relatives as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity.

As a developing nation, the impact of the spoils system (corruption, impunity and incompetence) have been devastating, denying the nation, much needed human and financial resources for socio-economic development.

It is important to remind ourselves that, the conditions that the spoils system produces have been used to justify all unconstitutional regime changes, usually through military coup d’état’s in Ghana. That history is enough to give cause for vigilance and alertness in the enforcement of campaign finance rules in Ghana. This must be a matter of interest not only to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Development Partners, but progressive stakeholders and civil society organizations.

 

Framers of the 1992 constitution provided in Article 55:14(a) for political parties to declare to the public their revenues and assets. Clause 14 (b) of the same article enjoins parties to publish their audited accounts annually.

One of the troubles of the NPP when they were returned to opposition after the 2008 elections, was the publication of a demand notice, revealing that the party had borrowed a sum of GHC 1.5 Million from the Prudential Bank for the 2012 election campaigns, throwing up the question of campaign financing that have far reaching implications for the economic governance and development of Ghana.

Had the NPP won the 2012 elections, their election debt would not have been made known to the public. Had they adhered to requirements of article 55:14 (a) and (b), would the publication of the demand notice been of any use or news? How did they plan to pay back? And why did they default in the first place? In 2016, they won. Not a single soul has mentioned payment of campaign debts from that political camp. After all, they are in power and in control of enormous financial resources.

 

In the run up to the 2018, delegates’ conference of the NPP in Koforidua, then acting Chairman of the party, Mr Freddie Blay, who was seeking “full mandate” to become substantive Chairman, ordered 275 buses at a cost of $11 Million to be delivered to each constituency for the obvious. He won the intra-party election. But where did he get the money from? Was he not in the party when they struggled to pay their election debt? What has changed? Power! Mr Blay was appointed Chairman of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) when his party won the 2016 elections.

What about the 20 Million Dollar ultra-modern national headquarters built by the then ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC)?  Where did the money come from? What about allegations by former National Chairman of that party, Dr. Kwabena Adjei, that his contender Mr. Kofi Portuphy and then National Coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) in their intra-party elections, had dipped his hands into the organisation’s coffers to finance his campaign.

 

Could foreign interests harmful to our national interest be controlling our governments through campaign financing as hinted in the Kwasi Nyantakyi tape? Who is listening to the effusions of Elvis Efriyie Ankrah, former minister in the previous administration about campaign financing and how they feed into public sector corruption as well as how the hands of public office holders are tied into signing outrageous government contracts to pay back campaign financiers?

If the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) is not enforcing the laws by refusing to recognise parties that fail to adhere to the rules, can they say, they have served mother Ghana faithfully and loyally? Alas! The EC itself has turned out to be more corrupt than the political parties it is supposed to check.

 

 

Solutions:

I sincerely believe with all my heart that our governance infrastructure laid out in the 1992 constitution is the chief promoter of corruption in Ghana. And until the constitution is reviewed and the specific mischiefs are removed, stopping corruption in Ghana would be likened to trying to stop the waves of the sea with your bare hands – impossible!

 

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