Authors : Gyampo, Ransford Edward Van, Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies
Publication Type : Study Report
Publication Date : 2015
Democratization across the world has influenced the formation of many political parties particularly in transitional democracies. These political parties, according to Chibber and Kollman, Apter, and Boafo-Arthur, can be described as the heart and soul of democracy because they perform key roles in the formation of government, grooming of leaders at national and sub-national levels, and holding governments accountable when they are in opposition. However, in Ghana, political parties are among the most neglected state political institutions.
They operate like purely private organizations with no state or national interest in their establishment, maintenance and well-being. Neglected political parties can only produce mediocre or poor quality leadership both at the party and government level. In this regard, political parties must not just operate as machines for churning out electoral victories, but also function effectively as vehicles for public education, leadership training, national integration and skills acquisition during inter-election periods.
Political parties in Ghana are inactive during inter-election periods and are unable to establish and maintain offices in many parts of the country because of the financial challenges they face. Consequently, the few financiers who are able to fund party activities often hijack the political parties and control their decision making processes in a manner that undermines internal democracy within the parties.
Again, in deciding who must lead the party at both the Presidential and Parliamentary levels, money becomes one of the major deciding factors. The parties charge huge nomination fees that deter those who do not have the financial muscle to file their nominations. After paying such huge fees, candidates are expected to also ‘buy’ the votes of the citizenry, particularly at the constituency level in order to receive some assurance of electoral victory. These tendencies result in massive corruption as the winning candidates concentrate on re-gaining funds spent during the filing of their nominations and campaign “through all manner of corrupt means.”
The gloomy picture of political parties in Ghana justifies the call for some form of state funding for them, and, indeed, there can be no meaningful discussion of strengthening the pillars of multi-party democracy without dealing with the financial suffocations political parties in Ghana go through.
Political parties in Ghana are inactive during inter-election periods and are unable to establish and maintain offices in many parts of the country because of the financial challenges they face. Consequently, the few financiers who are able to fund party activities often hijack the political parties and control their decision making processes in a manner that undermines internal democracy within the parties
The only source of funding that may be available to political parties that cannot be shrouded in secrecy is public funding. In discussing public funding of political parties in Ghana, studies that come in handy are the works of Ayee et. al, Salih, Kumado, Boafo-Arthur, and Saffu. Writing on party financing in Ghana, these scholars argue that public funding remains the probable option, at least for now, given the paucity of funding available to political parties from their individual supporters and contributors.
To ensure maximum fairness, there should be consensus about the most neutral and trusted institution to handle disbursement of state resources to political parties. Also, the formula for sharing must first consider equity in which party infrastructure building will receive priority attention.
Because of the prevalence of political corruption, stringent measures of disclosure of funds received from the state must be a priority for the state and defaulting parties must lose their legal status or be banned for two general elections to serve as a deterrent to others. Finally, frequent auditing and publication of party accounts in the private and national media is also highly recommended by the above scholars.
Public funding of political parties is an arrangement that enables the state to give financial resources or indirect assistance to political parties in order to enable them to run their activities and achieve their ultimate objective of capturing political power and implementing policy prescriptions that would better the lots of the ordinary people.
The sources of funding for the purpose of financing political party activities are usually from public taxes and private contributions of individuals and corporate entities. Countries like Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and countries in post-communist Eastern Europe practice some form of public funding of political parties. In Africa, countries like Lesotho, Mali, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana have some arrangements for the state to fund political parties. Indeed, in Botswana for instance, parliament introduced and adopted a motion to fund political parties in 2013.
Unfortunately, the increasing amount of money needed for parties to continue to play a role in promoting multi-partyism is coupled with a decrease in revenue. In recent years, many political parties in advanced democracies have suffered from a growing disengagement of citizens from conventional politics. This has led to a decline in membership of political parties and deprived parties of an important source of revenue by reducing significantly the amount of income derived from membership subscriptions.
Generally, there should be some rules that must guide the distribution of funds by the state to political parties. These rules may require political parties to disclose their sources of income and expenditure and publish their party accounts. The rules may provide for an independent audit, inspection and control of party funds and accounts as well as mechanisms that ensure that blue- prints on funding of political parties are adhered to.
One major argument in favor of public funding for political parties is that it can support parties in meeting the cost of democratic politics and compensate for the scarcity of internal financing.
The proliferation of several other political parties in many developing countries is a recent phenomenon. These parties could therefore not draw on a developed organizational infrastructure or institutionalized links with organized and individual interests for financial assistance. In this context, there are few alternative resources available except for state funding, which serves to compensate for the general scarcity of financial resources. Part of the normal cost of parties in contemporary democracies includes the development and maintenance of the sometimes extensive party structures in order to sustain all the activities of the party organization.
Granted, as it is quite expensive to maintain these structures, public support may be provided to augment the limited resources that may be generated by the party on its own. In the periods immediately before elections, campaign activity will be at its highest, with parties distributing leaflets and posters, sending out direct mailings, broadcasting political messages on radio and television, and so on.
The use of the mass media, and the professionalization of election campaigns through an increased use of consultants and public relations agencies have all made campaigning increasingly expensive in recent years. In this regard many scholars have re-echoed the need for the state to provide funding to political parties so they can effectively run their activities before, during and after elections.
This study shows that even though Ghanaians are politically active, they are not too keen on contributing funds to keep their respective political parties running. Given their weak financial base, they are also not supportive of any proposal for public fund- ing of political parties
Not all parties are equally resourceful and the fact that many of them cannot secure funds from private contributors should not in any way hinder their effective functioning. In this regard, minor parties that are unable to appeal to wealthy or established interests and newly established parties that lack links with affiliated interest organizations must also benefit from some form of public funding in order to create a level playing field that enables all political parties to compete on a more equitable basis.
Indeed, the concern with equality of political competition and participation has a special relevance in transitional and newer democracies, where public funding is deployed to compensate for the disadvantages confronting newly created parties when competing with the materially and financially sound ones.
Public funding also restricts the influence of private money and thus limits its potential for distortion of the democratic political process. The situation where political parties become disproportionately influenced by a small minority of people because of their huge financial contributions in a manner that undermines majority interest is significantly curtailed.
Again, the practice shields parties from meeting the selfish demands of its internal financiers and ultimately checks the corrupting relationships and practices that usually emerge between those who funded the party and the state or government. Furthermore, public funding may assist opposition parties in carrying out their parliamentary duties, in particular that of holding the incumbent government accountable.
Public funding of political parties has, however, also been critiqued. One main argument in this regard is that it increases the tax burden and forces taxpayers to offer financial support to parties that they did not approve of politically.
Ghanaians are politically active and the average voter turn-out in elections since 1992 has been close to 70%. The response of the interviewees attested to this claim as all the respondents indicated their support for one political party or the other. They all voted in the 2012 General Elections for their respective political parties. Given that the survey was not about people’s political affiliation, we did not probe further to ask respondents to indicate the parties they voted for in the 2012 General Elections.
Ghanaians are politically active and the average voter turn-out in elections since 1992 has been close to 70%. The response of the interviewees attested to this claim as all the respondents indicated their support for one political party or the other.
“The irony, however, is that even though many Ghanaians claim to support one party or the other and are prepared to do anything to defend their respective parties, they are not willing to con- tribute any money to fund the political parties they claim to die for.”
Generally, personal donations and individual contributions to parties must be grounded on the firm conviction and support people have for their parties and must not be a means for “a public display of affluence.” Nevertheless, the respondents who claimed they might not be recognized may have a case because, in Ghana, only people who make huge cash donations to political parties are publicly acclaimed, hailed, and defended by their par- ties, even when they land in trouble relating to corruption.
Babangida also institutionalized corruption and amassed fortunes sufficient to make him one of Nigeria’s richest people. He reserved many government jobs for only his ethnic kinsmen and those who supported him
For the respondents who believed political parties should not be funded by the state, 30 percent were of the view that the state should rather channel its scarce resources into develop- mental projects and alleviate economic hardships. In their view, given the level of poverty in the country, it is unwise and a mis- placed priority to fund political parties with the nation’s meager resources.
Related to the above, 7 percent of the respondents abhorred the idea because it may increase the tax burden of the ordinary people and worsen their economic hardships. This explanation sits well with the views of scholars such as Alexander and Burnell when they discussed the criticisms of public funding of parties.
Another 35 percent of the respondents did not support public funding because to them, politicians were corrupt and were always in the news for looting state resources. These respondents found the idea of public funding as an absurd and exceptional opportunity for politicians to steal more state money for their selfish aggrandizement.
Again, there were those who did not support public funding of political parties because of the fear that it may open the floodgates for the proliferation of amorphous political parties for the purpose of receiving some financial gains from the state. Indeed, there are over 20 registered political parties in Ghana, and there was fear among some of the respondents (6 percent) that Ghana may soon witness the proliferation of mushroom parties akin to what occurred in Mali if the proposal of public funding of political parties is implemented.
Finally, 4 percent of the respondents were of the view that serious political parties worth their sort should be able to raise funds for their activities by themselves without the state. The idea of public funding, to these respondents, smacks of an attempt to empower mediocrity in running the affairs of political parties.
This study shows that even though Ghanaians are politically active, they are not too keen on contributing funds to keep their respective political parties running. Given their weak financial base, they are also not supportive of any proposal for public fund- ing of political parties.
This may be understandable given the low level of democratic maturity and the level of poverty in the country. However, what worsens the future of the proposal for public funding of political parties is the total lack of political will on the part of political leaders to pursue this agenda. Generally, political parties in power in Africa tend to operate in a neo-patrimonial context, a situation where all powers, resources and largess are expected to flow from of the state.
With the exception of a few proactive African countries that have introduced some customized variant of public funding of political parties, the vast majority of African leaders prefer to use state power and resources only to the advantage of party supporters in a manner that promotes all manner of corrupt practices through blatant looting of state resources as well as facilitate the divisive phenomenon of “winner- takes-all politics.”
Nigeria’s postcolonial experience is perhaps the most apt example of the politics of the belly. The countless coups and ethnic and religious clashes in the oil-rich delta region are all underpinned by a cabal of high-ranking military personnel that demonstrates the networked nepotism characteristic of Bayart’s metaphor.
Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha gained notoriety for this practice with Abacha in his four-year term, embezzling over four billion USD. Babangida also institutionalized corruption and amassed fortunes sufficient to make him one of Nigeria’s richest people. He reserved many government jobs for only his ethnic kinsmen and those who supported him.
If the findings of this study are anything to go by, then it can aptly be argued that until politicians strive to shed the corruption perception against them and encourage their supporters to voluntarily and regularly support them financially through the payment of monthly dues and special levies, political parties, particularly those in opposition, will continue to suffer financial suffocation and remain weak election machines in Ghana
In Ghana, too, the lack of political will to pass the Draft Public Funding of Political Parties Bill is a typical manifestation of the practice of the belly politics that have plagued African countries after independence. In this regard, democratization in Ghana has not served as a countervailing check on the practice of neo-patrimonialism, as argued by Lindberg.
Indeed, the unwillingness or lack of political will on the part of elected politicians in Ghana to ensure some form of funding for all parties in order to create a level playing field during electoral competition and their desire to use resources of the state only to the advantage of their clients reflect their neo-patrimonial nature and the practice of belly politics in Africa as a whole. It is also a way of keeping the opposition poor and depriving them of the needed resources to be able to challenge or match the ruling party in terms of electoral campaign.
Public funding of political parties may have been introduced in countries, particularly developing African countries, for peculiar reasons and under different conditions. The idea may therefore not be “swallowed, hook, line and sinker.” In Ghana, judging from the findings of this study, the proposal seems outmoded at conception. The Draft Public Funding of Political Parties Bill, 2008 may never be passed into law given the lack of political will to implement such a law and the perception of public funding as a dangerous weapon for political opponents by ruling regimes.
The idea was first discussed in 1996 during the Jerry Rawlings regime at a cabinet meeting and was killed because the zero- sum game of politics in Ghana does not make it wise to for the ruling government to empower the opposition. Political parties in opposition clamor for it but develop cold feet about it when they get power because they see public funding as a dangerous arsenal to their real or perceived political opponents. Admittedly, the study shows that the proposal for public funding may be unpopular, as the views of those interviewed weighed heavily against the draft bill.
Political parties in opposition clamor for it but develop cold feet about it when they get power because they see public funding as a dangerous arsenal to their real or perceived political opponents, this is not the reason why the passage of the bill may never see the light of day.
The introduction of several bills and initiatives in Ghana since 1992 has met stiff opposition from the public, and yet these initiatives have been implemented successfully because of governmental commitment and support for them. Indeed, the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) in Ghana in 1995 was met with severe opposition from the public. It culminated in a series of demonstrations that led to some casualties. yet the government was resilient and committed to introducing and implementing the policy, and today, VAT is being implemented in Ghana.
Unfortunately, the proposal for public funding of political parties in Ghana may likely face ‘double jeopardy’ because whereas the public as per the findings of this study might not support it, governments are also not committed to the proposal. Governments continue to pretend to favor it in order not to hurt their democratic credentials. With this political hypocrisy on the part of government, the idea of public funding of political parties may never materialize.
If the findings of this study are anything to go by, then it can aptly be argued that until politicians strive to shed the corruption perception against them and encourage their supporters to voluntarily and regularly support them financially through the payment of monthly dues and special levies, political parties, particularly those in opposition, will continue to suffer financial suffocation and remain weak election machines in Ghana.
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