Feature Article of Friday, 17 August 2012
Columnist: Acquah, Prosper K.
Many political analysts have opined that the stakes are very high for the upcoming December 7 elections. Whenever I hear such statements; I ask myself what is so special about this election? Obviously the statement seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy being perpetuated by the media and so called political analysts. They create that impression in our minds that the stakes are high, the more we hear the statement we tend to believe it and make it a reality. Upon a second thought however I can understand why the analysts would think that the stakes may be high in this year’s election.
In a country where government does not sponsor political parties and candidates, yet very expensive elections are run one wonders how these elections are funded. It is too obvious that most of the candidates for the various elected positions do not have the bank accounts to prosecute the type of elections they are engaged in. The question then is, ‘where do these candidates and political parties get their funding from?’ Who is behind the cash?
Elections have become a national security issue – I will explain later. The business of running for an elected office has become just that – a business! It is only those who are well networked who can run for elected office in this country. Just as is the case with all businesses, the business of elections has its own entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholders whose interests in many cases are not aligned with that of the electorates but rather oppose to the interests of the electorates.
A few months back I heard some members of parliament (MPs) on radio agitating for some money and their reasoning was that they needed that money to pay back loans they took to run their various elections. When I heard that, I asked a friend “why should someone take loans to run an election just to have the opportunity to serve his own people?”; ‘good question, I have never thought about it that way’ my friend retorted. Politics is a business! A profit making one at that! If and when these candidates win their various elections, they have to repay their loans first before they can even have the peace of mind to make laws in parliament.
There is the emergence of a class of ‘business people’ who I describe as political investors. These are people who invest in political candidates (presidential candidates, MPs etc) by giving them money, printing T-shirts or even donating/loaning vehicles to politicians and parties to run their various campaigns with the understanding that if/when they win they (the political investors) will be rewarded with very juicy contracts, board memberships and unimpeded access to the presidency. There are two types of political investors, those who invest in opposing candidates (usually the two leading candidates for a position) and those who wage all their investments on one candidate or political party.
Political investors who invest in opposing candidates are business people who cannot afford to gamble away their chances of making more money by supporting only one candidate for whatever reasons for this reason they hedge their bets by contributing to both sides. They do not care much about political ideologies nor do they care much about who becomes president or MP. These investors do not show up in public with any politician or political party because they do not want to be tainted or branded in any political colors. These political investors who ‘play both sides’ tend to be of great national security risk. They are typically very rich and can have unimpeded access to the castle regardless of which political party is in office. Their gifts to the candidates/the parties are so significant that they cannot be ignored. These investors are known personally to the candidates and the hierarchy of the political parties. Sometimes in all fairness the candidates do not know the nature of the businesses that these people are engaged in until much later after elections are over. They are likely to be foreign contractors, representatives of major foreign companies, local business people, local contractors, importers and even drug dealers who pose as ‘businessmen’. Some so called men of God fall into this category of political investors –ever wonder why a man of God should travel on diplomatic passport? I guess in Ghana we do not have the separation of Church and State so these men of God could be politicians as well; couldn’t they?
The other category of political investors who put all their investments in one candidate/political party do so because they are ideologically aligned with the candidate and party they contribute to or they have been wronged by the opposing party and needed to settle some scores. This category of investors also include foreign companies that have done business with that political party in the past and are looking forward to resurrect old business relations, local ‘party contractors’ fall within this category – their identities are known and so they do not have the option of contributing to the opposing political party.
It therefore makes sense to say that the stakes are high when political investors who invested in the 2008 election for instance and their candidates lost have to invest again in the 2012 elections. These investors will be poised to ensure that they get a positive return on investment. Imagine a candidate who took loans to run for the office of an MP and lost and the same candidate is running again for the same position; the stakes may be high.
The stakes may be high for another group I call the stakeholders; these stakeholders put their jobs and livelihood on the line to become the mouthpiece/communicators for candidates and parties. These stakeholders are seen and heard on TV and radio defending the policies of their candidates and parties, many times showing very little understanding of the policies they are defending. Some of them become the ‘attack dogs’ of their candidates hurling insults and insinuations at stakeholders and candidates from opposing parties. For these people the stakes may be high since many of them if their candidates do not win, they don’t have jobs either because of public perceptions of them or they are simply born politicians and will be unemployable in any other industry.
The stakes may also be high when a candidate does not have age on his or her side. This is against the background that since the beginning of the fourth republic some twenty years ago, this 2012 election is the election with the highest number of young people (in their forties and thirties) standing for election. In my view apart from having more younger candidates, the quality of the candidates have also improved greatly over the years (no pun intended).
Yes the stakes may be high for this elections but it appears the stakes have always been high. Some people invest in several elections and never get to win political offices. Others invest and win all the time and yet some others do not win the first time but the second or third time they win – I believe our late president belongs to this group. I want to implore the media and political analysts not to make the stakes seem higher than they really are.
I will plead with whoever wins the 2012 presidential election to ensure that within the first two years of assuming office, structures should be put in place to regulate political financing in this country. This is very important for our national security. Chief Dele Momodu in an epitaph for President Atta Mills, indicated that the two leading candidates in the 2008 elections got support from powerful contacts all over the world. It shows how potentially dangerous it is for mother Ghana if we do not put in place very good structures to police political financing.
Political financing is a prime conduit for money laundering, organized crime can easily take our governance structure hostage if care is not taken. I can imagine a scenario where drug barons will pump money into financing presidential and parliamentary candidates and literally run our government from behind the scene to their advantage. I will not be surprised if what we are currently experiencing in Ghana, where all the large and very lucrative contracts (infrastructure & consulting) go to foreigners regardless of which political party is in power, is as a result of some of the issues I have discussed above. If we are to believe reports in the leaked Wikileaks cables that certain corrupt oil companies tried to bribe the late President Mills but he rejected it, then we must be very worried. Who knows how many ministers and presidents did receive these types of packages when they were in office?
It is in the interest of the political parties themselves to have political finance regulatory structures and laws that actually work. When Ghanaians learn to contribute money to the campaign of their favorite candidates, we will have the moral grounds to ask accountability of them. The current situation where candidates rather give money to people to entice them (the people) to vote for them only concentrates power in the hands of the candidates and their stakeholders/political investors. Unlike the current situation, when people contribute to candidates, regardless of the amounts they contribute, candidates are able to gauge their chances of winning from the number of people contributing to them. When local people contribute their GH? 5.00 and GH? 10.00 to candidates, it instills in them the sense of personal responsibility and gradually eschew from the ‘beggar attitude’ (BA) where we always think that the solutions to our problems depend on us begging some superior person/entity.
Ghana can put in place political finance regulations that will require candidates and political parties to report periodically people and institutions contributing to their activities whether in cash or in kind. The campaign laws can be such that candidates who are able to raise money up to a certain limit will receive a matching fund from the government. Candidates who are able to raise funds beyond the matching limit will not receive any money from the government. The idea here is to encourage competent people who do not have the resources to run for political offices to run while preventing rich people from receiving government money to finance their campaigns.
Organizations and groups (the equivalent of Political Action Groups or PACs in the US) can support candidates without prior approval from the candidates themselves but these interest groups must report to the regulatory authority to ensure transparency. In our case we can decide to put a limit on how much money these groups can spend in support of a candidate or as recently ruled by the US Supreme Court, we can allow the groups to spend limitlessly.
Whichever way we decide to go with our campaign financing regulations, the key is that there is the need for greater transparency. We need to flush out political investors particularly the foreign ones and we need to know who the local ones are as well. If we do not act and ignore this issue until the 2016 elections, the stakes will even be higher and we may have to spend all our productive time and energy praying for peace.