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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Columnist: Solomon Nana Kwame Ansong

Election into political office and its associated responsibility: A case of prepaid or post-paid.?

Voting excercise underway Voting excercise underway

The four year mandate of the seventh parliament of the Fourth republic will end this year and amidst the threat and danger of COVID-19, Ghanaians will go to the ballot box to democratically elect a president whom it will entrust the authority, resources and security of the nation. They will also elect parliamentarians who are to enact laws and represent the interest of citizens in the various constituencies in Ghana's parliament.

Election period is the only time that the adage “power resides in the people” is evidently manifested as both presidential and parliamentary aspirants will do anything, literally, to win the votes of electorates. The electorates have the power to elect or deny persons who seek to occupy the various offices of state.

After being voted and given the authority, the general expectation is that these politicians will commit the resources available to the state to the ultimate good of the citizens so they can live at least honourable and descent lives. Those voted for should make sure that the vast resources entrusted into their hands will be used to provide good and accessible healthcare system, quality and affordable education, good roads and other social amenities needed by the citizens who delegated power to them.

For the politicians to have the peace of mind and comfort to deliver these public expectations (which most of them promise anyway), they are paid good salaries, lucrative allowances, given state security, diplomatic immunities among others.

On the contrary, these public expectations are mostly not met, as governments are rather scandalized with several corruption incidents. Fraudulent and dubious contracts are signed for their benefit and also the nation’s resources which they are supposed to manage for the good of the citizenry are rather used to enrich themselves and their cohorts. Some are even accused of creating, looting and sharing while the citizens continue to live impoverished lives.

This article provides an assessment of the degree to which the financial demands in the process of getting into political office influence the corrupt nature of elected politicians. It also tries to confront the thought of whether these politicians have already prepaid the electorate during the electioneering campaign and that the electorate “sold” power and for that matter the nations resources, to the highest bidder and therefore cannot demand anything else post elections.

Party Primaries and Candidate Selection

Political parties over the world rely greatly on primary elections to select candidates for both presidential and parliamentary offices. Party primaries are generally touted as safeguarding openness and enhancing internal party democracy.

The major political parties in Ghana also employ this method for selecting their candidates by allowing candidates to be freely selected through primary elections. The parties through primaries determine the personnel and, more symbolically, the people to represent them among the decision-making elite. The kind of candidates selected at primaries indirectly influences the types of policy decisions to be enacted and the interests most likely to be heard. Candidate selection then represents one of the key linkages between the electorate and the policymaking process of a nation.

Nonetheless, the procedures employed to fill internal party positions is expensive and the rich in pocket rather than the rich in ideas is usually selected. As money is the holy grail of politics, it is not hard to imagine how money can determine the outcome of crucial primaries or general elections.

Candidates pay exorbitant file-in fees which are usually out-sourced from people who are waiting in the side-lines to recoup their investments with interest when these people gets into power.

After candidates have paid file-in fees and gone through vetting successfully, they now have to overcome the hurdle of convincing “(bribing)” delegates to vote for them to win the primaries.

Some delegates have a flat fee they collect and these candidates have to pay thousands of cedis to these large numbers of delegates in the constituency. The more lucrative your payment the better your chances of winning. The recently held NPP parliamentary primaries for example is alleged to have been characterised by candidates paying huge sums of money to delegates, some even in dollars while other delegates received motorcycles and expensive gadgets.

So before a candidate’s face finally appears on the ballot paper for a party, he/she would have spent thousands or millions of cedis in file-in fees, touring the constituency and paying to “convince” delegates.

Campaign financing therefore heavily influences primary election outcomes, the fatter your purse, the higher your chances of winning.

The General Elections: Election Into Office By The Electorate

Successful party nomination is only the first but crucial step in the search for ‘honourable’ membership in the august house called the Parliament or ‘His Excellency’ at the highest seat at the Jubilee House.

After party primaries, selected candidates of the various parties will then have to tour their constituencies for parliamentary elections and the entire country for presidential elections to sell their ideas and ‘promises.’

Most politicians unfortunately see majority of the electorate as shallow thinkers who do not appreciate what goes into managing the resources of the country, others see electorates as ignorant minds who do not know their rights and therefore cannot sternly hold them to account when they are plundering the nation. Politicians know they can cheaply buy power from electorate by sharing supposed "freebies" without electorates scrutinizing what they have to offer when selected into office.

On other hand, the electorate generally believe and have accepted that the easiest way to get ill-gotten wealth is to get into politics. Political offices therefore have become a royal casino where everyone wants to occupy because whoever controls the casino controls the wealth and resources therein. The electorate thinks if the politician is getting into office to amass wealth, then he has to pay his/her way there as the only time to get something from them is during electioneering campaign.

The electorate are therefore ready to sell power to the highest bidder. Competition into political positions is no more about who has the deepest idea, rather about who has the deepest purse. Candidates make sure they pay their way to office, some share monies, food items, and motor cycles among others.

The electorate also look for the least opportunity to get something from candidates without asking where the money is coming from and why would any logical human being spend such huge sums of money just to get into political office for the purpose of only serving the nation? What are they buying for which they are paying those sums of money? And what are the electorates selling for which they are being paid those money? How are they going to get back all these money?

There are a lot of people who also support presidential aspirants with huge sums of money with the hope that they will be given political appointments when these aspirants win power. They are the financiers of the big bill boards, big rallies, and the sharing of monies and various items to electorates who also ignorantly receive them.

These financiers know they can recoup their ‘investments’ with huge interest when the aspirants ultimately win power. By this, the elected government becomes ‘Ali Baba’ and the forty thieves (they are more than 100 now) who are all looking for the least opportunity to steal from the nation. This results in government appointees and ministers of state being involved in shady contracts and corrupt practices. Some of these politicians feel they have the ‘right’ to plunder the nation because they have prepaid their way into power right from party primaries through the general elections.

Once the casino has been auctioned, bought and paid by the highest bidder, the buyer now has the right to enjoy proceeds from it and is not obliged to share profit with the sellers who have already received their money. This I believe accounts for why corrupt cases will always exist and will be difficult for presidents to deal strictly with it because the casino of which the president is in charge was purchased with these financiers’ money.

The electorate has already sold and received their money during the campaign period so why should they complain when politicians are recouping their money with interest by plundering the nation? Only that, citizens do not have a say in the interest rate at which they get back their investments.

As long as we do not change the terms on which politicians come into power, as long as coming into power is not based on the one with strongest ideas but strongest bank account, political office will be prepaid rather than post-paid. Leadership should be seen as opportunity to serve so when we vote we select those we believe can serve us best.

We have to take the necessary measures to clean our politics by adopting regulatory mechanisms to police the money spent by politicians and the parties they represent.

Laws must be enacted to limit the amount of money that can be donated by individuals and/or interest groups to political parties and their identity must be made public. There must be a cap on the amount of money that can be used during campaigns by political parties. More stringent disclosure and auditing requirements must also be instituted for both the political parties and their donors.

Anytime as a delegate you take money from an aspirant remember you have taken your share of the money to be used to provide good road, if we do not have good roads, the bad ones will affect us all. And you are equally responsible for any accident and lives lost on those bad roads.

If as a citizen you sell your vote, remember you have no right to demand good healthcare or education; you have already taken your share of the money for that purpose. If we have poor health system you shared in the money that was supposed to provide good healthcare. If we do not have good education, the bad education will affect us all and you are part of the problem. Don't only blame the politicians.

If as a civil servant or a journalist you take money from candidates, do not forget you have no moral right to talk of corruption because the politician is trying to get his money back only at an interest rate he alone decides.

Let us all stop selling our votes to the politicians, if they come buying and we are not selling they cannot force their money on us. We should elect our leaders based on ideas and issues that will move our nation forward and better our individual lives so we can hold them to strict account how they spend the nation's resources.

The writer, Solomon Nana Kwame Ansong is a teacher with biochemistry background who has an interest in educational and social issues.