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Opinions of Sunday, 22 December 2013

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Ghana Needs Urgent Electoral Reforms

– as part of fight against corruption

In previous articles on the subject of corruption, I have focused on popular themes and the obvious common issues. It has however dawned on me that in all our arguments about fighting corruption and tackling the ‘usual suspects’, no one to date has focused any attention on CAMPAIGN FINANCING as a ‘corrupting influence’ and a major contributor to the problem. In reflecting on this subject, I hope our general readership will treat this article in its proper context and recognise that my writings have always been influenced by my interest in seeing that we as a nation are able to address our problems collectively, and in our best interests, and not to score cheap political points or favour one side of the political divide. In addressing the issues here, I wish to dwell on a number of case examples to buttress my arguments, and to cite instances and experiences elsewhere where issues of campaign funding have often caused serious difficulties for individuals or parties, including imprisonment, but which to date has never ‘raised alarm bells’ in Ghana.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with any individual, company of group of people to declare their loyalties to any particular political party, it is equally important that through such affiliations to party, such entities do not end up influencing parties and governments in a way which is tantamount to holding them to ransom. For these reasons, and for the sake of ETHICS in politics and political spending as well as ensuring ACCOUNTABILITY and FINANCIAL PROBITY, in most other ‘democracies’, there are constitutional instruments which all parties and individuals vying for political office have to abide by. I am to date unaware of any such instrument in the Ghana constitution (I stand to be corrected) which guides how individuals and parties raise money for their political campaigns and to support their parties. Nor am I aware of any system of checks and balances which allow us to trace the sources of financing, the amounts raised, how they are used and what happens to any ‘surpluses’ accruing from campaign and party fund-raising.

To put the above into perspective, I wish to draw readers’ attention to the recent Auditor General’s report which was reported in the Ghanaian Media showing that a lot of ‘Wasteful Spending’ and loss of revenue is taking place across the public sector for lack of accountability and probity in e.g. tracing and retrieving even loans taken out by public servants. Since what is good for the goose must be good for the gander, I hasten to question why the focus is only on our public service and not on political parties and politicians who after all do not have any monies of their own and have to rely on others to fund their activities.

To protect the integrity of politics and funding, in the United States, candidates for Congress and the Senate as well as political parties have clear codes of conduct relating to financing of their campaigns and support for their activities. There is a limit on how much an individual can contribute to a campaign. All monies contributed are supposed to be declared and there is an audit trail on how the monies are spent and how much is left and how it is declared and disbursed. In other words campaign funds are NOT meant for an individual’s own use and certainly not and ‘extra source o income’. At the beginning and end of the campaign, the ‘balance sheet’ is supposed to be declared and where there is a shortfall, the individual or party has to account for it. There are examples of people who have failed to account for their campaign funds properly and where they have ended up. Over the last few years, former presidential hopeful of the Democratic Party – John Edwards has been in trouble because his campaign funds were purported to have been “inappropriately spent” including lavishly on “hair cuts” and “his girl friend”. Former Congressman of Illinois and leadership hopeful Jesse Jackson Junior, son of the renowned Civil Rights Campaigner Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife were found guilty of misuse of their campaign funds and lying about it. They were both sentenced to serve Jail Terms for their crimes and that certainly is the end of Jackson’s political career.

In the United Kingdom, political parties have been known to “return” monies paid as campaign contributions to all major parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat because those contributing those funds were either declared ‘persona no grata’ or the funding was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for some reason. Parties have been taken to account for ‘accepting’ donations from certain individuals e.g. rich people who are domicile outside the country for purposes of ‘dodging tax’; and where a government has awarded e.g. a peerage to an individual who has donated a lot to the party, they have often been taken to task and forced to rescind the award e.g. of the peerage, a case in point being one involving one of the Mittal Brothers (Steel magnates).

Where no such checks and balances exist, there is always the danger that individuals and parties will go to lengths to solicit funds from all kinds of people and companies who then expect them to ‘pay back’ when they get into power. At the moment, over 50 percent of all government appointee in Indonesia are under scrutiny for corruption relating to favouritism, nepotism and other forms of this ailment, largely resulting from this type of PATRONAGE.

Returning to the Ghana political scene, it is very worrying to learn that only a few individuals have been ‘pumping monies’ into the various political parties, and in some cases even funding individual campaigns and no one seems to raise an eye brow let alone a finger at this trend. It is estimated that over GhC 3 Billion was spent leading up to the 2012 Ghana parliamentary and presidential elections. Why on earth would we have to spend so much money on electing people who are there to serve our public and national interests? Is it any wonder that when they get into office or parliament, some of them have a number one agenda – to recoup all the monies borrowed and spent? Is it any wonder that the likes of Victoria Hammer will start talking about having a target to make a cool USD 1 Million “before leaving politics”?
For years Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom was the major ‘donor’ to the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and it is rumoured that he ‘funded’ the delegates to attend their 2007 convention in Kumasi at which he was elected to lead the party as its 2008 presidential candidate, much to the bewilderment and anger of Prof. Akorsah and his followers who thought their candidate was more popular nationally and a better candidate. It is also rumoured that when the CPP refused to retain Nduom as their flag bearer in 2012, he decided to leave the party and form his own which presumably he is almost single-handedly bankrolling. This is simply wrong and fails to pass the fundamental test of democracy at work.
Similarly, it is rumoured that the likes of Wayo and Woyome (the latter of the Judgment Debts saga) have been major ‘donors’ to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and some have argued that for instance Woyome’s contribution to the NDC may have influenced the way that party in government initially handled judgment debts in relation to this individual. It is generally my philosophy not to comment on, or dilate on issues that are active in court, but I mention this one here within the context of this article, to buttress my point that campaign financing of parties can create discomfort for governments and individual parliamentarians when it comes to dealing with issues involving people they have ‘benefited’ from. Conflict of interests which are central to public ethics may raise their ugly heads in these situations. Whilst on the subject, I wonder how much RLG and the president’s “business tycoon” brother donated to his own campaign and the NDC in the last elections.

Yet another example is the self-proclamation of people like Kennedy Agyapong, MP of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the last few days in which he has categorically stated that he funded the NPP towards their 2012 elections including purchasing their campaign “paraphernalia” through his “Chinese Partner” who are still owed “USD 2.5 Million”. According to Kennedy Agyapong, the NPP “owe him” and “unless they are prepared to put down USD 1 Million”, he has threatened to refuse to appear before any “Panel of Elders if invited to come and face them about his recent damaging comments about party corruption at the level of the leadership”, a matter which is not only revealing, but indeed raises very serious questions about party financing, campaign funds and their use / misuse, including whether any individuals benefit unduly and excessively from these funds which after all are given by individuals in good faith and trusting that they will be put to proper use.

It is noteworthy that wise leaders like president Barack Obama, in recognition of the limits on campaign funding, and in pursuing his philosophy of an ‘inclusive government’ especially with the youth and independents as his targets, developed a system where no amount was too small, and encouraged people to pay in as little as FIVE DOLLARS, a number of times if they chose, but with no individual donating more than the ‘ceiling for individual donations’. He also adopted a system where corporate donations were limited and could be monitored, thus removing any chance of potential ‘expectations’ for influence. Apart from all this, Obama’s campaign funds are open to scrutiny and wholly accounted for so that no one can accuse the Campaign of corruption. Following his re-election, the Campaign rebranded itself and now has a nationwide pressure group who continue to advance his arguments and promote his philosophy and policies. Their financial needs are met in a proper way and no arguments there.

With the growing worry over corruption in Ghana and in particular Party Patronage and its influence in policies, appointments and other benefits including Board memberships, Directorships etc. and given all the undue expectations that “party people” expect when their party comes to power, there is an urgent need to seriously review and come out with a Constitutional Instrument that governs Electoral Funding and where there are clear limits on funding for parliamentarians and presidential campaigns. There is also a need to include a clear audit trail for ALL PARTIES after all the monies they collect are not meant for their own use but public funds. Individual donations should be limited and a constitutional review committee assess what the ceiling should be, and corporate donations too.

These campaign finance reforms to me are more urgent than the hullabaloo about the ELECTORAL COMMISSION whose main ‘sins’ are that they were not able to properly enforce their own RULES properly and uniformly during the last elections. We cannot continue to talk about corruption and ignore this glaring gap in political governance and ethics which allows a few individuals and groups to hold parties hostage and also take the electorate for granted. If campaign funding levels are also limited and if this is monitored properly, over time those who think they can use their monies to win seats or win power will soon realise that they will have to do better than that and win elections based on substance rather than mere appearances and their money. I hope Ghana’s Civil Society Organisations will see some wisdom in campaigning on this issue and would certainly like to see this addressed ahead of the 2016 campaign season. We ignore this at our own peril.