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Opinions of Monday, 20 August 2007

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Stop That Filthy 25,000 Dollar Charge NPP

My fellow countrymen, there are a few misguided elements who have taken it upon themselves to turn our democratic experiment into a premature plutocracy. They are doing all they can to hijack our nascent democracy and we must take a determined and justified stand against them. As if the democratic black eye that we currently experience is not enough, they are plunging us into another spate of political darkness. Oh ye sons and daughters of Ghana, let us stand up and with one booming voice, tell the NPP to stop fathering the politics of money, immorality and graft, and instead, gin up for merit, modesty, experience, stewardship, inclusiveness, selflessness and respect for our constitution.

Stop this silly charge now!

Let everyone be a part of the process! Money can never take the place of competence or a good process! Yet, is competence not what we need most in our leaders? Those with competence need not have money! A well laid out process will not incubate alleged electoral shortfalls or bellyaches that must be remedied by levying unjustified and unwarranted fees.

What kind of rational reasoning filtered into the determination that $25, 000 is the right amount to shell before running for president on the NPP ticket? How many Ghanaians make $25,000 dollars in a year? Are we saying that those without such stolen amounts do not deserve to run for the highest office of the land? How many people in our rural areas can run for president if this fee holds? So what will be the NPP fee for ministers, council members, chiefs and what have you? If this fee holds, a lot of people may never run for office in Ghana! Keep in mind that even majority of those working overseas don’t have savings of this magnitude. If anyone if forced to borrow this kind of money, how do you think he or she will pay for it without stealing from the people? Through the rigged per diem system? Taking 10% kickbacks? What kind of message are we sending by charging this fee? Instead of punishing those who have offered to engage in the difficult process of running for president, the NPP must find creative ways to raise funds from all of it members, not the few who choose to exercise their democratic rights! This is wrong and anti-democratic and must not only be challenged in the courts but stopped immediately.

I read with utmost horror and disbelief, the edict that all candidates running for the office of presidency through the NPP, must cough up $25,000 to justify their inclusion. When I raised objection, some NJPP folks said why do you care? After all, you are not a supporter of the NPP. So I barked back saying, I care because even though the NPP is selecting its presidential candidate, if this person should win the nomination and go on to win the presidency, he or she will rule over the entire country called Ghana. That person will surely not limit his activities to the NPP enclave! Indeed, it is for the latter reason that all must care diligently about what goes on in any political party in Ghana. It is our civic duty whether we are members of the political party or not!

Some also said I should thank my stars that the amount has been reduced to 25,000 dollars. To those, I say, get a life! I retorted by saying that, this fee is unconstitutional and a grievous blow to participative and meritocratic democracy. Other excuses include using this fee to weed out the less serious candidates while at the same time filling the overflowing coffers of the NPP. If the NPP wants to fool us by playing this game of cover up, they better think again. My fellow Ghanaians, I am here to confidently say that all the reasons adduced for this blatant and highfalutin act of aggression towards grass root democracy are spurious, fatuous and ill-conceived. Even in America, where money is the mainstay of elections, I am not aware of any candidate being charged to run in the primary for any party! Even if they do so elsewhere, it is not a valid reason to introduce this decadent anti-democratic practice in our HPIC and immature democratic context. Why are we starting this class nonsense in Ghana? What kind of vile tawdry bunkum is this?

Let me start by saying clearly that there is not a single provision in our constitution that requires that a filthy and unreasonable fee of this kind be erected to stymie would be presidential nominees. Chapter 5, article 25, clause 3, Chapter 7, article 55, clause 2,3,4,5, and 19, Chapter 8, article 62 all guarantee the right of all Ghanaians to join any political party of their choice and contest for elections without stipulating any financial requirements. So long as you are a Ghanaian citizen by birth, age forty and have all the qualifications of an MP, “except that the disqualification set out in paragraph (c) (d) (e) of clause (2) of article 94 of this constitution shall not be removed, in respect of any such person by a presidential pardon or by the lapse of time as provided for in clause (5) of that article”. The NPP is not a private country club and it should be warned about it status as a public political party.

Also, the constitution warns that all political parties must act consistent with the constitution. Therefore, it becomes unconstitutional if a party unilaterally, tries, through a bunch of power hungry kingmakers, to circumvent the efforts of law abiding Ghanaian citizens who care to run for the highest office of the land, by charging them such unreasonable fees. What if they charge 75,000 dollars? Who is to stop them? Is it right? Certainly no one can argue that this fee is reasonable in our HPIC context. Don’t you think the courts should have a say in settling this tiff? This is not chieftaincy! This is democracy which is premised on inclusiveness and merit. We are trying to elect the best candidate for the highest office of the land and therefore, money should not be an obstacle at the primary level. Dangerously, we risk nursing a plutocracy, hijacked by an oligarch, if we allow this trend to take hold. This is a very bad precedent and if we don’t rally to nip it in the bud, democracy will morph from government of the people by the people and for the people to government of the rich oligarchs, by the rich oligarchs and for the rich oligarchs. It is such vile vainglory; pomposity and showmanship by a misguided cabal who either have no interest in democracy or do not understand it. This must be checked with alacrity. We must tear down these walls by those who want to nurse inward looking governments made up of the wealthy.

Not too long ago, these same people were chanting the war songs for ROPAL or ROPAB. They gave the varnished or burnished impression that they love democracy. So I ask them this, will they consider charging for those who have to vote in the diaspora? If they won’t, then why do you charge anyone to run for the presidential nomination? If they will, how does that infringe on the rights of Ghanaians to exercise their constitutional duty? Will this same coterie consider charging Ghanaians at home to vote? If we won’t charge voters to vote, why should we charge those who sacrifice to run? If competent people don’t run, who will we vote for? Perhaps the rancid and stale political turnout in the USA should serve as a warning for those who champion these barriers. Why should money be such a big deal in our young democracy? Where really did this idea come from and are the authors aware of it’s far reaching implications politically?

The number of people running for president on the NPP side is alleged to be a troublesome issue. Some maintain that it could lead to the implosion of the party if not carefully managed. I personally do not see that as a problem. I think it is a good development and that is what grass root democracy ought to be. The number of people running is perhaps more of an indictment of how our president has lowered the bar. This is not to say that there are no qualified candidates. Indeed there are many qualified candidates but some also come to this effort from the view that if Kufour has done it, I can too can. They’ve watched the president coast in his position and enjoyed the best that Ghana has to offer. Why shouldn’t the temptation to run be greater? If you can travel the world over, take loans, beg for debt forgiveness and make your friends and family rich, and occasionally yell zero tolerance, why not run for president? Maybe buy a multi-million dollar hotel while you are at it. Following Kufour’s act should not be a huge challenge. In a way, it is good and in a way it indicts the president big time. Take your pick! Don’t forget also that some assert that the winner of the NPP primary is a shoe in for the presidency and that could also be the motivation why a lot want to get in at this opportune time.

I think what is really missing in milieu, is the idea and purpose of a primary. A primary as I have come to know it, is a process for providing opportunities for ALL who believe they can run for the office in question. It should not matter whether you are rich or poor! Candidates who show up in the primary should not be fodder for fundraising for the party. They should be allowed to raise money for their own bid and spend their scant resources in making their pitch to the all people not faceless delegates. In this instance, the NPP is telling us that the people do not matter and instead the party deserves the money. No wonder no one is talking about the real issues at this stage of the game. One cannot tell what most of these candidates stand for. There is absolutely no scrutiny, especially by the media, as the candidates get ready to take their first crucial step towards the presidency.

If you take $25,000 from a candidate, how do you expect him or her to campaign and make his or her case to the people? In the Ghanaian context, 25,000 dollars is a lot of money. The potential for this kind of filthy charge to animate corruption, before, during and after the election, cannot be swept under the rug. Now, this fee can only keep going up given subsequent elections. What do you think an aspiring minister or public official will do if they know that such wicked fees await them? Even if they can save this much, which Ghanaian in his right mind will leave the cookie jar alone to fork out his hard earn money, while his extended family limps along? For some reason, we just cannot understand and master our own context. We show a poor understanding of our people!

The primary process, if well oiled, helps to choose one from many to represent the party. Sometimes, a primary can be bruising and sometimes it is not as competitive as one would wish. What a primary is not is a king making process by a few self conferred kingmakers. It is also not time to bribe delegates, clandestinely choose a candidate behind close doors, like they do chiefs, and allow all to go through the motions for nothing. The ideal primary should have party members voting for the candidate. I look forward to the day when parliament will mandate direct voting for primary candidates as a way if strengthening our political process. That is if our hapless parliament will stop playing the role of council of elders and do their work as determined and fearless legislators.

We must kill this culture of smoke and mirrors that ends up giving us half baked candidates whose sole aim is to enrich themselves and that of theirs tribe’s men, family and cronies. The primary process is crucial because once a candidate is chosen by the party; members have no option but to vote for the flag bearer. Of course folks can choose to stay home but that can only guarantee a win for the opposition and weaken participative democracy. As I watch the current primary activities of the NPP, it appears as if real issues are not of any import. So far, we’ve not had any debates among the candidates. Not even the “you tube” kind of debates! Frankly, one cannot even tell what most of these candidates stand for. It is as if this whole thing is a giant conspiracy theory! The subtle calculation that I sniff, is about which tribe’s turn it is and how many funerals can the aspiring candidates attend. Delegates are waiting for handsome gifts if you can finger them out. This whole process is less transparent and citizen involvement is nonexistent. Is this what we call democracy? As someone confided in me the other day, the delegates have prepared their land and are diligently waiting for their handouts to build their dream house. Is this the way forward for our teething democracy?

Folks, I am urging all who really believe in grass root democracy to challenge this fee in court. It is contextually unreasonable, unconstitutional, an attack on the civil rights of Ghanaians and an illegal fundraising mechanism. We should not let money stand in the way of competence and inclusiveness. Every Ghanaian, be they a watchman or clerk must be able to freely participate in any primary without being saddled with such highfalutin orchestrations by a misguided few. Let us raise our voice for democracy and the less affluent. They too have a lot to offer our country. We must raise the bar for electing our leaders by lowering the burdens and barriers. If we don’t stand up now, we will end up erecting barriers for a huge swathe of our population and the kind of indifference that mars democracies like the US will creep mercilessly in our already stale political participation climate. The way we create healthy political cultures is to kill such practices at their egg stage before they get any form of fertilization. We must carve our democracy to fit our own moulds. Yes, you can be a party hack and still challenge your party on principle.

Let me sign off by saying that we need fresh legislation on campaign finance. Yes we do! But before I get ahead of myself, I want to urge the Electoral Commissioner to enforce our existing electoral laws. We need a policy and investigative wing within the EC’s office. We need some guidance from the EC to help curb these dangerous impulses of our newly minted kingmaker class. We risk losing this democratic experiment if we don’t band together to bring some sanity into our electoral process. If we lose this fight to save our structural democracy, it will be a race to the bottom, since our functional democracy is already in grave decay. We must act expeditiously or live to regret. Let us all win one for mother Ghana! Though immensely frustrated, I care deeply and I hope you do too.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the Double Edge Sword)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.