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Opinions of Thursday, 28 August 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

THE OUTSIDER: Money talks indeed!

Dear Nana;

Naa Nana, Naa Short!

I hope this letter finds you well. I can see you have been walking a lot in the Central Region. Since walking is something you are not very used to, I pray that it doesn’t take too much of a toll on you. I have also seen you eating all sorts of wayside food. Street food is not good for Dada B’s like you. So be careful what you eat on the streets, man. I will advise that if you intend to be eating a lot of street food to give us the impression that you are an ordinary guy like most of us, you should make sure that you have sacks of ORS somewhere around you. The image of a presidential candidate running like Usain Bolt into a KVIP could cost you the elections.

And please don’t forget to pay for the food you take from the vendors’ tray. Not quite long ago, Jerry Boom did exactly what you are doing now and when the story was published in the newspapers, the headline was “Jerry steals ‘bofrote’”... or something to that effect. Nana, you don’t want to be accused of stealing roasted plantain before you become president.

I noticed that you took a break from your tour of the Central Region to return to Accra to raise money to run your campaign. From what I hear the event went very well! People paid five million cedis just to enter? (Forgive me for using the old currency but the new one make the amounts seem too small and almost insignificant). I have been reliably informed that about 650 people attended the gig and so if I haven’t forgotten my arithmetic you made 3.25 billion cedis on the night in gate proceeds alone.

But that wasn’t all. After paying the five million cedis to enter, people had to pay to be seated close to ‘power’. Those who sat on your table or on JAK’s paid 50 million cedis each. Those who sat on the same table as your running mate or Aliu paid 30 million cedis each. I’m surprised people paid all of that just to sit next to the four of you. Why on earth will anyone pay just to sit next to you? Well, I guess, it’s a question best put to the people who paid.

I wanted to come over to the State Banquet Hall where the event was held (I hope to God you paid to use the place) to take note of all those who were contributing or pledging to contribute – just for future reference. But we (my professional colleagues and I) were told the event was not open to the press. Imagine my shock, Nana.

Last time I checked, you claimed to be a firm believer in transparency. So the decision to hold this fund-raising event in “secret” struck me as odd. I know Ghanaians like to make a grand public spectacle of their donations. So organising that fundraiser behind closed doors has denied the contributors their right to be publicly acknowledged. Do you have any plans of making up for that?

I thought people just liked to contribute to political causes out of the goodness or kindness of their hearts. But from what I’ve been hearing, Ghanaians donate – even at funerals – in expectation that they will get something in return. Human beings in general won’t give without the expectation that the favour will be returned one way or another. I know you’d rather that I don’t take his words seriously, but it was Ato Ahwoi of the NDC who drummed this truth into my coconut.

“Running a campaign is something like a business,” he says. “People will give you money hoping that when you come to power you will also give them jobs to do. Therefore anybody who tells you that people donate simply because they want to donate is not telling you the truth.”

Nana, I want to know the truth. How do you intend to ensure that all those who gave hefty amounts of cash in support of your campaign get their monies worth? They’ve helped to oil your campaign machinery so how do you intend to reward them? That’s just some food for thought, sir.

Nana, do you know that the other presidential candidates are jealous of you? They do not have half the money your campaign has. Yet you seem to be getting the heftiest donations. I’m sure you don’t have any secret formula for attracting cash like nectar attracts the bee. I think you are raking in so much money because yours is the party in power. The reason for this is simple and one does not need a brilliant economic mind like Dr. Bawumia’s to understand it. The party that awards the contract gets the kickbacks. And we’ve heard it been said not quite long ago, that there is a special Kickback Collection Bureau (also known as the Kickback Depository) at the Castle. This bureau, we were told, is under the direct supervision of JAK himself. You know our people say that “money goes where money is”. Business people are therefore more comfortable giving to you than to Prof. Mills or Dan Lartey.

All this makes Prof. Mills quite jealous. He has been getting his own donations but he’s not raking in as much as you are doing. That’s why your billboards are bigger and glossier than his. And that’s why your party has more campaign cars than the NDC. But if I’m not mistaken, when Prof. Mills was vice president, the NDC had more money than the NPP did. In fact, in those days, some NDC-affiliated businessmen were fond of literally use cash like handkerchiefs. Now, they are so broke they can’t even raise money to fix their cars’ air-conditioners. On the other hand, NPP supporters who were so cash-strapped and were having difficulty finding ‘chop money’ before the Kufuor presidency, can now afford to drive around in luxury SUVs, educate their kids abroad and still have some cash to spare on ‘nyatse-nyatse’ girls at Legon. In Ghana you make money when your party is in power. So, Nana enjoy it whiles it last.

But through it all, I’d like you and your fellow presidential aspirants to start thinking seriously about how political parties are funded in this country. I’m all for parties raising their own money (and somehow, getting some support from the state). Party fundraising, however, should be transparent and not shrouded in secrecy. This is very important. We need stringent laws on who can donate, how much they can donate and how they should donate. This is not just for you, Nana. The same applies to Prof. Mills, Dr. Nduom and Mr. Lartey. I hope that whoever becomes the next president will take this issue very seriously and not deal with it the way JAK did – with “kid gloves.” He merely called for a national debate some years ago and that was it!

As a lawyer, I am sure you know that our party funding laws are not ‘tight’ enough. They open up the system to too much manipulation and abuse. We don’t want drug dealers, armed robbers, grave looters, money launderers and all sorts of self-seeking hoodlums donating to political causes only to exact their pounds of flesh when the recipient parties get into office. It also helps in the fight against corruption (which JAK hasn’t handled very well either) if we know who is donating what to which party.

I don’t want to waste your time any further. But my last word to you in this letter is about the jealous ones like Thomas Ward-Brew, who has been complaining that you have too many billboards. He says it’s doesn’t auger well for democracy that you are “wasting” so much money on billboards. Don’t mind him. He’s broke. His party is broke. And he can’t afford a billboard the size of your window. Just tell him what they say in Akan: “when you don’t have money, you claim some medicines are not good enough for you.”

It’s me,
atokwamena