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It is undisputable that political parties disclosing their financial records remains a key public accountability mechanism. Not only will making public, the sources of funding of political parties discourage the acceptance of funds from unsavoury individuals or organizations and external sources, but would go a long way to strengthen internal accountability and transparency of political parties to their members as well as fulfilling an important constitutional requirement under Section 21 (1-3) and 14 (1-4) of the Political Parties Act, 2000.
Note, Political Parties have become inevitable in modern democratic systems, providing a means for citizens engagement in politics, setting the agenda and influencing public policies as well as providing citizens with alternative policy proposals among others. This is because they are the vehicle through which the ideals of multi-party democracy can be achieved in any fledgling democracy and must therefore not be left to its fate. Like every human organization, the sustenance of a political party is its members and the available financial resources at its disposal. Therefore, Political Parties seeking to contest, win elections and to have an impact on the formation of government and political opinion must continuously recruit new members to replace lost membership to broaden its membership base. How then has political parties in Ghana maintain themselves in the performance of such vital democratic responsibilities since the inception of our 4th Republican Democracy from 1992 to date in the face of limited resources?
Beforehand, political parties in Ghana have relied on four principal sources to generate revenue since the inception of the 4th Republic. These are the seed money provided by the founding members of the party as required under Section 13 (1) of the Political Parties Act, 2000, membership dues (which is erratic, unreliable, and not dependable in the context of Ghana), donations by well-wishers and fund-raising activities. Indeed, the general consensus among Political Parties, Party Membership Management Experts, Management Experts, Consultant and Civil Society Organizations in Ghana is that these sources of funding are inadequate and not reliable particularly for opposition political parties. This has weakened and continues to weaken political parties in Ghana, undermining their effort to carry out their inevitable democratic responsibilities. The challenge of the inadequate resources is exacerbated by the low card-bearing fee-paying membership which constitute a significant percentage of the membership of political parties in Ghana. Owing to this, political parties in Ghana are left with limited options to finance their operations.
On the other hand, political parties in government are seen taken advantage of the power, luxury and privileges associated with incumbency largely due to the absence of or their lack of commitment to the basic laws of Ghana whiles the opposition parties consequently, suffer uneven political playing field due to their lack of or inadequate financial resources. Even though the 1992 Constitution of Ghana partly addresses this problem by guaranteeing all political parties equal access to the state-owned media during election seasons, through occasional tax exemptions, Electoral Commission occasionally providing limited number of vehicles in support of political party operations and training support by some donor organizations, it is our view that this is nowhere close to enough considering the inevitable democratic responsibilities expected of political parties. Opposition political parties suffering this fate and their quest to maintain themselves are more likely to accept funding from unapproved individual and organizations (externally and internally) secretly and under threatening national interest terms and conditions which comes back to hunts them when they win political power whiles hurting our national interest. Our continues engagement with key political figures (informants) within the two dominant political parties in Ghana points to this phenomenon as nearing a National Security Crises, yet unattended to. It is, therefore, not surprising to see successive governments award contracts under throat-cutting terms and conditions hurting Ghana’s National Interest.
To address this, it is our view that the recent bold step taken by the Electoral commission of Ghana (first of its kind) in publishing the financial accounts of all political parties aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability following a judgement obtained by Lolan Ekow Sagoe-Moses & Citizen Ghana Movement vs. Mrs. Charlotte Osei on Friday 9th February 2018, culminates into finalizing the long held debate regarding state-funding of political parties. It is also our view that to make state funding of political parties a reality, we need to have a paradigm shift from the old conception of political parties as belonging to a few privileged people (founding fathers and donors) to one considered as an inevitable wing of the state. Similarly, it is also our opinion that until political parties are considered as fifth estate of the realm, without which we will stumble on our chosen path of multi-party democracy, we will always have frivolous excuses not to sponsor political parties in Ghana. We are however, not oblivious of the concerns raised by those advocating for no state funding of political parties in Ghana. One of key
concerns has been the ill intent of money seeking individuals or group of people who establish mushroom political parties as business enterprises just to access these funds (Support in the form of vehicles) from the Electoral Commission in previous elections. It is in light of these that we have outlined the below policy directions regarding the “how” and “how much”.
Historically, the argument for state funding or not for political parties in Ghana has been hanging on since the 1992 elections until 2003 when the then President of Ghana, Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor in his address to leaders of registered political parties and other stakeholders endorsed the call for a partial or full funding of political parties in Ghana. He however, raised an important concern as to “when, how and how much” is deemed appropriate to fund political parties in Ghana.
This paper is to contribute to the debate, provide informed policy proposal regarding the how and how much and to draw the attention of the electoral Commission that it is time to look through various policy proposals, adopt a structure, seek legislative approval and kick start state funding of political parties in Ghana.
Policy Options: Alternative Sources of Funding
The current management relationship between political parties and their members in Ghana seem more transactional due to inadequate funds available to political parties to engage their members including voter education all year round.
Under the option of state funding of political parties, we proposed two levels of funding explained below;
Equal Minimum Common Funding: This funding package should be equal for all political parties regardless of their size and performance in previous elections. However, to access this fund, all political parties must meet set eligibility requirements. That is, all political parties must be certified by the Electoral Commission of Ghana as haven fulfilled the requirement of a political party in good standing as enshrined in the Political Parties Act 2000. This package can be in the form of logistics in monetary value and not necessarily physical money.
Proportional Distribution of Funds: To gain public trust and support for state funding of political parties, political parties must deliberately work towards improving transparency and accountability to party members and the general public to help cure the misconception that political parties in Ghana are nothing but business enterprises of the privileged few (founding Fathers and Donors). This however, should not be left to political parties alone, but requires a collaborative effort. To achieve this, there is the need for a collaborative effort by the state through its investigative, regulatory, and enforcement agencies including but not limited to the Bureau on National Investigation (BNI), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to act not as “Witch hunting Birds” but as guiding agents of the law whiles providing the needed incentive to ensure political party comply with the required regulations governing their establishment.
Other Fundraising Recommendations: To improve on the collection and payment of party membership dues, it is our view that political parties in Ghana make use of the digital revolution (using mobile money platforms). This appears to be more convenient and encourages party members to pay their membership dues than haven to spend close to 30 minutes or over 30 minutes at the banking hall just to pay membership dues. This reduces the cost of engagement for party members whiles improving payment of membership dues and participation as argued by Karp & Banducci (2007).
In sum, it is our position that regarding state funding of political parties, time is overdue and nearing the red zone. It is also our view that, it will be in the interest of the state for the Electoral Commission to apply strict laws and sanctions detrimental enough to political parties that fails to comply with such provisions as clearly spelt out in the Political Parties Act 2000.
Director of Policy and Political Affairs (STRANEK-AFRICA)
#Party Membership Management Consultant
University of Bergen, Norway