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24 June 2016

Political Campaign Finance In Ghana

It is rather unfortunate that Ghana’s constitution is totally ambivalent on political campaign finance or contributions even though it specifically prohibits donation or contribution from foreign interest groups to political parties or candidates.

Lawmakers meet during a session of Parliament in Accra, Ghana, June 16, 2006. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst)

It allows citizen to contribute but it is silent on the contribution or spending limits. It prohibits contributions from foreign legal entities but domestic legal entities are allowed to contribute unlimited amount of money to parties and candidates. Lack of rules on the campaign contribution and spending limit allows legal entities and citizens to contribute unlimited amounts to political parties and candidates. This actually undermines the democratic process by allowing the big donor to determine the outcome of the elections as a consequence.

Other constitutional limitations on campaign contribution include
 No ban on corporate donations to political parties or candidates
 No ban on donations from Trade Unions to political parties or candidates
 There is no ban on any other form of donation e.g. In kind donations
 No limits on the amount a donor can contribute to a political party or a candidate over a time period (not election specific)
 There are no provisions for direct public funding to political parties or candidates
 No limit on the amount a political party or candidate can spend

The framers did not consider it as an important issue to discuss these limitations let alone to include it. They thought more about what they can get from the country by preserving their positions and not what they can add to made it better. They did not see the need to include such provisions because they never thought they would ever be in opposition or in minority strapped with no resources to finance political campaigns. It may be that as they were in power when the constitution was being written, they never thought there will be a day when they will be given the short end of the stick or the tables will turn some day. Since the constitution is one sided favoring the party in power, any party in power do not seen anything wrong with the system until they find themselves in opposition. I believe nothing came up or even crossed their minds as to campaign contribution limits or spending limits.

The constitutional provisions that govern campaign actually favor the party in power about one hundred percent of the time. They include

 No ban on contribution from foreign donations to the Electoral Commission of Ghana for the collective benefit of registered political parties
 There is a ban on donations from corporation with government contracts or partial government ownership to political parties or candidates. The ban applies to all companies which are less than 75% owned by a Ghanaian citizen. In practice this rule does not apply to the incumbent party or candidates.
 There is an indirect ban or de facto ban through requirement to record or report identity of donor. Hence there is a ban on anonymous donations to political parties or candidates. In practice this rule does not apply to the incumbent party or candidates.
 There is a ban on state resources being given to or received by political parties or candidates. In practice this rule does not apply to the incumbent party or candidates.

 There are provisions for free or subsidized access to media for political parties or candidates. In practice the incumbent parties has an unfettered access the state resources to the disadvantage of the opposition parties. Article 55, Paragraph 11 “The state shall provide fair opportunity to all political parties to present their programs to the public by ensuring equal access to the state-owned media.” Also Article 55, Paragraph 12 “All presidential candidates shall be given the same amount of time and space on the state-owned media to present their programs to the people.” (Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992). Are the political parties/candidates being treated fairly in term of state resources allocation in relations to political campaigns?
 There is a provision for other forms of indirect public funding through access to vehicles during elections campaign and exempt taxes things bought and imported for political campaigns. “The Ghanaian state provides some support through the allocation of vehicles to the political parties every four years in proportion to their representation in parliament and through exemption of taxes.” Are the political parties/candidates being treated fairly in term of state resources allocation in relation to the political campaigns?

 Article 33(1) of the constitution prohibits a ban on vote buying. Can we truly say that vote buying directly or indirectly as illegal practices have not been committed over the past 20years during the elections? All political parties are guilty under this law.
 Political parties/candidates have the responsibility to report their finance regularly. Article 21(1) Act 574 and Article 55(14) 1992 Constitution required parties and candidate to report their finances to Electoral Commission. The question is who appoints the Electoral Commission? The same document allows the President to appoint the Electoral Commission. Where is the independence of the Commission or its members to effectively and fairly enforce this provision?

Campaign contribution and spending limits respectively have the potential to affect our elections and the democratic process positively in two ways. First, it brings a reasonable amount of integrity into the election process and ensures that the elections are conducted in a civilized manner, devoid of insults and acrimony that has characterize the country’s elections over the years. Secondly it affords the principle of free speech by allowing candidates for office to say what he/she wants, as often as he/she wants without restriction from party establishments or donors. Campaign finance laws have the potential to deepen our democratic process by allowing more people to participate and engage in the process. Most people are usually turned-off from politics because the system has been rigged in favor of those with deep pockets and those with connections in high places.

Currently people with clear and good intentions who desire to enter into politics to serve the people have to spend huge sums of money personally in registration (primary elections) and in the actual campaigns. Those with the heart and qualification to render excellent service to the nation are often shut out because they do not have the money. Those with money after spending such amounts will begin to figure out how to get that money back in some other way.

The person may have good intentions with patriotic heart to serve the nation but the system has created political nightmare for these people. The question for these good intended would be patriotic citizens and public servants is, ‘it this public service or public investment? I do believe in the statement made by Lee Hamilton (Chairman of 9/11 Commission, 2012) that public service is a stimulating, proud and lively enterprise. It is not just a way of life; it is a way to live fully. Its greatest attraction is the sheer challenge of it- the struggling to find solutions to the greatest issues of the day.

It can fulfill one’s highest aspirations. The call to serve is one of the highest calling you will hear that your country can make’. I honestly believe Ghana is making this call to a whole group of patriotic citizens, but the constitution with its systems have created a system which makes it very difficult for well meaning people to serve their nation.

I believe everyone who enters into public service has this aspiration but the current one sided constitution with no provision on campaign finance presents a dilemma for up and coming politicians. They are usually thorn between public investment on one hand and the public service on the other hand. With respect to what I call public investment, a prospective candidate spends a huge sum of money to secure the position in government to serve the nation. The moment the person secures the position, he/she begins to think about the return on the investment like any investor. What is in for me becomes the thinking, not the service to the people or the welfare of the country. The slogan becomes “die obre na odie”. Politics in Ghana is no longer a public service inspired but a public investment- a get rich quick venture that is ferociously being pursued. People invest huge sums to secure positions in government. The issue of the nation’s welfare is always off the table after the elections. People work tirelessly just to win the elections. All the political talk and debate are just a window dressing adventure.

Every investor looks for the return on the investment and those who enter into Ghanaian politics are no different. In their bid to secure political positions, people will do anything even kill. Recent spate of death in political circles is a testament to this fact.

I believe there are calls and cry among the masses to the leaders in all political parties to start a serious debate and conversation about the country’s constitution. All the politicians do agree that there is a problem with this important document but the will and the courage to change is not there. The question is who are we deceiving?

Countries such as Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, and Slovenia have limits on contributions and spending. We can learn from their system and how it has affected the democratic process. Relatively these nations have fewer problems when it comes to elections fraud and corruption. Their representative democracy may not be perfect but they do provide something for all to see and emulate. “A word to the wise is in the north”

Source: frederick ofosu-amankwah

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