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23.01.2003 Feature Article

Funding Political parties In Ghana

Funding Political parties In Ghana
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As the new year forges ahead with the expected price hikes in utilities, foodstuffs and the basic resources that underpin Ghana's efforts at socio-economic and by extension political development, so must we begin to delve into the question of how entrenched our democracy would become, given that the quagmire of the sub-region has almost always inevitably and tragically been due to lapses in political activity and/or organization. Presently the debate has indeed been joined as to how political parties should be funded if they are to remain the basis upon which our democracy would be sustained and mature into what democracies ought to be. It might be trite to posit that a well coordinated and widely acceptable framework of funding within which our party political activities would take place would certainly lift an enormous burden on well wishers ! and nation-wreckers alike, given that the basic underlying factor that might serve as the remote cause of discontent and misgiving would in one fell swoop be done away with.

Ghana is not alone in the quest to find viable sources to fund its political parties. It is said that democracy is a very expensive venture and they that choose that path better be prepared to bear the costs and ramifications accordingly. Nonetheless, it is also true that the sorry state of economic affairs of most Third World states means that they have a double burden to bear: on the one hand, they must strive to consolidate whatever gains have been chalked over the years as far as democracy and the democratic culture goes and on the other, they must seek new ways of addressing new challenges that are posed to the growth and sustenance of democracy and simultaneously conform to expectations of the international community if support for processes, be they economic or political is to be overwhelmingly provided, given the sorry state of our inst! itutional frameworks that are necessary for engendering socio-political as well as economic development. Comparatively, it is paradoxical to note that even in the most advanced of democracies of which the West features prominently, this debate rages on, what with the massive provision of both legal and illegal, bloc and sectarian support that interest groups and parochial entities lavish on their preferred political parties? The recent debate about funding in the US should be a pointer to this debacle.

The question then arises: if the west with its entire wherewithal is unable to set limits and acceptable criteria for the funding of political parties/ activities, can Ghana provide any better alternative? Fortunately, yours truly happens to belong to the school that believes that the west is not the repository of knowledge on human affairs and management. In any case, a rigid following of their prescriptions have often left us in the lurch, reason for which we have to design home grown alternatives to address home created problems. At the risk of sounding rather anti-western, I hasten to state that no western prescription would be able to provide the solution needed to solve our political problems. Of course our reference point starts with the "one pill for all illnesses" approach unleashed by the geeks at the IMF and World Bank who visited ou! r sorry state with further drudgery through the imposition of the notorious Structural Adjustment Programme and the ESAP. To that economic quagmire we were thrust into, I shall return shortly.

What then can we do to sort our funding problem? It is the opinion of this writer that those who benefit most from our present political dispensation must bear the costs of funding. I am referring here to both the individuals that collectively make up the state of Ghana and the businesses that operate, thrive and are registered legally in Ghana. As far as individuals are concerned, it must be the determination of political parties beginning from now to break the tendency of deepening political patronage, of which the type that exempts the ordinary party member from paying his basic dues are the most blatant. Is it not ironic that dues payment is such a Herculean problem and yet when an individual is interested in a position, that individual manages to keep his books up to date? Hello? What sort of mockery are we making of ourselves? We must sta! rt to cultivate the culture of investing in what we believe in. If we can spend God knows how much patronizing the lotteries and entertaining ourselves, surely it does make sense to contribute to the sustenance of the very conducive atmosphere within which our extra-curricular activities take place. This certainly seems a small price to pay for democratic growth. As a matter of fact, this tendency of leaving parties to be run by a few is what has created the anomaly of certain interests hijacking otherwise vibrant parties for their narrow parochial interests and which stunts the growth of true democracy at all levels of party organization. One needs not mention specific parties here; the records and reports are there for the interested to ascertain the truth or otherwise of this statement.

If the contributions of individuals is really a drop in the ocean as some have asserted, then what of businesses? Dear reader, it is my humble opinion that businesses must be encouraged to contribute massively for two specific reasons. Firstly, they obviously would be contributing to sustaining democracy in Ghana and at the same time creating an even more liberal atmosphere within which their expectations would materialize. More significantly, by paying more, businesses would break the patronage mentioned above and the dependence on certain individuals for opportunities. In other words, it is the case that businesses are known to pay into certain war chests of specific political parties due to the influence of certain patrons. As soon as these patrons fall from grace, away with them goes the interest and survival of those businesses. This tende! ncy would be broken if a different form of funding is accepted.

How then do we do this effectively? This writer believes that businesses must be asked to pay a given amount into an account annually. This amount would then be shared among vibrant political parties for the simple reason that some free riders might want to take advantage of available money for no work done. To check the vibrancy of a party, electoral results can be used as the criterion by which disbursements would be made to the parties. In addition to this, the funds should be managed by independent officers in conjunction with the electoral commission and the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) to ensure that no interests are sidestepped under this new funding regime. This might have the ad! ditional blessing of forcing parties to be forthright with their books and open about their expenses, given that the electoral commission has been grappling with this rather appalling trend of "hide and seek" as far as accountability at the party level is concerned. In other words, one criterion would simply be to receive funding according to verifiable revenue and expenditure at all levels of party activity. Another expected benefit of this system would obviously be that no business would collapse upon a change in government because there would be hardly any finger pointing that "business A" massively funded "party B" which failed to win and lost to "party C" and therefore would be punished for siding with the wrong horse. This way, democracy would really be consolidated in Ghana, businesses would flourish in real development and freedom from fear while accountability at the party level would be deepened.

It is not the position of this writer that this would immediately do away with some of the negative practices that are associated with political activities in Ghana but the essence lies in the win-win situation by which no business would be forced to accept card-carrying members of any one party just because it was given special favours by the winners and thereby throw its projections into disarray. Back shish would be done away with to a large extent while parties would strive to raise their image and broaden their appeal so as to benefit from the pooling of resources by businesses. In suggesting this alternative, I am specifically looking at the businesses that are collectively known as the Ghana Club 100. They have been the immediate beneficiaries of whatever conducive atmosphere was created in the past, reason for which they became members ! of the exclusive club anyway. Pooling their resources for such a laudable objective must certainly be equally important if not far more significant than simply supporting rap shows, beauty pageants and dance championships to mention just a few.

At the end of the day, the beneficiaries would be Ghanaians (taken here to mean individuals and business entities registered in the Republic of Ghana). It is even likely that when other states witness the workability of this suggestion, they might immediately understudy and implement it across their own domains thereby extending the bonds of friendship and understanding in a region otherwise characterized by wars, suspicions and belligerent activity. This way also, international bodies might be more willing to fork out the needed backup funds to those who would wisely spend their scarce resources for worthy purposes. The challenge then remains how best to harmonize thorny issues that might arise in this respect, the level of investment companies must make in furtherance of this objective and the mechanisms for the disbursement of funds to preve! nt unnecessary wrangling and jostling for a lion's share of the proposed funds. It is this challenge that hopefully, the triad of IPAC, EC and independent officers would be ready to deal with once this suggestion receives the needed impetus and support for implementation.

Calus Von Brazi Ghana Cyber Group, Washington DC

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