24.12.2003 Feature Article

State Funding of Political Parties Would Be Official Corruption

State Funding of Political Parties Would Be Official Corruption
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The politicians of Ghana seem determined to dip into the public coffers to support their selfish goals at the expense of the public welfare. They argue that the survival of democracy in the country demands that the public provides support for their activities. Few would argue against this. It is the norm in all democratic countries that the public, both individuals and organized groups (special interests) serve as the backbone of support for the political parties. But nowhere else in the world, to my knowledge, has this need for public support been equated to government funding of the parties. Ghana would be setting a dangerous precedent if it proceeded with this suggestion.

It would be a dangerous precedent for a variety of reasons. First, it would aggravate the economic difficulties of the country, as Professor Gyimah-Boadi of the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) has publicly stated (cf: Daily Graphic, November 14). For a HIPC that depends on external sources for more than one-third of its budget, Ghana's economic priorities for the next several years should include an aggressive divestiture of the government from commitments in areas that are best handled by the private sector, so that it can better address those obligations for which it alone has prime responsibilities. It can ill afford to take on the additional responsibility of funding the political parties without seriously undermining and short changing the needs in the educational, health and security sectors.

Secondly, government funding of the political parties would inevitably lead to proliferation of such parties in the country. A foreboding of this is the headline news article of The Chronicle issue of November 18 entitled "Kofi Wayo to form Party - to be called Ghana Workers Party". This would be a splintering from the National Patriotic Party (NPP). While government funding of the parties may or may not have been a motive for Mr. Wayo's plan, which many of us have expected for some time, the fact of the matter is that government funding of the parties would make such splintering of existing parties easier. I would dare predict that if this proposal were ever implemented, the number of parties would more than double within two national election cycles from the time of implementation.

This leads one to ponder the question of how many parties are necessary to sustain democratic governance in the country. The US democracy operates with effectively two national parties, Britain's with three. Other established democracies operate with similar small numbers. Ghana currently boasts of nine parties. Do we need all of them to sustain our democracy? Can we afford these and more?

Another potential consequence of government funding of the parties would be to provide the ruling party, to the extent that it manages the disbursement of public funds, with a powerful tool for controlling the other parties.

An unscrupulous Finance Minister could sabotage the election plans and fortunes of all opposition parties by withholding or delaying their due payments at crucial periods of an electioneering campaign.

In fact, a power-drunk leader and his followers, if given the opportunity such as an overwhelming majority of his or her party in Parliament, would exploit this and other loopholes of our democratic set-up to plunge the country into the thicket of one-party rule, salvation from which could be extremely difficult, and possibly bloody. Can Ghana take this chance? Why are the parties so anxious to sell off their FREEDOM to the government for pittance?

As citizens, it is our duty to provide the support needed by public officials to discharge their responsibilities on our behalf. This obligation applies only to those in actual official service of the nation, and not to those who hope to be in future service.

When that time comes, they will enjoy all the support we currently provide in the form of government salaries, offices and staff for the discharge of their official duties, and allowances for housing and transportation, among other perks. Many of us who contribute, directly or indirectly, to the public treasury cannot afford most of those personal comfort perks we provide our public officials.

Now we are being asked to extend this support in some form to the political parties whose sole purpose in life seems to be promoting the aspirations of future public office holders. It is wrong. IT IS TANTAMOUNT TO OFFICIAL CORRUPTION.

Any amount paid out of public coffers to anyone or any group not engaged in any direct service to the public IS corruption. The political parties in Ghana so far cater only to the interests of future office holders: they have no programs that directly benefit the public.

They do however deserve public support in as much as they are an integral and necessary part of our democratic institutions. Such support should be largely voluntary of the average citizen. Clearly, our political parties have not been very successful in securing this voluntary public support, if indeed, they have even tried to get it. Instead of exploring avenues for securing such public support, the parties have apparently settled on "the easy way out" by requesting government funding. They appear to be all united in this request, since I have yet to read about a dissention to the proposal from a single politician.

With their control of the instruments of governance (the Castle, the Ministries, Parliament, District Assemblies, Municipal and Local Authorities), they are in a position to dole this welfare on themselves and will do so unless those of us citizens who share my viewpoint, especially those in the media, voice forcefully our strong opposition to this apparent raid of the public treasury for the benefit of a small would be "more equal" class.

There are situations when government support of political activity would be warranted. An instance is when a politician enters the race during an electioneering period as a candidate for a particular public office. From that moment, he or she is acting in the public interest and deserves some governmental support. This support, which might be in the form of partial reimbursement of campaign expenses, should go to the individual candidate; not to his/her political party. This is common practice in the democratic world

As is also customary in the democratic world, this campaign expense reimbursement should be conditioned on the candidate polling above some minimum percentage of votes cast for that office. This is to discourage every Tom, Dick and Harry from running for political office.

Another means whereby the government can promote the welfare of the political parties is through tax exemptions for private contributions to the political parties and other charities. These are some of the acceptable forms of governmental remedy for the parties' woes that the politicians should be advocating rather than outright funding.

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