The Political Parties Code of Conduct – relevant or irrelevant?
Elections 2008 has been called many names – mother of all elections, do or die affair, the litmus test of our democracy and what-have-you.
But in all that, what has become of a great concern to Ghanaians is the violent connotations that come with some of the descriptions of the elections.
Peace songs, peace matches, peace campaigns and many other such activities by individuals and civil society are all evidence of people's apprehension about the conduct of political party in the run-up to the December polls.
The Institute of Economic Affair (IEA), in a recent press statement noted that it seems the road to violence in the coming elections is rather slippery and that is not too good.
ESSENCE OF CODE OF CONDUCT
On that account, one would have thought that the Political Parties Code of Conduct comes handy in dealing with how political party's should conduct themselves before, during and after the election, but the history of the code itself does not give much indication of its ability to regulate the conduct of political parties.
In 2004, eight selected registered political parties in Ghana agreed to formulate a Political Parties Code of Conduct as part of an Inter-party dialogue, under the Ghana Political Parties Programme (GPPP), jointly facilitated and sponsored by the IEA-Ghana and the Netherlands Institute of Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).
The code was fashioned after a similar one in the Netherlands under the auspices of the NIMD. It was intended by the political parties themselves to bring some amount of moral pressure (not legal) on themselves in the conduct of their activities, especially in an election year.
In other words the provisions of the code were not legally binding but the political parties were expected to, in the spirit of consolidating our democracy, abide by it.
The eight political parties which signed the code included the four political parties with representation in the Parliament of Ghana, namely the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), National Democratic Congress (NDC), Convention People's Party (CPP) and the People's National Convention (PNC).
The four others randomly selected were the Great Consolidated People's Party (GCPP), Democratic People's Party (DPP), Every Accountable Ghana Living Everywhere (EAGLE) and the National Reform Party (NRP).
THE 2004 CODE OF CONDUCT
The Political Parties Code of Conduct, 2004, which is considered the biggest achievement of the Inter-Party Dialogue, came to replace a similar one formulated in 2000. The year 2000 Code of Conduct was criticised as being too election-focused and lacked an implementation mechanism.
In July 2004 the new code was launched not just to guide parties in the run-up to the election but for every year of political calendar with a novelty implementation mechanism manifested in the National Enforcement Body (NEB), which is analogous to the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC).
The 11-member NEB comprised of representation from the eight registered political parties, the IEA which is the facilitator and two independent state bodies - the Electoral Commission (EC) and the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE).
The code also made provision for the formulation of regional and district enforcement bodies for purposes of investigating disputes among political parties at that level.
Mr. Kwesi Jonah, formerly the IEA representative on the NEB, but now with Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) wrote a paper on the Inter-Party Dialogue in Ghana, in May 2005 and captured the Political Parties Code of Conduct and the rationale for the NEB in that paper.
He wrote that “determined to ensure that the Code of Conduct 2004 should have teeth to bite, the political parties in November 2004 established the Code of Conduct Enforcement Mechanism” In other words, the NEB and its proposed regional and district bodies were intended to make the code effective in terms of taking complaints from political parties, investigating those complaints and reprimanding recalcitrant political parties, even though the code was not legally binding. But Mr. Jonah, who was himself one of the signatories of the 2004 code, noted in his paper that in 2004 not a single complaint was received by the NEB, even though there were quite a number of election-related skirmishes in parts of the country.
Moving on from 2004 to 2008, nine registered political parties in May 2008 reviewed the 2004 code and adopted a new Political Parties Code of Conduct 2008.
Here again the parties included the four major parties and five randomly selected parties including four new entrants – Ghana National Party (GNP), Obed Asamoah's Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), Charles Kofi Wayo's United Renaissance Party (URP), Ramon Osei Akoto's United Love Party (ULP) and then again the EAGLE Party.
Essentially the 2004 and 2008 codes are the same in substance. The differences between them however include the following – the previous code had 10 pages but the new one has 24 pages including three full pages of colour photos from the review meetings. Additionally, for some of the topics, there were more points in the new code than in the old one so they occupied more pages. The only marked difference between them however, is the actual formation of regional enforcement bodies under the reviewed code, charged with investigating dispute cases at the local level and reporting to the national body.
All that notwithstanding, a number of issues still remain mind bugling about the whole exercise of political parties drafting and adopting a code and forming an enforcement body with a moral authority, whiles leaving the responsibility of implementing the code solely in the hands of the political parties themselves, without saying for instance, what the enforcement body would do to ensure that the political parties fulfilled their implementation role to prevent disputes.
For one, the formation of the NEB in 2004 and the additional regional bodies in 2008 was for a specific purpose – to give teeth to the code to bite and yet in practice it appears the NEB has been nothing more than a toothless bull dog.
On page 19 of the 2008 Code, under “Enforcement”, the paragraph numbered seven, in reference to cases of dispute, stated categorically that “The body (NEB), shall give fair hearing to all Political Parties concerned and may issue sanctions in the form of reprimands and may also take undertakings from the offending parties.” The same paragraph was captured as number four under “Enforcement” in the 2004 code.
The existence of the NEB and its rather charade-like responses to the recent incidences of political violence across the country, particularly in northern Ghana, seems to leave more questions than answers in the minds of the public about its relevance and indeed the relevance of the Code of Conduct itself.
The Rev. Dr. Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Christian Council and Chairman of the NEB passed the buck on the question of the relevance or otherwise of the political parties code of conduct, with the excuse that he had been in that role for only two months so the IEA was in the best position to respond to such a question.
Questions have been raised about the integrity of the code itself given that out of about 20 registered political parties in the country, the code was endorsed by only nine of them.
Whereas some may argue that the nine were representative enough, it is important to note that among those nine, some do not have presidential nor parliamentary candidates and some have not been able to organize a credible national congress, and yet they were signatories to this all important document.
How come some of the more credible political parties were not invited to the review meeting, is a question that remains unanswered. Secondly, according to Dr. Jonah, in 2004, not a single complaint was made to the NEB by any political party.
That should have probably sent a signal to the facilitators that the political parties do not consider the NEB a relevant point of call in cases of political dispute.
What the facilitators have rather done is to spend more of the aid money they receive from NIMD to form regional enforcement bodies, as if those bodies matter to the pretentious political parties.
But granted that the regional bodies were relevant; to enable the NEB conduct independent investigations and collate its own reports from the ground, then it seems the NEB has failed the people of Ghana with the kind of reaction it gives to the ongoing spate of violence across country.
If indeed the NEB gathered reports on, for example, the recent political violence between members of the ruling NPP and the NDC in northern Ghana and yet at its latest press conference it chose to generalize the call on “all” political parties to conduct themselves well, then their lack of fortitude and forthrightness leaves much to be desired.
With the powers of reprimand and sanctions it has, one would have expected the NEB to at least be more specific and forthright and told the press which political parties were in violation of which codes, especially when the NEB has said in its own press statement that it had received reports from the ground; unless of cause those reports were not factual, which then raises questions about the relevance of the regional bodies and whether their reports are anything to go by.
It was a little out of place for the NEB to hold a press conference and give a watered-down version of something the press had already been reporting on with precision and specifications.
That seems kind of weird, especially when the term “enforcement” in their name suggests that they would not speak to an issue unless they had something concrete and precise to say, or unless they have some culprits to reprimand, so to speak.
In an interview, Mr. Kwesi Jonah, again, agreed with this writer that even though the code was meant to exert moral and not legal pressure on the political parties, it was not fair for the NEB to generalize blame when it has reports of which parties were involved in one incident or the other. “I think the NEB needs to be more forthright with their responses otherwise they are not being fair to the other political parties which are not in breach of the code,” he said.
On account of that, it is worth stating that the IEA deserves to be commended for going behind the NEB and citing members of the NDC and NPP as perpetrators of violence and tension in the run-up to the elections.
Even the IEA itself agrees that the NEB needs to be more specific in addressing issues if it wants its relevance to be felt. Until then the relevance of the NEB remains in doubt, because political parties in the country have proved once and again that they are not ready to resort to private bodies with moral (rather than legal) authority like the NEB to settle disputes between them, especially when they can not predict the outcome of such interventions.
FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
Mr. David Kanga, one of the Deputy Chairpersons of the EC recently said at a public forum that political parties in Africa and in Ghana for that matter do not like free and fair elections; and that they will always do anything fair or fowl just to win elections.
That should be enough food for thought for any organisation, the IEA included, which is honestly seeking to commit political parties to any moral codes. African political parties are simply immoral, is what Mr. Kanga seem to be saying.
This is no show of pessimism, because there are laws such as the Public Order Act and others, which places legal pressure on political parties to behave. If those laws are not enough to check the conduct of political parties, no moral code like the Political Parties Code of Conduct can make things any better no matter how many times those codes are reviewed.
The evidence till date has shown that David Kanga is right and the IEA/NIMD and the resultant NEB are just a waste of precious time and of scarce donor resources. The lack of fortitude on the part of the NEB in talking about the misconducts of the ruling NPP and NDC is enough evidence to support the assertion that political parties are on their own and that all those bodies which purport to be making any positive change in the conduct of political parties are only pretending