11.06.2009 Feature Article

Should tax payers' money be used to finance political parties?

Should tax payers' money be used to finance political parties?
11.06.2009 LISTEN

If there is any debate in Ghana which has never died down then it is the question of state funding of political parties in the country. The debate has resurrected again with the proposed draft bill presented by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The draft bill proposes that two and half per cent (2.5%) of total national tax revenue be used as the source of public funding for political parties in Ghana.

When the ruling National Democratic Congress was in the opposition, the party supported the notion of state funding of political parties. With nearly six month in power, the position of NDC this matter is not clearly known. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) when in government somewhere 2007 joined the then opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) to agree to the concept of state funding.

Earlier this week, an article from the Financial Intelligence stated that a highly placed source within the Christian Council of Ghana is not in support of the proposal. I believe that silent majority who are against the state funding of political parties far exceeds the vociferous minority who still believe that it would be proper for the Ghanaian tax payers'money be used to help parties in the country.

It is that there comes a time when silence is betrayal. Today, I want it be known on records that I am emphatically against this notion. I do not want to pretend not to be aware of the challenges facing the running a political party. State funding of political parties is not luxurious and neither would political parties die when the state does not provide any sort of funding. However, the merit which the parties and the nation would derive would far be better off if they are not supported by the state. Issues presented by the proposed draft bill is not the question of timing being right or wrong-for the time is always right to do the correct thing. The question is why 2.5% of VAT but not other sources. Two percent of VAT would mean a lot in a sense that the total funds allocated for all the governance institution is even less than 1% of VAT. The 2.5% seems to be unreasonably ambitious in a sense that we might end spending more on political parties than on our education. I think now if there is any institution that we need to support financially then it is our educational and research institutions in the country. We need to support them because their operations are not attracted by sympathizers to donate to them. But for political parties in the country they have been getting funds from supporters and well wishers in the country.

There are thousand and one reasons why I dissent from the usage of tax payers' money to be used to support political parties. The argument as stated before in an earlier article is needs to be visited again. The argument against this system of funding of political parties is that if parties can rely on state funding, they will renege on their attempt to bond with civil society and their well wishers. In that case, the whole democratization exercise is often defeated. This statement simply put means that such state funded parties will be divorced from civil society and the electorate.

There is the notion also that the parties will be less interested in representing and fulfilling the needs of the citizenry and there will be a reduced passion for the opposition parties to actively be involved in the democratic process.

Secondly anti-funding notion is that when the state funds political parties it will decrease the internal democratic processes in the parties. When the political parties have sufficient funds from the state coffers, they would rather buy services they need for the survival and smooth operations of the party other than to seek the services from their own members, which hitherto would have increased a sense of belongingness towards the party and what it stands for.

Thirdly, the reason for the anti-funding campaigners is that what the Norwegian CMI calls it “party-entrepreneurs” will spring up from all places, and then the whole democratization process becomes an open market for all sorts of “party entrepreneurs” to join the “business”. It would surprise you that during one election we can have as many as 50 political parties contesting for presidential and parliamentary elections. When this happens every election would run into round off since no one can get the required 50 percent plus one vote.

Another reason I would talk about is the argument that since not all parties in the early stages of a democratic state have survived, funding all parties in the early democratization process will be invariably increase the unneeded lifespan of parties that have no business in the democracy and that are of no significant meaning to the electorate. In short, the life of all the zombie parties will be prolonged at a cost to everyone and at a profit to none.

In the 1992 general elections one of the parties that contested in the election was the National Independence Party led by Kwabena Darko. This party since that election has gone into extinction. If this party had received state funding it would have had a prolonged life span on the democratic scene. I would not like to subscribe to the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection where it is only the fittest who only survive.

The above arguments, have all led many democratic policymakers and observers to conclude that state-funding is not just unproductive, but counterproductive and unbeneficial to the democratic process. The arguments by the pro-movement for state funding that it curbs corruption doesn't hold water. If political parties are still going to be free to raise private funds, then there still will be party contributors who will still demand for contracts whether or not there was state funding available. They must recoup their “investment” either way. The other argument that political parties are an integral part of the democracy so they should be funded also falls short.

1) The Media, NGO's, civil society and even businesses and corporations are also parts of the democratic process. Should they all be state-funded?

2) Also members of the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature are all employees of the state. Workers at political party offices and their field officers are not state employees, so why should the state pay their salaries?

3) Also, if we fund parties, what happens to independent candidates? Are they not part of the process? If they are also funded, then it really becomes a whole market as was first stated.

Again, if it is to offer a level playing field against the incumbency, then we are pre-concluding that the incumbency should have access to the state apparatus and resources to campaign. This is simply not tackling the root problem of exploitation by incumbency. Let's bear in mind that no matter how much funds the state gives to political parties, if the incumbent is allowed to be corrupt, they will embezzle more just to have a financial edge over the competition.

Even if what the proposed draft bill ties the basis for the eligibility of funds to a party having obtained least two percent of total number of votes in the election in question. If this rule is to be applied it would mean that the Convention Peoples' Party (CPP) would not become a beneficiary of the state fund and it only be two parties-NDC and NPP which will become beneficiary tax payers' money.

Finally the bill seeks to allow for foreign support or donations to the parties in the country. This clause contravenes the 1992 Constitution. Allowing parties to seek external support would open the floodgate of the country to foreign and imperialistic hegemony. Little we know Ghana can become Zimbabwe whereby the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has become a stooge for foreign powers.

Credit: Appiah Kusi Adomako (An international freelance writer and writes from London. He can be contacted through: [email protected])
NB: Watch out for the concluding part next week.

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