Adwoamanu’s Weblog

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By James Harry Obeng

Arguably, the debate vis-à-vis state funding of political parties has calmed down following months of critical and analytical exegesis volunteered by experts, and subsequently the unanimous adoption of the Proposed Draft Bill by the four major political parties in the country, viz the New Patriotic Party, National Democratic Congress, Convention Peoples’ Party and the Peoples’ National Convention. Invariably, media outfits in the country, especially the print, have demonstrated unbridled interest in the issue, dedicating pages to publicising the views of experts and reporting extensively on the issue, all of which have considerably whipped up public interest and informed discourse.

In its issue of April 8, 2008, Daily Graphic front-paged a seeming revival of the debate as envisaged in concerns raised by one of the country’s finest legal luminaries, Professor Michael Oquaye. In his submission, the political scientist cum legislator who has also authored various books on politics (and probably on the issue) prognosticates the proliferation of political parties in the country should the issue be rushed through. He argues that the country should not open the Pandora’s Box because it would have a snowballing effect that might be difficult to deal with. He contents that, ‘the impression should not be created that people can form political parties for personal gains, otherwise everybody will leave his/her job to form a political party for personal gains’, adding further that, ‘it is dangerous; it brings about political instability and also blurs the choices people make.’

Earlier, the paper has carried, in its issue of March 11, similar sentiments expressed by the Executive Officer of the Centre for Democratic Development [CDD], Prof Gyimah Boadi, who believes a carefully thought through considerations must precede the take-off of the funding, should the bill becomes a law. Though he accepts the fact that such a national move was essential for sustained multi-party democracy, Prof Boadi implores the country to exercise caution not to set up a chain reaction in which a percentage of tax revenue would be specifically attached to a long list of equally important public goods, citing the School Feeding Programme, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty [LEAP] and the Northern Development Fund as examples of such public goods.

All these expert counsels converge to drum home the exigency and caution that must be taken in dealing with the situation. This therefore calls for a comprehensive education on the issue of funding political parties, hence this article. But as much as I hold no grudge to the views expressed by the nice gentlemen and the million like-minded people replete with the country and article 21[1a] of the 1992 constitution [which guarantees freedom of speech and expression], I also beg to differ from the standpoint of the aforementioned experts, especially in the face of the arguments and or requirements advanced by the Proposed Draft Public Funding of Political Parties Bill, 2008.

There is no doubt that political parties are quintessential to the political and constitutional development of every country in the world; not excluding Ghana. They perform key roles in the formation of governments, grooming leaders at national and sub-national levels and holding governments accountable when in opposition. Their importance is much corroborated by articles 21(3) and 55(3) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana. Whereas the former enjoins all citizens to “have the right and freedom to form or join political parties and to participate in political activities subjected to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a free and democratic society and are consistent with this constitution”, the latter imposes, inter alia, heavy responsibilities on political parties to “shape the political will of the people, disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character, and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than the district assembly or lower government unit.”. Yet in the face of all these responsibilities, parties in the country are among the most neglected of the political institutions of the state left to operate as if they are purely private organisations with no modicum of state interest in its establishment, maintenance, well being and extinction.

Unlike Ghana, in many countries around the globe, recognition of political parties is concretised by the provision of state financial support for the operation of these political parties. In Africa, mention could be made of countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mali. It is therefore sad to notice that the only sources of public financial support for political parties in the country come in two forms – indirect support by not subjecting the incomes of political parties to task and the direct support by the allocation of a few vehicles in election years to parties participating in the election through the Electoral Commission – which are below par. There is however the general feeling that the state should do more, especially in the face of the stringent financial reporting regime established by the Political Parties Act ,2008(Act 574),which creates cost for political parties and bars non-citizens from making financial contributions towards political parties in the country.

At the end if care is not taken, political parties might be taken as exclusive machines for achieving electoral victories without looking at the other angle that, poorly established and poorly maintained political parties produce poor quality leadership, both at the party level and at the government level. Parties must therefore be helped financially to function effectively as not only electoral machines but also vehicles for public education, national integration and skills acquisition during inter election years.

Again, it is worth re-echoing that the tendency of political parties springing up in the country with the funding of political parties is a near-impossibility. This is because of the procedures and principles governing the allocation of monies to political parties are documented. For instance, clause 6 of the Proposed Draft Public Funding of Political Parties Bill, 2008, operates on the principle of equality of all political parties registered under the appropriate law. The principles also specify conditions to be satisfied by a political party before it can access the fund as well as the purposes for which the monies may or may not be put.

Here, two main categories of financial assistance are provided, namely, reimbursement of electoral expenses and general administration. General administration is to account for 20% of the money available to the fund in any financial year (January 1 to December 31). This is to be allocated equally to all political parties provided they satisfy other requirements in the bill or any other law (including the Political Parties Act), for example, the obligation to file financial statements with the Electoral Commission and to maintain a certain measure of physical presence throughout the country. Section 9(c) of the Political Parties Act requires political parties to have branches in all the regions and is, in addition, organised in not less than two –thirds of the district in each region.

The electoral reimbursement accounts for the remainder 80%, broken into Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Provision is also made here for those contesting elections as independent candidates.

The clause contains two principles worth highlighting. Firstly, the threshold for being eligible for reimbursement of electoral expenses. The clause pegs this at 2% of the votes cast in the election which is being used as the basis for the allocation to the political parties .In other words, a political party must obtain at least 2% of the total votes actually cast (not of registered voters). From comparative data, the eligibility threshold ranges from 1% to 5%. The 2 % provided in clause 6 is therefore based on the result of 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections and also on the belief that the threshold should not be fixed based on the registered voters only but should also take into consideration the total national population represented by electoral officials.

The regulation of bye-elections is left to the Electoral Commission. Provision is made for candidates elected unopposed, because it is assumed they will have no electoral expenses. For this reason it must be understood that the philosophy underline the bill assumes that the election commences with the filing of nomination papers.

Currently the draft bill awaits a submission to the Attorney General with a request for him to sponsor it to Cabinet and Parliament. It is therefore my hope that the bill materialises into law to help strengthen political parties play their proper roles in growing the country’s multi-party democratic dispensation. Again, state funding of political parties is very necessary.


May 13, 2008 - Posted by | Features, Uncategorized

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