The just-ended parliamentary primaries of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) across the country have, once again, raised the issue of money and its effects on our democracy. There is a link between money and success in elections, and this is globally acknowledged and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it, provided the money was raised through legitimate means and properly accounted for. But when financial resources become the determining factor for inclusion and exclusion in candidate selection in maturing democracies like Ghana, we should be worried.
That money is a major factor in the selection of parliamentary candidates in Ghana is no doubt. It may be argued that candidates who have access to financial resources do have an upper hand over those without, largely, because they are able to reach more voters through media exposure, face-face visits and organisation of meetings with its attendant expenditure.
This explains why money has always influenced various aspects of the campaigns of political parties and their candidates, ahead of every election. For instance, one’s ability to hire researchers for polls, professional campaign staff and media advocacy is a function of his or her financial might.
The other alternative, which does not promote internal democracy, is when wealthy donors, national, regional or constituency executives provide financial incentives or another form of handouts to certain candidates, in certain constituencies, to skew the outcome of the election in favour of the ‘chosen messiah’. Money had a profound effect on the candidate selection process of the NDC, allowing those with money to gain a significant advantage in the electoral process.
It is also possible that those with the money had superior campaign messages, skills and competence, which culminated in their victory. In other words, it will be inaccurate to claim that money universally determined the outcome of the primaries in all constituencies. At least, the person under investigation by the Office of Special Prosecutor (OSP), for openly ‘sharing’ money in a video that went viral, lost in her constituency.
This is in line with the theoretical assertion that the factors that determine electoral outcomes are many and dynamic. However, the issue of money being raised here is because of its tendency to exclude other qualified, experienced and competent persons from entering the parliamentary race, at least in the two dominant parties in Ghana, NDC and New Patriotic Party (NPP), which have positioned themselves as constant and most relevant fixtures in every election.
The monetisation of the candidate selection process in political parties in Ghana can significantly reduce participation and representation in our body politic. Ordinarily, candidates with deeper pockets stand the chance of giving much larger sums of money than the average ones, and this gives them a disproportionate influence over who is selected to run for office. Also, candidates with greater access to financial resources may be able to outspend their competitors and succeed in creating an uneven playing field. This, apart from discouraging less wealthy citizens from running for office, as they cannot compete with those with deeper pockets, also defeats the purpose of representation.
The net effect may be that only candidates with access to large sums of money are able to participate in the candidate selection process, leading to a decrease in overall participation and eventual misfit in representation. Unfortunately, the political parties seem to endorse this practice. The amount of money charged for the nomination process of the parties speaks volumes. If we do not collectively join the crusade to stop the overriding influence of money in our political process, it would soon become the sole preserve of the bourgeoisie in our society.
One of the most important things that can be done to prevent the over-monetisation of politics in Ghana could be to put stricter rules and regulations in place and enforce them, irrespective of who is involved. For instance, political candidates should be required to disclose their sources of income and any donations they receive, as well as how they use that money.
This should mean that donations to candidates at the constituency levels should be channelled only through the constituency executives. It could also be beneficial to impose tighter caps and limits on how much money one can donate to candidates at the constituency level.
Additionally, the Electoral Commission should provide better oversight of political spending, than the current approach of demanding audited accounts of political parties, which is akin to using hand-woven baskets to fetch water.
Ultimately, state funding of political parties would help to reduce the need for candidates to rely on their money or wealthy donors in order to finance their campaigns. Another could be to put political office holders on the Single Spine Pay Policy (SSPP) so that they also ‘enjoy the wealth of their toll as is the case with those on the SSPP’, which was determined by the very political office holders. After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science Education, University of Education, Winneba.