Former President John Dramani Mahama has called for reforms in the financing of political parties to deepen the country’s democracy.
He said the reforms would also ensure that certain elements did not take undue advantage of the country’s governance system.
The former President said ethical political financing had been one area in the country’s democratic journey that had continued to elude reform, adding that the dependency on a few individuals who financed political campaigns in return for favours was a recipe for corruption.
One of the reforms he recommended was public financing of political activities, which must be accompanied by a Public Funding of Political Parties Bill, while the law that enjoined only citizens of the country to contribute financially to political activities should be enforced as well as compelling political parties to declare their incomes and their sources.
Delivering a public lecture on political party campaign financing at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) last night, former President Mahama said without reforms, there was the “potential of mortgaging our governance system to criminals”.
The lecture and other presentations were to reopen a conversation on financing political campaigns, something that has been on the table from the very start of the country’s political journey.
The presentation covered making a case for a more transparent and broad-based citizen participation in the financing of political campaigns and the launch of a smart digital retail fundraising platform for his 2024 presidential campaign.
It was held on the theme: “Financing Political Campaign in the Ghana we want: A case for a more transparent and broad-based citizen participation”.
Present at the event were individuals from the business community, including renowned investor Sir Sam Jonah, and leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs), such as Prof. H. Kwesi Prempeh, Kwesi Jonah, Dr Rashid Dramani and Ben Boakye.
Leading members of the NDC were also present, including the immediate past running mate, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang; former and current Members of Parliament, such as Dr James Klutse Avedzi, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and Sylvester Mensah, and a former campaign manager of the former President, Prof. Joshuah Alabi.
There were also representatives of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and other labour groups.
Mr Mahama said if the country continued with the current system of campaign financing, “our democracy will be gradually turned into a plutocracy — a country ruled indirectly by a few wealthy individuals”.
Again, he said, without cogent and comprehensive reforms of political party financing, the country could gradually become a democracy dominated by political “godfathers”.
“Given the huge cost of political activities, wealthy party financiers may take over as political godfathers who determine electoral outcomes,” he said.
The former President said as a key actor in the political space since 1996, he could attest to the relevance of ethical campaign financing in Ghana.
“Whereas some political actors had advocated state sponsorship for political parties, the truth is, Ghana is today broke. This being the case, Ghana cannot, at the moment, absorb additional expenditure streams,” he said.
Pointing out that the state already supported political parties in many ways, the former President said many political parties had, on many occasions, had their filing fees returned to them after elections because they attained the minimum threshold of votes, an indication that the state-financed filing fees.
Also, he said, in the past, the government, through the Electoral Commission (EC), procured and distributed vehicles to political parties in proportion to the share of votes in the immediate past election.
“With the possibility of further state financing shut – at least for now – I aim to reopen the conversation on political party financing in Ghana, with emphasis on needed reforms and regulation to promote transparent and broad-based financing options for parties,” he said.
According to him, it was important that the state provided more support for political parties because strong and viable political parties were critical in promoting and sustaining the country’s democracy.
Mr Mahama, however, noted that the current financial difficulties facing the country would make it very difficult for the state to increase support to political parties.
“Ghana today is broke. International credit rating agencies have placed us in junk status. Additional state financing can, therefore, not be a viable option on the table,” he said.
He said in the event the country was well-resourced to make the state fund political parties, there was the need for such support to be done in a “bipartisan and inclusive manner”.
“I further recommend that should public funding of political parties be scaled up in the foreseeable future, then an independent and credible institution must be selected to administer the state resources advanced to political parties.
“In that regard, a sharing formula could be established to ensure fairness and specific disclosure requirements on beneficiary parties. This must be complemented by auditing and publication of party accounts,” he added.
Former President Mahama further said there was also the need to reform the legal regime on political party formation and financing system.
Such reforms, he said, should start with Article 55 of the 1992 Constitution which dealt with political parties and the Political Parties Act, (Act 574).
“We must be bold in reviewing the entire framework of our democratic experiment, identifying reform gaps in the legal and institutional framework and push for reforms, whether in the Constitution, Acts of Parliament or other legal frameworks that are holding back progress.
“We must do so for most of our state institutions and act to mend the growing breach between society and Ghana’s political system,” he said.
Free of corruption
Mr Mahama said the country must also ensure that political party financing must be free from corruption.
Such a move, he said, could be made with stakeholder engagement, especially on the platform of the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP).
The NDC flagbearer hopeful wanted the national discourse to focus on key questions, including, how political campaigns are being financed; how efficient the EC’s regulatory oversight is; whether political parties are playing their roles as vehicles for national development; whether the EC’s regulatory responsibility for political financing should be re-assigned to a separate statutory body; how political parties can promote transparent and broad-based financing of their activities and how recent technological advancements can assist in that regard.
The former President also used the occasion to launch an interactive and smart digital retail fundraising platform to help broaden the scope of his 2024 campaign financiers.
He said the platform was to address dependency on a few funding the campaign.
“There are emerging opportunities for political parties to broaden the source of their funding. These new opportunities are being driven by technology and in particular electronic crowd-funding platforms, as are being used in developed countries,” he said.
Mr Mahama said he adopted a crowd-funding technology to promote a more transparent and accessible means to raise funds to execute his 2024 campaign.
He explained that the use of reliable fintech payment systems would push the agenda of promoting citizen participation in the financing of political party activities.
“We did not have to go far in search of such a robust solution because Ghana has a lot of young talented fintech entrepreneurs who have invested so much within the digital ecosystem and have already created a lot of employment opportunities for many Ghanaians,” he said.
Mr Mahama expressed appreciation to the CSOs, research institutions and individuals that supported the development of the technology solution.
The Executive Director of the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Linda Ofori-Kwafo, in an address, said the current political party financing regime in the country had become an impediment to the fight against corruption.
Rather, she said, the system had contributed to nepotism, corruption, among other ills in the country’s political space.
She expressed the hope that the lecture by the former President would trigger a national dialogue and help reach a consensus on how to tackle political party financing in the country.
The GII Executive Director explained that unmonitored financing of political party campaigns had the tendency to breed corruption and corrupt schemes.
“People are financing these campaigns for a reason,” she noted.
Meanwhile, she said, the country would be the biggest beneficiary if efforts were adopted to reform the current system of party financing.
She also called for the need to minimise the cost of elections.
Other speakers who contributed to the topic were a lecturer at the University of Ghana, Prof. Ransford Gyampo, and a Director at the Centre for Democratic Development, Ghana (CDD-Ghana), Dr Kojo Pumpuni Asante.