MPs broke after spending millions on primaries
Months of investigation has unearthed worrying levels of illegal cash payments made by candidates trying to influence voting patterns in their constituencies.
This practice is a violation of Ghana’s electoral laws, unethical and in many cases goes unnoticed. It is also a gamble, often leaving the loser in financial ruin.
A recently ousted lawmaker, who pleaded not to be named for fear of being cited for breach of the nation’s electoral laws, was left with a drained bank account but lost the ticket by what he called "embarrassing margins".
"You should not be surprised to hear I committed suicide," the defeated lawmaker said.
"Universities are reopening within the next few days. I am broke to the extent that I may not be able to pay for my daughter to go," the MP said. He said he hopes his confession, albeit on condition of anonymity, will "provoke a national debate which will lead to complete elimination of vote buying in our body politic."
Worried by the vicious cycle of cash for votes during interparty elections, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for Jirapa has called for an end to primary elections.
Hon Dr Dakora, who retained the NDC Parliamentary ticket for Jirapa in the January 21 primaries of the party, told The Globe newspaper that although one of his opponents chose to pay as much as GHC50 each to delegates, with the promise of paying GHC 200 more if he won, “I can tell you from here that I never put even a single Ghana cedi note in an envelope for anybody. Primaries are killing our democracy because of the amount of money people spend just to get elected,” he said.
He argued there is need for political parties to devise more acceptable ways of choosing candidates to represent their parties.
The Jirapa MP said his own experience during the recent election to elect a parliamentary candidate for his constituency was a “very sad” one.
Before the election, he said, “I told the delegates. .. I said in this hall today; truth versus lies; purchase of votes verses objectivity ...is going to be on challenge and I know that a lot of you sitting here, even if out of poverty you would have to take this money, would resist the influence of the money and vote for me because you believe that I have been working hard for this constituency. And they came out massively and did that.”
Delegates who spoke to The Globe from Jirapa confirmed the MP’s claims but refused to give details.
The incumbent NDC MP for Sege, who lost his re-election bid just this past weekend, echoed Dakora and called on government to establish the truth.
“I would be glad if audit will be carried out on some of the companies in the area - those who used company money to give out...to do their campaign,” he said, denying that he was broke after a failed attempt to match the financial prowess of his opponents.
“I am not broke,” he told The Globe. “God is my provider. He provides my needs. And so far as the Lord is on my side he meets my needs every time...”
"Vote buying is real, my brother. The sooner we fight to eliminate it, the better," one majority MP confessed. “We have all along been behaving as Ostriches. I think the time has come for a national debate on how we can end this canker,” the MP said.
Over the weekend, the ruling NDC held parliamentary primaries in the Greater Accra region. A week earlier, the party held similar polls in other holding constituencies around the country, excluding those areas the Electoral Commission has reportedly earmarked for possible division into two separate constituencies.
Last April, the opposition New Patriotic Party held similar elections in constituencies around the country to elect candidates to contest parliamentary elections on the party's ticket this December. The primaries of the two parties, The Globe found were replete with heavy doses of vote buying through the sharing of cash and free distribution of free cars, motor bikes, television sets, laptops, mobile phones, refrigerators, roofing sheets, iPADs, wax prints, bicycles, shoes, etc.
As much as GHC 1.6 million has made its way into the pockets of party delegates who made receipt of cash gifts part of the preconditions for voting for candidates seeking their votes in one constituency alone.
Although the issue of vote buying has become a major drain on the pockets of MPs, whose meagre monthly salaries are within the region of GHC 2500, almost all the lawmakers were unwilling to speak on the record without first pleading anonymity.
"I spent more than GHC 600 million just to convince delegates to vote for me," one lawmaker said.
"This is senseless. It just does not make sense," another worried lawmaker added, outraged about what she called "a very dangerous trend that has virtually put our democracy on sale."
"We cannot continue like this", another MP said. "Many of my colleagues are broke. I mean they do not have a pessewa in their bank accounts," the lawmaker added.
"The delegates told us in the face they will not vote for us if we did not pay," one MP said.
"It is as simple as that. You pay, you win; you refuse to pay, you lose. The simple fact is that our votes are not for free these days. In fact nothing is given out for free in Ghana these days," a delegate, who gave his name as Abu said.
"The reason why we insist in being paid before voting is that once the votes are over, these MPs leave for Accra and we hardly see them again," another delegate said.
"You cannot blame us because we need to survive you know," another delegate from the Lower Manya Constituency of the Eastern region added.
During our investigations, The Globe spoke to agents of various banks whose banks have given huge loans to MPs to run their campaigns. Some of these agents either refused to comment on the issue, citing confidentiality rules in banking, or pleaded anonymity as precondition to speaking to this reporter.
"My bank for instance supported many of the MPs with loans. Some of them took as much as 600,000 Ghana cedis. Other daring ones received as much as GHC 800,000," one agent said.
"Almost all the MPs who took loans from us used their ex-gratia or end of service benefits as collateral. It is serious, my brother," another agent said.