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Opinions Tue, 20 Dec 2011

Election-Generated Corruption

Conclusion on corruption

“The absence of checks and balances, including a free press and an independent judiciary, had allowed personal ambitions [at all levels the societ] to weaken the foundations of the nation, rather than serve as rushing water at a mill of national debate and growth.”[With corruption rampant at the highest political levels, it becomes pervasive, as the politician lacks the moral high ground to check it and instill discipline]. Robert Calderisi

Corrupt money is not just a waste. Big corrupt money is likely to undermine the political process, enabling the strategy of patronage to triumph over honest politics. It is especially so when democracy in many African countries including Ghana has been defined overwhelmingly in terms of elections. Electoral competition can make things worse, because patronage will often win out over honest politics in the struggle for votes

By contrast, checks and balances take time to introduce, and they are political orphans: those parties that expect to rule have a direct interest in frustrating their introduction, and the entire political class stands to lose if patronage politics is made infeasible. Elections determine who is in power, but they do not determine how power is used. One of the reasons for secret ballots, Paul Collier argued, was to prevent bribery. But in some societies there are ways around secret ballots—for example, a party can start a rumor that the ballot is not really secret, or it can buy registration cards off the supporters of other candidates so that they cannot vote. The tragedy is that where bribery becomes acceptable it can become effective, because using your vote to support a party offering public services rather than selling it to the patronage party is not in your individual self-interest. Why not sell your own votes and leave it to others to vote in the national interest? Patronage starts to look cost-effective for a political party if votes can be bought wholesale by bribing a few opinion leaders; from the perspective of a cynical politician, the very universality of public services starts to look wasteful.

Where patronage politics is not feasible, the people attracted to politics are more likely to be interested in issues of public services provision. Of course, from societies where patronage is feasible, this works in reverse: democratic politics then tends to attract crooks rather than altruists. Economists generally think that competition produces the survival of the fittest. But where patronage politics is feasible, electoral competition leaves the corrupt as the winners. And so we arrive at the law of the political jungle: the survival of the fattest.

In the buildup to the 2008 general elections in Ghana, the NDC accused the ruling NPP of buying off voters ID cards from its strongholds, to technically disenfranchise the voters on the election day and to reduce the party’s capability on the election day when it matters most. The phenomenon was believed to be widespread across the country. The red flags were raised and press conferences organized by the NDC leadership in the various regions and constituencies across the country. In the former slave transit city of Cape Coast, the NDC party leadership threatened the Kenyan-style mayhem, should the NPP continue with the practice. Even as the NDC accused the ruling party of corrupting the electoral process, one of its own, a member of the legislative assembly, who was seeking to return to the legislative assembly, was faulted for distributing money under an oath using the Bible, the Quran or the name of the God the recipient worshipped, in the case of the traditionalist. It worked in such a way that recipient of the money promised under oath with the Bible to vote for the candidate.

However, in barely three years, as both parties prepare to enter the next election cycle, a more outrageous accusation was to be leveled against the NDC by the NPP, now in opposition. Two important incidents: first, an NDC MP for the Ningo-Pampram, E.T. Mensah, was accused of allegedly distributing an equivalent of US$20 to his constituents for no apparent reason. A follow up investigation by the newspaper that broke the story to find out what the money was meant for could not put a finger on the motive, as the beneficiaries could not explain the rational. The assumption was that as Ghana enters the next election circle, these are normal activities that accompany the electoral campaigns, especially from the side of the ruling party which of course would have more funds from the people’s tax to expend.

The political process itself, starting from the internal politics of the parties, encourages corruption, nepotism and deprives the political system of the best and the most talented. At the constituency levels, only delegates from the various branches of the parties are supposed to vote to elect the candidates for the parliamentary contest. These delegates may number between 100 and 500, or even less in some constituencies, depending on the size of the constituency. It is, therefore, easier to bribe these delegates, than say a larger number of about 3000 party members who may vote to elect their parliamentary candidate. The result is, in constituencies regarded as strongholds of each political party, the contest is for the one who has the deepest pocket or have had long years of association with the delegates and not necessarily the talents and abilities it takes to improve the lot of the electorates and their communities.

Wole Soyinka decries this in the Open sore of a continent when he lamented the enthronement of power as the birthright of a given sector of any human community. In his estimation, “it evolves, sooner or later, into a privilege of mediocrity, and logically still, into the quest for power, by right, on the part of the mediocre. In the end, even the mentally deficient grasp the real possibility—indeed, the absolute certitude—that his turn has come. Understanding of the accessibility of power and the means to it is not necessarily qualified by access to basic intelligence; observation and cunning are quite sufficient, especially where the opportunity is spread over a long period of closeness. In short, what would take the average intelligence a week or less to grasp and execute or reject will require in the mediocre years of sporadic penetration, a painstaking accumulation of significations that persuade him, in the end, that he is every bit as qualified as his predecessors for the trophy of power.”

There is the pre-election corruption, corruption in government, and corruption while out of government. Pre-election activities for political parties require huge financial investments that most political parties lack. It is difficult to mobilize financial resources from the grassroots, who at best are poor and eke subsistence living, to support party activities, especially when a party is in opposition. While a government in power could expend state resources to undertake its covert or overt campaign activities under the guise of executing its constitutional mandate, it takes ingenuity and creativity to raise money for very simple things as stationery and pay for venues and airtime to showcase party activities when a party is in opposition. Unlike in the United States where parties are resourced by constituents and the ability to organize the grassroots to raise the needed financial resources for these activities determine how far a party’s presence can be felt in the race that does not pertain in most African countries including Ghana.

In Ghana for instance, funding for political activities is a hideous business, considering some of the sources where parties in opposition raise their monies. And as expected, the bankrollers to the political parties become connected to the party in various ways. It is a political calculation, as the benefactors expect government favors in return for their contribution. Some astute bankrollers, to avoid a political backlash in case the party of their bet doesn’t win, would even fund both the ruling party and the opposition party. This way, a change of government does not affect their fortunes negatively. Once a party is funded by this invisible hand, that invisible hand expects returns on investment when that party is in government. The point is that in an attempt to reciprocate these gestures, once in government, some of these underworld networks become an albatross around the neck of members of government. It simply means bars must be lowered to offer contracts to individuals without going through the due process of bidding, it means appointments to boards and state institutions must be allotted to protégés, minions, and the bankrollers, based on some of the foregoing considerations, and not necessarily how qualified an individual is. It is simply a matter of who pays the piper calls the tune.

In a bid to curtail the hands of the invisible donor or moneyed interest, some developed countries have fashioned out stringent regulations to ensure that sources of these finances are made public, making it very easy to track any favors that may accrue to some of these individuals who might have donated huge sums of money in the campaign process with the view to gaining favors from the government once it is in power. There is even a limit, for example in the US about how much an individual can donate towards a political campaign.

As per the discussion above, it is obvious that corruption is cyclical. Once the political leadership – the executive, the judiciary and the legislature - is infected by corruption, it is transmitted downstream into civil society and weakens all state institutions as seen in the case of Ghana’s customs, excise, and preventive services and all other institutions.

For the sake of brevity, this section cannot dwell on all the corrupt cases that have made it to the courts or the public domain in recent times. Nevertheless, apart from the glaring failures of the judicial system, with its concomitant effects on the executive, the legislature and other state institutions, it must be noted that the individuals involved in crimes against the state and its people are not faceless; they all have faces. But the trial of the political parties whenever these individuals are put before the courts have not been in the interest of the state, the party foot soldiers, and the people generally. Party aficionados should stop invading the courts and let the criminals face justice. From the Scancem scandal, in which monies were paid to NDC party officials by the Norwegian business interest, the Quality Grain Scandal, in which Mrs. Juliet Cotton, described by a US court as a business investment confidence trickster, aided by Ghanaian officials to fleece the state of Ghana to the tune of US$20 million to the scandals that rocked the Ghana @ 50 celebrations and the sales of Ghana’s telecommunication provider, (GT), one lesson stands clear. Behind the veils of the political parties are individuals, whose actions and inactions bring the name of their respective parties into disrepute. While none of these political parties are corrupt, individuals acting in their names are corrupt and must be held accountable for their actions. But the scenario where party aficionados and sympathizers troop to the courts or attack each other on these scores must be discouraged before it assumes proportions that will continuously undermine the work of the courts. It is simply undemocratic for these individuals who, sometimes, engineer their supporters to come to court to offer them support in the face of glaring crimes they committed against the state.

Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao