At least it will cost a Member of Parliament US$86,000 to secure a party’s primary nomination to compete in parliamentary elections in the country, a study has found.
The research, conducted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), shows the cost of running for political office in Ghana went up by nearly 60 percent over one single electoral cycle – between 2012 and 2016.
According to the report, if the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivates and incentivises MPs to move from serving the public to recovering their own investment.
The research surveyed over 250 candidates and sitting MPs about their experiences in the 2012 and 2016 elections. The findings were complemented by individual interviews and focus groups.
Four key areas of election expenditure – campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations – were analysed in detail at both the party primary level and during parliamentary election campaigns.
“It is important to note that the figures quoted for the elements above also do not account for all the ‘soft’ money raised and spent by the candidates in parliamentary primaries; because, according to respondents, tracking how much a candidate spent in any contest is an extremely difficult exercise,” the report explains.
“It is a fact that there are so many items we spent money on which cannot be accounted for in our election budgets,” a candidate who wished to remain anonymous said.
“The actual cost is therefore likely to be higher than the numbers provided,” the report added.
According to the report, they (MPs) painted a picture of an environment where male candidates outspend female ones; where the greatest costs incurred are by candidates standing in municipal areas; where party primaries, particularly those of Ghana’s two main political parties (the NDC and NPP), can be very expensive affairs; and where an ability to spend the most money is, by and large, a critical factor in successfully winning a seat in elected office.
The annual salary of a sitting MP is US$51,000; therefore, a successful election campaign on averag, costs them the equivalent of the best part of two years’ wages.
“This illustrates how much of a barrier to entry the cost of politics can have on ordinary Ghanaians, who are often keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship,” the report said.
Adopting ‘good practice’: what will work for Ghana?
First, the report said those surveyed expressed strong support for remedies that affected other institutions or groups. For instance, 80% supported laws which require balanced media coverage during elections. Another 88% supported civic education programmes that encourage voters to stop making financial demands on candidates or MPs.
The sample also supported interventions which would likely benefit them personally, whether financially or indirectly. 85% supported a reduction in filing fees imposed on candidates by the electoral commission or political parties.
This has been a particularly large growth-area for political costs, as parties have come to realise the potential rents to be gained by extracting significant fees from their candidates.
There was far less support, however, for regulations which restrict their own ability to operate within campaigns. Just 50% favoured a cap on spending for electoral campaigns, while only 56% supported a similar cap on how much candidates could spend on media advertising. These kinds of caps have a somewhat chequered history in sub-Saharan Africa, so the resistance may not be entirely self-serving – but the distinction is intriguing.
Lastly, over 72% of the respondents expressed support for sanctions against those who engage in political patronage. Given that 83% of these same respondents declared their approval of political patronage in a previous question, this juxtaposition strengthens the hypothesis that most political actors would like to see the system change (and the costs reduced) – but few to none feel they can make that change on their own.
Instead, they accept rules of the game as they are, while expressing support for certain changes that might eventually shift them in a positive direction. Further research will explore this collective action problem and the effect this cognitive dissonance has on efforts to catalyse political finance reform.