It costs aspiring Ghanaian Members of Parliament about GHC390,000 on average to carry out successful campaigns at the party and constituency level.
This is according to a research conducted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the Center for Democratic Development (CDD).
The report found that multiparty democracy and its highly competitive elections had resulted in the rising cost of political campaigns in the country.
Analysing the campaign spending of aspiring Members of Parliament between 2012 and 2016, the report indicated that the cost of running successful campaigns had risen by 59% over the four-year period covering two national elections.
The report warned that the rising cost may result in just a few wealthy people having the opportunity to hold public office with Members of Parliament becoming incentivized to recoup their campaign spendings rather than genuinely serving their constituencies.
“Ghana has held six elections since returning to multiparty democracy in 1992 with three peaceful power transitions, including, in 2016, the first defeat of a sitting incumbent. However, multiparty competitive elections can be costly affairs for aspiring and incumbent legislators. WFD research found between 2012 and 2016 the cost of running for political office in Ghana increased 59%.”
“On average candidates needed to raise approximately GHS 390,000 (approx. USD 86,000) to secure the party primary nomination and compete in the parliamentary election in their constituency. 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 motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their own investment,” the report said.
The report considered expenditure on campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations.
Spending based on gender
It emerged that on average, male candidates spent more in their campaigns than the female counterparts especially 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 successful winning a seat in elected office.”
‘MPs need two years’ salary to campaign’
Given the fact that MPs earn GHS 233,000 each year, it is apparent that they would require two years’ combined salary to enable them effectively campaign ahead of elections.
“In Ghana, a sitting MP earns GHS 233,000 annually (approx. USD 51,000). Therefore a successful election campaign on average 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 keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship.”
“It is important to note that the figures quoted for the items above also do not account for all the ‘soft’ money raised and spent by the candidates in the parliamentary primaries because according to respondents, tracking how much a candidate spent in any contest is an extremely difficult exercise: ‘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.”
‘Implications of rising cost’
The report observed that a major effect of the rising cost of rising to the position of a Member of Parliament could result in;
Exclusion: women and youth suffer disproportionately when the cost of politics rises.
Disillusionment: increasing costs lead to the perception that competence takes a backseat to wealth in gaining seats in parliament.
Corruption: mounting MP debts makes them susceptible to a variety of forms of corruption.
On the way forward in correcting the imbalances, the report said;
Those surveyed expressed strong support for remedies that affected other institutions or groups. For instance, 80% supported laws that requires balanced media coverage during elections. 88% supported civic education programmes that encouraged voters to stop making financial demands on candidates or MPs.
The sample also supported interventions that would likely benefit them personally, whether financially or indirectly. 85% supported a reduction in filing fees imposed on candidates by electoral commissions 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 from extracted significant fees from their candidates.
There was far less support, however, for regulations that restricted 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.
The report concluded that 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 reduce) but few to none feel they can make that change on their own.