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GHANA: Political Parties Urged to Come Clean

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA, Apr 6 2010 (IPS) - There are growing fears that lack of transparency on how political parties are being funded has given rise to corruption.

The U.S. anti-corruption Global Integrity Report recently stated in its findings that the country “has made no significant improvement on its anti-corruption agenda in the past year” and cited the lack of transparency of political funding as an issue.

Government’s “failure to implement a formal freedom of information regime or to exercise controls over the funding of political parties and candidates” was cited as a major challenge.

Unfortunately, as a result of a legal twist – two different legislations on how parties should report their funding – the process has not been transparent. Whilst one piece of legislation states that the onus on the parties to publish their financial report for the public, another simply requires them to submit their reports to the Electoral Commission (EC). Parties are also not allowed to receive foreign funding.

The major parties, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party filed their records up to 2006, according to information provided by officials of the EC.

However, this information is not available to the public, IPS discovered. “We serve only as the registrars of the parties. If you want the information on their accounting records, you would have to apply in writing for this to be provided,” an EC official told IPS. But the officer claims he could not remember anyone making such an application.

Johnson Asiedu-Nketia, general secretary of the ruling NDC admitted to IPS that there was a possibility that some parties received foreign funding. However, he would not say if his party has been a beneficiary from such sources. “This is like the 11th commandment, thou shall not be caught,” he added.

He said that the issue of tranparency in the funding of political parties is one that has to be tackled at its source. “Weak political parties can attract anyone with money. Cocaine barons would be able to take over parties that are weak and this would lead to the parties selecting people who would sing to the tunes of those who fund them,” Asiedu-Nketia said.

He said if government partially or totally funded political parties, government would be better placed to demand accountability and this would allow the public a say on how the funding is being used. This, he said, would eventually lead to checking corruption.

Affail Monney, vice-president of the Ghana Journalists Association and a member of the Coalition on the Freedom of Information Bill told IPS that even though it is very difficult to establish a link between freedom of information and how it affects corruption with political funding, a freedom to information regime would enable the public quick access to information on how political parties are funded.

“For now funding of the political parties is shrouded in secrecy and there are some suggestions that some people, especially businessmen, get rewarded for their contributions to the various parties,” Monney added.

Others do not see the funding of political parties as a major corruption issue. Victus Azeem, executive secretary of the Ghana Integrity Initiative said that, “this is a tiny area when it comes to corruption in the country.”

Azeem said the main area of corruption in Ghana is with public procurement. “This is where much of the corruption takes place,” he added.

Aaron Boateng of the Open Citizens Group agreed with Azeem. “There is a link between the procurement business and political party funding. The big boys who provide the money expect to be rewarded after the elections when the parties they supported win. That is the reason why there is the need for transparency in how we fund our parties, it would reveal clearly those who benefit from their funding to the political parties,” Boateng said.

“There is no transparency in the way political parties file their audited accounts,” director of public affairs of the EC, Christian Owusu-Parry told IPS.

“I am not sure if sanctions have ever been applied to any political party for non-compliance with disclosure of its donors,” Owusu-Parry added.

Azeem said currently the only way to hold political parties accountable is for civil society to continue to pressure politicians to disclose the source of their funding. He said the public needed to be made more aware of the situation in order to demand accountability from their political parties.

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