There are two aspects of last week’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) primaries that must be of concern to all Ghanaians including members of both the NPP and the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
The first is the alleged buying of votes and the second is the apparent abuse of executive appointments in the pursuit of higher political office.
Even before the primaries, many candidates had spoken of the infusion of money into the political game; one former parliamentary aspirant who contested twice to be an NPP candidate has documented his experiences in a book I recommended in this column some weeks ago.
The Boneshaker Politician details how the author, Mr. A. K. Opoku, lost out to his opponent because the latter provided more money than he did in buying the affection of delegates in his constituency.
According to the author, he made the mistake the first time he contested by sticking to his principles and refusing to pay money.
On the second time of asking, he went in with his eyes open and did the deed. The night before the election, he “settled” all the delegates whose votes he could count on and they, in turn, gave him their word.
The following morning, he noticed that even his delegates were avoiding eye contact with him. One bold delegate decided to put him out of his misery by spilling the beans.
He told the author that his main rival had provided twice the amount he had doled out so the delegates had switched their votes to the man who had paid more.
Many candidates, including victorious ones, have spoken of the huge sums of money and other material incentives they had provided to delegates to secure their votes.
One candidate revealed that he had spent over one million cedis on delegates, while an angry loser has gone round delegates’ homes to collect 250 bicycles he had given to them for their votes.
As someone quipped on social media, this person thought we were still in 2012. Apparently, even in 2016, bicycles were no longer sufficient. Some candidates provided motorcycles and cash; in some constituencies, smartphones were de rigueur.
The overwhelming impression from these primaries is that money and material gains are the main considerations delegates take into the voting booth.
This has been known to everyone in the party, including party bigwigs. Remember the immortal quote by Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, better known as Sir John: FEAR DELEGATES.
He said this after the Delegates Conference at Tamale in 2014. He was the NPP General Secretary. Whatever corruption prompted him to make that statement has become far worse in the six years since that time.
One may ask why we should be worried; after all, these are private gifts from candidates’ own resources and it is nobody’s business how they choose to spend it.
The answer is simple. We should be worried BIG TIME. The party delegates are performing a public duty by electing men and women to whom we, as a nation, will entrust our future.
Whenever people make a private profit from public duties it is called corruption, and that is what these candidates and delegates are doing.
The candidates and delegates engage in corruption, not only of individual delegates but of the system.
The country deserves and demands in Parliament men and women with the commitment and vision to drive our Ghana forward.
When the main consideration is money, it means we cannot be assured that the people who eventually get into Parliament have the qualities to undertake that task.
What is worse, the practice of money-cracy means that our democracy is shortchanged; better people with the right experience, attitude and credentials are prevented from giving their services to Ghana.
It is the equivalent of using counterfeit money – driving out good money with bad.
In last week’s primaries, as many as 10 chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of important parliamentary select committees lost their seats.
Of course, no-one is guaranteed a seat or a job in Parliament or in politics generally, but political parties ought to be sensitive to the needs of the nation for experience and competence.
This can only happen when the main political parties that realistically provide both government and opposition develop politics that can aid that process.
The other issue that must cause us concern is the apparent abuse of executive office in pursuing political ambitions.
Our Constitution gives the President the power to appoint heads of several state and parastatal institutions, especially the state-owned enterprises and regulatory agencies.
These appointments tend to be political and go to party members of the victorious party after elections. Of course, the President also appoints ministers who are not members of parliament.
Increasingly, we see people holding ministerial and executive positions scrambling for parliamentary seats while still holding office.
We understand that as politicians they are in the market to seek high office but as the saying goes, no-one can serve two masters; it would be hard for them to campaign effectively only in their own private time.
They are likely to use official time for which they are being paid from the public purse to pursue their political ambition.
How can we be sure that these people concentrate on the job at hand when their main focus is on becoming their party’s candidate for Parliament?
Similarly, we cannot be sure that they are not using their official vehicles and fuel or even staff to work on their political activities.
We can all agree that it is not good for people to use state resources to pursue private interests, and without evidence, we cannot say that this is what is happening.
But it makes sense to speculate that this is what is going on because given the nature of the competition for parliamentary nominations, only total dedication to the cause will do.
No-one would argue for a ban on these state-employed politicians from seeking parliamentary seats. That will not be fair.
However, we must protect public resources, so the solution is simple: anyone wishing to compete in primaries or any political office while in office must first resign.
We have to set a time frame, say, six months to any primaries, when people in executive positions in public institutions must resign.
One has to concede that this is not a new idea. In fact, the NPP in opposition went as far as the Supreme Court to have this idea established as law but failed at the Supreme Court.
It was the right thing to do, so one has to ask, what stops the party from living its own principles?