The Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Governance, (IDEG) Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey has suggested that a YES vote at the December 17, 2019 referendum to elect MMDCEs, will trigger reforms likely to buck the trend of national expenditure overruns, especially in election years.
According to Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, the problem of election cycles and expenditure is not just the behaviour of government, but a structural one that cannot just be dealt with by simply calling for good behaviour.
Speaking at the Graphic Business/ Stanbic Bank Breakfast meeting Monday on the subject of “Election cycles, democratic governance and fiscal stability: Lessons for Ghana”, Dr Akwetey said currently, Ghana remains an island in the sub-region when it comes to countries that bar political parties from participating in local government.
He explained that per the way Ghana’s democratic system is designed, the only business political parties engage in is elections, saying that between election cycles, there are so many elections to run that space for development is virtually crowded out.
Dr. Akwetey said between 2012 and 2016 for instance, there were no less than branch executive elections, ward executive elections, constituency executive elections, regional executive elections, diaspora elections, national youth and women organizer elections, national executive elections, election of presidential candidates and election of parliamentary candidates, all of them in four years.
“In four years. It happens across both giants – the two parties we have, and it’s money, election is money. You have to spend, and there is such disconnect between this election disease, and managing the economy – making sure that fiscal stability is real, the macroeconomic stability that is what attracts investors in the country are not toyed with, but we go through this cycle and every time we destablise the economy a bit”, he said.
He said the nation invests a lot into elections and that sometimes the risks are so high the whole nation has to pray for peace, adding that there is a problem with the way the democratic system has been designed.
“Our parties are election machines, they are not development oriented organisations, and the structural problem is that we confine parties to development at the national level, (but) development in every democratic system takes place at the local level, that’s where you address the needs of communities, and in our case the local areas have been closed to parties, not only in this 4th Republic for 27 years, they’ve been closed to parties since 1958,” he said.
According to Dr. Akwetey, having thus taken political parties out of local government, they have not been given enough space to develop their developmental capacity of thinking through policies and solving the problems, or managing their communication with communities. “So what we are doing are elections, elections, and it’s gotten to a point that we have two dominant parties which breath and eat elections, and without elections the system cannot function and is becoming increasingly expensive.”
He said from the elections perspective, we are not only dealing with fiscal policy because it is government expenditure but that we are dealing with private investors in elections, a situation he said the political parties refer to as monetization.
“Nobody has control over that, there is no transparency about that, and it is huge”, he said, explaining that party financiers now control the political parties, and at the same time (the are) seeking to control government, and may even seek through MMDCEs to control local government.
“It is time for solutions because we know this problem, and the solution will come in a paradoxical way. Because we have seen parties as those who destabilise the economies with elections, elections, and we haven’t looked at the structural nature of the problem, we also feel that we should keep parties away. So for example there is talk about parties getting involved in local government and people say that oh no, no, no keep them away. Please remember, our democracy has been successful because of parties. Our civil and political liberties – we enjoy them and they exist because the parties are there. When the military proscribe parties we lose our civil and political liberties, remember that. The parties must also do development, and for them to do development you have to open the doors to local government,” he said.
Other speakers at the forum were Professor Osei Assibey, Head of Distant Education, University of Ghana, and Dr. Kojo Mensa Abrampah of the Ministry of Planning.
“If we go to the referendum on December 17, and we vote yes, it never means that the next day parties should be allowed to participate in elections, so they are rushing into elections, no! It is going to trigger a reform of the local government system, and reorient it strongly towards development and it is going to mean reforming the framework that parties operate in before they can go into local government. Because the local government system was not designed for parties participation, the State is a State of law, you cannot do any business outside the law of the state, although the parties are there illegally, I must say, or informally. So it’s going to bring about reforms that are going to deal with some of the fiscal deficits pressures that we are talking about. How do I know this? If we increase resource flows, let’s say share of district assemblies common fund, it’s now 5%, it’s been 5% for 27 years and minimum, but we’ve never gone beyond the 7, and even the 7 we don’t get there. If you talk to districts they will tell you they don’t even get their monies regularly, but under this reform, the reforms that we are anticipating which might take about two years before the first MMDCEs are elected, probably 20% of national revenue, there is also revenue redistribution with devolution, but because the parties also have to go in, you now have to introduce measures that compel the allocations, and parties in different districts will mean the president who is elected everywhere directly, has to take interest in implementing those policies agreed, those programmed agreed, and financing them over years, not only in the election year. In fact in some districts if they can’t get their money, they probably will go to court…”, said Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey.