Now that the NDC primaries have concluded, I would like to pose some questions to you:
- Is the MP candidate you have selected/elected truly the best person to shape the Ghana we aspire to have, or was the decision influenced by personal connections, acquaintances, or financial advantages?
- Can the chosen candidate resist financial inducements and faithfully represent your interests without distortion?
- Will the candidate prioritize their personal or narrow interests over the collective good, including your own?
- Are you aware of the amount of money spent during their campaign and the sources of those funds? Is the candidate transparent enough to disclose such information to you?
- Does the candidate possess intellectual acumen, or was their selection based on their ability to organize jama sessions and concerts?
- Considering Kwame Pianim’s assertion that our parliament is inadequate, with some distinguished MPs concurring, would your chosen candidate be among the five American lawyers Pianim proposes to replace the current system with?
- Lastly, who is your guy?
My general thesis is that our political system is designed in a way that hinders young, virtuous individuals who lack substantial wealth or refuse to pay their way into power from becoming legislators or winning elections. Occasionally, someone might prove me wrong, but it remains a rare occurrence.
This is primarily due to the party system, which relies on unaccountable funds obtained from questionable sources, thereby deceiving the electorate and leading to the lack of accountability from elected officials.
This system is facilitated by a flawed legal framework concerning political campaign financing.
Our current regulations lack comprehensive disclosure laws, leaving us uncertain whether the money used to bribe delegates comes from drug dealers or individuals masquerading as businessmen. Furthermore, there are no limits on campaign spending, reducing the primary exercise to a contest of financial prowess.
Assuming that a young, talented, and slightly corrupt individual manages to accumulate enough wealth to contest and win, the real challenge lies in maintaining their position.
Over the course of four years, their success as an MP is often judged not by their parliamentary advocacy or competence in representing their constituents, but by their ability to finance education, marriage ceremonies, and funerals.
Consequently, an MP can be utterly ineffective in parliament, yet remain in office as long as they can afford to sustain the wheels of patronage. It was only recently that an MP friend confessed that, after legitimate deductions, his salary amounted to a mere ten thousand cedis.
This sum is less than the tuition fees of three University of Ghana students in his constituency or the medical expenses of an elderly individual urgently requiring surgery. Therefore, additional income must be acquired through questionable means. Have we ever stopped to contemplate how this extra cash is earned?
Why is vote buying or selling considered wrong?
This question does not have a straightforward answer. You may have encountered arguments such as those suggesting that a candidate who cannot raise enough funds for their campaign is unfit for leadership, or that a free-market economy and capitalist forces ultimately determine electoral outcomes, even for social democrats.
To address this matter properly, I turn to an expert in the field, Michael Sandel. In his book “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” Sandel expresses concerns about our society’s growing tendency to commodify everything.
He cites two reasons: inequality and corruption.
Firstly, consider inequality. In a society where everything is up for sale, those with modest means find life increasingly challenging. As money gains the power to purchase political influence, quality healthcare, secure neighbourhoods, and access to elite education, the distribution of income and wealth becomes more consequential.
When everything is a commodity, the advantages of affluence extend far beyond material possessions. This exacerbates the gap between the rich and the poor, intensifying the impact of inequality and making money a determining factor in one’s quality of life.
The second reason Sandel raises is more nuanced. He argues that putting a price on everything can corrode the intrinsic value of goods and practices.
Markets not only allocate goods but also shape our attitudes toward them. For instance, paying children to read books may increase their reading frequency, but it also teaches them to view reading as a chore rather than a source of enjoyment.
When we treat certain goods as commodities, we devalue them and undermine their significance. The most glaring example is the treatment of human beings as commodities, as seen in the abhorrent practice of slavery.
Similarly, cherished goods and practices like citizenship and civic responsibilities should not be regarded as private property. Outsourcing these duties diminishes their worth and distorts their true meaning.
The underlying issue here is the transformation of representation and our party primaries into commodities.
The parliamentary system itself often hinders substantive work, as distinguished individuals who enter parliament with the intention of utilizing their expertise are pressured to conform to corrupt party whip systems. Sometimes, these pressures are accompanied by monetary inducements, as evidenced by the work of PC Appiah Ofori and others.
Some propose adopting proportional representation and revisiting the NDC’s traditional approach of selecting leaders instead of electing them. While proportional representation may appear attractive, it may only serve to mitigate the impact of a winner-takes-all system.
The current parliament has demonstrated that even with a nearly evenly divided legislature, the powers that be can still exert significant control.
As for allowing political parties to select leaders and candidates instead of holding elections, the devil lies in the details. Such a change may simply shift the beneficiaries of corruption without fundamentally improving the system.
The elephant in the room, in my view, is a value system that enables corruption among those in governance and makes citizens willing to compromise their votes based on financial offers. We must address this broken, money-centric value system to truly fix our politics, governance, and development.
The question remains: Who will initiate the necessary change? Once again, I ask, who is your guy?
Economists often assume that markets are neutral and have no influence on the goods they exchange. However, this is far from true.
Markets leave an indelible impact, as market values often crowd out the non-market values that truly matter. Determining which values should govern different domains of social and civic life is crucial in deciding what money should and should not be able to buy.
By rectifying this broken value system, we can hope to mend our politics, governance, and overall development.
PS: This piece was written on a Delta flight from Accra to New York, at a time the writer had refused to comply with a rather exploitative policy to pay for full access to wifi for his much-needed research!
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