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SOEs’ growth suppressed by political interest, says H Kwasi Prempeh

H Kwasi Prempeh

State-owned enterprises (SOEs), particularly those with internally generated funds, remain largely ineffective because they are manned by politicians seeking their own interest and not that of the state, Professor H Kwasi Prempeh, executive director of the Centre for Democratic Development-Ghana (CDD-Ghana), has said.

Professor Prempeh said most people are appointed to public office, or to lead SOEs, not on merit, but because they sponsor political parties and their election campaigns, and are usually selected in order to recoup their investment.

This, coupled with the increasing influence of money in politics, he said, is not only making the SOEs ineffective, but exposes the country to a wide range of risks – including state capture, terrorism and money laundering.

“Money in politics has an even greater danger in encouraging or facilitating state capture, which is a different degree of corruption wherein the institutions of the state, the laws and policies that we must make in the public interest are made not to serve the public interest but to give clearance for money interests that are behind your campaign,” he said.

He explained that nowadays people who take up appointed positions use them as stepping stones to amass wealth to drive party primaries – a trend which, he said, has now become a norm and is disturbing.

“What this means is that corruption is going to continue. Government and state enterprises are going to be really about how much money you can raise in the shortest possible time to contest a parliamentary seat and not service to the state.”

Party financing

Speaking at a public dialogue in Accra on “Campaign Finance Reforms in Ghana”, Professor Prempeh called for holistic reforms in political party financing because, he said, the current status quo holds serious national security and development implications if not addressed immediately.

He said political parties must be regulated and their accounts audited as a way of determining their sources of funding. This, he added, will bring sanity and shift the focus from money to ideas.

Under Ghanaian law, only citizens can contribute or sponsor political parties; but in a system where it is nearly impossible to trace money flow, he said, it is difficult to identify party contributors and this exposes the state to several dangers.

“How do you tell when you don’t know who is contributing?” he asked. “Unregulated money in politics provides a conduit for crime to enter public office. Illicit money finds a way to get laundered.”

Money in politics

Professor Prempeh said monetisation of politics in Ghana discourages people with the right ideas but without money from entering the political arena. And even when people with ideas make it to the top of the political ladder, the nature of party politics makes them ineffective, because they become indebted and loyal to their sponsors and financiers.

“Once money becomes the issue, we should know that there are many Western companies or countries in the world with a lot more money than us,” he said.

“If they realise that Ghana’s politics is about money and they have an interest, they will just come and buy your whole political system.”

Need for reform

According to Professor Prempeh, the growing regional insecurity in West Africa calls for Ghana to take urgent steps to reform how party or campaign financing is done.

He also believes that holistic reforms to regulate and monitor political parties and how they are funded, among other things, will put the country on the path of sustainable democracy and development.

“We can use it [reform] to regulate or fix the fees political parties charge aspirants; we can start off from the primaries,” he urged. An independent institution could also be set up to monitor the activities and sources of funding for political parties to ensure only fit and proper individuals enter politics, he said.

Professor Prempeh proposed that Ghana could consider it is the duty of the state to fund political parties, either in part or full.

“As it stands, we don’t know whether the money is coming from terrorism or other illicit sources. So, if we don’t regulate it, things are going to get worse and worse; and what is supposed to be a government of the people, for the people and by the people is going to become ‘maybe a government of the people’. Because we will still vote, but it will be the government for the politicians and their financiers,” he said.

* The “Campaign Finance Reforms in Ghana” dialogue was organised by Star-Ghana, in collaboration with Election CPL, CDD-Ghana and the Ghana Integrity Initiative.
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