Who pays for cost of democracy?
Democracy is expensive, as they say. The system costs money, so definitely someone must foot the bill. The issue of cost, when it comes to democracy, primarily relates to political parties, and how they should be funded.
The role political parties play in democratic practice is indispensable. They make certain freedoms that are core to democracy a reality like freedom of choice and association. Political parties also groom and breed leaders for democracy.
Voters are bombarded with campaign publicity from political parties before any election. There are several hours of speeches by flag bearers of parties and also parliamentarians.
Although social media is increasingly becoming important, political parties invest in billboards and posters, organising rallies and supplying supporters with food, T-shirts and even cash.
Who pays for all the paraphernalia of electoral democracy, and what must they get in return?
This question has raged on for a long time with suggestions oscillating between public funding and private funding. Many countries practicing democracy are unable to make a choice on this issue.
Uruguay was the first country in the world to give a public subsidy to political parties in 1928. Now most democracies do so, but the subsidies are small.
In some countries there are no subsidies, but the ruling party deploys unlimited state money and resources for its political campaigns.
When it comes to the issue of private funding, corrupt political donations to political parties in some countries are resulting in demands for tightening the rules on campaign financing.
In fact, most countries have long sought to regulate campaign financing, but often ineffectually. Corporate funding of parties has sometimes led to the private capture of government.
Now most countries are seeing the need to regulate private funding of political parties, with some laws calling for restrictions on outdoor advertisings, increasing public subsidies, barring corporate donations and regulating private donations.
Campaign financing reform is fraught with trade-offs and unintended consequences. Public financing of political parties is unpopular.
When there is a low turn up at any elections, politicians tend to blame the lack of funds for campaigning.
Banning corporate donations, which exist in several other countries, results in organised crime for money. Campaign financing has tended to be a problem without a solution.
Only hard choices are available. With corporate money some will argue for obligatory disclosure rather than a ban.
Others too think, shortening the official campaign periods are necessary to cut down the costs. With great inequalities, it is hard to disagree that corporate political donations should be regulated.
Perhaps the most important thing is that, enforcing either transparency or bans require capable and neutral electoral authority and this is not what we lack in Ghana. Or do we?
The writer is with the Institute of Current Affairs and Diplomacy (ICAD).