Representing reality? Cost of politics and diversity in Ghana

Is there a correlation between the high costs involved with running for political office in Ghana and the lack of youth and women represented in politics?

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s new research report, launched in Accra in early March, in partnership with the Centre for Democratic Development (Ghana), explores the impact the 59% increase in average spend by candidates from 2012 to 2016 to secure their political parties’ nomination at the primaries stage and contest the parliamentary election has on women and young people.

Ghana’s current parliament has its highest ever percentage of female legislators, but with just 13% sitting in the 7th parliament, it is still a long way off representing the make-up of the population.

This imbalance is also reflected in the average age of MPs in parliament which, although dropping, is 48 years old. And it is not just in parliament where youth remain underrepresented; of the 253 successful and unsuccessful candidates interviewed for the WFD and CDD “Cost of Politics in Ghana” survey, only 12% were under the age of 35.

Financial barriers for young people

“The high cost of politics discourages the youth from actively taking part in the decision-making process, as well as vying for electoral positions” was the view of one survey respondent. In fact, 65% of respondents agreed that young people are excluded from the outset because they cannot mobilise resources for the high costs involved. Candidates under 30 on average spent GH₵203,000 (US$46,000) across the primary and parliamentary contests in 2016; 48% lower than the average.

That is not to say there aren’t exceptions; some youth do contest and win. In 2016, a 23 year old law student, Francisca Oteng Mensah made history by becoming Ghana’s youngest elected member of parliament. However, with her father an international businessman, she was less likely to be constrained by finances than others. Research in Nigeria supports this: it found that the handful of younger politicians who are in elected office tend to come from wealthy backgrounds.

Again, there are special cases. In Kenya’s 2017 election John Paul Mwirigi, a 23 year old student, campaigned on a shoestring budget, using classic door to door campaigning to win a parliamentary seat. These instances, where young candidates are able to win seats despite a lack of finance, merit further study if we are to better understand how they appeal to prospective voters without vast resources at their disposal.

Choosing not to run

Women candidates also spend less in their pursuit of elected office. On average their expenditures for the primaries were, 65% of the average, and during the election contest themselves, 73% of the average, according to the survey data. But this comparable underspend does not impact significantly on their chances of winning; 36 out of the 69 New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) women candidates who contested to become an MP won their seats in 2016. The issue, it seems, is not that women who choose to run are disproportionately impacted by the associated costs, but more that they chose not to run at all.

The challenge of fundraising, particular for the often highly contentious party primaries, appears to be more acute for women who often do not have the same access to social networks or personal finance to self-fund campaigns. Combined with prevailing patriarchal social attitudes and the fact that, as research from Kenya shows, women are disproportionately susceptible to violence during election campaigns, the decision not to stand is understandable.

Tackling exclusion

85% of survey respondents agreed with the statement that the high costs of politics have made it impossible for the average person to seek political office in Ghana. A legislature that fails to adequately represent a cross-section of the population, can, in turn, lead to the alienation of groups in society who feel under-represented in parliament.

Improving the quality, and reducing the cost, of political party primaries can open the space to get more women and young people to think seriously about contesting for political office. Political parties, particularly the NPP and NDC who hold every seat in the legislature, are also in the best position to push forward short-term, interim changes argues Professor Gretchen Bauer of the University of Delaware, whose current research focuses on women’s political leadership in Ghana. “We know from decades of research that parties are the gatekeepers. Parties can recruit and support women; if they really wanted more women candidates, they could make that happen”.

Standing women or youth in “safe seats” to improve their representation is often discussed in Ghana and can be a way of getting greater representation into parliament in the short-term. But these sorts of changes will have to overcome prevailing social attitudes in a space that continues to be dominated by men. Only half of our survey respondents, 90% of whom mere male, felt that the financial costs of politics made it difficult for females to seek political office.

For longer term change, more substantive discussions about whether Ghana’s first-past-the-post electoral system is conducive to producing a diverse legislature is required. As is more research to better understand party primaries; a crucial entry point into politics that is too often ignored. In both settings – the primaries and parliamentary contests – finding ways of reducing the associated costs are key to opening the door to a broader representation of society to stand for public office in Ghana.

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WFD research to inform cost of politics talks in Ghana

At what point does the cost to stand for election become so high it affects equality, trust and good governance?

New data shows the cost of running for political office in Ghana went up by nearly 60% over one single electoral cycle (2012-2016).

Opening the second phase of WFD’s flagship research into the cost of politics, an in-depth analysis of the costs incurred by candidates in Ghana, published in February, will inform WFD technical talks with government, political parties and civil society about practical steps to ensure wider and fair access to politics.

Ghana has held six elections since returning to multiparty democracy in 1992 with three peaceful power transitions, including, in 2016, the first defeat of a sitting incumbent. However, multiparty competitive elections can be costly affairs for aspiring and incumbent legislators. WFD research found between 2012 and 2016 the cost of running for political office in Ghana increased 59%. On average candidates needed to raise approximately GHS 390,000 (approx. USD 86,000) to secure the party primary nomination and compete in the parliamentary election in their constituency. If the cost of politics rises to unaffordable levels the danger is that politics becomes the domain of the elite and wealthy, and that the motivation and incentives of MPs move from serving the public to recovering their own investment.

The cost of elections in Ghana

WFD’s new study, in collaboration with the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), breaks down the various costs involved in seeking public office in Ghana. Over 250 candidates and sitting MPs were surveyed about their experiences in the 2012 and 2016 elections. These findings were complemented by individual interviews and focus groups. Four key areas of election expenditure – campaigns, payment of party workers, media and advertisement and donations – were analysed in detail at both the party primary level and during parliamentary election campaigns. They paint a picture of an environment where male candidates outspend female ones; where the greatest costs incurred are by candidates standing in municipal areas; where party primaries, particularly those of Ghana’s two main political parties (the NDC and NPP) can be very expensive affairs; and where an ability to spend the most money is, by and large, a critical factor in successful winning a seat in elected office.

In Ghana, a sitting MP earns GHS 233,000 annually (approx. USD 51,000). Therefore a successful election campaign on average costs them the equivalent of the best part of two years’ wages. This illustrates how much of a barrier to entry the cost of politics can have on ordinary Ghanaians who are keen to seek political office but lack substantial sponsorship.

It is important to note that the figures quoted for the items above also do not account for all the ‘soft’ money raised and spent by the candidates in the parliamentary primaries because according to respondents, tracking how much a candidate spent in any contest is an extremely difficult exercise: ‘it is a fact that there are so many items we spent money on, which cannot be accounted for in our election budgets’, a candidate who wished to remain anonymous said. The actual cost is therefore likely to be higher than the numbers provided.

Implications of the increasing ‘costs of politics’ on democracy

From those surveyed, three broad themes emerged on the political and societal implications of rising costs of running for and maintaining public office:

  • Exclusion: women and youth suffer disproportionately when the cost of politics rises.
  • Disillusionment: increasing costs lead to the perception that competence takes a backseat to wealth in gaining seats in parliament.
  • Corruption: mounting MP debts makes them susceptible to a variety of forms of corruption.

What kinds of options are available to counter the trend or mitigate its impact? The research presented respondents with several ‘good practice’ solutions that have been implemented elsewhere to limit the growth of political finance.

Adopting ‘good practice’: what will work for Ghana?

First, those surveyed expressed strong support for remedies that affected other institutions or groups. For instance, 80% supported laws that requires balanced media coverage during elections. 88% supported civic education programmes that encouraged voters to stop making financial demands on candidates or MPs.

The sample also supported interventions that would likely benefit them personally, whether financially or indirectly. 85% supported a reduction in filing fees imposed on candidates by electoral commissions or political parties. This has been a particularly large growth area for political costs, as parties have come to realise the potential rents to be gained from extracted significant fees from their candidates.

There was far less support, however, for regulations that restricted their own ability to operate within campaigns. Just 50% favoured a cap on spending for electoral campaigns, while only 56% supported a similar cap on how much candidates could spend on media advertising. These kinds of caps have a somewhat chequered history in Sub-Saharan Africa, so the resistance may not be entirely self-serving, but the distinction is intriguing.

Lastly, over 72% of the respondents expressed support for sanctions against those who engage in political patronage. Given that 83% of these same respondents declared their approval of political patronage in a previous question, this juxtaposition strengthens the hypothesis that most political actors would like to see the system change (and the costs reduce) but few to none feel they can make that change on their own.

Instead, they accept the rules of the game as they are while expressing support for certain changes that might eventually shift the rules in a positive direction. Further research will explore this collective action problem and the effect this cognitive dissonance has on efforts to catalyse political finance reform.

The complete study, funded by DFID Ghana through the Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) programme, will be available on in February 2018, when WFD will begin engaging institutions and civil society in Ghana to present the results of the research and discuss practical action.

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Better laws for Ghana: making data accessible to legislators

Sitting in the Library of the House of Commons it’s hard to imagine how legislators could lack good quality research to inform their legislative initiatives.

Systems, researchers and the library in the Parliament of Ghana worked in isolation, leaving legislators and their offices confused about help on offer and diminishing the effectiveness of the institution.

The Inter-Departmental Research and Information Group (IDRIG) which we are helping establish provides a facility for Ghanaian lawmakers to commission research and also a system to share information between different departments including Library, ICT and Research.

This week, WFD will open an exhibition, as part of the Research and Information Week in parliament, to present results to legislators, academia, civil society, media and other users of parliamentary facilities.

Before the establishment of the group, departments worked in isolation and competition between them was the norm. The lack of communication led to the establishment of multiple ‘information storage systems’ to the benefit of technology providers and expensive consultants but to the detriment of legislators and the reputation of the parliamentary service.

“What is left is for us in the departments to effectively collaborate to get the best out of this support.”

Mohammed Nyagsi, Director of Research in the Parliament of Ghana

Change is never easy to embrace but parliamentary staff in Ghana are starting to see the benefits of working together. As Gloria Insaidoo, the Director of Library Services, recently told us: ‘we are all aware of the turf protection that exists among departments, I have analysed the concept of working in common areas offered by this WFD platform and I would like to encourage colleagues to take these meetings seriously since it will benefit our work and the parliament in general.’

As part of this programme, we helped set up the IDRIG coordinating committee and the technical team in June 2016. These meet monthly and during emergencies and host training sessions and study tours which often result in the production of joint analysis, services and learning events that help legislators better fulfil their roles.
‘I have always had confidence in the support that Parliament receives from WFD,’ said Mr. Mohammed Nyagsi, the Director of Research in the Parliament of Ghana in his welcome address during the first meeting of the IDRIG Coordinating Committee, ‘What is left is for us in the departments to effectively collaborate to get the best out of this support.’

We remain committed to providing that support and adapt that support where needed. From human resources to communications, we have expanded our programme to meet the demands of an increasingly more professional parliamentary service and the political parties that can use it. WFD recently received a request from the Parliamentary Service Board to support party caucuses establish units that help them access and coordinate evidence.

Through coordination and better systems, one researcher can help several legislators pass better laws, which in turn will impact on the lives of millions. This is true at Westminster and is becoming a reality in Ghana too.


(Photo: Colleagues from the Inter-Departmental Research Group participate in a WFD organised planning event.)
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How does the cost of politics impact on marginalised groups?

(Above: Commissioner from Nigeria’s Electoral Commission addresses the Cost of Politics regional conference)

Money remains one of the single most important barriers to political participation, but there are other non-financial costs associated with being active in political life that need to be considered too.

We often forget about who is excluded from politics because they can’t afford to run for office, or who is discriminated against when they choose to engage.

The impact the increasing cost of politics has on marginalised groups such as women and disabled people was explored at Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s regional West Africa conference on 31st January and 1st February 2017. The two-day event explored the West African perspective with case studies from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The term ‘mainstream politics’ and how marginalised groups are thought of as fringe perspectives – to be brought in from the peripheries when needed – it was argued limits the expansion of views in political dialogue, often leading to key issues like healthcare, education and support for vulnerable people being ignored.

As Professor Abubakah Momoh, Director General of the Electoral Institute noted at the conference, anyone who does not have the financial resources or capital to insert themselves in the mainstream is effectively marginalised. The distinction between inclusion and participation is therefore crucial. While inclusion is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunities to all, it does not capture the agency of the individuals involved to actively participate and engage.

Women very often have the social capital – the meaningful relationships and networks within their communities – that is mobilised for their male political peers instead of for their own campaigns. In a workshop carried out in Gaborone, Botswana aimed at supporting current and prospective female candidates, I witnessed just how integral women are to the campaigns of their male peers – organising door-to-door leafleting, rallying, networking and campaigning. The question then is not about whether women are capable of contesting and holding political seats, but rather about supporting women to mobilise the skills they do have, and helping them to identify innovative ways to access the necessary financial resources.

(Above: Representatives of people with disabilities address the regional Cost of Politics)

When contesting a seat women or persons with disabilities are often attacked on a personal rather than a political basis suggesting the cost of politics are not only financial. Prospective women politicians often face higher levels of abuse and scrutiny when compared to their male counterparts. This was a point reiterated by a female MP who spoke candidly at the event of how she and her family had been threatened and a close relative kidnapped because of her frank and vocal political views. Women face far higher risks and are often criticised for defying traditional gender roles like looking after the family. This moves the dialogue away from the political capability of candidates to deliver on electoral issues and promises towards personal characteristics.

Persons with Disabilities, in many countries particularly in Africa, still face a lack of understanding and awareness from other citizens about what having a disability actually means. While countries have ratified international conventions and agreements to safeguard equal rights and fight discrimination, this is too often undermined by a failure to translate these into everyday practices, for example, braille versions of government documents; services for the hearing impaired, wheelchair accessible buildings. Until political and public spaces are more accessible it is difficult to meaningfully facilitate political participation amongst these groups.

The social cost of exclusion, marginalisation and the denial of fundamental rights to equal political participation is a real concern prospective candidates face around the world. Westminster Foundation for Democracy hopes our research into the full cycle of political participation and the costs associated at each stage will encourage active participation and engagement by people from all groups in political life. To do this we need to re-focus on the politics and not the personal.


By Tobi Ayeni, Programme Officer – Africa

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The Cost of Politics in West Africa: WFD regional conference

How do we make politics more affordable?

This is the central question WFD’s research into the cost of politics is tackling. The research programme, launched last July in London, will explore the issue in West Africa by convening the region’s experts at a conference in Nigeria on 31 January.

The conference will address the whole cycle candidates face – from securing nomination to campaigning and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and the associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

The variations in social, cultural and political dimensions that exist between Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be examined with the aim of exposing the different contexts politicians must operate in, and the impact this has on the incentives which drive MPs.

“Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives” WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath, explained.

To address the issue of incentives in the region, the event will focus on how existing regulations can be enhanced and the role political parties and the media play in shaping them.

The impact this phenomenon has on marginalised groups, such as women and youth, as well as the need for cross-border cooperation will be debated by leading experts from election management bodies, civil society, political parties, MPs, the media, academia and enforcement agencies. By facilitating cross-border learning and an exchange of best practice we hope to identify priority issues that can be addressed in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a regional action plan.

Going beyond an assessment of politicians and political parties, the conference will look at the role citizens and society play within this phenomenon and the broader impact this has on governance. In Ghana, George Kunnath explained “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These ‘associated costs’ mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether by securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Adebowale Olorunmola, WFD Country Representative for Nigeria, highlights trust as a major issue in the region. Contributing to WFD’s Cost of Politics report he illustrated the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists; a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”.

For more information about WFD research click here. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates on the #CostofPolitics


(Above: Photo – Henry Donati captured citizens’ waiting to vote in Ghana’s most recent presidential elections as an Election Observer on the European Union Mission in December.)
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Working with Ghana’s Parliament: ‘Our democracy is about inclusiveness’

Democracy is about consensus-building, inclusiveness and participation.

They’re great principles that unite the British and Ghanaian views of what a Parliament should be – and a great starting point for renewed cooperation.

In 2015 WFD has returned to work with old friends in a West African country renowned for the stability of its democracy.

We had operated a targeted project providing support to Ghana’s Parliament in 2011, running training courses for its research team and new MPs. Now we are beginning to implement a much broader programme and deepen our work with the Parliament and its leadership.

“WFD has a longstanding relationship with the Ghana Parliament and we’re delighted to be working in Ghana once again,” Senior Programme Manager for Africa Majda El-Bied said.

ghana inward parliament
The Ghanaian Parliament in session. Photo: World Bank

Our new three-year programme links up our experience supporting parliaments’ officials with our political party colleagues’ links with sister-parties in Ghana. “We were really sad that you phased out, so your return is really welcome news,” the Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Majority Leader, told us. “There are a lot of things we had to do which we thought were incomplete before you left. So your comeback is really exciting to us.”

The integrated nature of the programme was reflected in the cast list of the Ghanaian delegation which visited London in late November; its senior leadership journeyed to Britain for meetings with key UK counterparts in and around the Palace of Westminster.

ghana inward 4The Ghanaian delegation with Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith and Lords Reading Clerk Simon Burton

The Majority and Minority Leaders, together with the Majority and Minority Chief Whips, were able to hold meetings with their sister parties, with whom they have strong links. The Ghana Parliament’s Director of Research, as well as its Clerk and Principal Assistant Clerk, held similar meetings with their counterparts. And the Speaker of the unicameral Ghanaian Parliament, the Rt Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho, met with both the House of Commons’ Speaker John Bercow and the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza. “Any opportunity which offers itself to build a steady parliament and make it relevant to the aspiration of the people we represent is a good opportunity,” he said. “We are keen to see how we can strengthen parliament.”

ghana inward 2
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow with Ghanaian Parliament Speaker Edward Adjaho

Visitors to Ghana are always struck by the consensual approach adopted by its politicians. Some countries might see Parliament as a place for bitter partisan warfare, but in Accra they pursue a different approach. As the Majority Leader, the Hon. Bagbin puts it, this is a very different institution from Africa’s other representative bodies. “We’re building on the principle that democracy is about consensus-building,” he says. “Democracy is about inclusiveness, it’s about participation. So the first thing you do is to build consensus, not to vote. And in reaching consensus, there have to be compromises.”

ghana inward 3Margaret Hodge met with the delegation to discuss her work with the Public Accounts Committee

One of the challenges facing the Parliament is finding ways to strengthen parties’ parliamentary groups. There will now be a concerted effort to strengthen relationships and do more to ensure party policies are understood by the party caucus. This is something the UK parties can help with; by having a space within Parliament, they can work closely with the party caucuses.
WFD hopes to contribute to the Parliament’s ongoing work more widely, too. The biggest single element of this side of our work will be in improving its Research Centre. We’re also keen to work with a parliamentary strengthening coordination group. And, in parallel with our efforts, the UK parties will continue to offer their support to their sister parties. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of the Parliament by linking its experienced officials with British expertise – and we’re delighted that the key players in Ghana are keen to work with us once again.

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