How Costly is the Controversial Act to Fund Political Parties?
By Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei
A law to fund political parties is not the solution to sustaining democracy in Liberia. We are all aware that political parties in Liberia have not gone beyond ‘clubs of friends’ organized for elections, and groups lacking stated agenda and ideology or vision for the country. These organizations are not rooted in the population, thus they cannot not be qualified for support by the state. If this law goes through, it will be a legitimized theft of public money. This is why we encourage progressive forces not to allow this to happen to the Liberian people. How much do politicians want to take from the Liberian people using this law? While many activists and commentators have eloquently voiced out their opposition to this law, I join them this time with a simulation using the results of the first round of the 2011 elections to bring to light expected amount to be diverted from genuine and pressing national issues to funding political parties under the guise of ‘sustaining democracy’. According to the proposed “Act to Sustain Democracy”, parties are expected to get funding as follow: Any party that wins 5% to 9% of the presidential votes will get USD $250, 000; 10% to 19% - $360,000; 20% to 29%-$450,000; 30% to 39% - $675,000.00; 40% to 49% -$825,000; 50% to 100%-$1,125,000.00.
Using the results of the 2011 elections, only four parties are qualified for this funding. They are, the ruling Unity Party that won 43%, Congress for Democratic Change, 32%, National Union for Democratic Progress, 11.6% and the Liberty Party, 5.5% of the total votes. Based on the provision of the law quoted above, over the period of six years Unity Party will get a total of USD 4, 950, 000 for obtaining 43% of the votes. This will be against the aspirations of the remaining 57% of the voters that voted against this party. In the same way, CDC will get a of USD 4, 050, 000 against the wish of the 68% of the people that voted against this party; NUDP and LP will walk away with USD 2, 160, 000 and USD 1, 500, 000 respectively over the six years. In total, the Liberian people will be deprived of USD $12, 660, 000 just for the presidential elections if we were to consider this election for simulation purposes to predict the weight this legislation will have on the national treasury.
It does not stop to the presidential elections. The lawmakers work harder to ensure that their seats are given bonuses in addition to the huge salaries and benefits they get monthly. Parties, alliances and coalitions and independent candidates that win seats in either House will get 15, 000 per annum for a seat in the Senate and 12, 500 per annum for a seat in the House. Since every single seat is won by a party or an independent candidate, this means that every year $ 912, 500 will be given out to the 73 seats in the House and 450, 000 to the 30 seats in the Senate.
Another simulation is also possible here. I looked at the leading parties in both Houses from the 2011 election. Fifteen seats were contested for in the Senate and 73 in the House. In the Senate election the Unity Party won 4 seats qualifying it for USD 60, 000 annually, and 24 seats in the House of Representatives which qualifies the party for $300, 000 annually. This means that the party will collect 360, 000 annually for its seats in both houses. Taken for a period of six years the party will get $2, 160, 000 from the national treasury for its legislative success in 2011. The other leading parties are to get the following for their legislative seats over the six years: CDC (2 Sen.; 11 Rep.) - $1,005, 000; NUDP (1 Sen.; 6 Rep.) $540, 000; LP (7 Rep.) $525, 000. The National Patriotic Party that got nothing from the presidential election will get $585, 000 over the 6-year period for the 4 Senate seats and 3 House seats it won in 2011. And individuals in both houses that are called ‘Independent Candidates’ are also qualified to get $ 12, 500 as representatives and $15, 000 as senators. Seven persons won seats as Independents in the House and one in the Senate. The total amount for these individuals per year is USD $102, 500; and over a period of six years, this will be $650, 000. For these individuals one can easily tell that this money will be a bonus to their salary since they are independent and report to no organization or group of people.
The figures above are clear enough to tell how much Liberians will be losing to politicians and their parties. If this legislation goes through it will be against not only the wishes of the majority of the citizenry, but also in violation of their rights since many people will be paying taxes to support organizations they do not support. It is evident that no party has been able to convince 51% (a majority) of Liberians in any recent general election. On the side of pressing national issue, this law will put basic services like education, water, electricity and security in competition with political parties during budget debates, and no one would be surprise if political parties are given priority over these issues. What we think the parties need to do in sustaining democracy is to first sustain democracy in their internal structures by opening them up for broad-based participation, and becoming accountable to their members. Once the parties move from the stage of being centered around individuals and get established among their members, the members will take ownership of the parties and their visions thereby making each party to get a reliable source of funding in its membership.
The parties in Liberia also have to prove themselves beyond being ‘clubs of friends’ that are only visible during elections. Ruling parties that feed on state funds are the only ones visible after elections, and the sources of support for ruling parties need to be checked and monitored as a way of ensuring a level playing field. This was proven by the elaborate presence of the ruling Unity Party after the 2005 elections. Even though this organization was nominally poor in the years before the 2005 elections, it was able to assemble dozens of pickups, massive bill-boards once it was in power. Nothing has convinced some of us that those things were not funded by state resources, or that the party’s influence at the helm of power was not peddled in getting them.
This law will add a new phenomenon to politicking in Liberia. Political parties are usually formed around an objective and ideology, which they pursue through seeking state power, the ultimate prize. But this law will add a new prize money - in the competition for state power in Liberia. This is likely to polarize the process and will be an incentive to making the competition for state power even fiercer, because parties that will see themselves losing will do anything possible to get qualified for state funding, and they might resort to fraud, and if possible violence to attain this aim. In addition, this law will give some parties undue edge over others, and will further limit the field to the manipulations of few actors who will be funded by the state at the disadvantage of other actors. These are all reasons why this bill must be defeated in the Senate. Progressive activists will have to continue the mobilization against these kinds of legitimized thievery and no one should buy into the deception that the fact that other countries are funding political parties, Liberia should do the same. We must resist this legislations to the latter. It is even heartbreaking that individuals who grew out of the struggle for social justice and economic empowerment have now abandoned the long time objective of the popular struggle. Their actions in recent years like the one supporting this legislation, and even allowing the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be ignored by the political establishment, are supportive of the allegations in some quarters that the long struggle for economic empowerment and social justice in Liberia has long been betrayed, reechoing the need for a broad based mobilization and re-consciencitization of the people with the hope that the future will be better.
Finally, it is worth noting here that sustaining democracy in Liberia requires mass education of the citizenry. This means sustained support to education and basic services. In this regard, supporting civil society organizations to carry out civic education projects around the country will serve further better than putting money in the accounts of unaccountable organizations. We must continue to monitor this legislation till it is defeated in the Senate or vetoed by the President. And we look up to political parties (including ones that we have associated ourselves with before) to build internal democracies that will appeal to members better that will make them get supports that are even remarkable and greater than money loyalty, emotional, and passionate support which can be built from conviction established through a well articulated ideology.
-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry-