Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Commission recommends 20th century campaign-finance rates for 21st century elections

In 1994, campaign for a parliamentary seat would probably have cost P50 000. Two decades later, that amount wouldn’t even be adequate for a council seat campaign in an urban area. That notwithstanding, that is the exact amount that the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana has recommended as the bare minimum for parliamentary-seat campaigns.

“The Commission recommends that political party funding be introduced based on parliamentary seats won by parties in the immediate past general election, at the rate of not less than P50 000 or such amount as may be determined by Parliament from time to time per Member of Parliament,” the Report says.

On the basis of such recommendation, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party – which won 38 seats in 2019, would get P1.9 million, the Umbrella for Democratic Change would get P750 000, the Botswana Patriotic Front P150 000 and the Alliance for Progressives P50 000.

While the P50 000 is only a guide, it usefully serves as a prescriptive ballpark figure that would guide parliament.

On the basis of personal experience from a decade ago, a former cabinet minister says that a campaign for an urban constituency cost “nothing less than P300 000” while that for a rural constituencies like those in Kgalagadi and Okavango would be double that amount. The cost would certainly have gone up. The expense list includes fuel, food, accommodation, campaign paraphernalia – especially T-shirts, airtime, and small stipends for the campaign team.

“Election campaigns are generally expensive; that is why some MPs become destitute after unsuccessful runs for elective office,” says the former minister, adding that when he ran for a Central Committee position a couple of years back, he spent about P3 million, half of it coming from family savings.

At least in the assessment of Ford Moiteela, a former councillor in the City of Francistown Council, P50 000 wouldn’t even cover campaign costs for a council seat in a city or town. Moiteela says that for such seat (whose campaign is cheaper than for a rural-area seat), a candidate needs at least P200 000. His estimation is that a candidate would need at least 1000 T-shirts at P50 each, a command-and-control office staffed with two to four people getting a monthly stipend of P1000 each, food for the campaign team, fuel for campaign vehicles and airtime.

“For rural areas, it is even more expensive,” says Moiteela, giving Motokwe as an example.

While Motokwe is the name of a Kweneng District village, as used by Moiteela, it is an electoral ward made up of four villages: Motokwe itself as well as Tsetseng, Tshwaane and Khekhenye.

He adds that as often happens, a ward can be made up of villages that can be over 100 kilometres apart and accessible through bad roads. That has financial implications for candidates. Oddly, the Report doesn’t mention political funding for local government candidates.

The formulation of the rules would be unusually taxing for whichever authority will be responsible for disbursing the money. UDC’s situation is going to be particularly vexing because it is coming apart at the seams and is being reconstituted.

At the time of the 2019 general election, UDC was made up of the Botswana National Front, the Botswana Congress Party and the Botswana People’s Party. The BCP won 11 seats, BNF four and BPP came out empty-handed. The BCP has fallen out with the BNF, whose president, Duma Boko, doubles as UDC president, and has announced that it is leaving the coalition. In August last year, UDC welcomed BPF as the fourth member. As the party that won 15 seats, UDC would be entitled to the P750 000 but a member that won most of those seats would have left. Would BPP, a provincial party which hasn’t won a seat in three decades, also be entitled to the money when it contributed nothing in terms of winning parliamentary seats?

While the BDP, which has been in power since independence in 1966, has mulled the idea of introducing political funding for years, it is clearly in no rush to do so. The former minister warns that this foot-dragging bodes ill for a future in which the BDP is out of power. His prediction is that an out-of-power BDP will suffer fate similar to that of Zambia’s the United National Independence Party, which ruled from 1964 to 1991. Once Zambia’s only legally-registered party during the early years of Kenneth Kaunda’s presidency, UNIP lost to the Movement for Multi-party Democracy in 1991. UNIP, which is led by Bishop Trevor Mwamba, former president Sir Ketumile Masire’s son-in-law, has been in the political wilderness since. From 81.8 percent of the national vote in the 1964 elections, it managed to get only 0.06 percent in the 2021 elections.

The appeal of ruling parties to donors is that establishing a relationship with them is mutually beneficial. When such parties lose elections, donors switch allegiances to the new rulers. Donors with vested interest in Zambian politics have no interest in a party that can manage only 0.06 percent of the national vote. Instead, they are more interested in the ruling United Party for National Development which won 59.02 percent of the vote in 2021.

The former minister says that while BDP is still luxuriating in the generosity of “Indian and Chinese businessmen”, that will cease to be the case when it is voted out of power. The latter is steeped in a larger context: with power shifting from the west to the east, increasingly nowadays, it is Asian businesspeople who make the devil’s bargain with politicians.

The world over, state funding is seen a panacea to the baleful influence of private money in politics. All too often, such influence rubs up against public interest. The latter explains why BDP donors are perpetually implicated in favouritism that borders on flagrant lawbreaking.

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