Election Tax Can Cause Turmoil, say EMB Chairs

Election Tax Can Cause Turmoil, say EMB Chairs

…Insist Such Move Will Overburden, Impoverish the People Chairperson of Electoral Commission of Ghana, Ms Jean Mensa, her counterpart in Burkina Faso, Mr Ahmed Newton Barry and the former Chairperson, Electoral Commission of South Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula have strongly counselled against any plans to impose Election Tax in any country on the African Continent,

…Insist Such Move Will Overburden, Impoverish the People

Chairperson of Electoral Commission of Ghana, Ms Jean Mensa, her counterpart in Burkina Faso, Mr Ahmed Newton Barry and the former Chairperson, Electoral Commission of South Africa, Ms Pansy Tlakula have strongly counselled against any plans to impose Election Tax in any country on the African Continent, arguing that such a plan being muted to mitigate the rising costs of elections can cause turmoil and social disorder.

Speaking as panellists on the topic “Managing Elections in Africa–How Can Social Media Help or Hurt Elections Management” at the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards (WAMECA), organised in Accra, Ghana by the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA), the trio were agreed that this move is capable of over burdening the people, further pauperising them and may lead to chaos.

“Doing that will cause some trouble. The people of Ghana will not take that lightly as they are already over taxed,” says Ms Mensa. Echoing this view, Mr Barry, whose country along with Ghana, Togo, Gabon and Cote d’Ivoire will hold elections next year, says, “Taxing the people for elections will not be the issue because people are already reeling from taxes. We cannot overburden them by imposing an Election Tax.”

Not too warm to the call by some experts for Election Tax to be imposed on corporate entities in Africa as a way of reducing the huge cost of elections on governments, Tlakula, also a former chairperson, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), says that will lead to lots of ligations in South Africa.

“The corporate entities are already paying taxes, imposing an Election Tax which they will eventually pass on to the people will cause crises. And they will challenge this in courts. The country will end up being entangled in series of law suits rather than focusing on elections,” she quips.

Some electoral experts who graced the International Conference on “Opportunities And Challenges In The Use Of Technology In Elections: Experiences From West And Southern Africa,” organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja in April 2018, had posited that it was better to impose tax on corporate entities to support elections rather than mobilising huge resources when such countries become consumed by conflicts.  

“The corporate organisations need to share the debilitating cost of elections. They are not presently investing in elections but you need elections to sustain democratic stability in Nigeria or any other African country. The private sector should invest in stability”, says Prof Liasu Adele Jinadu, former INEC commissioner.

Stirring the hornet nest with his paper on Cost of Elections in Africa, Jinadu, also a former dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, argues that it was necessary to “Consider the feasibility of ECOWAS member countries imposing an Election Tax on the private sector in the region, to be administered and used to defray election costs, as part of their corporate social responsibility and investment in the region’s democracy and development”.

Leaning on similar rational that led to their investment in Education in Nigeria via the imposition of Education Tax, he contends that “The private sector stands to benefit from, and should invest in elections as mechanism for consolidating peace and stability in the region. Collective pressure and agreement at the REC (Resident Electoral Commissioners) level will send a powerful message to the private sector”.

Decrying the little investment of the private sector on elections, it was the view of Jinadu, a professor of Political Science that “We need to tell them that investment in elections would bring good returns. You can see the results; Africa is not what it was 10 years ago. The private sector makes a lot of money within and takes a lot out of several countries in Africa. It must therefore invest in its stability. As a business you need to take risks”

While sharing the view that the corporate organizations need to invest in elections, Mrs Notemba Tjipueja, chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia, points out that the problem of not investing in “inclusive democracy and a peaceful society is the crises and conflicts which becomes prevalent thereafter” . “Investment in election is worthwhile because it ensures a stable environment for business to thrive”, she said.

Conceding to Jinadu’s treatise that the “political elite in Africa has been largely irresponsible”, General Ishola Williams rtd, executive secretary, Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group (PASPRG) however disagrees with the view that elections are investments in Africa, arguing that “If elections are investments, then there must be good returns. There should also be satisfaction with democracy. If you have not spent on social welfare for the people, then democracy can’t be a worthwhile investment for them”.

Williams, a former commander of Nigerian Army School of Training and Doctrine (TRADOC), says the issue of trust remains critical in elections in Africa as the people do not see any incentive in observing their civic duties since the political elite are increasingly not responsive to their yearnings and aspirations.

“Even when many countries in Africa deploy technologies that have not been used in the developed world, they are still not enough to sustain the confidence of people”, he says.

It may be difficult to fault Williams because the cost of the 2017 election per voter in Rwanda where the people have struck a greater bond with the political elite is a mere $1.01.  

The huge cost of elections is becoming too unbearable for some countries in Africa to bear particularly against the backdrop of paucity of funds and the challenge of meeting other social demands. “The cost of election was so astronomical that the President of Congo DR once suggested that the country should do away with elections”, says Jinadu.

Mr Barry, chairperson Electoral Commission of Burkina Faso reveals that it will cost his country 6 billion francs to conduct the election slated to hold next year, disclosing that over half of this sum will be contributed by international partners and donors..

At the cost of $25 per voter, Kenya which had two presidential elections in a spate of two months in 2017 currently holds the ace of conducting the most expensive election in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) conducted its 2011 election at a staggering $44 per voter while Ghana’s 2016 election cost $18 per voter. Nigeria’s watershed election in 2015 which led to the defeat of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was $8.5 per voter.   

The African Regional Conference on Financing of Electoral Processes jointly put together by the Electoral Commission of Namibia and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), a Swedish based development agency in Windhoek, Namibia in June last was conceived according to the organisers, as a way of “Influencing a conceptual shift and understanding of the discourse on elections as a cost – to an investment that is required to enhance electoral democracy by effectively managing the interlinked electoral processes as building blocks for elections.”

While, it is widely acknowledged that elections are only one of the many key interdependent elements of the electoral processes and ultimately for democracy building, the financial and human resources required for electoral processes and to conduct elections continues to increase.

“This has prompted the deliberations within International IDEA on creating an understanding on how elections are an outcome of the financing/investments in the interlinked electoral components/processes and the cost is what occurs if there are no sustainable investments into electoral processes.”

It is the organiser’s view that the ‘return on investment’ that is associated with democratic and inclusive electoral processes, as key components of a democracy, can be validated in terms of social stability within a nation.

“By contrast, countries that underfund investments in their democracy tend to be associated with issues such as; Ineffective electoral management, and administration; Low levels of voter turnout; High levels of election fraud and Manipulation and voting irregularities. Others include: Limited freedom for news media to scrutinize the exercise of power; Ineffective electoral justice system and lack of access to the mechanisms of resolving electoral disputes.”

Although Barry agrees that the cost of elections is becoming burdensome for countries like Burkina Faso with 19,000 polling stations to bear, he does not believe that putting more money for elections will make it more transparent. “We need to embark on massive education of the people about the use of social media to achieve better results,” he says

Photo (clockwise: Ms Mensa, Ms Tlakula and Mr Barry

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