Why We Proposed Election Tax – Adele Jinadu

Why We Proposed Election Tax – Adele Jinadu

Liasu Adele Jinadu, 77, is a radical liberal of a progressive humanistic and social democratic hue, in the mould of Frantz Fanon and a prominent member of the Fanonist Afrocentric public intellectuals of the 1960s through the 1980s in Africa. Many will be taken aback that the acclaimed Political Science Scholar is the one bearing

Liasu Adele Jinadu, 77, is a radical liberal of a progressive humanistic and social democratic hue, in the mould of Frantz Fanon and a prominent member of the Fanonist Afrocentric public intellectuals of the 1960s through the 1980s in Africa.

Many will be taken aback that the acclaimed Political Science Scholar is the one bearing the can to push for an Election Tax on corporate entities which some have interpreted as additional burden on the people already reeling from too many taxes. But he shrugs this off; “the recommendation is not for an Election Tax on the citizen but on profits declared by private sector organizations”.

Jinadu explains further: “During the focus group discussion in some of the 6 ECOWAS countries studied and during the validation meeting of the draft six country case studies in Abuja in October 2018, attended by stakeholders from all six ECOWAS countries, there was general agreement that an Election Tax should be imposed on the profit declared by private sector organizations in each country to support the cost of elections.

“It was argued that the private sector needs to demonstrate firm support for the long-term potential that democratic elections hold out as mechanisms for sustainable development, peace and security in the ECOWAS region, an environment so desirable for the private sector to operate optimally.

“It was also noted that the private sector needs to give something back into the cost of election, given the immense patronage it derives from the huge procurement contract it gets to supply electoral materials and technology,” he says.    

Born in 1943, the renowned Professor of Political Science attended King’s College, Lagos, and obtained the Bachelor’s degree of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford University, England; and PhD in Political Science, at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities Campus), Minnesota, USA. 

In addition to teaching in the USA, Jinadu taught at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, University of Lagos, and the Lagos State University (LASU) where he was Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences. He was at different times Member, Nigeria’s National Electoral Commission, Director-General, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Badagry and Executive Director, Centre for Advanced Social Sciences (CASS) in Port Harcourt 2004-2008. Apart from being Visiting Professor, Indiana University and Michigan State University, he was Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Zimbabwe. He was Secretary General, African Association of Political Science between 85-90 and later President from 97 to 99. He was also Vice President, International Political Science Association between 2000-2003.     

Jinadu who has mentored several generations of Political Science scholars is the leader of a team commissioned to look into the rising election costs by the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC). Their report which covered six countries in the West African sub-region – Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau (Lusophone); Benin Republic and Senegal (Francophone); and Liberia and Nigeria (Anglophone), representing the three official linguistic zones in ECOWAS, has already stirred the hornet’s nests as it called on “ECOWAS Commission and Parliament to pass resolution requesting member states’ Executive and Legislature to introduce legislation imposing Election Tax on the private sector.”

While alluding to “The high administrative and technology integrity cost of their elections as a major component of the escalating election cost in the six countries,” the report notes that, “The private sector provides little support for election cost funding,” though they are “major beneficiaries of political stability.”

The report also proposed the setting up of an Election Management Body (EMB) Trust Fund and the exemption of EMBs from provisions of national procurement law. Jinadu discusses this and many other issues in this incisive interview in Lagos with TONY IYARE. Excerpts:

Is the spiralling election budget particularly in Nigeria justified or are the officials in charge of EMBs doing a lot of padding so that they can funnel this away at the end?

The apparent spiralling cost of Nigeria’s elections in recent years is partly due to the administrative and the high technology integrity cost of ensuring and strengthening electoral integrity in the country. Hopefully, this may be a short-term trend with prospects for the medium- to long-term considerable savings that may result, particularly from the use of high technology.

For example, the “Nigeria Case Study,” in the Cost of Elections in the Ecowas Region, shows a decrease of N22,818,205,765 or 16.5% in the 2015 election budget from the country’s 2011 election budget. This was due largely to expenditure on direct data capture and high technology machines to sanitize the country’s voters’ register in 2010/11 to enhance the integrity of the 2011 elections but which were not repurchased for the 2015 elections.

Also, the Nigeria Case Study shows a decrease of N55,603,530,152 expended on Electoral Capital Projects from the N60,233,464,752, for the 2011 elections for this line item to N4,629,934,600 for the 2015 elections, representing a decrease of 92.3%.

What is little known is that, as the expenditure for the 2015 elections in Nigeria shows, expenditure on recruitment, transportation, training, feeding and honoraria of ad hoc staff totalled N46,761,078,623, accounting for the highest expenditure for the 2015 elections.    

It should be added that, comparatively, the cost of election per voter in Nigeria is lower at US$8.5 for the 2015 elections than the figures for Cape Verde (US$36.5 for 2016); Ghana (US$18 for 2016); Guinea-Bissau (US$11.2 for 2014); Kenya (US$25.4 for 2017); Liberia (US$15.3 for 2017), although the Nigerian per voter cost for the 2015 elections is higher than that for Rwanda (US$1.01 for the country’s 2017 elections); Tanzania (US$5.16% for the 2015 elections); and Uganda (US$4 for the 2016 elections).   

With increasing use of technology leading to higher cost, don’t you think the EMBs are becoming couriers of technology vendors out to sell their wares?

As the saying goes, in a capitalist or consumerist society, goods demand to be bought, driven by aggressive marketing and advertisement. But within the National Electoral Commissions (EMBs) in the six ECOWAS country case studies, there are serious discussions over the comparative advantages, relevance, and appropriateness of high technology election machines competing to be bought, and over other options available to offset dependence on high technology and plug loopholes for rent-seeking, given the limited level of budgetary allocations available to the EMBs.

However, as the case studies make clear, alternative options to high technology and other cost saving options, such as in the recruitment and honoraria for ad hoc staff, are being explored by the National Electoral Commissions. Stakeholders consulted during the study agree that the emergence and sustainability of good democratic governance anchored on massive investment in human development will serve in the medium- to long-term to lower cost of elections in ECOWAS considerably. If the introduction of high technology contributes to the enhancement of electoral integrity and democratic governance, it will be a good investment. 

Why are elections in Africa more technology driven than that of many countries in the western world?

I am not sure theassumption underlying the question is correct. It requires empirical verification. Enhancing electoral integrity, which, historically, has been at a very low ebb in Nigeria’s electoral history, as it has been elsewhere in Africa, and which is well documented in the Report of the Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee, (2008), has made it inevitable to incur high technology cost to engender confidence in Nigeria’s elections and elsewhere in the ECOWAS region, and Africa.

But we need also to turn attention to what needs to be done to provide human development to a level where we can tap the social and economic capital, such as civic responsibility, derivable from human development to reduce the administrative integrity cost of our elections.  For example, between the 2011 and 2015 elections in Nigeria, the cost of honoraria for election officials increased by 200.5%, training of election officials by 165%, transportation/DTA for election officials by 49.2%, and publicity for elections by 232%, whereas the cost of Electoral Capital Projects decreased by 92%, and Continuous Voter Registration by 44.8%. In other countries, election duty is a civic duty, done in most cases voluntarily.        

What was the rationale for the proposal of Election Tax?

During the focus group discussion in some of the 6 ECOWAS countries studied and during the validation meeting of the draft six country case studies in Abuja in October 2018, attended by stakeholders from all six ECOWAS countries, there was general agreement that an Election Tax should be imposed on the profit declared by private sector organizations in each country to support the cost of elections in each country.

It was argued that the private sector needs to demonstrate firm support for the long-term potential that democratic elections hold out as mechanisms for sustainable development, peace and security in the ECOWAS region, an environment so desirable for the private sector to operate optimally. It was also noted that the private sector needs to give something back into the cost of election, given the immense patronage it derives from the huge procurement contract it gets to supply electoral materials and technology.

Earlier in April 2008, the communique issued at a joint meeting of National Electoral Commissions in West and Southern Africa in Abuja, Nigeria, urged the private sector, which requires a stable, and peaceful political and socioeconomic environment to operate and thrive, should contribute to meeting the costs of elections,” in Africa.    

The proposed Election Tax is, therefore, NOT an additional tax to be imposed on the citizens. The proposal takes its cue from the motivation for such legislation as the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) Act, 2000; and Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Act 2011, both of which were enacted to provide supplementary funding to state funding of education.

In the case of GETFund, 2.5% of the prevailing rate of Value Added Tax is to be paid by the Value Added Tax Service into the Education Trust Fund. On the other hand, Nigeria’s TetFund Act provides that a tax rate 2% should be charged on the assessable profit of a company registered in Nigeria and paid into the Education Trust Fund.   The proposal also follows the logic of the binding African Union-wide levy of 0.2% on eligible imports towards commitment to self-reliance.

The six-nation case studies makes other recommendations on the sustainable funding of elections, notably (a) reservation of a per cent of national budget in each country for elections as a charge on the country’s consolidated revenue fund, deposited into an escrow account or Trust Fund, managed by each country’s electoral commission, but with strict accountability and transparency oversight provisions; (b) governments should release appropriated election budget timeously, because delayed or staggered releases and cuts in election budget constitute major factors in the rising costs of elections in the region; (c) each country’s electoral commission should strengthen its internal mechanisms by plugging and constraining leakages and rent-seeking activities in its procurement processes; (d) regular, particularly post-election audits of election materials and resources to avoid theft and wastage and to ensure safe storage of re-usable election materials and, thereby, save on replacement cost of procuring them every election year; and (e) each electoral commission to explore cost-saving strategies such as the importation of electoral materials from ECOWAS and other African states that have comparative advantage in the production of election materials.    

What concrete benefit will it serve?

It will supplement the national election budget appropriated by the legislature and underline the commitment of the private sector to supporting democratic elections in the ECOWAS.Experience with the management and administration of Ghana’s GETFund and Nigeria’s TETFund provides ample illustration of the benefits of such supplementary support to state funding of election cost by the private sector. 

Why do you think the corporate institutions should fund elections?

This is set out in answers to Questions 4 and 5 above. It should be viewed as a core responsibility of the private sector in Africa, under their Corporate Social Responsibility. As the African Peer Review Mechanism Reports of several African countries have documented, the private sector, despite the huge profits it derives from the current democratization processes in Africa, is barely contributing to, and indeed shows little interest in supporting concretely democratic consolidation on the continent.

Do you think this recommendation on Election Tax is feasible and governments in the West African sub region would buy into it?

The success of the GETFund and TETFund shows that the recommendation is feasible, if there is the political will to enforce it, and consultations with the private sector to secure their buy-in and compliance. It should be emphasized again that the recommendation is not for an Election Tax on the citizen but on profits declared by private sector organizations.

Some say it’s a recipe for disaster and turmoil, do you agree?

Why would it create disaster and turmoil? Has GETFund and TETFund resulted in a disaster or has it created turmoil? The fear is due to the wrong perception that the proposed Election Tax is a direct tax on individual citizens, which it is not. 

In what way are elections investments?

I have answered this question under Question 2.  We need to view democratization as a process, characterized by the ebb and flow of democratic governance, one that involves contestation over the meaning of democracy itself and intense struggle between pro-democracy forces and anti-democracy ones. This is what Guillermo O’Donnell, the Argentinian former President of the International Political Science Association, referred to as “the perpetual crises of democracy.” This is the contention that “democracy is and always will be in some kind of crisis, for it is constantly redirecting its citizens’ gaze from a more or less unsatisfactory present toward a future of still unfulfilled possibilities…For the crises involve democracy’s intense mix of hope and dissatisfaction…”

The crises are not experienced only by fledgling democracies but also by matured ones, where, as in Africa, there is also serious disenchantment with democratic politics. Democratic elections, not elections as such, under the democratic governance architecture in place in most African countries since the late 1980s, constitute in this sense an investment in competitive electoral democratic politics, whose raison d’etre, to quote O’Donnell again, lies in “…its constantly redirecting its citizens’ gaze from a more or less unsatisfactory present toward a future of still unfulfilled possibilities…”

To elaborate: Across Africa there were 156 presidential and parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2012, while 62 such elections were held in the ECOWAS region between 2005 and 2018. Despite the fragility, violent-prone nature, and rising costs of the elections, democratic governance is gradually taking roots. There is a growing acceptance of limited government, under the rule of law and separation of powers. It is no longer business as usual, as it was under the military or one-party rule. The democratic space is widening, electoral politics is getting more competitive, Life Presidents are gone, perhaps, irreversibly and in several countries presidential term limits have withheld attempts to remove or amend them by Presidents who want to perpetuate themselves in office, beyond their constitutional term limits.

In short, if elections in Africa are fraught with irregularities, there are robust attempts in state and society to improve on them. There seems to be a broad acceptance of competitive party and electoral politics, anchored on the conviction that the alternative to it, authoritarian or one-party rule portends graver danger.           

Don’t you think it’s a way of over burdening the people who are already reeling with taxes because invariably the corporate entities will pass this to them in form of higher prices of goods and services?

As I have answered earlier, (Questions 4,6, and 7) the proposed Election Tax is not a direct tax on individuals. Therefore, the issue of “over-burdening the people” need not arise.

Do you think the huge cost of our election is sustainable given other more critical competing demands like infrastructure, education, healthcare, security and other socio-welfare demands?

As I have indicated in answers to Question 1-4, the Study of Election Cost in ECOWAS provides recommendations that will, hopefully, in the medium- to long-term, help to reduce and ensure the sustainability of elections in the Region.  As important as democratic elections for the sustainability of democratic governance, no less important is the embrace of the political elite and the citizens-at-large of cultural and moral anchors and political and economic guardrails of democracy.

Without donor funds, do you think many countries in Africa can afford to fund elections?

Unfortunately, the answer is No. But this requires some qualifications. Nigeria’s election budget since 1999, and even before then, have been funded almost entirely without donor support. In Senegal, elections are viewed as a matter of absolute sovereignty, which does not admit of external funding, except for financing “awareness-raising activities,” such as voter-education. In Cape Verde, the country’s National Electoral Commission is funded exclusively by state funds. But in Guinea-Bissau’s last elections, external donor funding amounted to about 70% of the election costs. In Liberia, external donor funding of the 2017 elections was roughly 10% of the election budget. What remains problematic is the continued dependence of African countries for external donor funding of their national budgets.

Do you foresee a situation like it happened in the DRC when the government may say election is not our priority?

The question is not whether African governments will say elections are not their priority but whether they can afford to do without competitive party and electoral politics, or do away with them, in the face of domestic, African and extra-African pressures. The regularity of such elections, as constitutionally prescribed, has been indicated in the answer to Question 9. It remains a feature of post-1990 democratic politics in Africa.   

One of the recommendations in your report is that the EMBs should be exempted from national procurement law. Is it not a contradiction that at a time you are canvassing for huge sums for the EMBs, you want them to worry less about financial controls?

No, we did not recommended exemption of EMBs from national procurement law as such. What we recommended was “exemption…for the procurement of sensitive security election materials…under specified conditions, such as approval by the country’s President or national cabinet.”

The rationale for the suggestion is that, in view of the security implications of the assignment of National Electoral Commissions, they should not be treated like ministerial departments and agencies. Moreover, the exemption will remove the Electoral Commissions from an environment that can compromise their independence and create an avenue for undue interference in election procurement activities by rent-seeking officials in the executive branch agencies. In Liberia, for example, the complex politics of the procurement process caused delayed approvals and releases that resulted in upward review of contract sum. In some cases, such delays necessitated sub-contracting of, and the delayed delivery of sensitive election materials.

Why are our elections so rancorous and dogged by vote buying, rigging, ballot snatching, thuggery and violence?

The six case studies point to a number of factors in the political economy of ECOWAS states that predispose to, and precipitate this state of affairs, notably: (a) underdevelopment and the interlinked capacity, resource, and human development deficits that define and characterize it; (b) weak commitment by the political elite to the broader cultural and normative anchors of competitive party and electoral politics; and (c) the bureaucratic politics of the national budgetary and procurement processes that create daunting challenges of the approval election budgets and the timely release of approved funds to the Electoral Commissions.

Political Parties are supposed to be organs of mobilization and conscientisation apart from being platforms for contesting elections. Do you believe the parties in Nigeria’s 4th republic have lived up to Maurice Duverger’s proposition? Do you agree with those who deride the present parties in Nigeria as mere platforms for contesting elections?

I find it more insightful to look at the nature of Nigeria’s party system through conceptual prisms and contextual lenses provided by Frantz Fanon and Leon Epstein than those provided by Maurice Duverger. Doing this, we find that Nigerian parties have historically fallen far short of the expectations of competitive party and electoral politics and of elections as mechanisms for enhancing electoral integrity and for the positive management of diversity.

The result, especially since the country’s party reform under the 1979 Constitution, as Professor Patrick Ollawa has pointed out, is the emergence of transactional [party] politics based on opportunistic and informal networks of politicking, replete with intra-party factionalism that constantly led to shifting alliances…”

What the party system has reflected, therefore, is the following: (a) the personalization of politics, and its encouragement of godfatherism and clientelism; (b) the unwholesome influence of money; (c) lack of internal party democracy; and (d) election-related violent political conflict within and between political parties. 

Many argue that what’s their business in supporting elections particularly in Nigeria which have largely churned out misfits and irresponsible leadership. Do you agree with this view?

The price of democratic politics, as my earlier reference to O’Donnell formulation of the perpetual crises of democracy underscores, is “eternal vigilance” by citizens to hold political parties and the political elite accountable. We should not be blindfolded by the prevalence of “misfits” and “irresponsible leadership,” and by the consequential contradictions in our democratic politics.

Rather, we should, to quote O’Donnell again, robustly “redirect [our] gaze from a more or less unsatisfactory present toward a future of still unfulfilled possibilities.” In short, we should also turn towards deepening some considerable democratic gains the country has recorded since May 1999, such as (a) competitive democratic political succession, as constitutionally stipulated; (b) continuing commitment to federalism, including federal reform; (c) ebb and flow of the watchdog role of the Legislature and the Judiciary, especially at the federal level; (d) the apparent subordination of the military to civilian rule and authority; (e) the vibrancy of civil society organizations as democratic sentinel; and (f) the not-so-inconsequential success of democracy-promoting institutions, such as INEC, ICPC, EFCC, the Human Rights Commission.

We must, therefore, not give up. We must persist in the struggle to defeat the devil that sullies our politics.

Do you think our elections have been fair to women, youth and other vulnerable groups?

No. Efforts to ensure the inclusiveness of our party and electoral politics must remain high on our constitutional and political, including electoral reform agenda. It is shameful that Nigeria is very low in ranking on the inclusiveness of its politics, regarding guaranteeing and securing the group rights of women and other marginalized groups in the state.

Have the political class in Nigeria lived up to its responsibility of leadership to really elicit the support of the people?

No. This is because, at the core of the democratic governance crisis in Nigeria is a mainstream non-democratic political and legal culture. It is disappointing in this respect that some leading lights in the country’s pro-democracy struggle of the late 1980s to mid-1990s who are now occupying prominent public political offices seem to have forgotten what they fought for. They have become mirror images of what they fought against.

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