Experts Call for Introduction of Election Tax

0

Abimbola Akosile

Electoral experts from West and Southern Africa have strongly called for the introduction of Election Tax on corporate entities as part of their stake to guarantee a stable democracy. This, they reasoned, would be part of the effort at reducing the huge cost of elections on government which are usually confronted with how to respond to other competing demands.

Apart from the cost of review of voters register which gulps between 40 to 50 per cent of their rising budgets, the increasing deployment of technology by Election Management Bodies (EMBs) designed to ensure “the sanctity and integrity of the ballot”, according to chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, is adduced for the spiralling costs of elections on the continent.

“Given the deficit of infrastructure and expertise in many countries in our sub-regions and the regularity with which elections are conducted, concerns have been raised about cost, choice and effectiveness of technology”, he explained.
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 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 former electoral commissioner, Prof. Adele Jinadu.
“The cost of elections is becoming too unbearable for some countries to bear against the backdrop of paucity of funds and the challenge of meeting other demands. The cost of election was so astronomical that the president of Congo DR once suggested that the country should do away with elections”, he revealed.

Presenting his findings on the Cost of Elections in Liberia which triggered the discussion on the enormous cost of elections to governments across Africa at the international conference encompassing Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) in West and Southern Africa in Abuja, Jinadu, a former dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Lagos State University, Ojo argued 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”.
Flowing from the rational that led to their investment in education in Nigeria via the Education Tax Fund, he argued 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 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 corporate organisations needed to invest in elections, chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia, Mrs. Notemba Tjipueja, pointed 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.
Tjipueja pointed out that from her country’s experience, the first in Africa to use Electronic Voting, the usage of electoral technology should be governed by cost-effectiveness, sustainability and credibility.

In his intervention, Executive Director, European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Mr. Fabio Bargiacchi also highlighted the choice usually faced by International Development Partners of either providing timely and adequate electoral support for the conduct of credible elections for peaceful transitions or providing resources for military intervention and post-conflict reconstruction in countries where bad election has led to conflict and civil war.

Although he conceded that the costs of elections could in some instances be exaggerated, Jinadu inferring from his experience in Nigeria posited, “How much was voted? What was released? What was spent? What was left?” contending that much is also lost to leakages in the system. “When I was appointed Electoral Commissioner, there was a friend who told me that “this was your golden opportunity to make a clean out””.

But chairman, Independent and Boundaries Commission of Kenya, Mr. Wanyonyi Chebukati, said “Most of the services providers of electoral technology are foreign based and relying on them unduly increases costs and knowledge transfer is necessary to enable local management and maintenance of the systems. And that’s why some analysts said that the EMBs would make lots of savings in their costs if they make use of local technology.”

Alluding to Jinadu’s treatise that the “political elite in Africa has been largely irresponsible”, executive secretary, Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group (PASPRG), General Ishola Williams rtd, disagreed 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), who chaired session four at the conference, which focused on the Use of Technology in the Conduct of Elections: Voting, Result Collation and Transmission, said 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 said. 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 International Conference with the theme ‘Opportunities and Challenges in the Use of Technology in Elections: Experiences from West and Southern Africa’, which was funded by ECES as part of the European Union Support for Democracy and Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project was a collaboration between INEC, the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) and the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Countries (ECF-SADC).

The EU, which according to its Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr. Ketil Karlsen has spent one billion Euros supporting and promoting democracy worldwide since 2000, said it was better to do that than providing huge funds for post conflict management. Or in Jinadu’s poser, “What’s the cost of dictatorship?”