Why a narco-state like Guinea Bissau requires public funding of political parties.

On 4 June 2023, Bissau Guinean’s shall head to the polls to elect their representatives to the  National People’s Assembly (NPA). This is after Guinea Bissau’s president-Umaro Sissoco Embalo in May 2022 through an address to the nation dissolved the country’s opposition-controlled parliament with accusations of corruption and “unresolvable” differences between the NPA and other government branches.

He called for early parliamentary elections in December 2022. The snap elections in a presidential decree where however postponed to June 2023, almost a year since the country’s legislature was disbanded. 

Often described as one of the most fragile states in Africa, the former Portuguese colony has since its independence in 1974 experienced four military coups and endless failed attempts despite the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991.

The country’s most recent attempted coup was in February 2022, two years after president Embaló took office. He dissolved the parliament just three months later, a decision many political commentators believe was induced by the attempted overthrow of his government.

Corruption and embezzlement were among the top issues the president raised to back his move. According to the Heritage Foundation, corruption is a characteristic of the Bissau-Guinean government and economy.

Transparency International‘s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index records that corruption in Guinea-Bissau occurs at among the highest levels in the world and by score ranked 164th among the 180 countries in the Index, where the country ranked 180th is perceived to have the most corrupt public sector.

A report by Freedom House also indicates that corruption in Guinea Bissau is pervasive, including among senior government figures. Both political and military officials have been accused of deep involvement in the illegal drug trade which is habitually politically motivated.

Considerably, corruption in Guinea-Bissau is related to the fact that the country is a hub of international weapon and drug trafficking since the early 2000’s. Political corruption in the country consists largely of involvement in narcotics trafficking.

Illegal narcotics from Latin America make their way to Europe by way of Guinea-Bissau. As of 2007, Guinea-Bissau was a major transit point for European trafficking by Colombian drug cartels.

It is beyond reasonable doubt that Guinea Bissau’s lucrative illicit economies most prominently illicit logging and the cocaine trade have caused large influxes of money into the country which have for decades financed and bankrolled hefty electoral campaign costs.

Since the country lacks a reliable source of data on campaign spending, it is difficult to determine the exact cost of legislative election campaigns in this narco-state. It is estimated that the cost of running a successful campaign for a seat in the National Assembly can range from $50,000 to $100,000 in a country where the minimum wage is just $98 a month.

According to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC)’s, Grim outlook for Guinea-Bissau elections 2022 , the high cost of elections and lack of accountability and transparency regarding political party and campaign finances are drivers for politicians to seek rents from illicit markets. These drivers erode the rule of law and damage democracy.

The same report also states that “…analysis of the last three elections underscores how closely electioneering is interwoven with illicit economies in the country. Illicit logging has been fingered as a key source of financing for the 2014 elections and those originally scheduled for 2018 (later postponed to 2019)…”

Many Bissau Guineans believe that even in the elections scheduled for June are in jeopardy  considering the continued political financing by organized crime, as has happened in the past.

It is rather unfortunate that with all this is play, the narco-state lacks an exclusive campaign finance regulatory framework. Analysis by Secrets Known shows that despite this, Guinea Bissau at least has some campaign finance regulatory provisions embedded in its 1991 Framework Law on Political Parties and the NPA and Presidency Elections Act, 2013 Law on the Election of the President of the Republic and the National People’s Assembly even though they are poorly framed and scantily outlined.

These provisions summarily include limits on donations and spending, as well as disclosure and accountability requirements for political parties. There are 21 registered political parties in Guinea Bissau. The two dominant ones being Guinea-Bissau: the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and the Social Renewal Party (PRS).

Chapter 6 of the 1991 Framework Law on Political Parties specifically includes provisions on the conduct and financing of electoral campaigns states that, “the National People’s Assembly shall include in the state budget the amount of annual subsidies to political parties to be distributed according to the number of elected deputies.” 

This establishes public funding of political parties in Guinea Bissau. This law provides for a system whereby the state reimburses part of parties’ campaign expenses, “according to the financial resources of the State and the electoral representation of each party.”  This contribution must be granted within three months after the elections, at the request of the parties addressed to the President of the NPA and upon presentation of their campaign expenses.

Article 47 Law No. 10/2013 of the 25 September 2013 Law on the Election of the President of the Republic and the National People’s Assembly also provides that,  “the state shall determine ‘in accordance with availability’ a financial amount to support candidates’ campaigns, which is to be made available 15 days before the start of the campaign to the parties or coalitions of parties that have submitted nominations, or to the presidential candidates.

Secrets Known cites the text in the law that states that, “the state provides financial support ‘only according to availability’ is a legal inadequacy. It is important that the amounts allocated to the various eligible parties should then be defined. The article goes on to define the rule of distribution of the funds granted by the state for both legislative and presidential elections.

Even though all these legal provisions theoretically demonstrate the desire of the state to supervise and provide financial support to political parties and candidates, the reality is that parties and candidates in Guinea Bissau have not received public funding in so long. No wonder many politicians and political parties have been driven to reliance on illicit drug trade to raise campaign expenses.

For Guinea Bissau’s case, it is crystal clear that the major problem is not the lack of laws, (because they do have them in abundance) but institutions’ incapacity to enforce and implement them. Sadly, even countries with the most intricate of laws rarely respect them, mainly because the institutions responsible for their implementation cannot afford to do so.

With Guinea Bissau’s erratic history, it is important that the country prioritizes the enforcement of laws on public funding of political parties to gradually break the reliance on illicit sources of revenue from drug and weapon trafficking.  If well organised, and accounted for, public funding can also be used to strengthen parties and enable them to contribute to the consolidation of a democracy as young and fragile as this one.

Secrets Known acknowledges the extreme difficulty in confronting the subject of campaign financing in Guinea-Bissau, however, with the country’s legislative elections less than two months away, everything stated above re-affirms the need for national reform on political party and campaign funding. Secrets Known notes that the country desperately needs an exclusive campaign finance regulatory framework to ensure transparency and accountability in the political process and that all political candidates and parties are held to the same standards when it comes to raising and spending money for their campaigns.

This would help to ensure that all candidates have an equal opportunity to compete in election free from corruption and undue influence and also stop funds from organised crime from infiltrating the political field.

Other Secrets Known


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