Feature Article of Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
Our present constitutional dispensation in Ghana is that of an Executive Monarch or a powerful president which is modelled on that of the USA. The presidential system of government in Ghana, USA, Zambia, Nigeria and other countries is a winner-takes-all system which often leaves inadequate room for checks and balances. This model leads to a monocephalous (one head) system where the head of state is also the head of the executive arm of government and this leads to over-concentration of power in the hands of one person. If we want true democracy and proper corporate governance, then there should be separation of powers, division of labour and decongestion of authority. It has been seen over the years that the presidential system can lead to dictatorship and misgovernance. Recently, the ex-president, John Kufuor, made a statement that left to him, the president should become a ceremonial head like the Queen of Britain so that the executive arm of government is headed by a Prime Minister who, with his cabinet, will be collectively accountable to parliament. This is the bicephalous (two headed) system or cabinet system which we had in the second republic from 1969 to 1972, with the late Justice Edward Akuffo Addo as our first ceremonial president and the late Dr K.A.Busia as prime minister. In India, Germany, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, they practise the bicephalous (two-headed) system advocated for by ex-president John Kufuor. This system brings about division of labour, checks and balances and it promotes continuity in government. Most often, the candidate for the ceremonial head or president is a retired professional or academic who is apolitical or neutral and who is acceptable to all political parties as a father figure and conciliator. Such a figure is a patriarch, statesman and well respected individual. Here, we might think of people in Ghana who fit this bill as Prof A.A. Kwapong, Sir Sam Jonah, Mr Kofi Annan, Justice VCRAC Crabbe, Lt Gen. Erskine, Dr Afari Gyan, Prof George Benneh, Dr S.K.B. Asante, Prof F.K. A Allotey, among many others. Under the bicephalous system, we can tap or head-hunt professionals with proven track record to assume office of ceremonial president. Such a system will be suitable for an advanced democracy but then Ghana can amend its current constitution to go back to the cabinet system of our former colonial master, Britain. Ghana, being a small country, does not need a presidential or monocephalous system which often leads to looting and abuse of power. Our current experience from 1992 to date informs us that we need to change direction from a presidential system to a cabinet system. The presidential system encourages the ‘spoils system’, cronyism and appointment of incompetent people to populate the corridors of power. It also leads to a lot of insider-trading, corruption and awards of contracts to shady contractors. It may also tend to be more expensive (in terms of corruption) than the cabinet system.
The beauty of the Cabinet System is that the ceremonial President has powers to reject the cabinet of the Prime Minister and to call for the dissolution of parliament through a vote of no confidence in the cabinet. The polls or general election results are based on simple majority or first-past-the-past and sometimes it leads to greater inclusivity and participation because of coalitions. The cabinet system brings closer working collaboration between the executive arm and the legislature, as opposed to the current scenario where the executive under the monocephalous presidential system, can bulldoze its way through parliament to enact laws and sign treaties, where the ruling party has the majority in parliament. The presidential prerogative and veto power can also be abused. Of course, some critics may argue against the cabinet system that it suits a highly literate country like Britain. But then who says Ghanaians are not getting literate and sophisticated in their tastes? The collective responsibility of the cabinet system can make ministers work extra hard to avoid a vote of no confidence and it may reduce incidence of corruption, because parliament will be as equally powerful as the executive to call the shots and the judiciary will be neutral to interpret the laws and give judicial reviews. The cabinet system will impose more discipline on government functionaries as the shadow cabinet or government-in-waiting will be more visible and recognized in parliament than under the winner-takes-all juggernaut presidential system. We should design our political system to suit our bill and suit our national character, without necessarily copying blindly from outside. It is important to note that for the cabinet system to be stable, the military should be highly professionalized so that they do not cause disruptions in the system of governance. Can we say that our current civil/public services and defence forces as currently constituted, are professional?
Some intellectuals may argue that the cabinet system often leads to conflicts between the ceremonial head and the PM, between the executive and legislature, between insiders and outsiders etc. But then who says constructive conflict is bad? After all, conflict is part of everyday life and we cannot eliminate it in our political life. Conflict may lead to positive changes, encourage transparency and lead to proper husbandry and stewardship of our scarce national resources. It is only dictators, despots, tyrants and non-democrats who defy to be challenged. I think it is high time we did away with our despotic executive monarch/presidential system, and I concur with ex-president John Kufuor’s call for reform. Our incumbent president, Prof John Atta Mills should be commended for his timely action in setting up a constitutional reform committee and I hope they will look closely into the amoral aspect of the presidential system.
In conclusion, I propose that Ghana should adopt the cabinet system so that the opposition leader will not be kept on the sidelines and excluded from participation in national policy formulation. Under the current presidential dispensation in Ghana, the Opposition party leaders are excluded from the legislature and marginalized for 4 years, during which time hibernating in the cooler, they might be tempted to issue unparliamentary statements such as ‘all die be die’ and boom statements. It is indeed frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines without being involved. I think our national planners in Ghana have an onerous duty to examine the pros and cons of both the presidential and cabinet systems of governance. We cannot forget here the French writer, Montesquieu, who more than 200 years ago advocated for separation of powers in his book, The Spirit of the Law. Hope a ceremonial president will not become a couch potato! (Laughter).
Atta Sakyi, B.A, MPA, NDP Cert A 4Yr