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Opinions of Saturday, 7 December 2019

Columnist: Iddi Muhayu-Deen

‘Botched referendum: Akufo-Addo’s statesmanly commitment as against John Mahama's betrayal of trust and the NDC’s pettiness


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Many were the Ghanaians that were anxiously looking forward to the much-talked about referendum of December 17, to amend Article 55(3) of the Constitution, 1992, to democratize Ghana’s local governance regime by allowing for the introduction of multiparty democracy at the District Assembly Levels. Many were the political parties; the faith-based organizations; the Parliament of Ghana; the Professional Groups; the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and several others that were all looking forward to this great opportunity to give real and proper meaning to Ghana’s decentralization practice and accordingly do-away with the hypocrisy associated with the status quo and confront our very reality.

Unfortunately, all our hopes were lost on the eve of Sunday, December 1, when, His Excellency President Akufo-Addo, who had shown more than enough commitment to this process, was compelled to abandon this great initiative. The President was left with absolutely no option than to take one of the most difficult decisions of his life by cancelling the referendum and instructing the Local Government Minister through the AG to withdraw the two most important bills from Parliament which bills if carried through, would have strengthened the nation’s local government and allowed citizens to hold their local authorities accountable.

THE GENESIS AND HOW WE GOT HERE

Guided by our post-colonial history, which, regrettably, was replete with constitutional interruptions and military takeovers, we, the people of Ghana, in the exercise of our inalienable right to establish a framework of government for ourselves and for prosperity, elected, in 1992, to adopt a proper constitutional democracy ushering in the Fourth Republic with the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution. At the heart of this framework of government we had chosen, is the concept of multiparty democracy, which provides options in the form of political parties through which the citizens of Ghana elect their leaders at the national level, which development ensured that, the country, till date, never experiences any military intervention.

However, what we failed to do at the time was to provide the same system of government at the local level for citizens to choose their leaders. If it is good at the national level, then it must certainly be good at the local level. This is understandable because the governing class at the time, the PNDC/NDC, which spearheaded the drafting of the 1992 Constitution, wanted a system that suited their selfish political interest in order to perpetrate themselves in power without thinking about the long term repercussions of their actions. They did not want any political party to compete with them for power at the District Assembly level.

So, what did they do? They sponsored Article 243(1) which allowed the President [their President] to appoint all MMDCEs in the country and also, appoint 30% of the membership to all district assemblies in the country. They also sponsored Article 55(3) which says, political parties are free to participate in shaping the political will of the people and to disseminate information on political ideas on socioeconomic matters as well as to sponsor candidates to any public office EXCEPT to District Assemblies or local government units. Such absurdity! And as if that was not enough, they made this Article an ENTRENCHED one so that it became almost impossible to amend it. Notwithstanding the undemocratic nature of these provisions, the PNDC/NDC had their way. They had their way because they were no strong opposition parties at that time. So nobody could challenge them.

WHAT IS THE SITUATION TODAY?

The situation we have today is completely different from what pertained in 1992 when Ghana was transitioning from a military regime to the fourth republic. Today, we have so many political parties with so much activism. It is therefore important that our constitution is amended to reflect the 21st century reality regarding multi-party democracy in order to reform the undemocratic parts of the Rawlings’ legacies to make the whole system fully democratic through a multi-party system.

It is instructive to note that the need to elect Metropolitan Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCES) in a multi-party democracy has been a popular call since the work of the Constitution Review Commission in 2011 when their Report confirmed that the good people of Ghana had expressed the desire to have their MMDCEs directly elected on multi-party basis. The John Mahama-led NDC government in 2012 rejected the popular laudable submission of the Commission. The NDC insisted that five persons should be nominated by the President for three of such nominees to be presented to the electorate in every District, for one of them to be elected as the Chief Executive. Even with that, President Mahama failed to implement in the years he served as President.

President Akufo-Addo is seeking to implement the wishes of the Ghanaian people as reflected in the recommendations of the Constitution Review Commission. Suffice it to also add that the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), in their 2015 DLE report, made it clear that Ghana’s decentralization agenda has remained stagnant because effective political decentralization has not been achieved owing to the fact that MMDCEs were not elected. They also made the point that the low level of citizen participation in the District Level Elections and District Assembly activities was occasioned by the fact of the exclusion of political parties from the district assembly elections.

The deficiencies and findings and surveys, including the comprehensive Afro barometer survey of 2017 by CDD, which states that over seventy percent of those surveyed want election of MMDCEs on partisan basis, have convinced President Akufo-Addo and the NPP that there is the need to embark on a comprehensive review of political participation at the local government level. Almost every country in the world is adopting a comprehensive local government regime through multiparty democracy at the basic level of government and certainly, Ghana cannot be left out. Not when we are touted as the bastion of democracy on the continent of Africa and beyond.

THE NDC’S BREACH OF FAITH AND BETRAYAL

When President Akufo Addo decided to implement the wishes of the Ghanaian people to democratize local government, he, at all times, ensured that all relevant stakeholders including the NDC were engaged throughout the process. The leadership of the NDC and their Members of Parliament were in full support of the move to amend both Article 243(1) and 55(3) of the Constitution and they had given strong indications that they were committed to this process.

The NDC National Chairman and General Secretary have made public statements during the consultative engagements at IDEG, CDD, Catholic Bishop Conference and NCCE platforms throwing their support for the referendum and indicated that they were willing and ready to get their supporters to campaign for a YES vote in the referendum. The NDC has also participated in all the 10 regional and national consultations conducted by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development on the referendum in 2018.

For the records, these are comments the NDC MPs made in Parliament. At some point, they were pushing even more strongly than the NPP MPs for the amendment of Article 55(3) and made it a condition precedence for their support for the amendment of Article 243(1).

HARUNA IDDRISU (NDC Minority Leader) said: “So Mr. Speaker, two principles; amend the constitution, allow for popular elections of DCEs, but do it on the principle of partisanship. .. the support of those of us on this side of the House is conditional to the fact that DCEs should be elected, but they should be elected on partisan lines. This is the principle we would support and walk with..”.

MAHAMA AYARIGA (NDC MP for Bawku Central) said: “If political parties are so important to be able to organize to determine who should be the number one person- the president, why should they not be involved in determining who should be the number one person in a district assembly? It is equally very important…. Mr. Speaker let me reiterate the position of the Minority that we support the amendment to the Constitution to allow MMDCEs to be elected by universal adult suffrage. We do support that, but we also request that this should be doable with the sponsorship and support of political parties, given their strategic role in organizing our country..”

ALHAJI MUBARAK MUNTAKA (The Minority Chief Whip and NDC MP for Asawasi) asked the question: “if the referendum on article 55(3) fails, then what happens?”. He answered himself by stating that: “It means that we would open ourselves to election without limit, just like the current arrangement, where we all pretend that the district assembly election is non-partisan, when in actual sense, all of us, in the sincerity of our minds know that people and parties are behind one candidate or the other.”

Having consistently spoken publicly in favour of the amendment of Article 55(3) and thus throwing their support for the referendum as I have demonstrated, the NDC’s sudden U-turn on November 12, to actively campaign for ‘NO’ in the referendum can only be termed hypocritical and a monumental breach of faith. It is sad and instructive that leaders of the NDC are ready to sacrifice their credibility and the image of multi-party democracy by openly breaching the faith and trust they engendered in religious groups by proclaiming YES to the Referendum and eating back their words.

THE INCONSISTENCY OF CANDIDATE JOHN DRAMANI MAHAMA

Former President John Mahama proved once again that he cannot be trusted as a leader. After giving his words to President Akufo-Addo and all former Presidents and indeed to the rest of the nation that he was in support of the referendum, just like his party executives, he has also made a hypocritical U-turn. John Dramani Mahama, has once again lived up to his own description of himself in his autobiography, where he described himself as an indecisive person.

He confessed in his own book that his biggest problem in life is that he finds it very difficult to take a decision. He indeed cannot take a decision and stick to it. John Mahama is not a leader because he does not stick to principles and cannot make up his mind even on what is good for his country. Such an inconsistent person is certainly not the kind of leader to lead this country.

PRESIDENT AKUFO-ADDO’S COMMITMENT

Throughout this process, President Akufo-Addo who had been at the forefront of this national exercise to strengthen local governance, had, on several occasions made a strong case for amending Articles 243(1) and 55(3) in an atmosphere of sincerity and candour. Indeed, among other things, his statement on the State of the Nation in Parliament on 8th February, 2018, confirms this position and also demonstrates his unwavering commitment to the election of MMDCEs and the referendum on multi-party democracy in District Level Elections.

Whereas some political leaders elsewhere are so power-conscious and want more power in the discharge of mandate, Ghana is so blessed to have a President in Nana Akufo-Addo who, notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution of Ghana has given him so much power as the Executive President including the power of appointing all MMDCEs to assist him in administering the country, President Akufo-Addo says he is giving that aspect of his power back to the people to decide who they want to have as their MMDCEs. In devolving his appointive power back to the people in respect of their choice of MMDCEs, the President demonstrated sincerity, good faith, transparency and above all, strong commitment to following due process as enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

In the spirit of goodwill, the President began by consulting all his predecessors [former Presidents including John Mahama] in April 2017, and also ensured that the Local Government Ministry developed a COMPREHENSIVE ROADMAP to guide the process. Following all the consultative engagements with the relevant stakeholders including the NDCs and CSOs, President Akufo-Addo and indeed every objective observer of these developments, was of the opinion that a significant National Consensus had been built on the need to hold the referendum until the NDC’s sudden U-turn less than five-weeks to the date for the referendum. The President, just like many a Ghanaian, holds the view that a sensitive matter like the amendment of an entrenched constitutional provision should not be advanced without a significant National Consensus.

This was the spirit that heralded the referendum on the creation of new regions, and until the NDC’s sudden U-turn, we all thought that the referendum on the amendment of Article 55(3) to democratize local government also had that significant National Consensus, without which, it served absolutely no purpose to continue spending the taxpayers’ money on such exercise. If the NDC, being the main opposition political party, had indicated much earlier, that they were not in support of the referendum, certainly, the President and the rest of the nation would not have wasted time and resources building up to the referendum because the needed prima facie consensus would be lacking.

CONCLUSION

The NDC, you would agree with me, owes Ghanaians a lot of explanations for this monumental disservice and breach of faith. The NDC forgets that the party exists because Ghana had adopted multiparty democracy and it was on the basis of this, that they were given the constitutional mandate by the Ghanaian people to run this country for sixteen good years through multi-party democracy. How can the NDC take issues with the practice of multiparty democracy when they are the biggest beneficiaries of that dispensation? They should tell Ghanaians why after making unequivocal declarations at national and public fora and engagements to the effect that they wholly support the referendum and submitting copious inputs to fine-tune the process, they decided to go back on their words?

A political party that cannot be decisive in its answer to a YES or NO referendum question is certainly not the kind of party that is deserving to rule a serious country like Ghana. For those of us who were actively engaged in the YES campaign in support of the referendum to deepen decentralization, our hearts have been broken. However, we take solace in the President’s assurance that his government would continue to work for a broad National Consensus on these amendments and when same is achieved at any point during his tenure of office as the President, the matter would be brought back again for the necessary action.

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