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Opinions of Monday, 27 May 2013

Columnist: Nduom, Papa Kwesi

The fundamental change we need to realize our potential

Many members of Ghanaian society from all walks of life have since the 1992 election showed very deep concern about cracks in the nation’s collective wall. We have heard taxi drivers, carpenters, teachers, lawyers, religious leaders, business men and women, politicians and others complain about our lack of significant forward march to prosperity after more than 50 years of political independence. Some have even suggested that we go back to our former “colonial masters” because they are certain that we will continue to mismanage our own affairs.
Every now and then, we pride ourselves as the “beacon of democracy in Africa” or as “an island of peace and stability” in Africa. But the facts in our cities, towns and villages do not support this. Fires in our markets and other work places, shortage of water in our homes, erratic electricity supply, popularly known as “Dum So, Dum So”, unemployment so bad that university and polytechnic graduates have formed an association, armed robbery and ritual murders, deaths on our roads to an extent that officials have become callous of the numbers and frequency, etc., etc. The 2012 election and its aftermath have burst the Ghanaian bubble as we are faced with the prospect of sitting on a shaky democracy foundation with accusations of “win at all cost” and bribery and corruption.
We must stop complaining and act positively to shift course by making significant changes to the 1992 Constitution, remove democratic dictatorship, give power back to the people and let the Ghanaian people decide their own destiny instead of the one-person rule we are suffering under. We need to change the all-powerful Executive Presidency or continue to be a nation that remains a perpetual underachiever despite enormous natural resources – human, oil, gold, manganese, bauxite, diamond, sun etc.
Many people I have consulted with on the matter of consensus-building to bring about meaningful changes to the 1992 Constitution (not the type designed to maintain the status quo) want a non-partisan platform with labour, employers, religious leaders, politicians, students and others all included. While a good number of respected members of society do not want the President to dictate the change we need, they also do not want to be seen as being in opposition to the President’s position on the matter. So this is a challenge to all of us to speak out as Ghanaians first and work together to make change happen that will free the productive energies of our people to work and sacrifice for a collective giant leap in our standard of living sooner than later. Widespread poverty in all its forms and inability to accelerate development and let it touch our towns and villages prove that centralizing power in the hands of one person, the President does not work.
The call for all Ghanaians to back changing the 1992 Constitution in a significant way is supported by many prominent members of our society and some in the international community. They are very clear on what ails us. They point to a polarized society along political and ethnic lines. They speak against the “…winner-takes-all” nature of our politics. Worse, they make a case against the type of politics that is keeping our people poor and our rural areas underdeveloped.
Archbishop Akwasi Sarpong who is a noted social anthropologist and a defender of our culture speaking on the topic "Truth, Integrity and Democratic Development: How Is Ghana Faring?” in 2012 noted that
"Ghana's politics has been characterised by deceit, impossible promises, unrealistic undertaking. People wanting to be voted to power promise heaven and earth for the gullible electorate to go by in voting for them. Most politicians appear to be Ghanaian whose reservoir of truth and integrity, (if ever they had no [sic]) the bedrock of true democracy, has completely dried up…Our so-called democracy has, in large part, degenerated into corruption. It has been turned into a rule of terror, however subtle it has become inward looking. Our political party democracy has carried with it the danger of parties thinking more about how to win the next elections than about the good of the nation.”
To the Archbishop, we need to change the 1992 Constitution and turn it into a document that will enable Ghanaians to understand the meaning of democracy and work to make it work for the benefit of the people. We must all absorb and deal with the wise words of the Archbishop in humility.
The unending squabbles over national property, accusations and counter accusations engaged in by political parties are worrisome. In particular, the blame game between those two parties that have managed to win political power has been most unproductive. The quarrels over which of the two political parties that have been in power in the 4th Republic have squandered state assets and financial resources are distressing to many in Ghana. The incidence of non-productive payments to individuals and companies in the name of “judgment debts” all at the expense of the people of Ghana, have disturbed the whole nation. Our religious, social and business leaders many times out of loyalty or deference to political parties often danced around the problems without pointing to the originators. That is until the brave Archbishop spoke. He deserves commendation. Ghana needs to become an inclusive society. Winner-takes-all politics at this stage of our development robs the nation of valuable experience and human capital. As the country takes a closer look at all the broken promises, bitter campaigns, and ineptitude in the Fourth Republic, it is time to consider an alternative approach, one that makes incorruptible governance its guiding principle and political policy.
Professor Stephen Adei, the Former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management And Public Administration (GIMPA) is very specific in describing our “… winner-takes-all” political system as something we need to change. To him, it continues to negatively affect the quality of leadership and the progress of democracy. The current system which puts all power in the hands of one person as President and his political party breeds poor leadership and corruption. These two factors have made it impossible to utilize the best human resources available for the benefit of the country. He was speaking at The ‘Ghanaman’ Lecture on the theme; “56 years on: Is the Ghanaian really capable of managing his/her own affairs?”
Professor Adei is convinced that “Today, anyone who wants to assemble a world class team to manage the whole of Africa irrespective of their political, tribal and religious affiliation, will find people with more to spare among those living in Ghana.” “We also have a reservoir of three million Ghanaians in the Diaspora into which we can tap. That we have not done so due to the poor leadership, adversarial and exclusive politics, so called winner takes all politics and other factors which have prevented the harnessing of our human resources to manage our affairs.”
I am particularly glad Professor Adei shares the belief of many Ghanaians that it is necessary to decouple the Executive and the Legislative arms of government as a means to strengthening governance. Indeed the Manifesto the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) took to the 2012 elections, stated,
“Strengthen Parliament to perform its legislative duties effectively. Sponsor changing the Constitution to abolish the provision that allows Ministers of State to also serve as Members of Parliament. We believe that this move will make available for governance a large pool of qualified, experienced Ghanaian talent whose expertise is currently unused and therefore lost to Ghana. This we will aim to complete in one term of office. Concurrent with this objective will be a solid determination to give Parliament the facilities and resources needed to pass good laws and scrutinize the proposals submitted by the Executive effectively.”
Many agreed with Professor Adei when he said, “We must work to promote the strengthening of governance institutions especially the judiciary. We have to deal with anti-corruption institutions and the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature,” he said. “The legislature is subservient to the executive because the majority leader has always made a part of the executive so how can he lead his section to scrutinize policies and laws he has been part of in bringing… We need a constitutional amendment to make sure that no one in parliament sits in the cabinet. The worst part is that the General Secretaries and Chairmen also sit in cabinet.”
It is quite evident that we cannot continue marching along the same path we have taken since 1992. Respected, retired Justice V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe has recently said:
“Our destructive tendencies or polarisation has led the gross inefficiency in our public life and in the public services…It appears to some of us that some of members of parliament have entered into a convenient form of marriage by which the NDC and the NPP populate by night and litigate by day…They discus salaries and financial business behind closed doors and boycott the sittings of parliament in broad day light.”

Dr. Joe Abbey an economist, diplomat and head of the policy think tank CEPA has recently said on radio that “…the continued general distrust for each other and the vindictive erosion of confidence in national institutions can have only odious consequences for national cohesion and it is about time to stop pushing the self-destruct button…it’s like you going to play a game and you have reservations about some referees, so how do you want to play this game? And the political tensions, the politicisation of issues, the extreme partisanship in our discussions, all these things were driving us to a situation where to not bring transparency could have also created even more chaos. So we’ve got to look back and decide that as a nation, sailing close to rocks is not the smartest thing we can be doing for ourselves.”
The Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II,in a speech he delivered at the 2013 Annual Democracy Lecture organised by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) referred to the compulsive and obsessive politicisation of issues in the country so much so that that the national goal had now been perverted by politics. This situation he termed “…demons eating away the gains of democracy under the Fourth Republic…The air we breathe is polluted with party propaganda. There is no issue that is not politicized.” The Most Rev. Gabriel Charles Palmer Buckle, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, who chaired that function,
“We have to admit that if this country is where it is; the problem is ours…We have a variety of tribes, a variety of nations, a variety of peoples, but we are still together, and we should not allow anybody to tear us apart…Ghana is committing national suicide.”
The “Daily Graphic” has reported that former Minister of Finance, Yaw Osafo-Maafo support amending the 1992 Constitution to pave the way for the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCE’s) by people at the grass root level. He said the election of MMDCEs would help reduce the winner takes all attitude that has characterised Ghana’s political system and deepen grass root democracy. Mr Osafo-Maafo said this on Thursday at the 2013 B.J. da Rocha memorial lectures on the theme: “B.J. da Rocha, the Politician.” He is reported to have said:
“ after adopting a constitutional rule in 1992, Ghana has come of age to find an antidote to the winner-takes-all attitude which cripples progress. One of the best ways to find an antidote to the winner-takes-all attitude is to give power to the people at the grass root level to elect their MMDCEs where the contesting candidates are from different political parties. If political parties are allowed to present their candidates to contest, the victory of any candidate would heavily depend on the popularity of his/her party in the area and that would allow members of other parties other than the ruling party to contribute to the administration of the country. He disagrees with the assertion that, if elected, those who do not belong to the ruling party would sabotage the government. He said they would rather do a good job since they may have to go back to the people to seek their votes. Mr Osafo-Maafo said there was much suspicion in the political landscape which is creating a barrier for integration.”
The position of Mr. Osafo-Maafo echoes what the PPP put out in 2012 which was:
“Give Power to the People for Development. Sponsor changing the Constitution to enable the election of all District Assembly Members and District/Municipal/Metropolitan Chief Executives to ensure local accountability and rapid development. This we will do in one term of office.”
So it is clear that there is multi-party support for the election of MMDCEs without the President of the Republic picking who the contestants should be.
Finally, it is instructive to take note of some of the conclusions from a study of the Ghana system of governance by and international organization in 2011:
“Ghana’s political system combines competitive elections with what social scientists have called neo-patrimonial rule. The principal democracy and governance problem we identify in this report is the excessive concentration of political power in the executive branch. The powers of the president dwarf those of the other branches of government. The president in Ghana possesses vast political and economic re-sources that he can employ to secure political support. Electoral competition is the only real check on executive dominance, as the opposition party will work to win power, often at almost any cost. But although both major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), accept the legitimacy of the rules that govern politics in Ghana, these rules have serious flaws. The elite consensus among political parties is an agreement to maintain the status quo, regardless of its increasingly negative impact on democratic practice and good governance, because it offers a clear path to gaining power and thus access to the vast network of state resources.

The increasingly hyper-aggressive, winner-take-all nature of Ghanaian elections puts tremendous pressure on the one institution that has become a symbol of the country’s successful democratic transition, the Electoral Commission (EC). What happens if the EC is no longer able to perform its duties with the credibility it has commanded in the past? We raise a note of caution that the confluence of good luck and competence that marked the very close 2008 election cannot be guaranteed in the future.

Ghanaians have higher expectations for the economic and social benefits of democracy than the government seems able to produce through current institutional arrangements. In this regard, the political status quo has gone about as far as it can in moving Ghanaian democracy forward and, by extension, in creating the conditions for broad-based economic growth and social development. Based on extensive interviews in Ghana and a thorough review of existing academic and applied literature, the principal conclusions of Democracy International’s assessment team are as follows:

There is the perception of growing politicization in the economic and social spheres as well as in traditional and religious life.
The likelihood of changing the political game from the current winner-takes-all system to one in which politics is a means of promoting the collective good seems low at this point, as both main parties largely agree on the purpose of the political game: to capture the patronage networks that make continued political success more likely.

The two main political parties agree on the rules of the game because there is a realistic possibility that either party could win the next election. A governance system based largely on patronage, as is normally associated with single-party states, is functioning in a democratic context in which two, balanced adversaries assure its continuation, if not its stability. What happens if this system moves out of balance, with one party dominating the other? Our view is that it is better to not wait to find out.”

From the Executive Summary of Report on Ghana Democracy & Governance Assessment
Democracy International
August 2011

In conclusion, the majority of Ghanaians agree that we need to re-order our system of governance by amending the 1992 to remove the winner-takes-all feature which consolidates all power in one human being - the President. We are agreed on the need to strengthen Parliament by removing members of the Executive from the Legislature and giving them the right to introduce bills without any encumbrance. Ghanaians want the right to elect their metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives freely at the local level. The President must pay tax to encourage the citizens to emulate his good example. We need to strengthen and give dignity to our Assembly Members. These among others are changes we need. What is left is for all of us to shed our political and ethnic clothes, reform our partisan attitudes and work together for the benefit of all of us.

Papa Kwesi Nduom
May 20, 2013