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Opinions of Thursday, 30 November 2006

Columnist: Nketiah, Seth

The integrity and power of the Ghanaian presidency- whose responsibility?

The essence of democratic multi-party politics lies with people’s determination and commitment to trust part of their individual power and integrity into the hands of those they elect to lead them in their socio-economic and political life struggle. This is done in society’s pursuit of programmes and activities to meet the sovereign needs of all citizens.

Every human being loves having power. Hence, sacrificing part of our power for the collective good of the larger society goes with much expectation. At times, our expectations are greatly prioritised that, we tend to loose every sense of ensuring the integrity that needs to be accorded our leadership whom we trust our power to. Giving power alone is not enough. It must be supported with our commitment to preserve and protect the integrity of where or who we give our power to.

Much as we Ghanaians take greater pride in developing a vibrant democratic dispensation, one thing we have individually and collectively failed to do is our inability of upholding truthfully, the integrity and power of our presidency. From the highest person to the lowest one in terms of position (but not on fundamental human rights) we have not exhibited matured sense of responsibility in ensuring that the Ghanaian presidency, our presidency, is held in high esteem, whose integrity and power are preserved and protected as the embodiment of our national identity and our sense of belief.

Our attitudes and enthusiasms on issues concerning the presidency have always been grossly negative. If insults are not used to describe it, we may have other tainted comments that degrade the highest office of Mother Ghana. We are in a society where courtesy, decorum, good ethics and responsible behaviour, gentlemanly, virtuousness, and attitude of treasure and cherish have eluded us in our pursuit of political decency. What we have is a politically-correct completely gone mad that, out of hatred, pettiness and emotions without reasoning, we show no sign of respect to our high office.

For almost 50 years into our independence, we continue to use insults and vulgar language to describe the highest office without any sense of decorum. From Dr Nkrumah’s time to date, we seem to have problems not only with the head of state as a person, but also the office of the presidency itself. So I wonder why we continue to show passion in our electoral and political process. Is it just to elect somebody so that we can pour our anger and all kinds of insinuations on him and the office he occupies? If Ghana were to be a human being, by now she is entitled to a voluntary retirement. It is so pity that the insults of yesteryears are still with us at a time that Mother Ghana is entering her voluntary retirement age.

But who is responsible when it comes to ensuring the integrity of the office of the presidency? In America during President Nixon’s era, and more specifically during the Watergate scandal that rocked his administration, one thing that he was determined to do was to ensure that the integrity of the American presidency is supremely preserved and protected. No wonder he was said to have maintained that "...the important thing is the presidency. It is our duty at all times, to preserve and protect the integrity of this office. That must always be your main concern. Always!” He said this when he was advising one of his presidential aides (Courtesy the film, ‘The Final Days’).

Why was Nixon so much concerned about the presidency and not his position as the President? After all, he could have first secured his job through the use of executive privileges, and then the presidency follows. I believe he did not want to go outside the Biblical saying that “he who much is given, much is expected.” He realized that as the first public servant of America he has the first and immediate responsibility to ensure that America ’s presidential integrity and power remains intact irrespective of the problems at hand. This tells me then that the first line of citizens expected to uphold the integrity and power of our office of the presidency are those occupying that place. Those who have our collective powers and trust to champion our identity and beliefs thus need to lead the crusade (through greater responsibility) to educate, inspire, and challenge the rest of the society to as it is, uphold the integrity of where they send their power to. That is the only way we can be proud of the power we give to ensure the development of our democratic system.

One basic problem we face as society is our failure to discern between our presidency as an institution and the occupants of that office. Even though that distinction is not straight forward, we will do ourselves a good service if we tried to make such discernment in order to be very circumspect when touching on presidential issues as against issues of the occupants there. It is sad that at times, the impunity that occupants of such privileged positions conduct the affairs of that office triggers certain unethical and emotionally irresponsible comments from others. And this highly degrades the presidency, which in turn affects our sense of respect and value as a society. When it happens so we are only telling the world that we Ghanaians are all ignorant about the spirit and letter of our presidency; and that we do not value it as a necessary institution for national development.

Besides that, our society has developed the ‘canker of politics of word and misdeed’ with the unfortunate implication that, our leadership office (be it the minority or the majority) is always negatively portrayed. No wonder most at times we seem to have completely lost power in dealing with issues that matter most. Hannah Arendt said “Power is actualized only when word and deed have not parted company." Certain misdeeds by key leadership elements continue to drag our society away from according the presidency the dignity and respect needed to build effective integrity and strong power for good governance.

My knowledge about Ghanaian democratic politics is that one segment of people who know how to preserve and protect the integrity and power of our presidency is the opposition. Our character and goodwill in doing that is unquestionable when we happen to be outside the corridors of people’s power. But in the words of Abraham Lincoln "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." We seem to lose steam of deepening our sense of integrity any time we ride on the powers of our larger society. Is it the comfort there or a certain kind of ‘curse’ we have not been able to pacify ourselves of?

In addition, our inability to stand out to challenge and be challenged, at the detriment of the benefits from our office, puts us in a corner that we are totally incapable of preserving and protecting the integrity of our presidency as an institution. Theodore Roosevelt said “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” These are the people we need, and as a society I believe we have what it takes to produce such great men and women if we believed in what our highest office meant to us.

Our leadership, and for that matter our president now and in the future need to always aspire to uphold, protect and preserve the integrity of where they sit to take decisions to meet the needs and aspirations of our society. This is the only way they can give meaning to the essence of our struggle for multi-party democracy, and of course inspire the masses of the society of their duty and responsibility to compliment it.

One friend that Abraham Lincoln aspired to have always is the integrity of his administration. He said “I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.” President was therefore willing to loose friends for the sake of the integrity of his administration, for he had the wisdom that he will be judged not by how many friends he created but how he developed the integrity and power of his office- the presidency. This means that our president at any point in time should realise that what he/she cannot take along with him (her) when his(her) duty is over is the presidency as an institution, but whatever he(she) did to preserve and protect the integrity and power of that office shall forever be with him(her) and throughout generations thereafter. And it is on this basis that he(she) would be accorded with the esteem status as a true statesman or not.

Respect for those in leadership should be seen as a basic ethical ingredient for national development. If as a society we failed to show respect to people we elect to lead then who do we want to respect our leadership. The adage that "it takes people to make a chief powerful" should guide us in our thinking anytime we open our mouth on issues of our presidency. This does not mean we should keep mute when something is wrong within the presidency, after all Alexander Solzehnitsyn said "In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers . . . we are ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations." Hence Alex was trying to caution us against any "kataso muaso" syndrome that only deepens our abject poverty, hypocrisy, sycophancy, bigotry, and bootlicking. But we must try to be circumspect in tackling presidential irresponsibility (some perceived) in order not to damage the integrity of the office of president beyond repairs, and end up destroying our social cohesion.

It takes you and me to make the office of the Ghanaian presidency a decent place for national leadership and development. That place is not meant for one individual or group of individuals. It symbolizes our identity, beliefs, aspirations and sense of thinking. Whatever happens there negatively is a reflection of whom and what we are and that is how outsiders will judge us. We have to seek answers for our problems in a responsibly humane manner in order to avoid Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy that "There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics." If we greatly lived above such reproach we will restore greater honour and integrity to our presidency.

Let us stop using abusive, vulgar and disrespectful language and insults on our leadership for they not only destroy the integrity of our presidency, but it shows how vulgar and irresponsible the whole society is. Ultimately, the consequence will be that Ghana will lose the sacrifice, decency, decorum needed to support her power base for national development. Emotions and insults are becoming the order of our social thinking when seeking redress, or when we feel aggrieved of something. Everybody seems to be joining the bandwagons gradually but God said in Exodus 23:2 "Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong.”

God is therefore cautioning us that the fact that the masses are doing it does not make it right for each of us to base our actions on it. For we must assess issues based on our individual conscience, principles and integrity because the final judgment will be based on individual responsibilities and not what the larger society is noted for. If we went by this basic human rights principle, we will not only cast our vote to elect a leader, but will accept the individual responsibility to support him/her with the integrity and power to create a more humane presidential office.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.