Feature Article of Thursday, 13 September 2012

Columnist: Owusu-Barnes, Carl

Democracy & the Role of the Next Substantive President of Ghana

In spite of the cacophony of issues plaguing the African continent Ghana continues to be a beacon of hope in terms of its relative peace and stability amidst political tensions and debilitating situations. We’ve had our fair share of disappointments by way of coup d ‘etats, economic mismanagement, political witch hunting, unnecessary bloodshed but through it all the collective resolve of the people of Ghana to exercise selfless restraint has resulted in its foundations not being eviscerated but rather being fortified to the perplexity of some and the admiration of others.
In 1992 the AFRC/PNDC made a move in marching this country towards multi-party democracy after long years of persistence and persuasion, and since then the country has never looked back which is highly commendable vis-à-vis its past history. The Fourth Republic is thus 20 years old this year but is the situation pertaining on the ground in consonance or dissonance with the expected behavior of a 20 year old? To make an analogical connection I’ll say the 4th Republic is a 20 year old body with a 5 year old brain, and knowing Ghanaians such a one would be considered cursed or spiritually oppressed. There’s an apothegm which states “drink deep or sip not” and thus behoves on us to embrace democracy whole heartedly rather than putting up this lackadaisical approach as if we are doing the concept a favor. There are a plethora of issues we find troubling and demand that concerted and pragmatic efforts are put into addressing them seriously and quickly if we’re to bear the fruits associated with embracing unreservedly the concept of true democracy, and we expect the next president to lead in this regard. Here are some of our concerns and expectations concerning the progress of the 4th Republic:
1. Corruption, corruption, corruption. Unrestrained corruption and democracy cannot be placed in a juxtaposition if we are indeed serious with continuing in this dispensation. Corruption has become so endemic that it will take effective leadership by example and a strong commitment to stem its tide. I’ve always personally maintained that one cannot churn out saints from rogues overnight and thus there has to be a top-down, bottom-up approach to ameliorating this canker eating up the society. However, as the Chief Executive of the State if you hold yourself up to a high moral and ethical standard then a platform will be created to put subordinates in check with the likelihood of a positive trickledown effect. Some of the ways by which the president can steamroll the tide is to :
i. Commit to making public his/her total assets, records of income tax returns and sources of campaign funding and also impress upon his ministers, subordinates, and state functionaries etc. to do likewise.
ii. Commit to pushing for a campaign finance law to be passed so that incumbency cannot be exploited, and also sources of funding can be regulated. What is the genesis of kick backs in Ghana? People fund these parties and presidents and when they come into power have to reciprocate that gesture by giving contracts and other unwarranted favors to the detriment of the most qualified and competent. It is once said that a prominent politician in Ghana told a campaign financier to contribute big so that when they assumed political control they’ll ‘REMEMBER’ him. Everyones interpretation of ‘remember’ is as good as mine so I’ll leave that subject alone. Why on God’s green earth will a musician be awarded a road contract or an auto mechanic given a contract to supply medical equipments in a truly democratic world?
iii. Push for measures to be put in place to forestall any kind of ‘insider trading’ and this is in direct relation to the Obetsebi Lamptey bungalow saga. The NDC has defiantly made nonsense of the court’s ruling but till date no commitment has been shown by the president or parliament to push for a bill that will militate against such a recurrence in the future. What good is it then in dismissing the court’s ruling if there’s room for repetition?
iv. Fraud, waste and abuse should be at the forefront of the president’s agenda because it’s a menace that’s draining the country of significant resources and ultimately robbing the Ghanaian taxpayers. Do Judgment Debts, the unwarranted ostentatious spending during Ghana@50 and the rush decision to dig 9 tombs at the Jubilee House ring a bell? The beauty of the American system is not in its construction but the efficacy with which laws are made and implemented irrespective of the identities of the casualties. Isn’t it astoundingly reassuring to know that for e.g. between October 1st 2010 through March 31st 2011 the US Department of Defense Inspector General identified $193m in waste, and investigations led to 140 convictions, 87 suspensions and 99 debarments, and additionally criminal convictions, civil and administrative settlements resulted in the return of $1.4 billion to the US government? (www.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120229-076.pdf)

2. Ghanaians are tasked to go to the polls every four years to elect a president or prolong the tenure of the sitting president for four more years based on the parties’ manifestos, agendas, policies and promises. We have, however, been besaddled by an unfortunate situation whereby new parties or presidents get elected and in no time turn around to insult the intelligence of the electorate by saying “we’re doing XYZ because when Party A was in power they did the same thing or we’re not doing it because when Party B was in power they also didn’t do it”. Let it be made unequivocally clear that we do not waste resources, energy, time etc. to go through the demands, rigors and pains of elections to elect a government to come and continue in perpetuity the failings or shortcomings of its predecessor. If that’s the case then let’s just declare Ghana a one party state and use the monies intended for elections to while away the time till His kingdom comes. To this end Ghanaians demand that:
i. No sitting president should hide behind that disappointing convention that no incumbent president debates his aspiring opponents since the inception of the 4th Republic. No one worth his sort should be consumed in cowardice and trepidation as to fail to espouse his achievements/ideals to the people whose mandate he’s seeking as well as illuminate their minds with the vision of where they’re headed for a better tomorrow. So to Nana Akufo-Addo, Dr. Abu Sakara, Papa Kwesi Ndoum etc. should the mantle of presidency fall on you do not stab our backs in 4 years time when hopefully another election period comes around by telling us President Mahama and his NDC did not participate in a presidential debate in 2012 so we’re out of luck.
ii. Do not discontinue projects or discard worthwhile ideas simply because it was initiated or instituted by a rival party. Rather improve upon it and give it some more vitality. The intention of the mandate is to empower you to lead Ghana to loftier heights devoid of political backwardness so if something will augur well for the people of Ghana do not be petty and politically naïve to discard it because President X initiated it. Yes we know there are some strategic dimensions and calculations to such decisions but parochial posturing should not override common sense when it comes to the grand scheme of Ghana’s betterment.

3. The future of any country is undeniably intertwined with its human resources, and a commitment to bring along the younger generation in the intricacies of day-to-day governance so the vision will not be skewed along the way. One thing commendable with the late President Atta Mills’ government was his commitment to bring along young minds (say 35-50 year olds) such as Okudjeto Ablakwa, Zita Okaikoi, Omane Boamah, Agyenim Boateng etc. into the body politic of Ghana and entrusting positions of authority to them. However, just bringing along young minds for the sake of it isn’t the thrust here but rather quality dependable minds. The trust reposed in them has been woefully betrayed owing in part or in whole to intellectual naivety, administrative backwardness, leadership cluelessness and lack of communication skills among others. The performance has been so atrocious that it has done an irreparable damage to the future of the youth with the propensity to cause future leaders to relegate us to the doldrums of political irrelevancy or oblivion. It must, however, be pointed out that there are still some young brains out there with the intellectual acumen, managerial know-how, leadership skills that can be called upon to distinguish themselves creditably so we would like to make a passionate appeal to President Mahama and the aspiring candidates not to impute the ‘transgressions’ of the failed few on us but to continue to incorporate young brilliant minds into the administration of the country for as it is said the youth are the future.

4. Brace yourselves for the nuances of celebrity stardom. When one assumes the position of a president he/she ceases to be an ‘ordinary’ citizen and takes on a prominent persona influenced by a high degree of public fascination, and whose actions and inactions has reverberating consequences on the present and future welfare of the citizens. To this end the president has to accede some level of privacy especially those pertinent to the effective dispensation of ones duties. Certain issues need not be shrouded in secrecy to the detriment of the nation as was the case with the late Prof. Atta Mills’ health, and one should be fearlessly honest as our national anthem entreats us to cherish, with past indiscretions which though inconsequential to the now puts to rest any unnecessary distractions. Former President Clinton and President Obama of the US all confessed to once smoking ‘weed’ but aren’t they some of the few world acclaimed presidents of our time? Yes the rights of patients to privacy is indeed sacrosanct and how much information is divulged I believe rests with the individual but to live in denial when all indications point otherwise is also deadly and unwise. The late President Ronald Reagan of the US was not concerned about public reaction to his hearing issues before the second term of his presidency and even wore hearing aids. Not only did he win the elections but hearing aid sales skyrocketed through the roofs.
Yes I do reckon that we’re a unique people with a unique identity so I wouldn’t advocate a wholesale embrace of western democracy without being innovative and infusing some of our cultural norms to make it work effectively for Ghana. However, Ghana has come a long way to continue to waddle in the rudiments of the concept, and thus imploring all to put their hands on the deck to ensure the sustainability of a vibrant democracy in Ghana. Ghana has always been a model country in Africa and I know this is definitely not beyond the capabilities of the people. Long live Ghana!!!!!

Carl Owusu-Barnes,
Maryland, USA.