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Opinions of Monday, 8 July 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

Opinions, bad comments, free speech and a chamber (pot)

This past week has been extremely rough for ghana’s political class. The whole Parliament and several ministers have been caught with their trousers around their ankles on account of wanton arrogance and dishonesty.

A.S.K. Bagbin, Second Deputy Speaker, stated on 3 July, 2019 when presiding over the controversial chamber pot debate in Parliament: “What is happening now is eroding the pillar of democracy in the country which is Parliament – that is the pillar of democracy in this country – in fact all over the world and so we should be courteous, careful and cautious about how we talk about Members of Parliament."

It appears that he has conveniently forgotten that the BEDROCK of any democracy is the consent and participation of the citizens; that comes before any so called pillars, and that includes our 275 member Parliament.

But perhaps the greatest warning about careful speech ought to be directed at the ministers who feel a sense of corrosive entitlement.

In all of these, one of the most malignant statements came from the Information Minister who dissociated the administration of President Akufo-Addo from the construction of the new chamber.

The Minister’s inaccurate statements were further unraveled in the rambling post by Gabby Otchere-Darko on FB on July 5 2019.

The Majority Leader also made initial comments that were badly premised, substandard and unhelpful.

It is reasonable for us to expect that Parliament should be the proper forum to dissect arguments with sobreity and logic in order to establish truth and initiate decisive actions that will lead to progress.

It cannot be a venue for frequent debased arguments, frivolous rhetoric and unhelpful and retrogressive comments.

Perhaps we should seriously consider the recommendation of a seasoned late middle aged lawyer that we do not need more than 5 MPs (Yes FIVE parliamentarians) per region.

All told the events, explanations and outbursts of last week indicate that we must have clarity on certain fundamental questions.

It is high time Ghanaians answered these questions for themselves.

What is an opinion? When is it important AND when is it not?

What is Free Speech? Why is it important? What is the difference between Free speech and Opinion?

What is a “bad comment”? Is it important? Is it dangerous?

Too often we hear someone say, “It’s my opinion” or “Am I not entitled to free speech”.

Yes, you are, just like the MPs are doing now. So who is right and who is wrong? Certainly we can all agree in this situation that “Majority carries the vote” is not necessarily the right answer.

If we do not think logically using moral and intellectual imperatives as a guide, then we shall continue to waste resources and undermine progress.

We will continue to see the kind of botched prosecution after a RAMBO STYLE “ARREST” AND AN UNSIGNED PRESS STATEMENT relating to the modernghana.com journalists.

We are waiting patiently to see who will be held responsible by the government for that irresponsible act of violent intimidation.

But who is responsible for guiding the national discourse?

Academics should intensify such efforts in the classrooms at all levels of our educational structure. People must be taught how to think clearly; it is an important national resource.

As public service is the highest devotion to nationalistic pursuits, politicians should also know that this is their core mandate.

And of course there is an important role for public intellectuals – more of whom are urgently needed.

Socrates, was murdered in Athens thus providing an example of what can happen when politics, arrogance and piety combine against the adoption of principles and principled people who ask too many questions.

Are we not still awaiting the results of the murder investigation of a journalist?

Having observed the quality of Ghanaian public discourse over the week, we cannot remain silent for that will be dereliction of duty.

Let us, therefore, leave you with my mentor’s lessons on how to conduct public debate.

“People must be taught how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible. Then you know that you are living with HONEST, INTELLIGENT, RATIONAL HUMAN BEINGS from whom you might LEARN SOMETHING.”

Otherwise, sadly it will be garbage in garbage out and we have had enough of that already.

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