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Opinions of Saturday, 10 March 2007

Columnist: Boafo, Eric

Ghana After 50: Matters Arising And The Way Forward

At long last, Ghana is 50 and our beloved country is back to the future. In the same way that being the first Black African nation to gain independence in 1957 was history, on 6th March, 2007 Ghana was put on the spotlight again. The anniversary made headlines on BBC and on most major broadcasting networks. Words can not describe the feelings that ran through my spines when the anniversary celebration was shown on my local Fox station in the US.

Despite some few setbacks, I believe the celebrations have been a success so far. We’ve showcased our culture and the traditional Ghanaian hospitality. More importantly, events leading up to the celebrations though may be overlooked by many as mere political rumblings between our major political parties, were as significant as the event itself and as dramatic as the declaration of independence. As if planned, all branches of our democratic government were tested and through that their weaknesses were exposed and their strengths revealed and reinforced.

Parliament stood up to the occasion and summoned the executive to justify the $20 million dollars it had earlier on blindly approved for the celebrations without wisely asking exactly what the money was going to be spent on. In the end, the executive reluctantly succumbed to the oversight authority of the legislature much to my admiration. Also, the Ghana Police wisely use the law instead of force to stop the CJA from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. The police resorted to the judiciary to stop the planned procession on March 6th and the CJA exhausted their legal options and respectfully abided by the ruling of the court, though the ruling itself was very questionable.

These events prove the fact that our democracy has really come of age, and that rule of law and open governance are to a large extent on course in Ghana. However, these same events reveal very serious cracks in our system that would have to be patched, if indeed we are going to lead African into the next half century ahead of us.

In the first place our weak parliament would have to be given teeth to bite. In the past and even now, almost everything but for the distribution of cars to members of parliament is done on partisan lines. This has led to an unholy marriage between the executive and the legislature. Parliament negligently approved the $20 million dollars for the anniversary and later turned around to question how the money was being spent as if government cast a magical spell on them when it came to seek the money. Also after the Chief of Staff agreed to answer parliament in place of ‘Tarzan’, as if to help government conceal the ‘sinful’ expenditure from Ghanaians, the Finance Committee’s enquiry was held in camera. Since this did not border on national security, why did the Finance Committee decide to keep Ghanaians in the dark? This shows the extent to which the majority in parliament will go to protect their adulterous affair with the executive. The majority in parliament has to stay true to their promise of open governance at all times and all level of governance.

In order to ensure effective check and balances in our system parliament has to put the people’s interest ahead of partisan politics. I would go to the extent of suggesting the appointment of ministers outside of parliament so parliamentarians can recluse themselves from the executive’s business. How can the legislature be an equal arm of government when members function on both arms at the same time? As it is now, parliament is a tool of the executive, and it will remain so until we consciously break up the constitutionally arranged marriage between the couple.

Secondly, we have to strengthen our judiciary system so people can put their trust in it. Recent rulings in our courts have caused many to question the independence of the judiciary. Though I commend the police for going to court and at the same time disagreeing with the CJA’s decision to demonstrate on 6th march, I strongly reject the judge’s ruling. It is a very bad legal precedent which in effect said we could suspend the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression because of a national celebration. I would have expected the honorable Judge to give the go ahead for the demonstration but bar them from coming within a certain radius of the independence square. And also since the constitution guarantees freedom of expression at all times, he should have ordered the police to provide minimal security for the demonstrators however small it may be. With this precedence the police can always use the excuse of inadequate officers to prevent people from expressing their right.

The Ghana@50 secretariat’s jibe with the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) for me revealed the need for a larger vision for our country; A vision which will guide the efforts of every government operative towards achieving a particular set goal. For instance if government has a vision of promoting local industries, then in this anniversary year, we as a country would ask ourselves “how can we promote local industries in our anniversary celebrations?”; “How can we promote local industries as we host CAN 2008?”; and also “how can we promote local industries as we expect to host the AU conference?”. The secretariats failure to contract a local manufacturer to supply the anniversary cloth was not an oversight but a clear luck of vision in our approach towards governance. As a result we missed the opportunity to inject much needed capital into our dying textile industry.

Ten years ago we were told that “life begins at 40”. Obviously we haven’t grown much since then. FCUBE is just on paper; poverty and disease continue to terrorize us in spite of our numerous natural resources which we continually boast of. Dr Kwame Nkrumah gained freedom from the colonialist, and 50 years down the road our new colonial master is poverty. Today, more than anything we need visionaries; Leaders who will rally the masses to gain freedom by strengthening our democratic foundations, setting bold goals and visions and above all, staying true to the virtues of good governance. We are back to the future of 6th march, 1957, and I strongly believe the new course we’ve began is nothing like our first 50 years as a nation.

Eric Boafo (Northern Kentucky University)

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