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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Columnist: Appiah-Opoku,

Ghana’s Constitution and the Corruption Dilemma

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana sets up fundamental and entrenched rules that govern the conduct of all three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judiciary. Although there are many written and unwritten rules or laws in Ghana, none can ever overrule the ones that are clearly enshrined in our constitution. Therefore the country’s recent performance on the global corruption index and the ‘importation’ of GITMO ex-convicts could be explained by either the omission or commission in our 1992 Constitution.
Human beings are inherently greedy or insatiable and this trait was exhibited in the Garden of Eden. The lesson from the Garden of Eden story is that without a system of checks-and-balances human beings everywhere will eventually become greedy or corrupt. This is what Plato meant when he said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In other words, without a system of checks-and-balances all three branches of government everywhere will become corrupt. The recent revelations in the executive and judiciary branches of the government in Ghana (bus branding, Gitmo ex-convicts in Ghana, Anas’ video) point to limitations or shortcomings in our 1992 Constitution.
Ghana’s Presidential system of government is a hybrid of the US system and the British parliamentary system. Under the US presidential system, there is a very strict separation of functions among all three branches of government and none is more powerful than the others. Moreover each branch of government has the power to ensure the others do not overstep their powers. A good example is the Watergate spying scandal and the impeachment of President Nixon in the early 1970s. In the mid-1990s President Clinton also faced impeachment hearings because of his alleged sexual relationship with a White House intern. Recently, Hilary Clinton had to face Judiciary scrutiny for allegedly deleting her private emails on a server in her executive branch office when she was stepping down as the US Secretary of State.
On the other hand, under Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, the executive branch of government wields unbridled and over-bearing powers that can easily ruin the country’s democracy if not checked. This is partly because there is no strict separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. In fact, the constitution requires the President to appoint a majority of his ministers from parliament (legislative branch). To add insults to injury, the executive branch has always belonged to the party with a majority in parliament and this renders the legislative branch powerless because of party loyalty. Consequently parliamentary oversight responsibilities including the vetting of executive appointments, international loans agreements, and budget approvals have all been discharged with kids’ glove.
Under the 1992 Constitution, the President may execute or cause to be executed treaties, agreements or conventions in the name of Ghana but they should be subject to ratification by either an Act of Parliament or a resolution of Parliament supported by the votes of more than one-half of all the members of Parliament. We are yet to find out our Parliament’s involvement in the agreement that resulted in the ‘importation’ of the two GITMO ex-convicts to Ghana. To improve transparency and accountability in Ghana’s democratic dispensation, Parliament must have the ability to remove office holders in the executive branch when the latter no longer seems to be performing its proper function.
Prof. Seth Appiah-Opoku
sappiah@ua.edu