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Opinions of Monday, 26 October 2015

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

Go, ask the President

Opinion Opinion

“Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness; Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;

Both grace and faults are loved of more and less; Thou makest faults graces that to thee resort.

As on the finger of a throned queen, The basest jewel will be well esteem`d, So are those errors that in thee are seen. To truths translated and for true things deemed”

Sonnet 96

William Shakespeare

Dr. Kwabena Donkor may or may not have had his wits deserting him when he was granted an interview by Ash FM last week Tuesday. He claimed that he was at the hospital- perhaps that explained why he appeared to have been blunt and brusque with his answers to the interviewer.

It all started with the confusion between `owe’ and `own’, `Are we owning them?’ was the query and the retort, in reference to the question whether or not the Ghanaian government `owed’ the Nigerian government .The banter between the two with regard to ‘owing’ and ‘owning’ had an interesting ramification. The interviewer and the interviewee were engaged in what grammarians call `malapropism’. The word is from the French `mal a propos’ meaning `inappropriate’, that is, the use of an incorrect word in place of a similar sounding word that results in a nonsensical or humorous expression. Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s comedy “The Rivals” had a habit of replacing words with incorrect and absurd utterances producing a humorous effect.

In Shakespeare’s `Much Ado About Nothing’(Act 3 Sc 5), Constable Dogberry says:” Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons”. Here, Constable Dogberry uses `comprehended’ for `apprehended’ and `auspicious’ for `suspicious’. It was all much ado (great fuss) about trash and trivialities.

Then came the question whether the Minister of Power was going to announce the end of ‘dumsor’ as had been hinted by the President. His temperature must have gone up a few degrees and he threw the question back: “Have I said that?” “Have you heard that from my mouth?” He said in his tantrums. The journalist offered an answer: “No, according to the President”. There and then the cat came out of the bag: “So why don’t you ask him {the President). Am I his spokesperson?” Ei, someone remarked.

Dr Donkor had himself put his neck on the chopping board. The `Power’ ministry was hived off the `Energy and Petroleum Ministry’, and Dr Donkor who had criticised the various ministers of Energy and Petroleum for non-performance, was put in charge of the Power Ministry. Ghanaians had hoped that with his assumption of office, the power crisis facing the country would be solved within minutes or, at the longest, within days. He promised,(or rather threatened) to quit as minister if the `dumsor’ could not be curtailed by the end of 2015.

On Wednesday, October 14, 2015, the Managing Director of WAPCO, Walter Perez, did what some Ghanaians say was “the unthinkable’’, announcing at a press conference, the huge debt owed (NOT; owned) by the VRA and the ECG to it, and threatening to cut the supply of gas to Ghana on Friday, October 16, 2015, if Ghana could not vomit the amount owed. Walter Perez reiterated the unprecedented efforts his company had made right through the various ministries and cabinet to the presidency.

In its desperation, the government of Ghana dispatched a high-powered team to Nigeria on a mission aimed at reconciliation. Ghanaians are yet to know the details of the terms. But did the team go to `negotiate’ the terms or did they go to beg to be `forgiven’ our indebtedness? Business is business and is business. Did the remaining cash of $170 million or so, carry any interest?

Members of each of the two most ambitious political parties (NPP and NDC) have stressed the need to take the problem of `dumsor’ from politics. Dr Mahamudu Bawumia had revealed a year ago that “ … the untold story about the erratic gas supply from Nigeria is that Ghana owes Nigeria Gas US$100 million. Nigeria Gas is therefore dragging its feet with regard to the supply of gas while this amount is unpaid. Ultimately, the dumsor problem is more of a financial than a technical one”. Dr Bawumia had warned against the mismanagement of Ghana’s economy. His statement attracted a barrage of tongue- lashing. The NDC government had justified their `prudent’ economic management insisting that our economy was rather `resilient’. That is, despite the encore of Dr Bawumia’s position by the vivacious Dr Kwesi Botchwey of the NDC.

We are all born free and equal. But the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states that for a person to be President of Ghana, he must attain the age of forty. You may be equal to the President, but if you are below the age of forty, you cannot aspire to be one. Whoever becomes the President of Ghana, however, enjoys great immunity. Article 57 of the 1992 Constitution says: (5)“ The President shall not, while in office as President, be personally liable to any civil or criminal proceedings in court.(6) Civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against a person within three years after his ceasing to be President, in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by him in his personal capacity before or during his term of office notwithstanding any period of limitation”.

Unlike the President of the United States of America, the Ghanaian President is showered with so many accolades. ‘His Excellency’, the President of the Republic of Ghana is the least and the commonest. Take out `His Excellency’ and the interlocutor will be whipped into line. The utterance of Dr Kwabena Donkor is one too many from the NDC quarters. If it does not demonstrate arrogance, at least it shows insouciance, neither of which is, democratically speaking, appropriate. Nor would it be politically correct, so say a number of persons, including NDC members.

One would expect Ministers to be polished and professional, not only in their speeches, but also in their responses to answers to questions from their constituents, including journalists. One would expect them to listen, understand, and communicate to their audiences.

When faced with a `difficult question’, one would expect Ministers to pause and ask for clarification- to help create some space for their thoughts, and not embarrass themselves. Who is asking the Minister to resign? Who would resign for asking a journalist to direct his question to the President?

Many a minister has gone away with severer pronouncements. Nothing happened to them. “Why me, why me alone?” as Cassius Clay, later Mohammed Ali cried out when he was being harangued for refusing to go to the Vietnam War. In the 1940s during the Second World War, a prominent man used to say: “Hitler go win the war”.

When eventually Hitler lost, he was asked to justify his prediction. His answer was simple: “My mouth ibe gun?” When J.J. Rawlings was asked for his reaction about some ‘boys’ taunting him, he said the ‘babies’ had “sharp teeth” that could penetrate one’s skin if they bit you. “Who born dog?” “Akom ko, aka ntwaa-ho”. “The days of the fetish are gone; these days it is only turn-arounds”.

In `Sacrifice’ Emerson writes:“Though love repine, and reason chafe, there came a voice without reply,- `Tis man’s perdition to be safe, when for the truth he ought to die’. A word to the wise is enough.

Written by: Africanus Owusu-Ansah