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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is President Mills the Weakest Link?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

The popular BBC television quiz show that began in 2000 and formally ended in March 2012, hosted by Anne Robison is very well known across the globe and needs no introduction. However, for the sake of readers who may be unfamiliar with the game, let me attempt to explain it for easy reference. Nine contests play the game to win as much money as possible (as a team) but only the final winner takes whatever is in the bank at the end of the competition. Contestants answer questions one after the other to win money in each round from £20 for the first question up to £1,000 for the ninth question. Incorrect answer by a contestant breaks the chain if that contestant did not bank money won prior to the question being asked, the money in the kitty in that round is lost and the chain starts again from the bottom. When money won in the kitty is banked by a contestant the chain starts again from the bottom. Nine consecutive correct answers automatically earn them £1,000 into the bank (for the day time show) and money won and banked is safe.

The rounds are timed and ten seconds are taken off the time after each round, so the faster contestants answer questions, the better. The first round begins with contestants answering questions according to alphabetical order of their family names and thereafter, each round begins with the strongest link in the previous round. One candidate is voted off by the contestants at the end of each round. The voting rule is that, the weakest link (the contestant who got most questions wrong in the round) should be voted off. When there is more than one contestant with the highest votes, the strongest link in the round, according statistical analysis (known to only the host and viewers) decides who should be voted off.

In reality, often, some if not most contestants vote for reasons other than the weakest contestant. For example, reasons such as, a contestant failing to answer easy question correctly, s/he took too long to answer a question or failure to bank large sum in the kitty which was lost because s/he gave the wrong answer, s/he voted for me in previous rounds and other flimsy excuses have been offered to explain why contestants voted for a particular contestant. Midway through the programme, especially, when there are between five and three contestants left, they vote strategically to get rid of stronger competitors in order to improve individual chances of winning the final prize. In other words, the final winner is not always the strongest link and vice versa.

The apparent weakness of President Mills and often the confusion regarding decision making or lack of it within his government could be likened to the scheming by contestants in Anne Robinson’s Weakest Link quiz show. From the very beginning of the Mills administration it was reported that, the Chairman of the Council of State, Professor Kofi Awoonor had usurped presidential powers by making certain appointments that must have been made by the President. When this was reported to the President, he failed to act but reportedly said something to the effect that, “Kofi Awoonor was a pain in the ass”. Then surfaced the infamous judgement debt payments to Mr Woyome when Ghanaians were made to believe that President Mills ordered his then Attorney General and Minister for Justice not make the payments, yet she disobeyed the President and made the payments. Though the minister was dismissed, her Deputy and the Deputy Chief of Staff who were on record to have defended the payments to Woyome are strangely still at their posts.

The latest of such signs of a weak President and disorder at the Presidency was the “decree, proclamation, edict or fatwa” issued by the so-called Director of Communications at the Presidency who also parade himself as the Presidential Spokesperson, Koku Anyidoho, ordering the summary dismissal of the Asante Regional Director of the Electricity Company of Ghana, following power failure at Baba Yara Sports Stadium at Kumasi during the Ghana-Lesotho World Cup qualifying match. Without the expressed instructions from or prior consultation with the President, he publicly ordered the dismissal of the Regional Director of ECG. What was sad and bizarre was the reason Koku Anyidoho gave for his illegal decision. That, the President was upset. The President was upset and so what, is he not human? When I read the report on Ghanaweb, I asked myself if this a joke and has the President any authority to dismiss the post holder? Shockingly but no surprise, the President’s response has been to sideline Koku Anyidoho instead of real action (see “Anyidoho sidelined over ECG gaffe”, Ghanawb June 9, 2012). That was not a gaffe but a gross or criminal usurpation of presidential powers to the most gargantuan order in the history modern democracy in Ghana. He deliberately lied to Ghanaians and should have been punished or disciplined for his crime.

President Mills’s responses or inaction to the numerous but very serious disobediences to him (some of them amounting to breach of the 1992 Constitution) are threats to democracy and the rule of law in Ghana. He reminds me of some Ghanaians who are often heard saying, “leave it to God”. I definitely do not share that posture but believe in “God help those who help themselves”. Leave is to God is an excuse for weakness, inaction and failure to take responsibility. Leadership or good leadership means, sometimes, taking difficult decisions that may be unpopular but in the best interest of the state. It also means upsetting some of the people, including those closer to you, some of the time. Unfortunately, President Mills is behaving as if he wants to satisfy all and sundry.

Koku Anyidoho’s purported edict was not only illegal but also brought the Presidency into disrepute. It created the impression that both the Presidency and government appointees do not understand their roles and the limitations of their offices under the 1992 Constitution. They do not know that the President has authority to hire and fire only his appointees. Because the President has no powers to appoint the Regional Director of ECG, he has no authority to relieve him of his appointment either. Though, he is the President of the national, he cannot act on his whims and caprices but only in accordance with the law. The President can only act within the powers bestowed on him by the 1992 Constitution. Such total disregard to the Constitution reminds Ghanaians of the AFRC and PNDC days when state officials were dismissed on air without any due process. For Koku Anyidoho and all other Presidential appointees, those days are gone forever. The mafia mob mentality of “I will show you where power lies” has no place in a democratic society. The President and all his appointees have no power, except those emanating from the Constitution and they cannot act as they please. Ghana is no longer under a dictator when Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings ordered and we danced to her tune.

But is President Mills really the “weakest link”? My personal view would be both yes and no. Yes, because President Mills has become a hostage within the NDC Party. This is due to the fact that he was not a political operator within the party prior to his ascendancy to the position of Vice-President under Rawlings, consecutive third time Presidential candidate of NDC and finally, President of Ghana in 2009. President Mills had no constituent base within the party prior to becoming Vice-President. Without the Swedru declaration, he would have lost a contest for the NDC flagbearership miserably. For these reasons, he is controlled by the old guard from the P/NDC days, some of who bear the characteristics of that era. So despite the President being a Law Professor because he is surrounded by hawks from the PNDC era and who are used to ordering people around, due process and the rule of law sometimes become causalities in their actions and omissions.

No, because President Mills is a victim of the civil war within the ruling NDC, especially the antagonistic relationship between himself and the Rawlingses. The tension has reached a crescendo so President Mills is attempting to keep all his supporters within his tent and concerned about acting in a manner that may disturb the fault lines within his faction. The direct consequence is that, when those closer him step out of line, he is reluctant to crack the whip. As a result, outsiders regard the President as weak but the fact is, which one of us would hit someone on the head whilst you have your fingers in the person’s mouth? The situation should be a lesson to NPP as well, especially, the Vice-Presidential candidate, Dr Bawumia, unless he has no Presidential ambitions in the future. Should NPP win the 2012 and 216 Presidential elections and Bawumia decides to run for the Presidency in 2020, he could suffer the same fate as President Mills because he has no base in the NPP.

To address this apparent weakness of the President and to avoid the confusion by political appointees’ lack of understanding of their roles, responsibilities and limitations of the powers of their offices, I recommend for immediate action the following: First and foremost, all such appointees must receive training or lessons on their rights and responsibilities as well as their powers and limitations under the 1992 Constitution. New and future appointees must also go through similar processes on the do’s and don’ts of their offices under the Constitution on their appointment. All such appointees should also familiarised themselves with the 1992 Constitution. Since that is a complex legal authority, a simplified version (what is common referred to as user friendly English) should be produced for them.

Such programme should also include leading party officials because it was unpardonable and a national embarrassment for the National Chairman of the party to suggest that either the government or party will interfere with the judiciary. For such a person to be unaware that the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed and sacrosanct under the 1992 Constitution is inimical to the Constitution, the rule of law and democracy in Ghana. He was naive, out of touch with that statement and was reminiscent of the PNDC days. To me, the “there are different ways of killing a cat” statement was a treasonable statement. The training should be provided by GIMPA or any reputable academic institution and should be opened to other political parties, especially the main opposition party, NPP. It should be designed, delivered and managed by the academic institution as a non-party political course or seminar and as part of developing and deepening rule of law, separation of powers, good governance, accountability and democracy in Ghana.

In conclusion, though President Mills may appear to be the weakest link, as was in the BBC television quiz show, the one voted by fellow contestants as the weakest link is often not the weakest link in reality and the final winner is also sometimes not the strongest link but rather they became either the weakest or strongest links through the scheming and machinations by the contestants. I think if President Mills were a contestant on the Weakest Link, he would have been voted by his fellow contestants as the weakest link for taking too long to answer a question but not necessarily the weakest link. Is he the weakest link in reality? Whatever the answer is, one thing that is certain is that, once voted by fellow contestants, Anne Robinson would have told him, “You are the weakest link, good bye”.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK