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Opinions of Friday, 11 July 2008

Columnist: Acheampong, Emmanuel Opoku

Must We Compare Past Records?

- Matters Arising from Hon. Mahama’s Statement

I had intended not to join in the simmering political fray, but for the regularity with which objective and intellectual appraisal of issues are being supplanted by political expediency with the unwavering tendency for patent determination of issues to be discoloured and ousted by selfish considerations spurred by an unmitigated fidelity to political ideologies.

Hon. John Mahama, running mate to the NDC presidential candidate, was reported to have stated at the party’s re-launch in Accra that the issue of comparison of achievements advocated by the NPP presidential candidate Nana Akuffo-Addo to be the central basis for voters in the December, 2008 elections was not only misplaced, but was also “a recipe for mediocrity.” Soon after, the NPP in quick response organised a press conference where its chairman, Peter Mac-Manu, with fiery force, reinforced the resolute desire of his party to place the issue of comparison over and above all considerations.

From the foregoing perspectives and viewpoints advanced by the opposing parties, the main issue arising for determination is whether or not Hon. Mahama’s statement is legitimate and grounded in fact. To weigh objectively the substance of the statement, it is imperative to underscore the basis for popular sovereignty and its corollary, representative government. Why is it necessary to deliver power unto a chosen few on the basis of popular vote, and what motive underlies and drives such a practice?

Jean Bodin, the French political theorist, expressed himself in regards to the organisation of the state. He stated:

“Every state is an association of families, and in order to be well ordered it requires a single sovereign, that is to say, a person or group of persons who possess supreme legislative power…”

It is instructive to state that although Bodin’s statement was influenced by an era of absolute monarchy, yet if we substituted the word “sovereign” to mean a “constitution” in our era; it becomes clearer that the substantive ideas and principles implicit in the statement are as relevant as they were made centuries ago. However, for a proper appreciation of the matter, I shall embark on a basic elucidation on the principles inhered in this concept.

Each citizen in Ghana, from the peasant farmer to the President of the Republic is supposed to have a stake in the wealth of this land. By wealth, I refer to the abundant natural resources – gold, timber, bauxite, diamond, manganese, arable lands, rivers, lakes, etc – and in this national cake, all citizens are entitled to a fair share. Thus a citizen, having received his direct share could then embark on a mission to pursue his fundamental interests, owing no duty to the State or his fellow man. However, since this idea is impracticable and impossible to pursue, and in cognisance of its susceptibility to chaos and anarchy, it is considered on grounds of effective regulation of society that power be delivered to certain persons who having received their mandate from their political overlord - the citizen - is required to formulate policies and programmes to achieve social justice, equal opportunities, and the pursuit of happiness.

It must be borne in mind however that the provision of equal opportunities is not a guarantee to a complete and efficient development of all persons to the same degree as factors such as temperament, personal history, physical characteristics and natural endowments would invariably operate to inhibit or bolster the degree of each individual’s personal development. This caveat notwithstanding, it remains unquenchable an assertion that certain interests are considered inveterate to the individual which makes it imperative on any person or group of persons entrusted with executive authority to shape the hopes and aspirations of the citizenry towards the realization of these ends. By equal opportunities therefore, the taxi or trotro driver, as well as the market woman should have, for example, equal opportunities to build or own a house (though not necessarily of the same type), or possess equal access to facilities for a quality and efficient health care, much the same way as the opportunities available to say, a minister of state. Therefore, should a minister of state, by virtue of his office be unduly placed in a position that makes it much more favourable for him to gain opportunities to the detriment of his political overlord, then the concept of equal opportunities inhered in the notion of the State is not only subjugated, but is clearly and wilfully thrown overboard.

With this in mind, what then should be central to the mind of an intending or willing voter? What should guide the voter in his decision to entrust executive and legislative authority to certain individuals instead of others? What is the role of the executive for which this mandate is sought? To this, Halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd Ed.), Vol. 7, P. 192, provides reasonable insight:

“Executive functions … include, in addition to the execution of the laws, the maintenance of public order, the management of [State] property and nationalized industries and services, the direction of foreign policy, the conduct of military operations, and the provision or supervision of such services as education, public health, transport, and state assistance and insurance…” So therefore, if the fundamental law of the land (the Constitution), grants to the citizen social and economic liberties, and this same law imposes a duty on the State to ensure a meaningful realization of these liberties; is an even higher duty not placed on the Executive, fused with concept of the State to conduct or institute sound programmes required for a fulfilling realisation of these liberties?

On the strength of these, the NDC, the NPP, and other political parties contested for power, the 1992 general elections. Executive authority was entrusted to the NDC, and its mandate was renewed again in 1996. However, it became apparent to voters, who had on two occasions delivered their mandate to the NDC that on the basis of their personal circumstances and the overall performance of the NDC it was necessary that power should be retrieved from them and delivered to the NPP on the basis of its attractive alternative policies. It may be said therefore that in delivering this mandate, the electorate observed certain mischief characteristic of the former executive authority, in which case, acting in reliance on the alternative programmes presented by the NPP, voted it into power. So therefore, if upon riding to power on account of mischief or defects it pledged to remedy or cure, should we accept it as legitimate a basis for such authority to gainsay that it failed or neglected to remedy the mischief simply because the scope of the mischief was far more defective than it had anticipated? In other words, should we heed the NPP’s oft-stated declaration that certain failures of it should be attributed to the inadequacies and failures of the former administration, the NDC? I pose this question, simply because its resolution is central to the determination of whether or not Hon. Mahama’s statement is grounded on a justifiable footing. To what purposes then do we entrust political power to an executive authority? Should we, when entrusting such power be guided by past performance, in which case the NPP would never have come into power since they possessed none? Did we not vote into power the NPP on the basis of their alternative policies which after aligning with other policies by the NDC; we found on the basis of the alignment that they [the NPP] possessed the most endearing and impressive of the policies?

Now, if we accepted the NPP’s call for comparison of achievements, and developed it into a yardstick for voters in 2008, and the NPP rode to power on such account, would such claim be their basis for voters in 2012, then in 2016, 2020, ad infinitum? How then could the State deliver to the people their hopes and aspirations, if a vote in 2008 is measured and influenced by conditions and circumstances existing before 2000? Would such claim, if accepted, not be a “retrograde step that strikes at the heart” of the principle of alternative government based on policy preference? I submit without equivocation that this call is not only preposterous and factually defective, but an affront to the conscience and reasoning capacity of all voters.

Yet, there is an even overarching basis for which we must resist and reject the NPP’s claim. If a mandate being sought in 2008 to expire in 2012 is to be guided by past performances of all parties, then, it would be fair to state that we need not be presented with any alternative policies from the political parties to solicit our votes. This is because the claim, if heeded, would not only render irrelevant and unnecessary any presentation of alternative policies, but it would further drive underground the soothing principles that underlie its relevance.

The purpose of governance, as I have already intimated, includes inter alia, the provision of equal and fair opportunities to all citizens to enable them effectively pursue their fundamental interests. So therefore, if I am befuddled with political entities seeking my mandate, must I in the interest of realising the fulfillment of my fundamental interests be guided by the previous performances of the parties seeking my mandate; or must I be guided and influenced by the alternative policies so presented in leading me make a choice? If I am inclined to lean to the former consideration, I ought to be guided by the fact that the previous political authorities namely Mr. Rawlings and President Kuffour who operated under different circumstances must not be used as the yardstick for measuring candidate Mills and candidate Akuffo-Addo. Why? Because if I heeded the call, and voted into power any of the two candidates on the basis of past performance, would the new political authority of my choice faced with new challenges on an entirely different circumstance make decisions from the perspective of the issues confronting him, or would he be influenced and guided by the perspective of his predecessor? Certainly, new challenges are confronted with new ideas and decisions, and it would be a patent travesty of reasoning to assert that a voter ought not to be guided by pledges made by a political entity seeking his vote, but by a comparison of past performances which are by themselves incomparable by virtue of the different social circumstances in which they operated.

In any case, if we were to stretch the issue of past performance a little further, should common sense not dictate to us as a matter of such guidance to surrender all our votes to the CPP whose past performances remain firmly unshaken and veritably impregnable?

Nonetheless, there is still another reason that should negate this call by the NPP, one which Honorable Mahama refers to as a “recipe for mediocrity.” By inference, the claim, when examined closely is shrouded in such manner as to conceal and make the failures of the NPP subject to the failures of the NDC. In other words, what the NPP is inviting voters to do is to accept their failures not for what they are, but in measurement against the past failures of the NDC. So therefore, if the NPP failed or neglected to fulfill a pledge it made in 2000, voters must judge them not by such failure or neglect but must measure them against the failures and neglects of the NDC. This, in my view, is the most disingenuous and wilfully calculated claim that aggregates the culminative effect of the rule of impudence that has so characterised the NPP administration. In fact, we will surely resist any such unwarranted claim and vote according to the dictates and reasoning of our hearts and conscience. The clarion call however is to the youth. I voted for the NPP in 2000, and so did I in 2004. However, the constraint of time would not permit me to address the issues which should support the conclusion that the NPP ought to be rejected. I will surely do that in another forum. However, let me sound this piece of advice to the youth; that unmitigated fidelity to the cause of partisanship whiles cleaving tenaciously with sterile consistency to political ideologies would not only embolden political authorities to wilfully disregard their pledges made to you, but more importantly, it would make them consider you, the voter, as an instrument for their realisation of their self seeking interests. This is what the NPP has done, and is purporting to do, and that is the more reason why you must vote not only to free yourself from the clutches and restraints of partisanship, but to stake a claim that popular sovereignty resides in you, the citizen, who is the political overlord of this political realm.

The writer is a student of Law @ KNUST eoacheampong@yahoo.co.uk

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