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Opinions of Monday, 10 November 2008

Columnist: Asare, S. Kwaku

NDC 2008 Manifesto For A Better Ghana — Don’t Mind the Body but Mind the Engine

The cover pages of the NDC 2008 manifesto are colorful and even attractive. However, beyond those colorful pages are 100 pages of ideas, policy objectives, and agenda that will guide the government should the people of Ghana decide to hire Professor Atta Mills as President in December. It is important to debate and discuss these ideas as part of a campaign to inform the voters as they get ready to exercise their suffrage in less than 2 months. The manifesto is built around 4 themes: (i) Governance; (ii) Economy; (iii) People; and (iv) Infrastructure. In this incipient discussion, I will focus on the Governance leg of the manifesto.

The manifesto defines Governance as “the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority in the management of our nation’s affairs.” The party’s primary Governance strategy “is to mobilize ordinary citizens to claim back their government and implement activities that will enhance the participation and promote the interests of ordinary Ghanaians.” This strategy will be effectuated in seven areas: (1) governance reform; (2) corporate governance; (3) e-governance; (4) law and justice; (5) human safety and security; (6) local government and decentralization; and (7) international relations for development. The discussion below focuses on the first five areas.

Governance Reform

On governance reform, the manifesto lays out the party’s ideas for parliament, corruption, women and governance, media, civil society and the constitution. I, next, summarize my understanding and assessment of those ideas.

PARLIAMENT: The manifesto identifies three issues with parliament: (i) whether the appointment of some ministers from parliament compromise the independence of parliament; (ii) whether parliament is adequately resourced; and (iii) how to enhance parliament’s oversight responsibility. On the first issue, the proposed solution is to “subject the issue to a critical reflection by major stakeholders … and use the results of such consultations as the basis of firm proposals to parliament.” On the second issue, the solution is to “adhere to the constitutional space provided for Parliament to define its financial needs, and for these to be satisfied within the limits of public resources without undue delays and unwarranted cutbacks.” On the third issue, the solution is to “reinforce this role by empowering the relevant committees and extending this function to cover other senior public officials.”

Anyone with a modest sophistication at evaluating public policy can readily see that these are not ideas at all. It shows unpreparedness and lack of foresight for a political party to offer consultations as its panacea for what it has identified as a threat to the independence of parliament. To say that an NDC government will allow parliament to define its financial needs subject to public resources is to say absolutely nothing. And to say that relevant committees will be empowered to enhance their oversight roles is both too little and too much, which is a kind way of saying it is a meaningless proposal.



Still on parliament, the manifesto proposes three bad ideas and one good idea. First, the party plans to construct and furnish a standard MP’s office in each of the 230 constituencies. Second, each MP will be allowed to hire an administrator, whose salaries and benefits will become a charge on the consolidated fund. Third, the party plans to set up a “constituency development fund” for each MP. Finally, the party plans to assign a university graduate in liberal arts and humanities to serve as a research assistant for each MP.

It is hard to understand why the NDC sees building a standard MP office in each constituency as a priority. This is especially so when it built standard MP homes in Accra, which they then sold on the cheap to the MPs of the 1st parliament. If MPs need to do work for their constituents, they should arrange with the various districts, churches, schools, etc. to set up meeting places. For the same reason, hiring an administrator to man these MP houses is indicative of a party that still does not understand our budgetary constraints. I have always been against the notion of setting aside funds for MPs, to be used according to their discretion. These funds are better allocated to the district assemblies, who can then set their own priorities. I, however, am supportive of assigning a research assistant to each MP but reject the notion that the assigned servicemen should be in liberal arts or humanities. MPs make decisions on health, roads, budgets, etc and could use help from assistants with expertise in various areas.

CORRUPTION: Corruption, probably the biggest problem in our polity, has the potential to reach epidemic proportions with the discovery and commercial production of oil in the western region. The NDC must therefore be given credit for addressing this issue in its manifesto. Unfortunately its proposals to address the problem lack clarity, thoughtfulness, seriousness, and creativity. At the heart of its anti-corruption effort, is a “program of encouraging citizens to demand accountability and blowing the whistle on corrupt officials and practices.” Because this is reminiscent of the Citizenship Vetting Committee, it is important that its parameters be clarified. There is also a promise to strengthen CHRAJ and SFO, although no specifics are offered on how the strengthening will be done to arrest corruption. There is also a sentence on asset declaration (the law will be revised to make it functional and effective in ensuring probity and accountability) Sadly, all the proposals focus on detection of corruption, although the best way to address corruption is emplacing preventive controls, such as business performance reviews, segregation of duties, information processing controls, and audits. On balance, it seems the NDC is merely paying lip service to corruption as evidenced by the 4 or so paragraphs devoted to it in a manifesto of over 100 pages.

WOMEN AND GOVERNANCE: According to the manifesto, an NDC government “shall strengthen the position of women and significantly increase their number in senior governance posts, improve the conditions of poor women and actively promote gender equality and equity.” Of course, this does not say much as it is a generic statement that can be found in the manifesto of just about most modern political parties. The real test is the specific proposals put forward to advance this agenda. Here, we are told that “the NDC government shall introduce major gender policy and legislative reforms, aiming for a minimum of 40% representation of women at conferences and congresses of the party and in government and public service.” Needless to say, the P/NDC does not have to be in government to assure a 40% representation of women at its conferences and congresses. The proportion of women at their conferences and parliamentary caucus should give the best clue of where it stands on gender issues and whether gender equality will be its priority. The manifesto also talks about intensifying public education against negative socio-cultural practices that discriminate against women. This is welcome and I hope the NDC will speak against the culture that allows men to marry their wives’ relatives. MEDIA: During its tenure from 1981 to 1992, the PNDC was openly hostile to the media culminating in the so called culture of silence. This relationship did not change under the NDC even after the advent of the constitution in 1992. The NDC criminalized speech and made prison graduates out of Malik Kwaku Baako, Haruna Atta, Ebenezer Quarcoo, etc. Alas, it often got an assist from the Supreme Court, whose mechanical interpretation of the free speech clause allowed the criminal libel laws to swallow the constitutional guaranteed freedom of speech. Fortunately, one of the first acts of the NPP government was to get rid of the obnoxious criminal libel laws. A potential NDC government’s thinking on the media is therefore important to assessing whether it has made a clear break with the past.

While the manifesto is unclear as to where the NDC stands on criminal libel and the media, there are some danger signals. First, the manifesto indicates that “the NDC will expect the media to be fair, objective and truthful in a true spirit of partnership with government for promoting national cohesion and sustainable development.” Second, “the NDC government will maintain a principled relationship with the media, constantly reminding each other that what is right under one government does not suddenly turn wrong when government changes hands.” Third, the “career progression and development of journalists will engage the serious attention of the NDC government, and a programme of sponsorship of journalists for further training and specialization will be instituted.” These are 3 dangerous ideas that should be of concern to the media and citizenry. The expectation of media fairness suggests that the NDC will monitor the media and will take corrective actions when, in its opinion, the media falls short of expectation. The proposed principled relationship is contrary to the free and independent media contemplated by the constitution. Monitoring the career progression of journalists should clearly not be the role of any government. My interpretation of this tripartite proposal is that the NDC plans to use a “carrot and stick” approach to muzzle the media. The manifesto states the nature of the carrots (career enhancement from good journalists), the performance benchmark (expectation of fairness, etc) but leaves unspecified the nature of the stick. I am unable to rule out the return of criminal libel under an NDC government.

CIVIL SERVICE: The manifesto devotes 2 paragraphs to the civil service. First, an NDC government will ensure a civil service leadership “characterized by competence and provide a remuneration structure that will make civil servants more effective and efficient.” Second, the NDC government will locate the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) in the office of the President to be chaired by the President. The first policy is half-baked because of the absence of specifics. To be taken seriously, a manifesto should be more than platitudes. The second policy is bad and suggests some confusion as to the role of the NDPC. Under the constitution, the NDPC shall advise the President on development planning policy and strategy (article 87(1)) and shall be

responsible to the President (article 85(3)). Further, the NDPC shall consist of a chairman who shall be appointed by the President in consultation with the council of state (article 85(2)). In light of these constitutional provisions, it is clear that the plan to locate it to the office of the President does not mean much and the plan to have the President chair the commission is in clear contravention of article 85(2).

CIVIL SOCIETY: The manifesto identifies civil society as a critical part of the governance process. However, the only plan for civil society is to “provide the necessary support and environment in which civil society organizations will flourish.” This, again, is both too little and too much. It fails to shed any meaningful light on the party’s plans for civil society.

CONSTITUTION: Although this is advertised as part of the governance reform agenda, there is no specific plan or even statement about it. Corporate Governance Corporate governance refers to the set of processes, customs, policies, laws and institutions that define the way a corporation is directed, administered or controlled. Forensic audit of 11 state owned enterprises for the period that the NDC was in office revealed that questionable corporate governance practices had led to losses of over ¢1.3 Trillion (old cedis). This was in addition to mysterious diversification practices (e.g., CARIDEM), unilateral guarantee of loans (e.g., Quality Grain and Valley Farms), and lack of accountability (e.g., delayed audit reports and inaction by the public accounts committee). In light of this history, the NDC’s plans on corporate governance assume additional importance.

Alas, the manifesto does not shed light on the party plans to avoid the recurrence of the problems that existed during its tenure. With respect to private sector corporate governance, the manifesto states “the NDC government will engage the private sector and regulatory agencies to ensure that good corporate governance standards and guidelines are set.” This, of course, is no plan at all. With respect to the public sector, “companies will be restructured with emphasis on responsibility, accountability, and performance. The composition of Board of Directors will emphasize quality, competence and professionalism, and they shall operate within the overall policy framework set by the government.” Again, these are worthwhile goals that do not invite debate and are shared by all parties. What is lacking and troubling is the absence of specific plans, actions, or tactics. The only specific idea that I found was a statement that “as far as practicable, ministers and MPs shall not be appointed to positions of chairman and members of Board of Directors of public sector companies in order to avoid conflict of interest situations.” This is a positive idea, except that the “as far as practicable” caveat should give the voter cause for concern.

Nkrumah’s Eternal Endowment on Governance

An NDC government plans to declare Dr. Nkrumah’s birthday a national holiday with effect from his 100th birthday annivessary. Expectedly, the manifesto does not provide any cost/benefit analysis. Nor do I have any reason to believe that the party has given any serious thought on the cost to the economy of the over 14 public holidays that we currently have on the books. When it comes to holidays, we need less not more.

E-Governance

E-Governance refers to the use of information communication technology as a platform for exchanging information, providing services and transacting with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. If implemented properly, it can empower citizens and enhance government and business productivity. The manifesto states “a network design for the whole country will start in earnest. This design will take into account the existing infrastructure, the expected expansion and the expected traffic.” This is a good focus but falls far short of what is needed to be taken seriously. For instance, how much does an NDC government plan to spend? What will be given up in order to fund this project? How much will be spent on training staff to bring them up to speed? Without these specifics, budgets, and milestones, the manifesto is reduced to statements of agreed-upon aspirations. Moreover, without these specifics, the Office of Evaluation and Oversight, a proposed new office to monitor the fulfillment of promises made in the manifesto, will have an impossible task and end up as a deadweight, job-for-the boys agency, whose costs are absorbed by the ever shrinking and over-stretched consolidated funds.

Law and Justice

According to the manifesto, the NDC aims to “restore confidence in and respect for the judiciary, make it truly independent and close any loopholes that tend to tempt and encourage executive manipulation of the judiciary.” Further, “justice will be made available to all, especially the poor, and court procedures will be reviewed to expedite court processes. Measures to improve the human resource base of the judiciary as well as the quality of judgments will be pursued.” The party also set some benchmarks, which include placing a ceiling on the number of Supreme Court Justices, empanelling all Supreme Court Justices, separating the Attorney General’s department from the ministry of justice, sponsoring sitting judges for further studies, reviewing the legal aid act, etc.

Again, because no budgetary information and milestones are provided, it is hard to take these proposals seriously. But there are some ideas that should concern all Ghanaians who care about the independence of the judiciary. For instance, it is very disturbing that the NDC plans to take measures to “improve the quality of judgments” and “make the judiciary truly independent.” The manifesto does not detail the measures that the party will take to do these things but it seems clear that the NDC does not understand the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government and must at all times be free from executive interference, intimidation, and invectives. It is probably worth reminding the NDC that in spite of its perspectives or predispositions, the administration of justice is within the sole purview of the judiciary.

Article 127 (1) is very clear that “In the exercise of the judicial power of Ghana, the Judiciary, in both its judicial and administrative functions, including financial administration, is subject only to this Constitution and shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority.” Thus, many of the measures outlined in the manifesto, which appear to interfere with the exercise of the judicial function, are worrisome indeed.

Human Safety and Security

The manifesto breaks this into two parts: (1) fighting narcotic trafficking and (2) protecting the people.

On fighting narcotic trafficking, the manifesto is long on accusing the NPP government of not doing much but short on what an NDC government will do. First, an NDC government “will not allow this country to be turned into a subsidiary of drug cartels.” Second, an government “will faithfully and diligently discharge our international obligations especially relating to the seizure and forfeiture of the assets of convicted drug traffickers.” Finally, the NDC government “will send a clear signal to all drug dealers and drug traffickers that it is no hurry to transfer to Ghana persons convicted of narcotic trafficking serving sentences in foreign prisons.”

That is it! No plans on reforming NACOB, customs, police, or other law enforcement. There is nothing on surveillance, education, and treatment. There are no planned budgetary allocations, nothing at all to show that this is a problem that has been seriously considered.

On protecting the people, the manifesto does marginally better by specifying some broad policy objectives. These include improving the capacity of the internal security agencies, reviving the neighborhood watch committees, strengthening the intelligence committees, providing the equipment and other logistics for an efficient police service, etc. Of course, this is another catalogue of wishes that most serious “O” level students can regurgitate on an exam on Government. Specifics are needed on funding, personnel, milestones, etc. for a manifesto to be considered a serious document.

Conclusion

As we get ready to vote in December 2008, it is important for voters to be fully informed about the plans of the major political parties. The political parties have provided manifestoes to facilitate this process. However, these manifestoes tend to be lengthy and inaccessible to most voters. This creates a demand for summaries of these manifestoes. It is in this spirit that I offer this initial evaluation of part of the NDC manifesto. Based on my review, I find that the colorful pages of the manifesto mask some very half-baked, bad and even dangerous ideas, which reminds me of the inscription on the tro-tro that I used to ride from my Adabraka abode to the then Makola No. 1 — don’t mind the body, mind the engine!