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Opinions of Monday, 26 August 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

NPP Must Reject Coalition or Unity Government

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK August 24, 2013

With the Supreme Court (SC) verdict on the presidential election petition just days away, there appears to be a new craze for coalition, unity or inclusion government in Ghana (see, “NDC lauds NPP for going to court”, “Palmer-Buckle proposes unity government after SC judgment” and “Africa too poor to continue winner-take-all-Fifi Kwetey”, Ghanaweb, August 23, 2013). Interestingly, this is coming from some senior NDC members, though the NDC Vice-Chairman is against the idea. NPP are sceptical or against the idea (see, (see “Power sharing will be difficult – Mike Oquaye”, and “Power-sharing deal is nonsense; I won’t agree to it-Sinari”, “Power-sharing not panacea for justice – Sammy Awuku”, Ghanaweb, August 23 and 24, 2013 respectively. In this article, I want to discuss why Ghana must stick to majority or minority government and reject coalition or unity government.

Why all of a sudden some senior members of NDC including the National Chairman are calling for an inclusive government? Could it be lack of confidence or fear of the SC verdict not going their way? Is that a call on Nana Akufo-Addo to include them in his minority government if his petition is upheld? Or simply, a genuine recognition that the modus operandi of current winner takes all in Ghana is a barrier to national development and a source of the acrimonious relationship between the two leading political parties? Your guess could be as good as mine.

Both NPP and NDC when in opposition accuse each other’s government of being corrupt. Again, there is no doubt that corruption within government, high ranking government appointees and officials is rampant. In fact, corruption is endemic in Ghana. Therefore for both parties to enter into a coalition government would be tantamount to the satan and the devil entering into a marriage of convenience. In this case to loot the state coffers together because, there will be no one to even accuse the ruling government or party of being corrupt. At least, in a majority or one party government, there is the opposition party outside government to watch over the ruling party. In a coalition government, the two main parties would be in bed together, so who will be watching who when they are stealing together?

By Ghana’s system of governance, the Legislature is expected to have oversight over the work of the Executive arm of government. Unfortunately, with most cabinet ministers appointed from the Legislature, parliament has not been effective in executing their oversight responsibilities over the Executive. Moreover, because majority members in parliament always want to be seen in the good books of the Executive in anticipation of ministerial appointment, the majority has become an appendix of the Executive by rubber stamping legislative programmes of the Executive and therefore thwarting the efforts of the minority to effectively scrutinise the Executive and make it accountable. The culture of scratch my back and I scratch yours has been pervasive throughout the Fourth Republic. However, in a coalition government because the minority will also be seeking juicy ministerial jobs, they will close their eyes over Executive’s inefficiency, incompetency and corruption. There is more or less a situation of the blind leading the blind and chop let me chop. Corruption will become institutionalised within both the Executive and the Legislature.

As Prof Mike Oquaye said, coalition government requires the formalisation and harmonisation of the manifestos of the coalition partners. With NDC and NPP far apart ideologically, even if they have very similar programmes, implementation and delivery approaches could be different. In such a situation, they are most likely to be in coalition but still fight each other over style and approaches of delivery. In the end, not much can be achieved as Morgan Tsvangirai realised when he formed coalition government with Robert Mugabe as well as the UK’s Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition is experiencing. The little that could be done by a majority or minority government may become a hostage of indecision and squabbles between two parties. When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. Such a coalition would be marriage made in hell.

Coalition governments are necessitated by lack of overall majority in the Legislature. That is not the situation in Ghana at the moment. If the SC court verdict goes in favour of President Mahama, he does not need to form a coalition government because his party has a clear majority in parliament. On the other hand, if the verdict is in favour of Nana Akufo-Addo, he does not necessarily have to form a coalition government with the majority. He can form a minority government and rule by consensus, compromise and concessions. That is what Obama has been doing with the Republicans controlling Congress.

Last but not the least, coalition government is sometimes the creation of transitional justice periods, often after (armed) conflicts and serious human right abuses my previous dictatorship. Ghana has had its transitional justice (democracy) period. That was the Rawlings and Kufuor eras, especially the Kufuor regime when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established. Even both eras did not require coalition governments, so why now? Coalition government has certainly passed its sell by date in Ghana and must have no place in the current democratic dispensation.

For the above reasons but not exclusively, any form of coalition or unity government after August 29, 2013, whatever the verdict should be strongly opposed. NPP must say NO to coalition or unity government. In any case, it is the electorate who decide the form of government they want through their votes and not for politicians or religious leaders to make deals for their parochial interests.

However, the idea of an inclusion government is laudable, only if it means doing away with the Ghanaian practice of winner takes all. Since the Fourth Republic, NDC and NPP have almost practised lustration by default, especially during the Kufuor years and to some extent by the Mills administration. Lustration is a purification process by mass removal or disqualification from public office of those associated with past regimes. This was very common in Eastern Europe when totalitarian and communist governments were replaced by democratically elected governments. My understanding was that this happened when NPP took over from NDC in 2001.

The winner takes all approach being practised by both NDC and NPP (a form of lustration) is dangerous to national development and national cohesion. There is no need for all senior civil servants, heads and other senior officials of public institutions who were appointed by previous governments to be removed by a new government after every four or eight years when there is change of party in government. That is what has been happening in Ghana since the Fourth Republic. Such appointees can remain at post provided they are not political appointees but technocrats who were appointed on merit. Again, such appointees must not use their political affiliations or allegiance to the old regime to sabotage the new government as was suspected by the Mills government. As a result NDC foot soldiers demanded the removal of NPP appointees who were considered NPP surrogates and were undermining the NDC government. They should remain at post and serve mother Ghana to the best of their ability. After all they are all Ghanaians.

Of course, there are certain non-technocrats political appointees that cannot remain in office if the appointing government is out of government for obvious reasons. Technocrats and senior civil servants who strong political ideology contrary to an incoming government and cannot work with the new government for differences of policy and practice should be honest and bold to resign rather than wait to be forced out as General Collin Powell did when Bill Clinton took over the Whitehouse.

In other words, an inclusion government does not necessarily mean the appointment of ministers from the opposition party but instead, the inclusion of competent and qualified Ghanaians irrespective of their political, ethnic and religious affiliations in the running of the country, provided they will be faithful to Ghana first, the government of the day second and party third. Few ministers could be appointed from outside the ruling party as President Mahama has already done and should not be done only through coalition government. Such appointees must be experts and competent in their field of operations. If there is the need for ministers to be appointed from opposition parties, care must be taken to appoint moderates who are willing to implement policies and programmes of the government and not his or her party in a form of opposition from within. Such moderates could also be appointed as advisers to ministers or government. That is what inclusion government is about and not coalition government. If this is what Dr Kwabena Adjei and Mr Fifi Kwetey were calling for, then, it should be welcome with open arms. This should happen whether NDC or NPP is in government.

Again, to stop the insecurity associated with senior public appointments in Ghana which deters some qualified and Ghanaian experts, especially from the Diaspora from accepting such appointments, the government of the day should make such appoints time limited (either four or five years renewable at the end of the each term and on the basis of performance). If that happens, it will encourage more qualified Ghanaians who are not politicians and not interested in political office to contribute to national development because they will know that a change in government will not necessarily bring an abrupt end to their careers and livelihood. Even if the new government decides to terminate their contract, it must give reasons why an expert who is performing should be dismissed or be compensated for the remaining period. Failure to do so should lead to legal challenge for compensation and that should deter new governments from taking such politically motivated vendetta.

Another way of doing away with the politicisation of such public appointments and to weed out incompetent and unqualified politicians occupying such positions is to hand over the recruitment and appointment of such positions to an independent appointment commission, though there should still be some ministerial control on who to appoint. For example, here in the UK, the Public Appointments Commission will undertake the recruitment and recommend a candidate or candidates to the government or the relevant sector minister for the final say. Such an arrangement will weed out unsuitable and unqualified political misfits and bring efficiency into the system. That will also ensure inclusive government. This is the sort of inclusive government that Ghanaians should demand from their governments and not coalition or unity government. What is your take?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK