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Opinions of Saturday, 20 September 2003

Columnist: Kwamena, Ato

Of Free Speech and Presidential Courtesies - Rejoinder

It's expected that Mr. Mahama, being the man in charge of communication and the spin doctor of the NDC, will state part of the story and spin it in such a way as to make it skewed in favor of his parochial interest. That's democracy, and that's how it works everywhere, including under the current democratic dispensation that we have been enjoying for the past 2 and a half years in this country. So I am not surprised.

That part of the constitution that Mr. Mahama quoted, and which he used to argue that it is the responsibility of the government to secure visas for the ex-president and his cohorts and the right of the ex-president to be given VIP treatment everywhere he goes is very interesting indeed. Such narrow interpretation could only come from the spin doctor of the NDC, indeed!

According to Chapter 8, Article 9 of the Constitution of Ghana, “The pension payable to the President and the facilities available to him shall not be varied to his disadvantage during his lifetime.” There are two key words that are mentioned here: Pension and Facilities! Pension we all know what that but … facilities? That’s where the various interpretations come in to play. Does the word "facilities" mean that as ex-president one should continue to enjoy living at the executive mansion (the castle), one should continue to have their office at the castle, one should have a presidential motorcade accompany them wherever they choose to go in the country (as Rawlings demanded as soon as he handed over power), or one should continue to sign international agreements in lieu of the country, including loans, grants, etc? What is actually meant by "facilities"? Did they mean something that is built or installed for a particular purpose as the Webster’s Dictionary defines facility? We don’t know what they meant, but we only know that the word “facilities” is totally different in meaning from the word “courtesies” which is defined as a polite FAVOR performed. You cannot usurp a favor from another person or party! Courtesies are quite different from "facilities". The show of courtesy towards another individual or party is at the discretion of the one who offers it. No one on earth is obliged to be courteous, but as people with civility we show courtesy to each other. This is what the Mahama’s cannot understand. They are so used to commanding, forcing, dictating to people what they should and should not do that they have lost sight of the meaning of the words. Their 20+ years of absolute power has indeed corrupted them absolutely!

However, whatever those framers of our constitution had in mind when they added "facilities" to this particular part of the document can only be accurately interpreted by the Supreme Court of our land. If the NDC and/or Mr. Mahama have their own interpretation of the word, the door to the Supreme Court is wide open. They can go there and ask for an interpretation. Therefore, until we hear the Supreme Court’s interpretation, it is mischievous for Mr. Mahama to use the NDC mouthpiece, the Network Herald, to malign the Foreign Affairs Minister, and for that matter, the government and people of Ghana, for not extending the "courtesies or favors” that the Rawlings asked for. One might even ask what courtesy has Rawlings shown to Ghanaians for us to return one to him? He forced himself on us, killed our brothers and sisters, stripped our mothers and grandmothers naked on the streets, and disgraced our chiefs. And on numerous occasions he has not stopped short to insult the people verbally and physically. So what does he want from us now? Are these actions what Mr. Mahama and his NDC will call courtesies from Rawlings for which we the people have to return the favor?

Mr. Kufuor's government has been in power for about 2 and half years. And throughout this period they have gone out of their own way to extend courtesies towards Rawlings to a degree which has never been seen in our country considering the fact that Rawlings has not ceased to undermine the authority of the freely elected President of Ghana and his office. We all lived to see the only ex-president we had at the time die about 5 years ago in abject squalor when Rawlings was in office. What was the courtesy ever extended to Dr. Limann? Or even what "facilities" did he enjoy as a constitutionally elected former president of the country? Though as a nation we seek to move from the past, it is very irritating and annoying to see and hear from the same people who murdered, killed, and exiled our own brothers and sisters demanding the very things and even more, for which they were so quick to spill innocent blood! It is very annoying indeed. And it is an insult on our sense of justice.

Any objective mind that can stand before his or her God and say that this Kufuor administration is intolerant does not have any iota of honesty in them. Mr. Mahama cited the alleged near lynching of the MP of Wenchi, 'general mosquito' as he is popularly called, the temporal suspension of sellers from selling at the Sogakope bridge because they hurled insults at President Kufuor, and the mechanic who was recently arrested and released by the police for making “disparaging remarks" about the president as evidence that the administration is very intolerant. This is very absurd indeed! Yes, like every political party, the NPP has her own share of fanatics who take things a little bit afar. The alleged lynching of 'general mosquito' and the Sogakope bridge incidence are some of the actions of these party fanatics. But the difference between the NPP and the NDC is that the fanatics are not allowed to have their own way. They are always brought to the table of reason. Don’t you think that, but for the many reasonable elements in the NPP, if power lay in the hands of the fanatics who tend to be very vindictive, the government would have arrested Rawlings and his cohorts and subjected them to the same standards for which they set for those whom they murdered? If such tolerance had been the method of the NDC, 4 innocent people would not have been murdered in the Kume Preko demonstration. Hence, one cannot use these as evidences that the government is intolerant. It wasn't an act that came from the highest authority of the land. It was from over-zealous party members whose actions were quenched by the administration immediately it got to the appropriate authorities. Take for instance the case of the mechanic and the over enthusiastic police officer who arrested him. As soon as the news of the incidence went up to the top, what happened? The minister of interior, Mr. Hackman Owusu-Agyeman, ordered the immediate release of the young man. So could one pin every single action of individuals who acted as party members or in their official duties overzealously as one that emanated from the Castle?

If the Kufuor administration was intolerant the best way this would have been evidenced would have been on how they would have hurled Rawlings to account for his stewardship of the nation and his comments. He has not ceased to use every occasion to spew venom into unstable parts of the country in order to create anarchy. Take the comments he made at Kotoka recently "How can a state of emergency be splashed on the area when the IGP and other Service Commanders know about those who killed the Ya-Na Yakubu Andani?" Such comments are so uncalled for. The strange thing is that the NDC often accuse the government for being intolerant even when they only sought to set the facts straight on an issue that Rawlings has lied and maligned the government about. (I’m convinced that very few people in the NDC understand what true democracy is about. They have a very narrow definition of tolerance that applies to everyone but themselves. And their definition of tolerance is just like how they define justice – applies to everyone but themselves)

Then again, to show what a liar he is he (Rawlings) went to Nigeria and concocted a story that only his own hallucinatory mind could come up with that he was being persecuted by the government: "The government of Ghana is not performing and the move to arraign me before any court is a distraction as survival tactics. All these allegations, therefore, are false," he said. These are some of the issues that Mahama should have addressed. There's a saying in our language that as you advice the cat not to steal the salted fish (momoni) you should likewise advise the fish not to smell. You can't call on the government to extend courtesies or favors, which are at their own prerogative to offer, whilst trying to tell us the people of this country that we should continue to stomach his (Rawlings') nonsense. Courtesy is a give-and-take. It's not a one party affair. Rawlings has his right to say whatever lies or nonsense he chooses to say, and we as a people have the right to choose to listen or refuse to listen. No one can deny him his right of speech. And no one can deny him the responsibilities that go with the exercising of these same rights. We have for long as a nation borne with his immature behavior hoping that with time he would grow up, but “the leopard cannot change its spots” indeed.

Mr. Mahama then also added “Indeed I am convinced that Rawlings and the NDC suffered more abuse while in office than the NPP has experienced in its period in office. We were all lumped together and abused as incompetent and corrupt. All manner of allegations were thrown at us without a single shred of evidence or corroboration. Under the NDC it was fashionable to make any wild accusations against government without any substantiation. Indeed a senior media person refused to recognize Rawlings as President and vowed never to accord him that respect.” What short memory, or is it meant to insult our intelligence? Who abused who the most? Rawlings against Ghanaians or the other way round? Who murdered who? Who brought industrious businessmen and women down to their knees and caused them to die in abject poverty? What does Mr. Mahama define “abuse” to be? All the allegations against Rawlings government were true if not why did they fail to ever open their books to the people? In the 20+ years that he was in office when did he ever allow the media to see what was going on in government, and when did he even allow himself to be interviewed by the Ghanaian media? The media then had no chance to know the real happenings and so had to rely on leakages, which incidentally were mostly facts as we now know since the new government came to office. So what is Mr. Mahama talking about? In contrast, the NPP government has worked to ensure the rule of law and not emotions as was evidenced in the (P)NDC’s 20+ years. They have sought to be as transparent as possible. They have not been vindictive; otherwise none of Rawlings and his cohorts including Mr. Mahama will be walking down the streets of Ghana. So wherein lies the comparison of abuses or insults meted to the two parties? The two parties are as different as day and night, as different as truth and lies.

The examples of the US government extending courtesy or favor to ex-president Clinton in spite of his objective criticisms are true. But let us not forget that Clinton has not stopped returning the courtesies by always standing behind the administration on matters of national security. Post 9/11, Clinton never ceased to commend the way the administration was handling the war on terrorism anytime he was interviewed on any of the national TV or cable networks. Clinton has not worked to undermine the administration. He has criticized them on matters of national policy when he felt they were wrong and so has Mr. Mandela against Mr. Mbeki, but he has never attacked the person of the president or his office. Such objective criticisms of policy are welcomed. But that's where the difference lies, and that should have been mentioned too. But oh well, who would expect a spin-doctor like Mahama to state the facts accurately?

The main problem with our democracy today is that far too many people argue not from an informed position. We have many journalists, callers, and politicians making noise on the air waves and on the print media about things for which they have little or absolutely no knowledge about. Democracy is much beautiful if everyone is adequately informed and educated about the issues. Until, we get to that stage, the spin-doctors like the Mahama’s will not cease to throw dust in our eyes. These should have been the people who should have been the flag bearers of our fledging democracy which we’ve been enjoying for 2 and half years now. But let me advice him and his likes that the people are wising up faster than their own minds can imagine. The quicker they change their goal from national sabotage to nation building the better it will be for us all as a people and the generations yet unborn.


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