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Opinions of Friday, 20 February 2015

Columnist: Akwah, Nana

Political Cheekiness and Lack of Respect For Citizens Growing

What role should truth or lies have in politics? There are really two questions here: The first is to ask about the ethics of lying; the second is the permissibility and constitutionality of deception in politics. Generally, lying is considered ethically wrong. Even children know this. Across cultures, lying has been frowned upon as wrong.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant provided perhaps one of the most powerful arguments against lying in asserting that deceivers lie in order to make themselves an exception to a rule that they expect everyone else to follow.

By that, we live in a world where we generally expect people to tell the truth and we readily conform to actions, make judgments, and act as if others were truthful. We all lose sight of the fact that "Liars" profit by taking advantage of this expectation.

Dishonest, vulgar and deceitful are just some of the words members of the wider society are using to describe the government contention that its transactions have all been transparent and that there has been no secrecy.

Leadership is one quality that is not worn easily. It has its responsibilities and it can be a costly thing. Not everyone can be a leader. Some people are natural leaders because they fit easily into the role of accepting responsibility. However, there are those who profess to be leaders but would desert their men at the first time of problems.

Sometimes, people have to be trained to become leaders. They are exposed to the various levels and promoted according to the qualities they display. These are often the people described as being forged into leadership positions.

Lying is wrong because if such a practice were universalized – if we lived in a world where we did not expect truth telling – it would be nearly impossible for most social interaction to occur.

Political scientist Robert Putnam has examined the role that social capital plays in terms of enhancing political participation and commerce in society. Social capital is related to trust. So much of what makes commerce, business and most human interaction possible is trust; it is the idea that we can expect people to keep their word or that they will follow up on their promises. Simply put, if trust did not exist in the world then business, except for perhaps face-to-face bartering, would never exist. Contracts would be meaningless, promises futile.

Without contradicting, there are some exceptions to truth-telling in our private lives. Lying to save a life is acceptable. Notwithstanding the stated, lying is wrong in our private lives and such a prohibition is often enforced.

Perjury is wrong and punishable by law. False advertising/propaganda is regulated as deceptive. In both cases, the justification is that the lies distort the search for truth and the marketplace of ideas.

It is one of the few things politicians at all levels of government in Ghana do: a heightened DISRESPECT for the people who elected them!

Sure they tell us BEFORE the election how they will be “transparent”, open the books, make public reports we paid for and answer all kinds of questions about policies, procedures, performance and practices.

But AFTER getting into power, ALL of them now move almost immediately to shut down public or press inquiries, access to publicly-paid-for reports, documents and all but press releases, propaganda and photo ops.

In law the adversarial system is supposed to discover the truth, but that does not mean that witnesses can lie and that lawyers should facilitate that. Instead, the adversarial system relies on all parties playing fairly and not lying.

Clear lies make it difficult for juries to do their job in sorting out the facts to determine the truth. Similarly, false advertising or propaganda corrupts the marketplace of ideas, making it difficult for consumers to make reasonable judgments when making informed decisions.

This is an INSULT to our democracy, our freedom and our right to know.

Now the problem is how to apply the prohibition against lying and distortion in politics. Plato spoke of the noble lie about the origin of social hierarchies to promote social harmony.

Machiavelli approved of the prince lying as a means of staying in power. A study of sociologist Max Weber distinguished in “Politics as Vocation”, that's Christian ethics from the ethics of ultimate responsibility, state that politicians weighed truth against other competing values.

However concerning such logic, Sissela Bok in her classic "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life," led politicians such as Richard Nixon to justify deception to promote national security, prevent hysteria, or protect people.

Nevertheless Bok cogently asserted, such a utilitarian justification for lying is often self-serving, paternalistic, and, more important, undermines democracy in the sense that it prevents the people themselves from being able to make informed choices. We should not lose sight to the fact that telling the truth promotes democracy. On the contrary lying hinders it and affront to democracy.

And I believe the disrespect the public suffers from government and politicians … very much reported by the media is contributing to Society's awareness, that is informing their decisions, the right in demanding accountability from government.

What is the point if, whoever you vote for, turns their backs on you if they win and dismiss any interest you might have in following, knowing or, God forbid, investigating their decisions, actions and behind the scenes maneuverings.

It is OUR money they are spending. The public should have the RIGHT to all documents, reports, studies and analyses WE’VE PAID FOR. The ONLY exceptions would be personal or legal matters, etc.

If government officials should not lie, what about individuals, candidates and groups involved in campaigns and elections? Should they be allowed to lie about the record of others, to distort the facts on ballot propositions, or simply to lie in the context of political debate?

Ethically there should be no debate, and one should hope as a matter of personal virtue and integrity that this would be the case. But personal integrity is not always enough. Our politics is littered with records of personal lies and deceptions.

Something more is needed to encourage personal integrity in politics, much in the same way that legislatures add legal sanctions to encourage it in court. When the stakes or the end zone is of great consequences, the incentives are often too tempting to lie.

But the politicians know most of the public even those who vote get easily distracted after elections by other happenings in their lives, at work, at home, with friends, family, sports, what is on tv or even what is happening elsewhere in the world.

So WE let them get away with it. Except on Voting Day we are basically powerless.

This is also the problem public so do the media. And this need not be the case!

As noted above, one cannot always rely upon personal integrity to guarantee that political participants will tell the truth. Lies occur, and one cannot always rely upon the marketplace of ideas to ensure that the public will be able to sort out fact from fiction.

Over a quarter of the population still believes that NPP is an ethnic-centered political grouping. What Ghanaians Don’t Know About Politics and Why It Matters," is that many voters are woefully ignorant about politics. They simply lack the knowledge or skills to distinguish fact from falsehood.

They rely upon political actors to tell them the truth so that they can make informed decisions. Lying prevents that. It defines an outer limit on deception. Without any limits, there are no real sanctions against lying.

Some might argue that electoral defeat is the sanction, but in many cases the political process cannot be counted on to smoke out lies and punish accordingly.

For any discussion to stand out there is need to prohibit lying, as it will actually enhance robust debate and democracy. Much in the same way that prosecuting perjury strengthens the adversarial process, drawing limits on deception in politics does the same.

There should be a whole range of tough questions that should be asked over and over as citizens from politicians, at the same time subject their squirming and squinting answers reported over and over in debates. These scrutiny to their answers must not just be accepted easily, allow them go on under the cover of their photo ops and press releases.

The range of questions, issues must be the benchmark, serve as a measurement for the politicians to learn, that, it is the PEOPLE who will set the agenda; and that, those in Government will be exposed over and over for duplicity, arrogance and disrespect for those who elected them.

Sincerely, if the media at any level decides to take up this cause in unison and Fight for the public’s right to know, and not to just occasionally mention breaches but keep reporting it again and again, every day or every newscast, in every newspaper or on social media, definitely the politicians will get OUR message.

We need to realize and understand that NOTHING moves a politician more than PUBLIC PRESSURE.

The media should take up this public cause … with any effective tough-questioning reporters they have left.