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Opinions of Monday, 3 March 2008

Columnist: Addai-Sebo, Akyaaba

Political Leadership & the National Interest


It is in the national interest that an aspiring president must have roots in a constituency with a demonstrated record of performance in the provision and delivery of services. Political parties therefore have a duty to first think about what is best for Ghana and put forward candidates who through responsible service have proved that they can represent the national interest. In order to deepen representative governance presidential candidates must have had the experience of serving the needs and protecting the rights of their constituencies. They must really have a record of providing for the needs and meeting the aspirations of the people either at the constituency or national level through exemplary performance in public and/or private sector service. A presidential candidate therefore should at least be capable of wining a parliamentary seat. Political parties consequently owe such a duty to the nation in the selection of candidates for national office.

With such criteria, as indicated above, those who contest and fail to win the presidential candidacy of their parties would be encourage to aim at wining parliamentary seats in order to enrich and strengthen the quality of representative governance. Presidential aspirants are therefore potential parliamentarians with roots in a constituency. For example, parliament would be enriched by the likes of NDC?s Spio Garbrah, PNC?s Yakubu Saaka, NPP?s Frimpong Boateng and CPP?s Badu Akosa (to mention a few) and their constituencies would be better served at the same time. These presidential aspirants would therefore have had hands-on experience of representative governance and proven themselves to be responsible leaders enjoying the confidence of their constituencies through selfless service.

National interest therefore demands that leaders of political parties must also be representative voices in parliament. Experience is the best teacher as parliament becomes a veritable testing ground to mould statespersons widely respected for integrity and impartial concern for the public good. Leading politicians, especially party leaders, would serve their parties and the nation better through the platform that parliament presents. Parliament enjoins discipline ? that efficiency of purpose. Parliament demands responsibility ? the cornerstone of representative power and authority. Parliament presents access to information and national intelligence to enable power to be exercised responsibly. It is in the national interest therefore that a leader of a political party is a responsible member of parliament servicing a constituency while at the same time demonstrating in parliament that voters have a viable alternative should the ruling party fail them. It serves the country no good if opposition leaders have no voice in parliament, cannot command information and have no access to national intelligence. Any presidential aspirant must be well placed in the process of the exercise of state power either through the executive, legislature or the private sector. A party leader must be able to influence or at least impact on the exercise of state power. For example, serving even on parliamentary committees provides such an essential platform to effect change.

Presidential candidates and their running mates should also avail themselves to run simultaneously for parliamentary seats. By-elections therefore become necessary when a presidential candidate and running mate are elected president and vice-president respectively and they at the same time win their parliamentary seats. Should it happen that the elected president and/or vice-president do lose their parliamentary seats they contested, the winning of nationwide presidential election validates their status. The nationwide choice and voice is inviolate. The other presidential candidates who have also won their parliamentary seats go to parliament as leaders of responsible opposition to enrich debate and strengthen that essential procedure of check and balance. Should a presidential candidate of a party also fail to win a parliamentary seat then a leading member who won a seat is chosen by their peers to be the leader of the party concerned in parliament. What matters most here is a party leader?s representative voice in parliament and the stature of going through the rites of passage as deserving aspirant to the highest office of state.

All presidential and parliamentary aspirants including seekers of political office from the local to the national level must be acutely conscious of the fact that they do so within the discipline of state power contestation through representative governance.

State power fails to be representative if the exercise of it serves not the purposes of the constitution in respect of equitable service provision and delivery at the local level. State power must therefore be exercised to ensure equal opportunity to all and equal access to resources by all. There should not be a rich South and impoverished North divide as the continued perpetration of such developmental apartheid falls foul of the national motto of ?FREEDOM AND JUSTICE?.

State power must henceforth be the concern and business of all citizens even when citizens through their votes temporarily place an aspect of that responsibility in the hands of their representatives in parliament and in the assemblies. For the state to function effectively much depends on the quality of and moral strength of elected representatives and how well these representatives are able to serve as effective check on the executive. It becomes critical therefore for constituencies to first draw up profiles including personal and professional qualifications for an ideal parliamentarian or assembly person who will serve the national interest and consequently constituency interest. Constituencies then nominate candidates who fit agreed profiles. As it is the choices that we make that define us the choice of a representative must answer clearly the question: ?What is it that we are looking for in a representative??

The national interest is therefore served when the quality of representation makes parliament not a mere rubber stamp of executive wishes. A strong and independent parliament is critical to representative governance. Party loyalty does not mean that MPs must condone executive excesses, incompetence and corrupting acts. Parliamentarians and assembly persons fail in their duty to the nation if they become complicit to executive abuses, especially the use of public office and purse for personal gain and advantage. As soon as elected representatives enter the sacred chambers of parliament or the assembly they do so to serve, protect and advance the national interest above that of the party. It is parliament and the assembly that present a check on any signs of lapses, poor judgement and corruption on the part of the executive in the exercise of state power. Parliament and the assemblies are constituted to prevent and not to cure acts that tend to prevent effective function of the state. It is rather the judiciary that cures but the teaching here is that prevention is better than cure. Parliament and the assemblies must at all time demonstrate to voters that theirs is a house of zero-tolerance for corruption and abuse of power.

The state and its agent, the executive, must not be seen as sponsoring corruption and poverty. Institutional corruption and incompetence is a marked failure of the executive and a slap in the face of parliament. It is such failures that infest the effectiveness of the judiciary. Institutions of state that breed corruption and mediocrity must not be tolerated by parliament. It is only when state power and how it is exercised become the concern and business of all citizens that abuse of power would be effectively checked. It is then that a government that uses state power and resources to enrich a privileged few would become an abomination in Ghana.

A government for the few is a corruption and an impoverishment of representative governance. A government for the few is an act of treason and for such to happen is a crass failure on the part of parliament and the assemblies. Here, it becomes the abiding responsibility of the press, the fourth estate, to continuously alert the public and voters of such facts about executive perfidy, moral lapses, poor judgement and general fitness to govern. Eternal vigilance, in the case of Ghana, becomes the price of freedom and justice.

? Akyaaba Addai-Sebo Independent Consultant on National and Pan-African Interest

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