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Opinions of Saturday, 7 January 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

President Mills must come clean on the State of his Health

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

In October 2011, I posted an article in defence of the President’s right to privacy, when it was reported that some NPP officials had access to his medical records and were threatening to make it public. Some readers misinterpreted the article to mean that, I was against the public knowing the state of health of President Mills. Those who doubted my belief in the right to know the state of health of the President, this is your answer (see “NPP’s Access to President Mills’ Health Records, Is it Legal?” Ghanaweb October 23, 2011). Recent development has resulted in me revisiting the subject of the President’s health and the right of the public to know.

Late 2011, His Excellency President Mills went on official visits to the US and Canada as well as spent his holidays in the US. Whilst holidaying in the US, there were speculations that he was there for medical treatment. His opponents even disputed the engagements of the President whilst on holidays whilst the Presidency used every trick in the book to prove that the President was well and fit and actively pursuing the interest of Ghana even when he was meant to rest. He called into a live radio programme to prove to both his supporters and opponents that he was alive and kicking. Then, on Christmas eve the President surprisingly left the country on a visit to the US allegedly for important engagement with investors and was expected to return on January 2, 2012. Initially, my personal view was that President Mills was cleverly avoiding the 30th anniversary celebrations of the 31 December Revolution. However, after carefully analysing subsequent events, I have doubts about the reason offered by the Presidency for the unplanned and sudden visit of the President.

It is claimed by the President and his followers that, he is a devoted Christian. The Christian concept of the celebration of Christmas is that, citizens travel home to their origin to celebrate Christmas with family members and loved ones (as Jesus was born when the parents travelled to their place of birth to be counted). So, I personally did not expect a devout Christian to travel abroad during this period of important Christian religious festivities. Perhaps, the President’s Bible states the opposite. I am not suggesting that Christians celebrate Christmas as prescribed in the Bible in today’s modern era.

Second, it was reported by the Presidency that, the President secured £18 or $18 million from the Department for International Development (DFID) for the Savannah Development Authority at a meeting with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. What aroused my suspicion was the mention of DFID because DFID is a ministry in the UK and though Prof Sachs has some connection a leading expert on international development, especially the fight against poverty through the UN Millennium Development Goals, he definitely has no authority to make such a decision on behalf of UK’s DFID. I have lived long enough in the UK and have worked within the structures to know how DFID and other ministries (departments) operate here in the UK. Unless, the mention of DFID was a mistake, I treat this story with a pinch of salt, perhaps, one of the Presidency’s “Kwaku Ananse stories. Only UK government officials have the authority to grant such huge amount to a foreign country and not an American citizen who does not represent the UK government or the DFID. It has been pointed out by others that this same money was secured and reported earlier in September 2011.

Another area of concern as to why the President made his sudden visit to the US is the photo of the President produced in the Ghanaian media during the New Year mid night church services. Some of the photos appear to have been taken at close range. Lo and behold, His Excellency President Mills does not look well. With the all the challenges of the country on his shoulders I expected the President to look concern but not unhealthy. The photos were reminiscent of those of the late Nigerian President Yar’Adua when he was reported to be ill but his government also denied that he was ill. It has also been reported by NPP–USA that the President was seen attending a cancer hospital during his visit that is shrouded in secrecy. Though this has not been confirmed, the Presidency unusually, has neither denied nor confirmed the story. With the revelation in the Wikileaks that the President had throat cancer, these unexplained and inconsistent events, coupled with the earlier than announced return of the President, give room for speculation.

There is nothing strange or unusual about a President being ill whilst in office because he is human. What is wrong is for the Presidency to concoct stories about the President’s movements in order to hide his illness from the public. Depending on the nature of his illness and the stage of advancement, that should not bar the President from undertaking his duties as President or contesting the 2012 Presidential elections. President Mills will not be the first or the last President to be ill in office and in fact at the moment, the Presidents Hugo Rafael Chávez of Venezuela and Cristina Fernández de Kirchnerare of Argentina are both receiving treatment for cancer. They are receiving prayers from the people of Venezuela and Argentina respectively and I believe that would help their recovery. On the other hand, President Mills and those around him hiding his illness would put pressure on him and could retard progress of his recovery. Ghanaians would remember him in their prayers if they were aware that the President is undergoing treatment for cancer.

Under the Ghanaian Constitution, I believe Ghanaians have the right to know the state of the President’s health since one of the requirements for the Office of the President is being of “sound mind”. If the President’s health could incapacitate him or inhibit his ability to perform the duties of the office, then it is a matter of interest to Ghanaians since that would create a constitutional replacement of the President by the Vice-President. Parliament could begin the process of impeaching the President if he fails to abdicate the office on the grounds of ill health. President Mills therefore has a constitutional duty to inform Ghanaians who elected him about the state of his health. In all democratic societies, the electorates are informed of any health concerns that their leaders may have whilst in office (such as, being admitted into hospital for medical attention). If Chávez could inform the people of Venezuela of his cancer, how come the President of Ghana, considered to be one of the most democratic countries in the developing world, hides his illness from Ghanaians?

The Presidency can fool some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. The earlier it comes clean on the health of the President, the better. If I were in the US, I would have submitted a Freedom of Information request to the cancer hospital where the President was allegedly seen to confirm or deny if the President of Ghana was attended to at the hospital and if so, for what diagnosis under the public interest test. My prayers are with the President and his family, whether he is ill or not.

Happy New Year to all Ghanaweb readers.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK