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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Columnist: Atuahene, Kwame

Prof Mills is infirm and so what?

In less than fifteen months, we shall be called to duty as electorates to take a part in what thankfully have become a norm rather than an exception. It will be the fifth opportunity under this republic to choose our leaders. This achievement comes with a genuine feeling and reason to be excited as a people.

The race to take over the presidency is in earnest with the National Democratic Congress (NDC) obviously ahead of the others for its promptness in choosing a candidate with the others yet to choose their flag bearers.

Professor John Fiifi Mills came out as the choice beyond doubt of his party’s delegates following from the emphatic yes vote for his fourth opportunity at the presidency having been vice president for four years. As he gad about and tour country campaigning, one issue which seems an albatross on his neck is the question of his health and by extension his ability to carry through his presidency if he wins

Having struggled to rebut claims of his frailty since it was falsely or truthfully made known, he recently was left with no choice than to head for the National Media Commission to express his resentment to some of those stories and as to be expected, it was a subject of commentary by many.

I am motivated to join the annotations by one such intelligible discourse put out by Happy Fm’s Kojo Larbi on his late evening programme, Point of Order. He sought to question whether or not the health status of an aspirant or candidate was an issue to consider in choosing a president. To be fair to him, he was not specific on the professor’s alleged ill health and precisely the case with this piece though, it may account for the debate.

DR SPIO GARBRAH AND THE PROF’S ILL-HEALTH

It would be recalled that, this allegation did not emerge from the blue but had a credible author. In the run up to the flagbearership race, this issue of the professor’s health was made public by another contender who coincidentally was his former campaign manager. How do you dispute concerns expressed by an affable and credible Ekow Spio Garbrah a member of the NDC? He may have been cynical or honest about those text messages, but today the anointed son is under pressure to dispel those sentiments which seems to be gaining prominence in the political and electoral circles.

I do not find the media blamable rather his own compatriot who published his perceived sorry state of health months ago either out of political capital or genuine intention.

The clear lessons for political parties yet to choose their candidates and aspirants, need not be emphasized as one may be required to invest more than anticipated for rewriting what has been carelessly expressed about other aspirants whether or not they turn out victors.

MEDICAL EXAMINATION, A REQUIREMENT FOR JOB OFFERS

Be as it may, I respectfully think that it is an issue that deserves the attention given it. It is not misplaced to question the health status of an aspirant let alone a candidate or a presidential hopeful. Its not my intendment to discuss the professor but to take a general view of the question and to extend the question to all the aspirants in the fold of the NPP,CPP, PNC, GCPP, DFP and the likes at least those with the potential to take up the mantle. It is to be recognized that, even in public service life and some private establishments, regardless of one’s stock of skill, experience and training, after most successful interviews for job placement, appointments are conditioned on medical examinations. It is certainly to avoid the risk and expenses which comes with hiring a highly competent yet medically instable person.

Will it serve any good for corporate Ghana to veer into this kind of a venture investing in a highly competent material for president at that imaginable cost whereas the market is bound with such qualities?

OUR CONSTITUTION AND A SICK PRESIDENT

Article 62 of the constitution of Ghana, in spelling out the requirements for the high office of President was silent on the health status of applicants. However, article 69 of the same constitution, prescribing conditions for removing a president was unmistakably clear by stating that, a president may be removed where he is incapable of performing the functions of his office by reason of infirmity of body or mind.

Without subjecting this to any technical interpretation, infirmity of body or mind ordinarily, means, bad health or physical or mental incapacitation. The framers of our governing document were shrewd not to leave this responsible on the media but through a carefully structured process which brings the Chief Justice acting in consultation with the professional head of the Ghana Health Service to cause a medical board to be convened for the purpose of determining the infirmity or otherwise of the President

As individuals and voters we have thus been denied the capacity to declare an aspirant frail or sick. At best we may perceive ill-health out of ones worsening physical or mental responses.

Our lack of capacity notwithstanding, it is a hefty issue not to be quickly disregarded. The Presidency should be of concern to every one of us regardless of our creed, religion, partisan affiliation among others. It does not matter whose health status might have generated these hard thoughts. It may be Professor Mills, Nana Addo, Allan Kay, Professor Akosa or any of the aspirants who potentially becomes a presidential hopeful.

The constitution grants the president the luxury of a vice president who by the experts, who framed our governance deed, should be his alter ego. It provides for a temporary relief that, where he is unable to perform his function so provided and his removal becomes inevitable then his vice steps in automatically as President for the unexpired term of the president.

This relief may grant an excuse for overlooking the health status of the presidential aspirant but obviously not enough to undermine the consequence of such a development. In Ghana, Running mates have joined presidential tickets as second fiddle, failing to sell their belief and philosophy to the electorate. They struggle to leave behind the shadow element of their office.

Whereas, In some advanced democracies, it is seemingly conventional for a vice to assume the highest office on the expiration of the term of the president, in our part of the world, Vice-presidents have perennially proven to suffer a lack of clout and to hand them the presidency through the back door will in my view be ruinous for the national psyche. Until they become assertive, their status will stop at being a ceremonial appendage to the President.

MY PILL

It is predictable that, an opportunity to act as or assume responsibility as President will easily pass for a Vice presidents day of glory. But, must that come with the removal of an elected President who is the reason for their choice, just because of ill-health prior to his election? I respectfully submit NO. The fact that his image finds place on the ballot paper grants credence to his influence on the choices made by the electorate.

It is for this that, I prescribe that; a medical examination be conducted by a constitutionally constituted Medical board in the shape of that with the responsibility to pronounce infirmity of a president, do declare aspirants or candidates fit for the job ahead. This does not seem a misplaced requirement for the top national job. Though we may be quick to dismiss this suggestion for a lack of precedence in other democratic experimentations, we equally have a duty to find home grown solutions to our unique challenges.

The aspirant or candidate has that responsibility to place nation before his interest and to advice himself thereon upon consultation with his conscience. For the avoidance of doubt however, this kind of a prerequisite would put to sleep the doubts on the infirmity or otherwise of our candidates and Presidential hopefuls.

Much as we need them and believe in their vision for party and country, we equally would be worried to have their dreams truncated out of ill- health.



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