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Opinions of Saturday, 4 April 2009

Columnist: Acheampong, Osman

Systemic Problems of Ghanaâ??s Democracy

Ghana won a lot of praise by the international community for the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections. Haven witnessed the elections myself and haven taken part on the campaign trail with my brother who was running for an MP on the ticket of the CPP, I must say Ghana deserves all the kudos and praises it received and continues to receive in some quarters for the success of the elections. On Election Day I traveled with my brother to over 30 pooling stations in the Weija constituency which is the largest constituency in Ghana and I was highly impressed with the orderly way local EC officials organized the elections at various local pooling centers. I met EU and Charter Center election observers at various pooling stations who told me the process was so uneventful because it was so orderly. I do not want to diminish the numerous problems that the EC faced at several different other places within the country which I think should be addressed in order to make the process more transparent and efficient. The main issues on Election Day as I saw it was during the counting process. By and large the results reflected free and fair elections and the leaders of all the parties and the people of Ghana as a whole should be commended for a good display of political maturity.

The transition process leading up to the handing over to the new government was also fairly smooth considering the fact that the then government had only a week to pull it off. However, events after the transfer of power have exposed a great deal of structural deficiencies in our government and some even borders on constitutional paucity. Some of the incidences are simply inexcusable and shameful. I hope that the President Atta Mills government will take advantage of the public’s reaction to some of these appalling events to fix the system so that we do not have to deal with it again when we get our next new government. He and his government have a golden opportunity to fix some of these problems as quick as possible in order to shore up confidence in their government in hope of a reelection next time round.

First there was the issue of former ministers looting state vehicles. New government officials had to use mafia style methods to go after these state cars because former ministers and government officials have no shame at all fleeing with what some of them intimated as being their compensation for serving as state ministers. I think the action of these former ministers of state are disgraceful and the way and manner the new government officials went after them is equally appalling. This is a systemic problem because, even though there are rules on how state property should be discharged incase there is a transfer or change of government, the responsibility of state officials in the process is largely not spelt out. I believe making heads of departments at the various ministries accountable for all state properties their departments or ministries oversea is one way to make sure ministers and other government officials hand over these properties before they are cleared to leave. I remember in my secondary school when you graduated and you were leaving the school you were required to sign a clearance form indicating you had handed over all school property in your possession and any arrears of fees you owed before you were cleared to leave the school and that clearance means you will be given your certificate when the results come. In my opinion, state officials should not be assigned state vehicles at all. They should be compensated enough to be able to buy their own cars, buy their own fuel, and pay for their own drivers if they so wish. The system as it is today is highly abused and the only way to stop it is to make people pay for these services from their own pockets. The state could still have vehicles at the ministries and departments for the use of state officials strictly when they are on official duties and nothing else. It is about time people realized that when they are appointed or hired as ministers or public servants, it comes with responsibilities and sacrifices, the same sacrifices and responsibilities that the government expects from ordinary taxpayers. This should not be a means to make them and their families rich. The government spends millions of cedis on cars, fuel for state cars, and millions more to pay for drivers for all these state officials and ministers who in many cases are not able to perform to merit a quarter of the current benefits that are bestowed upon them. Take the minister who was assigned for the beautification of the capital city. He was given a fleet of cars, drivers, free fuel, free accommodation (houses, one of which he tried to steal at the end of his term) and what did he have to show for all this. Absolutely nothing! Accra is still as filthy and congested as he came to meet it. I urge the new government to set up an independent committee of professionals to come out with a merit pay for all government officials and make it public so that the people know how their money is been spent on their elected officials. There are so many other areas in our government where there is a lot of abuse and they should be identified and corrected. There is no transparency in the system and I think it is wrong. Tax payers have no idea how much of their money is used to pay their elected officials. They tell us it is not nice to disclose what pay the big men make!

Then there is the issue of the ex-gratia for former Presidents and government officials. The ridiculous Chinery Hesse report seem to suggest that when people campaign for us to vote for them as Presidents, MPs, and when people are hired to be ministers and state officials, somehow they have sacrificed their whole lives for the country and are owed a debt of compensation by the very poor people who voted for them. I have no problem with compensating these individuals for serving their country because they could have used their time to pursue personal interest which may give them better payoffs. But isn’t serving your country considered a sacrifice? Some of these individuals behave like they were forced to serve their own country and that they are owed the life and blood of the poor citizens they serve or used to serve. It is about time we redefined what it means to be a public servant in our country in order to make sure we have dedicated selfless individuals stepping up to the plate to serve our country and not these selfish, incompetent and reprehensible bunch we have seen in the last several years.

Just this week, we are being told that the former speaker of parliament, having presided over one of the most unproductive set of legislative sections of our time, decided to loot the state with items in his publicly provided residence on his way out. When confronted he said he will pay back if parliament wants him to. In my opinion, if it is true that he did that, it should be considered be a criminal offence and should be brought to book for it at once. The last government headed by Mr. Kufour set a very bad precedence for our country which should be addressed as a matter of urgency to save our country from these despicable acts in the future. Most of this bad precedence was set by Mr. Kufour himself. From supporting his son to buy a hotel which is clearly a matter of conflict of interest to assigning the BMW’s that he bought to be used by sitting Presidents to himself when he left office. These and many actions of Mr. Kufour when he was in office are shameful and just go to tell how selfish our leaders could be. With all due respect he behaved as if we the people of Ghana begged him to be our president, but most of us remember when he was begging for us to vote for him.

We as citizens should not be left blameless in this discussion. We call all our elected officials ‘honorable’ without demanding that they behave honorably. There is nothing honorable about what some of these public officials do. The word honorable is more synonymous to a rich and corrupt public official in Ghana than it is to a distinguished public official who serves his country without looking for instant gratification. Our parents failed our generation by not demanding of their leaders and elected officials what is good for our generation. We the ordinary citizens of this generation have a duty to the next generation to demand only the highest form of accountability from amongst ourselves and our elected officials. We have to get the emails, the phone numbers and mailing addresses of all our elected officials and respectfully call them to order when we feel they are not working on our behalf but only interested in their pockets. Nobody will do it for us. We can complain all we want but unless we take steps to demand results nothing will change.

There are many systemic problems that need to be fixed in order to reach the level of maturity and respect that we experienced a little bit of after the 2008 general elections. Let us all put the heat on the new government to begin proposing new rules and regulation that will work for us the people.

Osman Acheampong