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Opinions of Friday, 30 May 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: A medal for Mills too?

What is the president up to? That's the question I've been asking myself over the past few days. After announcing his so-called mitigation package, the president has done a few other things that have shocked and surprised many.

First, he sacked his interior minister and made some ministerial changes. Then he decided to pardon a convicted politician and for the icing on the cake, an announcement was made that the leader of the main opposition party, Prof. John Atta Mills was to be given the nation's highest honour.

Of all the things the president has done within the past few days, Prof. Mills' honour is the one stirring the most controversy. The man also known as 'Asomdwehene' is a very fine gentleman. He's one of the best academics in this country and having devoted several years of his life to public service, he certainly deserves the award. He deserves it more than Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali who was given one medal for doing next to nothing.

But the question on everyone's lip is: why now? For years, President Kufuor and other members of his New Patriotic Party have been throwing dirt at Atta Mills describing him variously as incompetent and effeminate. Very recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Atta Mills as chair of the national economic management team failed to rein in the economy, allowing inflation to fly as high as an uncontrollable hot-air balloon whiles the value of the cedi plummeted. Many have even questioned Atta Mills' political credentials. At a press conference in Accra, NPP chairman, Peter Mac Manu, said had it not been for the 'Swedru declaration', Prof. Mills would still be a bookworm, calculating tax returns at the IRS – not running for president.

President Kufuor himself has said some pretty uncomplimentary stuff about the former vice president. So we are all left wondering what the president has seen to make him make such a sudden about-turn to bestow the nation's highest honour on the man who wrestled him for political power on two occasions.

Perhaps, it's because Prof. Mills is such a (good) loser. He lost crucial elections which made it possible for him to be president for two terms. And Prof. Mills has also shown that he is not a sore loser. When he lost the first election, he graciously conceded defeated. He was not so happy with the second defeat but he didn't whip up a storm which could have resulted in civil strife.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decision to honour Atta Mills, many in the president's own party do not think it's a wise decision to be conferring an honour on an opposition leader at this crucial time when the nation is preparing to go to the polls. The national youth organiser of the NPP, John Buadu believes that Atta Mills doesn't deserve a national honour. I disagree with him. If Aliu Mahama is getting one (and he has been quite a vice president), I think Atta Mills deserves two. Mr. Buadu knows it. But I believe he doesn't like the idea of President Kufuor decorating Prof Mills because he knows the propaganda value of such a spectacle for the opposition party. I can imagine an NDC campaign ad on TV with Prof. Mills getting his medal from President Kufuor. The tagline will be: "Even his opponents know he's good." That surely will be a coup for the NDC. I'm very sure they are looking forward to it. That is why the kingpins in the NPP will continue to question the wisdom in honouring Prof. Mills at this time. John Buadu is not the only one who has dared to speak publicly against it. MP for Dome Kwabenya, Prof. Mike Ocquaye, is also thinks the president's decision doesn't make sense.

"It is not our wish that Mills will be honoured with the highest award of the land," Prof. Ocquaye is reported to have said. "In advance countries people who occupied high positions are not awarded simply because they occupied that position."

With words like these you can be sure the president is going to be under a lot of pressure to change his mind. Shortly after it became public that Prof. Mills was going to be honoured, information minister Steven Asamoah Boateng indicated in a radio interview that the honours list is not "complete" yet. That, I suppose, means that more names will be added – and none will be taken out. However, I won't be surprised if the presidency issues another press statement that Atta Mills' name got on the honours list by mistake and so he's not going to be given a medal after all. They could even say that the Atta Mills the first statement referred to is not the one we all know.

All of this brings us to a point I raised a few weeks ago when I wrote about honours being given out like cheap 'bofrote'. This was after the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure was given one of our medals for God knows what.

I don't care whether Prof. Mills gets the medal or not. These things have been so cheapened since Mr. Kufuor came to power that I think I deserve one myself. Secondly, it has almost become a norm that opponents of the ruling party hardly ever get any. That is why some people are shocked and surprised that Atta Mills might be getting one soon.

I think the time has come for us to redeem the value of our national medals and ensure that only deserving people get to decorate their necks with it. How do we do this? Simple. The president should not be the only one deciding who gets a medal and who doesn't. We should set up a National Honours Commission. This non-partisan commission will receive recommendations from the general public and they will investigate the backgrounds and achievements of those being recommended and later decide whether the nominees deserve a medal or not.

I believe our achievers need to be recognised and honoured. But the president and his inner-circle are not the only ones who can recognise achievement. Looking at the honours lists of the past few years, I can safely say that they seem quite confused. At this rate, if we don't take care, the president will wake up one day and whimsically decide to give a medal to all of his ex-girlfriends, his concubines, his (illegitimate) children (if any), his 'ebusuapanyin' and his barber. Then he will turn around and hang one around his own neck for good measure.