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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Columnist: Acheampong, Emmanuel Opoku

The Presidential Honour: A Case Of Failed Political Leadership

By Emmanuel Opoku Acheampong

The National Honours Day is gone; but not its attendant public reactions. My concern here is not the number of awardees; nor is it the cost of medals procured for the exercise. My concern resides in the President’s decision to institute a new Order: the “Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana.” My concern extends also to whether or not the President has power to institute the Order. As a consequence, my concern considers the legitimacy of the President’s action, using his reasons for creating the Order as reference point.

Can the President create a new Order?

Proponents against the President’s creation argue that instituting the Order without recourse to Parliament denudes the award of its legitimacy. They argue that powers to create new Orders, if committed exclusively to the Executive, could undermine the sanctity of the awards as a capricious and unguarded President could mar its significance by overindulgence. Owing to these, they contend that Parliament ought to have sanctioned the President’s Order. By these claims, they seek to divest the President of exclusive authority to create new categories of Orders without reference to Parliament.

Are their contentions justified? For a careful consideration of the matter, let us refer ourselves to the authority for the Orders. The National Honours Day was instituted by the first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah by Executive Order. It was categorized as follows: “Order of the Star of Ghana”, “Order of the Volta-Companion”, “Order of the Volta-Officer”, and “Order of the Volta-Member.” The motive for the awards was to reward enterprising Ghanaians who had distinguished themselves in various fields of endeavours. Parliament had no hand in the institution of the Orders. It was exercised exclusively by the President by prerogative and has so been recognised in all our constitutional eras including the present Fourth Republic.

Now, if we were to accept the contention of the ‘Parliamentary sanction theorists”, we would be confronted with a perplexing situation. It would mean that the President’s action is unlawful. It would also make unlawful the President’s powers to confer awards under existing Orders as they were also created without Parliamentary sanction. If the President has no power to create Orders without parliamentary sanction, can he have power to award persons under existing Orders also created without Parliamentary sanction? If the President should require parliamentary sanction to institute new Orders, then as a corollary he should require similar backing to award persons under the Orders. This would mean that the President should seek Parliamentary sanction before powers to award persons under “Order of the Star of Ghana,” “Order of the Volta-Companion,” “Order of the Volta-Officer,” and “Order of the Volta-Member.” Where then would be the President’s prerogative in this regard?

To argue that the President’s Order be subject to Parliamentary oversight is to make unruly incursions into the domain of his prerogative. The President exercises his prerogative in determining who qualifies for awards under all the Orders. This he does without parliamentary oversight. If power to determine eligibility for awards rests solely with the President, what should preclude him from exercising same powers to create new Orders to accord with prevailing circumstances?

The Orders are established on prerogative. And this is committed to the President. Absent mandatory rules compelling him, the President owes no duty to Parliament to justify his creation. To seek parliamentary sanction for a prerogative power without clear rules supporting such contention is to needlessly restrain the President in his powers. If the President has power to award persons under existing Orders without Parliamentary oversight, then surely he also has power to create new Orders, also without Parliamentary oversight.

The Directive

I now direct my concern to the directive accompanying the President’s Order. In instituting the Order, the President makes certain consequential directions which ought to be questioned. He directs that “[e]very new President…be given the collar of the Order as he or she is sworn into office, to be worn on all formal occasions.” He also directs that the award “be conferred by the President by the Chief Justice” Clearly, these directions are beyond the powers of the President.

First, his authority to institute the Order is not in doubt; nor is his decision to institute such Order solely for Presidents. That falls within his prerogative. However, his prerogative is not limitless. It ends with the creation and institution of the Order. He cannot on his own direct every other President on what to do. To institute an Order with recurring binding effect on all future Presidents on what they should do in future is to arbitrarily restrain them in their prerogative powers. If the President has power to confer awards on all successive Presidents, then he should have power to issue binding directives to all future Presidents on which persons of his choice should merit awards whether or not they are in agreement with him. Clearly, this is beyond his competence.

Second, if we were to accept the President’s directive, it would convert the award into an automatic entitlement subject to no objectively verifiable indicators. If the Order is to be conferred on a President on the eve of his office, then it ceases to be an award. An award, as we know it, is conferred on persons in recognition of certain determinable efforts necessitating the conferment. Yet, the President directs that the Order be conferred on all future Presidents on the eve of ascension to office. To what efforts, Mr. President, should your future awardees be entitled to the Order? What would they have done to merit such conferment? Can a runner receive his prize before he runs the race? Or can a football team win the trophy for a match they are yet to play? Obviously, the President is seeking to circumvent established procedures for meriting awards in substitution for automatic entitlements on account of status.

In seeking to justify his creation of the Order, the President confounds us further. He contends that “the occupant of the highest office of the land is entitled to be honoured if he serves the nation well...” Surely, that is in order, Mr. President. Yet, contrary to this principle, you direct that the Order be conferred on all future Presidents. So then, Mr. President, against your own principle of entitlement to the award on the basis of serving the nation well, you again direct that the Order be conferred on Presidents upon ascension to office. Where then do we place your principle of “serving the nation well” when it accounts not in the conferment of the award? Do you see the inconsistency you present, Mr. President?

Again, the President’s directive denudes his Order of any legitimacy. The categorisation of the Orders is established on one philosophy; to induce citizens to aspire to greater heights. That is why it is constructed in a hierarchy; to propel persons to aspire legitimately for progressive recognition by the State. The concept of legitimate aspiration is thus enshrined in the National Honours. To be part of that hierarchy, the “Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana” must demonstrate the same philosophical trait underpinning the existing Orders. This is the trait of legitimate aspiration. A President of the Republic must therefore aspire legitimately to merit the Order. The Order must not be automatic. To confer on every President automatic entitlement without legitimate aspiration denudes the Order of the philosophical trait that should warrant its place in the hierarchy. Clearly, the President’s Order has no place in the hierarchy of the Orders. If it remains an Order as the President makes us to believe, then it must be cited somewhere else; (perhaps in Andrew Awuni’s skewed interpretation of the Order as a state insignia.) not in the existing hierarchy of Orders.

Is the President’s self conferment legitimate?

The President’s powers to create the Order are not in doubt. But has he the moral power to confer on himself the Order? Well, that is for our determination.

First, in making his decision, the President should not have taken account of its conformity with legal rules only. He should also have taken account of its conformity with social values. So then, while no legal rule prevented the President from awarding himself; the principles inhered in our social values prevented him from doing so. His action violates no specific law. Yet, it violates most rules of conduct. It violates rules of custom, rules of morality, rules of religion, and other social rules. These values are sanctioned by society and prohibit absolutely, all forms of personal glory or self gratification.

And considering the legitimacy of these values, who is duty-bound by society to uphold their tenets than the President of the Republic? Is humility not an abiding social value? Is it not a feature of good leadership? What does self glory have in common with humility? Are they not opposed to each other? Where then do we place the President’s action in the context of good leadership? Does the President’s action not tell profoundly, his wilful disregard for social values he is obligated by morality to promote? So then, if we reneged in our duty of holding him accountable, would we ourselves not be guilty of overt complicity in destroying the values of society?

But then, our President seeks to justify his award. He reasons that he has served his nation well and ought to be honoured. That is not in doubt, Mr. President. You may have served the country well as Andrew Awuni makes us to believe in his press statement on the awards. You “have contributed to the discovery of oil…” You have “introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme…and fetched over 700 million dollars in Eurobonds and many other such initiatives.” By this supposed achievements, you seek to justify your award. If I may ask; Mr. President, why did Ghanaians vote you into power? Were you not delivered a mandate to institute sound initiatives for a fulfilling realisation of the citizen’s aspirations? So then, if you performed your obligations as President, should that entitle you to an award? Was that not the reason why we gave you power? You achieved because we required you to do so. Apparently, there exists no basis for your honour.

In any case, if we were to accept the President’s achievements as justification, we would still be confronted with another hurdle. First, the President believes fervently in his achievements. Using that as a basis, he entitles himself to an award. Yet, his self belief alone cannot entitle him to the award. A certain verifiable indicator must subject his achievements to certain tests to determine his eligibility for the award. He cannot on his own determine his eligibility. If the President has achieved a lot, that is not for him to determine. That must be determined by an exterior body. Yet, did the President give heed to this consideration. Did he consider that his self-fulfilling desires of achievements were subject to a higher cause? No, he did not. Lured rather by his “sickening fixation” for self glory, he constituted himself into the alpha, the omega, the judge, the judged, the witness, etc. In short, he became the veritable omnipotent force, subject to no condition.


The consequences of the President’s action may not be discernible to him at this point. Posterity may judge him better. However, like other decisions of his, President Kufour has demonstrated beyond measure, his penchant for misguided decisions. He has also shown his strong desire to uphold political affinity at the expense of established values. He demonstrated this in his decision to reappoint Dr. Anane. By awarding himself the Order, the President has clearly affirmed his position as the most incompetent political leader ever to assume the reins of political leadership in this country. Overwhelmed by his overt incompetence, he sought to beguile it by honouring himself. Did you honestly believe you could beguile such incompetence, Mr. President? Are they not too glaring to be washed away?

To whom do we lay this blame; if I may ask? Do we lay it entirely on the doorstep of the President? Well, perhaps partially. While the President may solely be responsible for his reprehensible decision, his political apologists masquerading under various forms will also not escape blame. Sticking to the President in the mode of bootlickers, they failed once again to alert him on the consequences of his decision. Now, owing to their failure, our Gentle Giant has joined the unenviable enclave of Bokassa and Amin as the only political leaders in African political history to have honoured themselves.

The writer is a student of Law@ KNUST