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Opinions of Friday, 27 July 2012

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

Why we Always Need a Vice-President

S. Kwaku Asare

Ghana has no Vice-President. And that means Ghana has no President-in-waiting. The Constitution is crystal clear that we must always have a President. That means we must also always have a President-in-waiting. Without a President-in-waiting, you cannot satisfy the requirement to always have a President.

At Article 60(6), the Constitution provides that “Whenever the President dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Vice-President shall assume office as President for the unexpired term of office of the President with effect from the date of the death, resignation or removal of the President.”

Moreover, Article 60(10) provides that “The Vice-President shall, upon assuming office as President under clause (6) of this article, nominate a person to the office of Vice-President subject to approval by Parliament.”

"Upon assuming office" means upon assuming office. Not the next day upon assuming office. Not the next week. Not the next year. But upon assuming office!

The Constitution has a clear Presidential succession plan. There must always be a Vice-President, to act in case the President is unable to function. As we must always have a Commander in Chief, we must always have someone to step in her shoes, in case the Commander is unable to perform (death, incapacitation, and travel outside the country, if you take the Supreme Court seriously). This morning, President Mahama met the Heads of the Security Services. The Chairman of the Security Service Commissions is the Vice-President. But we do not have a Vice-President.

Some argue that Article 60(10) is ambiguous as to when the President shall nominate the Vice-President. This is a purposeless and unreasonable reading. The language for nominating ministers (and others) captures the framers approach to such time insensitive nominations. For instance, Article 78(2) provides that “The President shall appoint such number of Ministers of State as may be necessary for the efficient running of the State.” Everyone knows these appointments can only be made while the President is in office. But the language used is “shall appoint,” not “upon assuming office, the President shall appoint.”

These wording differences relating to the President’s appointing power are not idle, accidental, or the result of lack of crafting attention by the framers. These are carefully selected words that command the President to make the appointment upon assuming office, in the case of the Vice-President, and sometime after he is President, in the case if Ministers of State.

Others say the Speaker can be sworn in if the President cannot function, so there is a President-in-waiting. That is totally unreasonable. The Speaker steps in if you have both a President and a Vice-President and both cannot function. If you only have a President, there is a crisis, if he cannot perform. If you “unwisely” swear in a Speaker in this situation, you trigger an emergency election in 3 months.

As I understand it, President Mahama, should have nominated a Vice-President, in his maiden speech to Parliament, allowing Parliament to approve the nomination as the next order of business when the President egressed the House.

In sum, "upon assuming office," literally, purposively, and ordinarily, means upon assuming office. It cannot admit of any other reasonable interpretation.