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Opinions of Monday, 2 March 2009

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

You Can’t Change the Rules Mid-Stream

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The to-do over our Fourth Republican constitutional requirement that half of the ministerial portfolios be allotted to parliamentarians of the ruling party must be deemed as salutary for the development of Ghana’s fledgling democratic culture (See “Doe Adjaho, Mike Hammah Kick Against Ministerial Picks” 1/30/09). More significantly, such to-do underscores the fundamental fact that like any living organism, constitutions are never crafted, or etched, in stone but, rather, are constantly in need of revision and amendments, as the occasion and exigencies of the times demand.

It is not quite clear to me whether this is an opportune moment in which to seriously consider either amending or revising the Fourth-Republican Constitution, in order to make it synch with the expedient executive agenda of the Atta-Mills government. The complaint of Messrs. Adjaho and Hammah appears to be that pursuing the constitutional stipulation of having 50-percent of ministers appointed from parliament would seriously jeopardize the slim majority of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and make it quite difficult for the Atta-Mills administration to freely carry out its agenda, a problem that neither arose under Mr. Rawlings’ nor Mr. Kufuor’s tenure.

While, indeed, we do sympathize with the need for President Atta-Mills to be able to effectively and freely govern under the rule of law, nevertheless, making a constitutional amendment almost effortless to effect may equally undermine the stability of Ghana’s democratic culture. Consequently, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom’s vow to push for the adoption of a bill “to completely decouple the legislature from the executive arm” of the government ought to be regarded with caution. More so when one grimly considers the fact that it has been extremely difficult to entrust Fourth-Republican Ghanaian parliamentarians with the sacred business of the people. The raging flap over the palpably outrageous ex-gratia package for members of the executive and the legislature, otherwise known as the Chinery-Hesse Committee scandal, is all too fresh in the minds of Ghanaian taxpayers to allow for a virtual carte blanche to parliamentary representatives to amend the Fourth-Republican Constitution, as these evidently cynical MPs deem expedient and appropriate.

Still, one cannot but fully agree with Mr. Adjaho, the deputy NDC parliamentary majority leader that any attempt to effect – or induce – a constitutional amendment must be done with the significant and indispensable participatory input of the larger Ghanaian public. In fact, we would go even further by insisting that the public be made central to any constitutional amendment. This means that rather than have our Members of Parliament debate the issue in the House, as it were, the most appropriate method would be to put the question to a nationwide referendum and have all eligible voters decide in 2012.

One healthy aspect of the constitutional stipulation of having 50-percent of ministerial portfolios allotted MPs, in the current context, is that it productively prevents the NDC parliamentary majority from steamrolling its agenda with impunity, even as we witnessed the then-ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) do under the Kufuor administration, thereby unhealthily preempting the kind of persuasive and intellectually measured deliberation upon which the people’s trust is predicated.

Ultimately, what the preceding does is to beautifully and pragmatically reprise our observation in the wake of the Election 2008 runoff that the winner, by the skin of his proverbial teeth, Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills, while he appears to have clinched the presidency fair and square, as it were, nonetheless, did not obtain the electoral mandate of the people and, for that matter, needs to tread with extreme caution.

The good news here, though, is that both major political parties and presidential candidates knew the operational rules venturing into Election 2008. And as we commonly say at Akyem-Asiakwa, in the heat of an evenly matched soccer tourney: “One does not ask for the goal posts to be relocated merely because one is having a hard time in scoring a goal.” One simply retools one’s game plan!

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. His latest and 19th book is titled “Marlena: Sexual Indignities” (Atumpan Publications/, 2009). E-mail: ###