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Opinions of Saturday, 13 July 2013

Columnist: Adams, John Kwame

“Your Excellency” is killing us

Unnecessary and unwarranted titles are destroying Ghana and we must realize and do something about this problem. The president is addressed as “Your excellency, the president”, the more sycophantic ones among us go to the extent of addressing him in everyday speech as “Your excellency, the president of the Republic of Ghana and commander-in-chief of the Ghana Armed Forces”. This servile posturing is not limited only to the president. We address the Speaker of Parliament as “Right Honourable”, we call ministers and parliamentarians “Honourable” and it is becoming popular these days to say “Your Lordship” several times when addressing a judge. This grovelling is unacceptable in a Republic!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a republic “as a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law”. So the defining difference between a republic and a chieftaincy, a monarchy or a dictatorship is where the supreme power resides. In a republic, the supreme power belongs to the people who vote. Therefore in the case of Ghana, the supreme power belongs to the citizens of Ghana who are over or 18 years of age. Mr Mahama and his ministers exercise executive power as our servants and on our behalf. Parliament exercises legislative power as our servants and on our behalf and the courts also exercise judicial power as our servants and on our behalf. These officials are our servants, they are not our superiors in anyway. They are not excellent, honourable or lords. They are just public servants and we must regard them as such.

You may think addressing them by these titles of nobility are harmless trivialities, but a keen observation shows that the effects of such honorifics are detrimental to the health of our republic. The philosopher-statesman Thomas Paine writing on the eve of American independence wrote that

“Dignities and high sounding names have different effects on different beholders. The lustre of the Star and the title of My Lord, over-awe the superstitious vulgar, and forbid them to inquire into the character of the possessor: Nay more, they are, as it were, bewitched to admire in the great, the vices they would honestly condemn in themselves. This sacrifice of common sense is the certain badge which distinguishes slavery from freedom; for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon”.

One cannot deny that what Paine warned America about has occurred in Ghana. Because of the high sounding names of politicians and other public officials, the market woman at Makola believes herself to be vastly inferior to the MP. The shoeshine boy in Accra thinks that the MP cannot do anything wrong. Even educated people in Ghana consider themselves vastly inferior to our public officials. Equality is dying in this republic but the lifeblood of a republic is the equality of its citizens. Because of the vain titles we heap on public officials, they consider themselves not our equals but our superiors. Recently, persons in the Judiciary have referred to a person who has appeared before them as “a mere you”. This is a direct affront to the equality that should exist among citizens of a republic.

This diminishing of equality has subsequently promoted impunity in our society. Members of parliament have been the most guilty in acting with impunity. While doctors and various other professionals were demanding their unpaid salaries and while the president was telling them that there was no money to pay them, parliamentarians saw it fit to award themselves large sums in ex-gratia payments. When the public complained about the outrage, we had MPs going around the radio stations making insulting remarks like “Doctors are not the coequals of MPs”. If this is not impunity borne out of a sense of superiority, then I do not know what is. While this MP was making this impudent comment, he had in mind that he was an “Honourable”.

Recently some people have supported the jailing of Ken Kuranchie with arguments like “Would Ken Kuranchie talk to the chief of his village in that way?”, “Would Ken Kuranchie talk to his father in that way?”, “Ken Kuranchie disrespected the Lords of the Court”. While I do not seek to argue the rightness or wrongness of the jailing of Ken Kuranchie, I would like to point out that these arguments are ridiculous and are as a result of the vain title of “Lord” that we have conferred on our judges. Are not Jesus and Allah the only ones that we should refer to us Lord? Is it proper for us to refer to our fellow citizens as Lords? Does that not diminish the accountability that these citizens owe to us Ghanaians? Do we not see the danger in making deities of our fellow citizens? In elevating them far above ourselves? Do we not see the danger in making them believe that they are indeed superior to us?

The vain titles we give to our public servants diminish accountability and promote corruption. There is no need to give examples of this as the truth of it is readily seen. Why would ministers consider themselves accountable to us ordinary Ghanaians on the street, when we fall over ourselves to call them “Honourable” and beg for their benevolence? Why would holders of public office not steal our money to acquire property when we regard them as demi-gods? After all, if they are demi-gods, then they must live as such.

These titles have no place in our republic and the sooner we do away with them, the better off we would be as a nation. We should do away with “Your Excellency”, “Honourable” and “Your Lordship”. I propose that we address the president as President Mahama or Mr Mahama. When addressing the finance minister for example, we should say Mr Tekper, likewise parliamentarians. When addressing the Supreme Court judges, we should say Mrs Georgina Wood or Justice Georgina Wood. Are these people not just public servants after all? Are they not citizens like you and me? Once we have put these measures in place, we will begin to make progress as a nation.