Feature Article of Thursday, 7 June 2012

Columnist: Gans-Lartey, Joe

The National Interest Must Remain Supreme

As Ghanaians ushered in 2012, many would have wondered –in their quiet moments- what the future holds for them as individual citizens and perhaps for our dear nation as a whole.

Although no one can foresee what lies ahead, everyone is in a unique position to contribute positively not only to their own wellbeing but that of our dear country as well. To make this an achievable objective, each and every citizen, must recognise the link between their conduct at all times with that of the national interest. As Hegel opined, the wellbeing of the individual, must come behind the destiny of the nation.

For a substantial number of people, individual needs and wants have a tendency to dictate their day to day conduct and actions and the question pertaining to the national interest rarely arises, if at all. It is my contention that this way of thinking is not only wrong but has a tendency to undermine our collective interests in so far as our national development and wellbeing are concerned., As a country Ghana has gone through the trials and tribulations of numerous experiences which in turn have had an impact on the way we view ourselves and our history. Colonialism caused us to become dependent on others for our survival as a people and for better or worse, we were restricted to what others thought was good for us. Since our ‘Independence’ –in theory at least- we have had the opportunity to dictate the pace for our progress and in what direction . Dr Nkrumah set the pace within the western democratic model but was quick to recognise its limitations in so far as our rapid development was concerned. He therefore set about looking at other models such as that of the Chinese and the then Soviet union. Today it is possible to assert that the Chinese model has achieved positive results for the Chinese whereas the same cannot be said for the Soviet model. Dr Nkrumah tried his best to learn from all the models available, towards accelerated development however, his political posturing and utterances made others sufficiently uncomfortable to engineer his downfall. As the saying goes, there is no point in crying over spilt milk, but surely lessons learnt must not be allowed to become wasted. At the minimum we must never allow our differences to be exploited to the detriment of our national progress, nor should we allow our individual and parochial interest to overshadow the national interest. The divide and rule approach remains ever potent in the hands of neo-colonialists all over the place. Recent developments in the Middle East may be a case in point. A word to the wise is enough. Today Ghanaians are enjoying relative peace in a way that could not have been imagined during the heady and at times unpredictable periods between 1966 and 1992. Despite all the criticisms of his military rule, Flight Lt J.J. Rawlings effectively governed Ghana until civilian governance became a reality. In my opinion, history will come to applaud his role in making Ghana a better place. Since 1993, all Ghanaians have had the opportunity to make a useful contribution for our collective good in an atmosphere based on democratic ideals including our cherished freedom and Justice. Unfortunately and for numerous reasons, it appears more and more of our fellow citizens are happy to enjoy the rights that go with democratic governance but have serious issues in maintaining the responsibilities that the national interest demands.

Although the National interest may mean different things to different citizens-depending variously on their educational backgrounds, economic considerations as well as their morality etc, it is crucial that everyone, especially those in positions of influence and authority start to accept that we are all in this together for better or for worse.

Every facet of our society and activities are capable of enhancing or damaging the core fabric of our nation. In this regard one should use basic examples as to how we can all aid the National interest towards a better and a peaceful society. For obvious reasons, one has to dwell on the current state of our body politic. Democracy in the western model encourages and in fact demands a multi- party approach to governance. It also draws a distinction between the roles of the executive , the Judiciary and that of Parliament. The media also has an important role if the national interest is to be protected effectively. As someone who have had the opportunity to live and observe democracy at its most advanced stages such as it is practiced in the USA, UK and other western European countries, it can sometimes feel extremely depressing when one has to admit that we have a long way to go before we can obtain the benefits that democracy can bring to bear on national development as well as the well- being of all citizens in our dear country.

How does one arrive at such a depressing view? Here one can only answer by pointing out, that having spent most of my adult life outside Ghana, it is easier to be objective about these things, having seen the benefits that can accrue when democracy is practised in an informed and knowledgeable way. Whether one likes it or not,, a substantial number of our citizens are either fully or semi illiterate-at least when it comes to the rights and responsibilities of every citizen. As the saying goes, anyone who believes education is expensive, is more likely to be shocked when he finds out the cost of ignorance. . Today the price being paid is getting more and more expensive and too much for our national resources to bear. Too many of our citizens appear to want everything from the state without contributing anything to the national coffers.

Unless the ruling classes can find a way to stem this trend, we will continue to be over dependent on our so-called ‘developmental partners’ to the detriment of our independence as a sovereign state.

IN order to stem this negative tide, education for both young and old, the educated and not so well educated as well as the illiterate is crucial. The key factor in this regard is discipline, respect for law and order as well as application of sanctions whenever appropriate. The school child must be made to understand, from an early age how his or her actions can affect others around and society in general. For example, from an early age they must be led to appreciate the link between poor sanitation and hygiene and that of avoidable diseases and ill health.

The indiscipline meted out by drivers on our congested roads must be ruthlessly dealt with.

When people build their shacks or new age preachers build their sheds (for use as churches) in alleyways without building permits, the Local authority must immediately pull it down without hesitation, fear or favour. When individuals turn themselves into contractors who get driving licences for people who have neither trained properly nor passed their driving tests, all those involved in these scams, whether public servants or not must be treated as criminals and punished accordingly.

When businessmen , traders, artisans and service providers arbitrarily raise their charges without justification, they should be held to account, for example through effective monitoring of their activities via the tax system . As things stand, it is a well- known secret that a substantial number of earners do not pay tax yet they are the very people who blame government for everything that goes wrong .Sooner or later someone will have to be bold enough to deal with the culture of tax avoidance, begging and dishonesty which appears to be taking a strong hold on our society.

Wherever you go around the world, you will find many Ghanaians working hard in different positions for mutual benefit with their host countries in an effective, competent and honest manner. This proves that Ghanaians are not inherently dishonest or corrupt. If so then the problem may well lie in poor and incompetent supervision and management by individual public and civil servants , who have no qualms in taking advantage of lax systems to enrich themselves and their families.

Governments can only do so much to improve the lot of those they govern, but at the end of the day it is up to individuals to appreciate, understand and respect the link between their conduct and its probable impact on the national interest. For example, the procurement laws are in place to help avoid corruptive practices in the public service. And yet it has not stopped people with help from ‘ insiders’, to set up three or more separate companies with the sole aim of thwarting the procurement laws.

Vast national resources are wasted either through poor management of staff or at worst through dishonesty and pilfering by staff who are oblivious of the national interest. A substantial number of public servants do not appear care about how their negative conduct can and does impact on our progress. For example, water and electric metres are left and unbilled for months or at all. A lot of man hours are lost on Fridays and Mondays because staff have to attend funerals for village ‘uncles’ and ‘Aunties’ they have not had contact with for ages and perhaps do not know at all.

Those whose duties are to enforce laws, rules and regulations, often only see their occupation in terms of monies to be stolen, exhorted and/or diverted from state or other coffers.

It is an open secret in our society, that new age churches are growing in numbers, mainly because they have become money making machines for a few individuals who have no qualms in exploiting the most poor and vulnerable in our society. Ironically it appears the more these new churches grow, the more the moral fabric of our people is undermined.

Recently a number of politicians who should know better, in their quest for power, have been making noises clearly designed to generate chaos, divisiveness and violence. These same politicians claim to be god fearing whilst preaching hatred which is clearly against peace and the national interest.

The time has come for all patriotic Ghanaians to stand up and be counted. They must reject and expose those who are determined to undermine our future wellbeing. They must assert themselves in order to make sure that the National interest remains supreme at all times.

Long live Ghana

Joe Gans-Lartey Barrister/Legal Consultant