By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Sunday, August 28, 2011
I now examine the workings of our democracy within the context of the expectation that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will not fail to complement the efforts of the people toward nurturing the country’s democracy to cater for their interests. It is only then that the sacrifices being made by the people will be validated. Otherwise, they lose their value and turn out to be the basis for actions to undermine the democracy itself.
Is ours really a “Government of the People”?
A government of the people is one that is made up of the caliber of functionaries whose personal character, conduct, and performance in office is unquestionable. These functionaries must have been identified as people with the requisite acumen to run the affairs of government without compromising anything with their narrow, parochial self-interests to the disadvantage of the citizens and the country at large. They are expected to know that being in office is not an opportunity to amass ill-gotten wealth.
These functionaries must have what it takes to uphold the values on which the country stands and for which its government is in office to work and protect against destruction. They are those whose acumen no one doubts; and they enter office to use that acumen to right any wrong of the past and not to perpetrate anything inimical themselves.
That’s why in the countries that cherish democracy, anybody penciled for appointment to any branch of government must first pass the test of personal introspection to determine if there are any liabilities of personal character or conduct that will stand in the way of performance.
More often than not, those nominees are the first to dig out some of their own foibles and frailties that are likely to detract from their integrity and performance in office. As soon as they do so, they don’t hesitate to decline the nomination. They take the first step to throw the searchlight on themselves and to do the right thing instead of using subterfuge to enter public office. Even if they do so, it doesn’t take long for someone to halt them in their stride. The vetting that precedes their assumption of office is so rigorous and morally done as to make any nominee who has anything to hide tremble with fear. Such shady characters are not needed in a government that is of the people. Institutional checks help eliminate those square pegs before they approach the round holes in government.
The US has given us very good examples of nominees who have been the first to know what their weaknesses are and who have turned down appointments to either save themselves from embarrassment or to encourage good governance. I needn’t mention names here but we remember very well what the former New Mexico Governor (Bill Richardson) did when his name came up on Obama’s list of potential appointees.
Those who scale the wall of vetting and enter office but turn out to be caught in compromising situations quickly acknowledge their shortcomings and leave office as soon as the misdeed surfaces or when pressure mounts on them. The misdeeds may verge on sexual immorality, abuse of office, or anything that conflicts with the tenets of the country’s democracy. In extreme cases, such defaulting functionaries are prosecuted and punished (e.g., former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich).
Assuming that the individual functionary attempts to hang on, pressure comes from his/her own political circles. No one attempts supporting any wrongdoer nor will such a person be defended and retained in office. The New York Democratic Representative Weiner recently resigned over misconduct involving lewd pictures of himself that he had sent to some women in cyperspace. Morality matters in such a democracy. Do we have instances to be proud of in our Ghanaian situation? We shouldn’t be surprised then, that democracy thrives in the US. Let’s not just dismiss this fact with the explanation that the US’s democracy has taken over 200 years to be what we praise today. If the US citizens and governments had failed to eradicate the pitfalls in their system as we are doing, their democracy couldn’t have matured. Eradicating the pitfalls provides nourishment for the democracy; but failing to do so throttles democracy.
Have we ever paused to ask why it is that in our system, we have problems with some government functionaries—especially when they put their personal interests above those of the country and its people—but still manipulate the system to remain in office? And they do so with impunity too!
Over the years, our governments have failed the test for not being of the people. Otherwise, why should they harbour functionaries whose nomination and vetting generated so much controversy and mayhem as to threaten our democracy? Since the beginning of this 4th Republic, there have been many distasteful occurrences surrounding government appointees and others in public office whose appointment provoked public discontent; but they ended up being retained in office either by the appointing authority or through the undue influence of power brokers in the political party in power.
Under Rawlings, many instances occurred, which were repeated under Kufuor. Take the case of Dr. Richard Anane, for instance, and you will know why we should be concerned. Under President Mills, the situation is worse, especially in the appointment of Dan Abodakpi as an Ambassador and many others discredited by the Mabey and Johnson scandal and the malfeasance resulting from the divestiture of State-Owned Enterprises. Others are morally bankrupt but are in high government circles because of political connections.
Several disturbances by either the NDC’s activists or the people in some districts, metropolis, and municipal areas as a result of the appointment of persons considered as inappropriate were the result of the President’s not being guided by the dictum on “a government of the people.” If those government functionaries were indeed part of the people and were trusted to do what would serve the public weal, why should there be opposition to their appointment? All over the place, we see a clear demonstration of disregard for the principle of probity and propriety in the appointment of people to positions of trust. Thus, with the wrong people in positions of authority, what can be done right to move our democracy forward? There is public concern over corruption but who is to blame for the prevalence of this canker if not the very people who should have known and done better but either look on unconcerned or actively participate in the vice?
It is often said that a people deserve the kind of government they have. If that common saying holds true, then, the kind of government that we have must be a reflection of ourselves (our individual and collective aspirations as a nation); and that is what we deserve. But is what we’ve had over the past 19 years the kinds of governments that would help us use our human and material resources to improve living conditions and create the enabling environment in which to grow our democracy? These governments have certainly not been of the people. Is ours a “Government by the People”? There is no controversy over the fact that through the general elections, the people establish the government by giving it their mandate. In our system, the procedures are straight-forward: the political party that wins the overall majority in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the 230 constituencies forms the government (the Executive) and works with the other arms of government—the Legislature and the Judiciary—and analogous institutions spread throughout the country).
So far, we’ve had no problem between the Executive and the Legislature, apparently because the Executive arm has been lucky enough to have a supporting Majority in the Legislature; but the acrimonious relationship between the Majority and Minority sides in Parliament is noticeable, especially when it comes to matters concerning loan agreements, appointment of Ministers/Deputy Ministers, Diplomats, and all others that Parliament vets. Entrenched partisan interests sway deliberations.
We have also been exposed to the shouting matches in Parliament over other matters, especially where the interests of the Parliamentarians are at stake as would be in the case of car loans or End-of-Service Benefits that the Executive has to approve). Such incidents demoralize the people whose sacrifices prop up our democracy. For as long as the parameters exist for the periodic holding of elections to elect representatives to rule the country, we can only hope that the status quo will be retained. Unless anything happens to topple the existing arrangement for general elections every four years, it is unlikely that the people will not be able to form the government with their mandate.
A government by the people is obviously the result of the exercise of that political will; and the people will rather exercise that right to choose their representatives than refuse to participate in the electoral process at all, probably in protest against their expectations not being met by the political establishment. Unless any government attempts to rig the elections to subvert the people’s will, we expect the norm to prevail and the government to be formed only on the basis of the electoral results. On that score, then, the country will continue to have a government based on the will of the people.
Continued in the next installment…