By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 16, 2009
Some people take a long time to know the reality of the circumstances surrounding them. They are like those who are so blind that even when the gates of heaven are open, they will still go round the building, looking for windows to pass through. The state of affairs of our country today can be likened to this quip because in the midst of plenty, we are still poor. We are still thirsty in the abundance of water.
To me, heaven may not necessarily mean an after-life utopia but any condition of fulfillment. A country that has developed to the extent of providing comfort for its citizens and becoming a beacon or a magnet to attract people from other parts of the world is a heaven-on-earth. And there are many of such countries in the world, most of which do not have a quarter of the human and natural resources that Ghana has. Why are we in Ghana still looking for windows to pass through?
It is painful to realize that despite the abundant natural and human resources that our country has, and despite the hardworking nature of its citizens, it is still not as developed as one would expect it to be and that the people continue to live in narrow circumstances. What natural resources doesn’t Ghana have? Name them: cocoa, gold, diamond, coffee, rubber, manganese, bauxite, lumber, salt, marine and freshwater resources, fertile and arable land, favourable tropical weather, floral resources useful for the pharmaceutical industry, fauna, and the yet-to-be exploited petroleum reserves. Add to these resources the highly profitable sector of tourism. Then, add the highly productive human resources to the hordes of endowments, and your heart should bleed at the depth to which the country has sunk over the years. Even though most of these resources are regarded as primary commodities whose prices are dictated by the international market, not the producers, our country can be said to be well-endowed enough to make more progress than what it has recorded over the 52 years of self-governance. It is unacceptable that our country is still struggling to stand on its feet in many senses, except the political scene, thanks to the political stability that has prevailed in the country since the introduction of constitutional democracy after the general elections in November and December 1992.
This feeling of national stability may not be heart-warming to the full because it is contingent on the mood of the people. If the national economy continues to stagnate, living conditions of the people will deteriorate further and the people will become disaffected. A disaffected people will become restless and restive, creating room for disaster to strike the body politic and overturn the table. This veneer of political stability will quickly vanish and our democracy will suffer a painful jolt. This scenario is conceivable. But don’t mistake me for a prophet of doom. Our plight is woefully unacceptable. Why is it so? I want to say aboveboard here that our country is what it is today because of what we all already know—lack of appropriate leadership, misguided economic policies, massive corruption, nepotism, weak institutions of state, outmoded practices, and general apathy toward the affairs of state. A country cannot be built when the people lack vision. That has been our problem. We are more interested in helping other people build their countries than investing our energies and resources in building our own country, apparently because those who are to create the congenial atmosphere for such investments have no priorities at all for that purpose. This kind of collective waywardness is the driving force behind our plight. We must acknowledge this inadequacy and take immediate steps to rediscover ourselves to put our country on a better pedestal. That is the only way to make posterity happy with us. Mere grandiose designs on paper by way of annual budget statements and constitutional provisions or declarations of high-sounding intents that lack the political will to implement them will not change our people’s deplorable circumstances. Having already tackled the problems of leadership in other articles, I think that another major national problem is our weak civil society, which is not capable of either “barking at” or “biting” those in leadership positions. Whether by accident or design, civil society appears to be caving in and not doing what will put pressure on those in positions of trust to do the right thing for the betterment of our country. Civil society is hampered in several ways and appears to be an unwitting accomplice of those running down the country. It must not be so.
We need an informed citizenry, a courageous society that will not sit down unconcerned for the affairs of state to be mismanaged, public funds dissipated anyhow, or for government to do things as it pleases. The time has come for us all to do what will secure our investments in the democratic experiment. We shouldn’t leave matters to the politicians alone. They are more interested in their own well-being than serving the interests of the country and its people. These politicians will not do anything in our favour. Given the opportunity, they will have no compunction at all in whatever they do, knowing very well that it will yield profits for them to enjoy to the full. They may even go to the extent of mortgaging the country’s resources, grabbing their share, and running away to settle in other countries to gloat over their loot. Don’t trust them at all. Those in Parliament began with a car loan of $20,000 and have now upgraded it to $50,000. Next time, they will be looking to grab the sky itself while the very people who put them in power continue to wallow in excruciating poverty. There is need for the citizens to be actively involved in national and local political developments, to be vigilant and to monitor happenings in government and national life so as to respond appropriately to wrongdoing in national life. There shouldn’t be any more sitting on the fence or recourse to “Fa ma Nyame.” I am calling for recourse to Positive Action in all its peaceful forms to keep public officials in control whenever they give cause for it. Civil society must gear itself up for that line of action. Taking to task anybody who falls foul of the principles of governance will send a strong signal to potential self-seekers that civil society is up in arms to defend national interests. Vigilance on matters of financial control is another requirement. All workers have to be vigilant and to monitor the lifestyles of those entrusted with custody of public funds. That is why Parliament’s failure to enact the Whistleblower Act must be condemned outright and pressure put on the MPs to work expeditiously for its actualization. That Act should protect informants and motivate public-spirited citizens to play a watchdog role in exposing corrupt public officials.
We must cultivate and uphold the moral courage to expose wrongdoing wherever it occurs. That’s why the Freedom of Information law must be passed without any further delay. It is nauseating to know that our Parliament is weak and undeserving of all the sacrifices that the citizens make to support it. How much effort should it take for the MPs to initiate bills on their own or consult their constituents for input to formulate bills to ensure the good of the public? But they will not do so because they know that such laws will manacle them against self-seeking. Civil society must put some heat somewhere to wake the regulatory bodies from their slumber. The Judiciary and Police have a lot to do in persuading the public that they are politically impartial. They appear not to be serving the public properly through their statutory functions of interpreting and enforcing all laws/regulations on public office holding. Civil society must take them on as well. In this regard, civil society groupings appear to be important prime-movers to lead the fight. The leaders and activists of such civil society groupings should redefine their modus operandi and engage the public more actively in their operations so that their “watchdog” role can be enhanced and supported. But we already have a big problem on hand because of the danger that the leaders and activists of these civil society organizations themselves pose. Most of them are already known to be aligned with the various political camps, especially the NDC and the NPP; thus, their credibility is eroded. How can they do anything without any bias or prejudice? The most imperative demand is that all civil society groupings must resist the temptation to toe partisan political party lines if they want to support the fight against wrongdoing in public office. Their leaders and activists must do all they can to ensure their political neutrality. It is only then that such entities and their functionaries can become credible avenues for fighting wrongdoing. Unfortunately, as they exist and function now, most of them have already given Ghanaians little hope because of their political leanings and penchant for defending the indefensible, especially when their own interests are at stake. These weaknesses prevent them from successfully leading the fight. Invigorating civil society calls for persistent and vigorous public education. The Ministry of Information must not continue to deny Ghanaians the untainted public information/education that they need to participate in national efforts. The Ministry’s logistics must not be reserved for only propaganda work for the government. Rather unfortunately, over the years, that Ministry has been turned into a political propaganda instrument for the government of the day. I have already insisted elsewhere that this Ministry is redundant and must either be scrapped or reorganized and redirected to do better things for the country. If it must exist at all, it should be made to serve the country’s purposes, not the ruling political party’s narrow and selfish interests. It must be used to support the NCCE’s efforts on public education. If the government wants to present its good self to the public and be seen as such, it must know how to do so through another medium. It can establish a Public Relations and Communication Directorate at the Presidency for that purpose. Such an institution will have all the political trappings it needs to do the government’s bidding and relieve the Ministry of Information from undue pressure. That kind of damage control business through the Ministry is reprehensible. Regarded as the propaganda wing of government, that Ministry has already lost its credibility, anyway.
The National Commission on Civic Education has virtually run itself aground because it is not doing much for the a benefit of the citizens. If Larry Bimi and his team cannot do the work, there is no need to retain them and waste public funds on them. The painful realization, though, is that the NCCE is a desirable institution in a democracy, which should be adequately resourced to provide public education and galvanize civil society to keep government on its toes.
When we have such strong institutions leading the campaign against wrongdoing in public office, the citizens will be relieved of their worries. They will be motivated to join in the crusade and provide the vital input that is needed to keep government functionaries and their allies in the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies on their mettle. When an informed and alert civil society constantly breathes hot air over the necks of these public officials, they will be forced to look over their shoulders before making any move to fleece the economy. In the current free-for-all situation that we have in the country, public officials do things with impunity because they know that they enjoy the backing of those who put them in office and because of the apathy of the society or the lack of monitoring avenues or enforceable measures to punish them.
I want to conclude by restating the point that an informed and vigilant citizenry is the key to our national problems in many respects. If we continue to be lethargic in tackling matters concerning public office holding and strategies for national development, we will continue to run around in circles, making mere commotion but no motion. We will exhaust our resources and energies and still remain unfortunate victims of self-created circumstances. In that sense, we will have no justification to continue blaming the former colonial master for our woes. Colonialism ended more than half a century ago. We have been in charge of running our country and must use every opportunity to take control of our lives and stop running down the slippery hill of life. In the abundance of water, we must not continue to be thirsty.