And get away with it?
By: Kwaku A. Danso
There is a very interesting development in Ghana when according to Ghanaweb of April 10, 2012, an ACP called Awuni was reported to have insulted or used his powers to eject a Minister and even had the Minister arrested.
The report read:
“ACP Angwubutoge Awuni, the Commander of the Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) of the Ghana Police Service, has admitted exceeding his limit in the manner in which he dealt with the former Greater Accra Regional Minister over his conduct during the biometric registration exercise in the Klorttey Korley Constituency in Accra last Thursday.
Nii Armah Ashietey, who is also the Member of Parliament for the area, is reported to have physically prevented people from registering because he suspected most of them were from the Odododiodoo constituency – which is only separated from the Klorttey Korley by a street.” (Ghanaweb, April 10, 2012)
For some of us older ones who have seen the manner in which our Ghana police men and women have been treated over the last half century. We all knew they were poorly paid, they took bribes in the open, they were disrespected and were housed in some of the most despicable and degrading environments, as well as poorly equipped. This story is very enlightening.
History and Culture of Ghana Police -
Can a Policeman, especially one ACP insult a Minister and get away in Ghana? Let’s consider this as a most important development in Ghana. If proper investigation is conducted and nobody fires the police ACP, I think it will start a system of independence of the police. It is very critical in the development of a democracy that certain institutions like the police, the judiciary, the military, become independent of law makers. Prof. George Ayittey has written enough about these and we all know that it takes effective leadership to even resource and develop these institutions to become independent. The same thing of course goes with the State owned institutions like the Daily Graphic and Ghana Broadcasting Service Radio and TV stations which are not considered independent but serve at the will of one President or political party in power. Most of us know that is wrong. Most will agree that these elements of centralism should end as they lead to these institutions favoring the “big boys” of Ghana power. The legislative body is also influenced by the Executive branch of government, and these bodies should be able to do their work without fear of reprisals from any quarters.
I am not suggesting that policemen abuse their powers and start disrespecting officials or for that matter anybody at random and at will without just cause. No!
What I am alluding to is the fact that in Ghana the police abuse their power by erecting barriers and openly collect bribes instead of issuing summons to people to appear in court for traffic offenses, and by so doing they lose their respect in society. At the same time we know the politicians, MPs, Ministers and even the executives abuse their power by approving for themselves free loans and grants from public purse they never pay back, to buy expensive luxury vehicles and even housing, without paying taxes on these gratia payments. They ignore the public institutions whiles they serve themselves. That is wrong! The society knows this is public theft, and hence politicians are also not held in much respect if you ask individual Ghanaians. It is for these reasons of respect that he Greek Philosopher Aristotle wrote that elected political office holders should not be paid or accept payment since the office in itself gives them so much respect to compensate for their office. I am not suggesting politicians don’t get paid, but I’d rather their pay became public knowledge and they stop hiding benefits behind closed doors whiles they serve. There should be a system whereby citizens can also rate them or report them for non-performance. There was a funny scenario in 2010 when Africa Watch magazine rated the MPs and the Speaker of the House made that empty threat to summon the Editor for hearing. What a hopeless misunderstanding of democracy was that? Can politicians not be rated? Of course they can! There is nothing anybody can do if citizens evaluate politicians with failing grade.
This story becomes more interesting when it is noted the Minister was actually arrested by the police. This is unprecedented and I strongly recommend the police for this. We read:
“…He made mention that he would make sure that I am dismissed from the Police Service and so when they (the policemen) brought him in (to the charge office) I gave him my (police) cap. In fact I was furious, I gave him my cap that if he is a man he should dismiss me. I was doing my job, he did not employ me…”
To some of us this is a historic trend indeed in our society. Since the time of Kwame Nkrumah, I don’t think the police have ever had that much courage to apprehend a Minister openly for wrongdoing. Only last year, wasn’t there a news report of another MP or Minister on the Cape Coast road bragging about his power and immunity from arrest when caught speeding? In America, Canada, UK, and many developed nations, the police can arrest anybody, but they usually are also respectful of anybody who seems responsible if stopped for some traffic violations. This writer has gotten away with a few warnings on California highways during his younger years by simply being respectful of the police when stopped for speeding. American public officials may usually ride in State of official marked vehicles and the chances are they will not be arrested unless there is a real crime. During the famous Chappaquidick incidence of the late Senator Ted Kennedy and the drowning of his girlfriend, it was noted the Massachusetts police never arrested the former Senator from the famous rich family. However, in general, no public official would dare threaten a police officer to have them fired, and no police officer also would insult a public official. It is all human relations, and respect goes both ways.
In the story, the ACP was reported as having been visited by the NPP and the NDC and said:
“…the NDC came to meet me and left, the NPP came to meet me and left, and I’m still a policeman and I’m doing my job and I think that every policeman must be seen to be doing his job without regard to looking at faces in political parties…”
Resource and Performance –
Economists like to call something capacity planning. I’d like to advice, if anybody in Ghana takes advice, that the nation of Ghana will do very well to maintain our integrity if we fund and resource the police with the right equipment and vehicles to do their work, and then demand top performance from them. If the police are living in poverty and their offices don’t even have a land line phone, and they don’t even have motorcycles to respond to emergency call, then why do we even bother to create and call it law enforcement! I remember calling the East Legon police one night and nobody responded. I called the central office in Accra and even though somebody answered, no office showed up or called. This is totally unacceptable from the police!
Human Motivation –
Most humans respond to some stimulus of compensation. It is what is called in Human Resource management a “carrot and a stick” system. Until only last year most police were paid below living wages. Since 2010, the salaries of the police have been raised, and one expects a more effective performance and service from them also. However to be more effective, the next step will be to decentralize the police and let them respond to local needs as done in the US and other nations. Let the police know that if they misbehave towards the citizens of say Abetifi, Tamale, Madina or East Legon, it is their local people who pay taxes to make their living conditions possible, and hence mutual respect should be maintained. They will know that they cannot simply erect barriers to collect bribes or refuse to respond to emergencies. They will know they have to serve and respect citizens. At the same time local Ministers, MPs, DCEs and officials will give them the respect due them, whiles also knowing that they can be arrested like anybody else if they violate the laws.
Dr. Kwaku A. Danso