Opinions Thu, 20 Mar 2003

Chief Justice Undermines Democarcy....

Under the system of Separation of Powers, the three equal branches of government, the Executive; the Legislative; and the Judiciary; act as a check and balance on each other to ensure that good governance and the rule of law are promoted, and guarded jealously. Since 1992 Ghanaians have opted for this type of political arrangement which promotes democracy. The first eight years of our democratic dispensation was a trying one, to say the least. This was due to the fact that the president at the time, Jerry John Rawlings did not hide his contempt for constitutional rule. When it came time to respect the dictates of the Constitution however, Rawlings did the right thing and left office.

His successor J.A. Kufour swore to go a step further by encouraging Ghanaians to speak their minds freely on national issues without any fear of recrimination. To underscore his commitment to free speech, president Kufour abandoned the insidious Libel Laws which the Rawlings regime had adopted to stifle free speech. Ghanaians heaved a sigh of relief when the president scrapped the Libel Laws.

What the president could not scrap however, was the Ghanaian mentality and propensity to view all criticisms as being ‘insulting' to the leader. Ghanaians who still view the president as ‘god', chafe at the ‘audacity' of mere mortals to criticize the president on national issues. Of course, one expects the Party faithful to vent their distaste for critical commentary on presidential policies. That is their job, in the world of Party unity and sycophancy
However, when an individual in the person of the Chief Justice, who is also head of the Judicial branch of government suggests that criticisms of the president, ought to stop in favour of ‘advise', to the president, then democracy and free speech have been hit below the belt. The president has enough advisers, as it is. Nor should criticism or critical commentary be misconstrued as non-advise! Ghanaians have come this far to understand that dictatorship is served by statements such as those made by the Chief Justice. Indeed, the editor of a national daily recently wrote that the president has ‘spoiled' journalists because the president obviously encourages freedom of speech! Such pronouncements encourage many a leader to turn tin-pot dictator.
It is becoming evident that the Chief Justice (CJ) of Ghana, Mr. Justice Edward Wiredu undermines democracy every time he opens his mouth. His tendency to inject the ‘dictates of God' into his personal pronouncement regarding the law; makes him a dangerous person to oversee the judicial system. To wit, Ghana is not a theocracy to be governed according to the dictates of the Pentateuch or any religious writ.
The Chief Justice seeks to undermine free speech in Ghana by calling on Ghanaians, almost 'odering' (according to news reports) thus: "The RIGHT (emphasis mine) thing Ghanaians should do is to advise him and not to criticise the President," in a speech at the 30th Law Week Celebration of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, recently. Now that is dangerous.
It ought be made clear to the Chief Justice that 'criticizing' the president' is part of democracy. The president ought to take the criticism as advise. It seems that in our democratic dispensation, the Chief Justice has not yet weaned himself from the kowtowing and hero-worshiping that defined the bahviour of our so-called elite in the past. As head of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice must be circumspect in his public utterances. He is not a "Kwasi Mensah" from nowhere making some irreverent remarks. The Chief Justice must act remarkably as head of the Judiciary, to further democratic governance.
In addressing the law students at Legon, he ought to have rather, encouraged them to be advocates of free speech and for justice; in the sense that democracy without law is dictatorship. By using his speech to the law students as a means to ‘ordering' people to essentially stop speaking their minds, the CJ has done greater injustice to the future lawyers. I hope the law students and all Ghanaians treat the CJ's comments with the utter contempt that they so deserve.
Ghanaians are enjoying the democracy dividend, and for the head of the Judicial branch of government to seek to muzzle debate is unbecoming. There was Dr. Atta Mills freely holding a Press Conference in Accra, the other day. That is an improvement over the regime that Atta Mills helped to rule Ghana in the past. Would the CJ then tell Atta Mills to stop criticizing the president?
I do not begrudge the Chief Justice his right to speak without let or hindrance. Nor would I deny his right to belong to a political party. Notwithstanding, as the Chief Justice of the realm, his words carry a lot of weight. And, in a democratic system when the Chief Justice seeks to reduce himself to a presidential cheerleader, it imperils democracy. Furthermore, certain pronouncements such as the ones that he delivered at Legion may give rise to a suspicion of a lack of judicial independence, a development that cannot be encouraged in our current political system.
When the CJ plays second fiddle to the president in a most obsequious manner, he damages not only the institution he heads, but Ghana as a whole. Democracy is a difficult proposition to operate, especially given our checkered political history; and our tendency to see leaders as BOSSES. By seeking to intimidate witnesses, the Chief Justice undermines free speech, and encourages sycophancy. That, Ghanaians will not accept.!!
Stop shooting your mouth, Mr. CJ. A new day has dawned on Ghana. Either you accept it, or you quit!
The CJ puts his foot in his mouth in another respect regarding his statement, "There is the need for the elders in every house to train young persons to be disciplined, and all employers in the various establishments should bring the codes of discipline to the attention of their workers and enforce them."
Please Mr. CJ, don't blame our elders, whom I assume you are a part of. The elders have done their share. What is promoting indiscipline in Ghana is largely that you preside over a corrupt and bankrupt legal outfit. The phrase 'Justice delayed, is Justice denied', has become a modus operandi of your agency. What Ghanaians need is quick, effective trial of criminals, to serve as an example to the criminals amongst us. Because people have lost faith in the system under your command, they resort to other means in seeking redress, or simply defy the laws altogether. This has bred the corruption that you seek to blame on the 'elders'.
If you could yet spend your time in addressing the needs of the Judiciary, and stop sticking your fingers into other issues which are irrelevant to your office, Ghana would be better served.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi