Confronting Ghana's Main Problems: Demystifying Government

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part I

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

December 8, 2009

The return of the NDC to power has opened new windows of opportunity for us to deepen our democratic culture. Under the Kufuor government, we had some issues (mostly controversial in terms of political developments) to contend with. Happenings within the first 11 months of President Mills’ rule have given us a different angle from which to view governance. Some of the notable happenings are:

• There is massive lashing of the Presidency by the very party which put it in power without any punitive action being taken through intimidation or the use of the security services to brutalize the malcontents. Freedom of speech is indeed flourishing.

• The government is losing legal cases left-and-right at the courts without doing or saying anything to threaten or undermine the judiciary. So far, no official utterance or action has undermined the judiciary.

• The private media that were hostile to the NDC under the Kufuor government are still engaged in their sinister reportage without anybody being endangered.

• The near chaotic manner in which the NDC’s followers began doing wanton acts (forcibly taking over public toilets and lorry parks as job openings for them) and the speedy condemnation from leaders of the various political parties and civil organizations is noteworthy in this political dispensation. Tension at the level of inter-party rivalry is on the decline.

These and many more are developments that feed the public discourse on our democratic experiment in this 4th Republic and how we should stabilize the system to make progress in future. In spite of these seemingly encouraging happenings, there is still lack of transparency in governance, which gives cause for concern. Government business is still shrouded in a cloak of secrecy, which keeps the electorate out of the game. Government must be demystified. Demystifying and making government accountable to the people, not to itself or the political party that paved the way for it to be in power, is a must. Because the government sees itself as forbidding, every government leader bandies about the idea of transparency while hiding behind that smokescreen to make government more mysterious than expected. Here is the latest public show of this rhetoric:

“The Mills Administration is committed to nothing but investing in our people, expanding infrastructure, building a strong and resilient economy, and most importantly, operating in an open, honest, and transparent manner especially when it comes to the use of state resources,” the President said in an interaction with members of the Ghanaian community in Trinidad and Tobago after attending the Commonwealth Conference there (November 27–29). High-sounding official declaration of intent! If any words have played any role at all in the rhetoric of Ghanaian politics over the past 30 years, none have done so more than “probity,” “accountability,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” But what exactly have these words pointed us to? That our governments have been transparent enough to endear themselves to the hearts of Ghanaians? Or that Ghanaians don’t have any good cause to complain about ineptitude and underhand goings-on in government? Far from it. Ghanaians are dissatisfied with the quality of leadership that the various governments have provided; they are unhappy that living conditions are worsening while the politicians live comfortable and extravagant lives at their expense; and they are determined to ensure that the national cake is shared equally for every citizen’s enjoyment. Ghanaians want to ensure that the government responds to their demands, not the other way round. Ghanaians are now more politically savvy and alert than any politician may deceive himself to be aware of. They know how to use the impressions of their thumbs to determine the fate of politicians and will insist on retaining that power. Politicians, beware!! One of the main problems preventing Ghanaians from achieving their aim is that government still remains mystified. Government is really not transparent enough for the people to take control of. This inability to hold the government accountable makes it difficult for the people to ensure that governance serves national interests. The struggle to demystify government must be waged relentlessly until the system is streamlined and government and its functionaries stand visibly exposed in their functions as would a boil on a man’s bald head. That visibility will not allow them to exploit the system for personal gains.

When the people know what government does and how it does so, they will be inclined to support efforts by the government to implement policies that might be considered as harsh but essential for the economic turn-around. Improving living conditions is a major provision in the social contract that the periodic general elections bring forth. Otherwise, when the electorate feel left out of the equation, they will either become apathetic or do things to undermine the government, thereby, endangering our democracy. We don’t want our democracy to be endangered. Therefore, the government must be demystified. There are several ways to do so, which I will touch on soon.

It is not the façade of a government that is the problem. It is the goings-on in government that are hidden from the people. That is where the problem lies because if the people are not privy to the goings-on, they will not know the true state of affairs. The mystery surrounding government must be unveiled. Government must stand naked before the people so that they can see things clearly. If the government functionaries have nothing to hide, why shouldn’t they support efforts to make government transparent?

Ghanaians must do all they can to ensure that the government does their bidding. Government business is shrouded in a mystery that must no more be tolerated. This myth surrounding “government” must be broken. For far too long, we have allowed our governments to function with absolute impunity instead of pulling the brakes on them, especially in circumstances when the government’s conduct has not served the interests of the people.

In our democratic experiment, we must put pressure on the government for it to dance to the tune that we (the tax-payers who support it) call. Positive Action is a good tool to use to make the government accountable to the people. I am not advocating anarchy. My task is simple: to sound the alarm bell that unless we make moves to demystify government, the situation will not change for the better. How do we fight this cause? Not by remaining unconcerned about goings-on in government but to use all available peaceful and democratic means to put the government on its mettle. We must not wait till election time to make our anger felt. The harm would have been done before then. We must pull all the strings available, including vigilant monitoring of every move by the government and its functionaries and to resort to lawful acts of resistance if need be. We must redirect the government toward doing what will serve our purposes, not the parochial interests of those roaming the corridors of power.

To begin with, we need to know that our apathy toward happenings appears to be emboldening government functionaries. We must insist to be served, not to serve the very people that our votes have placed in power. Here are some of the issues that must be tackled without any further delay:

1. We want to know the salaries of the President, Vice President, Speaker of Parliament, Chief Justice, MPs, and Ministers of State and their Deputies. In other words, we want to know how much every high-ranking member of the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary is paid a month. Then, how much the CEOs of Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies earn should be known. The salaries of these public officials shouldn’t be kept secret from us because they are taken from the Consolidated Fund that our taxes feed. We must be told how much they are paid so that we can monitor how our tax money is spent on those directly operating the democratic machinery.

2. We demand transparency in government business. We want to know the strength of the Civil Service establishment at the seat of government. Then, we should be told how much each political appointee operating within that structure is paid. The job definitions must also be stated so that the public will get to know who is doing what for what pay!

In the United States, the government has made no secret of such an issue. The White House released a document detailing the various appointees of the bureaucracy and their salary levels. Here is a link to that information: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/opinions/graphics/2008stafflistsalary.html Other measures to be taken in holding the government accountable to the people are in the next segment of my article.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.