Confronting Ghana’s Main Problems: Demystifying Government - Part II

Sat, 12 Dec 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

December 8, 2009

The failure of our governments to make themselves transparent and accountable to the citizens has turned us into Chinua Achebe’s okeke, the bird which says that for as long as the hunters has learnt to shoot without missing, it has also learnt to fly without perching. For as long as our governments think that they are accountable to no one but themselves, so will we take them to task. Under our 4th Republic, the pressure to force government to be transparent must be intensified until it caves in to public demands for openness in the handling of matters of state.

Our politicians in government benefit from the smokescreen covering “government” and are at pains to support any move to demystify that very institution. They are apprehensive that when government becomes “plain,” they will have no safe haven from which to continue exploiting the system. They turn away from any move that seeks to level the playing field and laugh themselves hoarse when such moves fail.

The question nagging some of us is this: How long must it take for the Freedom of Information Bill to be formulated and placed before Parliament for debate, approval, and forwarding to the President for ratification? We heard long ago that the Attorney-General’s office was at an advanced stage in getting this bill across to Cabinet and Parliament. But that’s all the government officials think we need to know.

Action on this bill is moving at a snail’s pace because the very people who claim to be spearheading efforts to enact this bill are scared stiff of the consequences of such a bill to their political and economic interests. If they work expeditiously on such a bill, it will come into effect and expose them to scrutiny, which they detest furiously. Such is the sorry state of affairs in officialdom. After all, the old wine bottle is resistant to change. But we must not allow the situation to remain so.

3. The powers of the President are too sweeping and must be trimmed. For instance, in determining the size of government, there isn’t any clear limit to the number of appointees to Ministerial or Deputy Ministerial positions. Our governments have been over-bloated and overhead expenditure on government functionaries inflated beyond endurance. The President must be restricted in the matter concerning re-designation or creation of new Ministries and portfolios. For instance, what has happened over the past 50 years in the country is not appropriate.

Kufuor expanded the portfolio after pledging not to do so, having already criticized Rawlings’ government on that score. He scrapped some Ministries, re-designated several of them, and created his own brand, three ridiculous ones being the Ministry for the Beautification of the National Capital (Accra); Ports and Harbours and Aviation despite the existing Ministry of Transportation. All these new positions were being created in addition to the opening up of the Ministries to Special Assistants and Spokesmen of all designations. This job-for-the-boys syndrome must be curtailed and the President’s powers in that sense restricted.

This is where Parliament must step in to take up that responsibility of passing laws to specify the number of Ministries and control their wanton dissolution or re-designation at the quirky swing of the political pendulum. There is need for consistency in the lives of the institutions that support our democracy. No President should change the situation for political expediency.

Again, because the powers of the President are too wide, some of the decisions and actions that grate the public are taken with impunity. Some of the decisions and actions infringe democratic principles, including checks and balances, which we must not continue to tolerate. Consider, for instance, Kufuor’s exercise of his Prerogative of Mercy in the twilight of his 8-year rule when he pardoned over 500 prisoners and stopped the prosecution of Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings and all others being tried in connection with the improprieties surrounding the acquisition of the Nsawam Cannery (the Caribdem case).

In stopping the prosecution, Kufuor obviously trampled on the purview of the judiciary, which indicated that he acted ultra vires; but the judiciary couldn’t criticize him. It cowered for fear that someone there might lose his or her position on the Bench. The Chief Justice couldn’t defend the judiciary and maintain its authority to determine otherwise because just like all other appointees, she was at post at the behest of the appointing authority (the very President then endangering the independence of the judiciary). This unlimited exercise of Presidential powers doesn’t bode well for our democracy; it is overriding and dangerous and must be trimmed to manageable limits.

4. We demand a rigorous rejuvenation of the entire justice delivery system, which calls for drastic action to overhaul the Judiciary and to make it more efficient. The current one is highly politicized and cannot serve national interests. The Chief Justice and all those on the Bench on the lower rungs of the ladder have big questions to answer in terms of their public image and rating. Public perceptions concerning corruption in the Judiciary are real, not contrived or mischievous. Those who have lost confidence in the Judiciary have a good cause to question issues. Such a judicial system cannot contribute anything reliable to national rebuilding.

5. We demand a vigorous effort to transform the Police Service into a more public-friendly institution than what it has been all these years. It calls for the streamlining of all measures, including recruitment and training of personnel, logistics, and functions of personnel. The Police institution itself has a poor public image and it must be rebranded. The IGP appears to be presiding over a rotten institution and must be supported to effect drastic changes that will clean the system. This issue concerning the police deserves its own article, which I am working on.

6. Parliament must consider amending the Local Government Act to allow for the election of all functionaries in the administrative set-up (Regional Ministers, Chief Executive Officers of Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies to make them more responsible and accountable to the people. As currently operated, this system of local governance lacks the punch that should make these functionaries responsible and contingent on local conditions. If they know that their positions are electable/elective, they will know how to behave in office.

As one contributor to Ghanaweb has put it, positions in the institutions that are instrumental to functional local development must be contested through local-level elections. This will bring substance to the office, with the elected officials knowing they have to perform in order to stay in office. We need to reform our political system to facilitate the local people’s involvement in development at the base of the democratic structure. The US does so and its local-level democracy thrives on such measures.

Demystifying government calls for streamlining the manner in which government institutions and functionaries go about their functions. There is need for a complete overhaul of the system to ensure that the institutions of state perform creditably to win public confidence. We cannot make any progress if the institutions still function in ways that conflict with our democratic aspirations. Visibility is an important ingredient in a successful democratic experiment.

We must accept it. I shall return.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.