Democracy is not just about development projects!

Sun, 13 May 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, May 11, 2012

A careful assessment of the government’s campaign strategies indicates that President Mills hasn’t learnt any lesson from happenings in this 4th Republic to prepare adequately for Election 2012. It is boasting of infrastructural development and staking its electoral chances on it, which is a huge gamble. The reality is that it takes more than infrastructural development for a government to win the trust and confidence of the electorate and have its mandate renewed or to be voted into office for the first time. The message (as the NPP sought to convey in 2000) is that electoral victory doesn’t depend on development projects alone. In a broader sense, then, governance entails more than an obsession with infrastructure.

There are some people who will not appreciate such projects, no matter how much the government does for their communities. Such people may not necessarily be ungrateful but just concerned that other variables have not been factored into the government’s handling of national affairs. And they are right. Boasts concerning development projects are futile. Such was the case in all the instances that we saw in the 2000 and 2008 elections and are likely to see in this year’s elections unless something happens to change the dynamics of the electioneering campaigns.

In the campaigns preceding the 2000 elections, the Rawlings government prided itself on development projects but couldn’t win the day for Presidential Candidate John Atta Mills. Kufuor also did so before the 2008 elections, but the electorate thought otherwise and went for Mills instead of Akufo-Addo. As the country prepares for Election 2012, the Mills government is using development projects as its trump card while public anger intensifies at its failure to put things together for a brighter future. The message must be clear by now that development projects aren’t the solution to the problems that have kept our country under-developed and catalyzed the brain-drain syndrome or anti-social activities. While public anger mounts because the people can’t make ends meet, the government points to physical structures as evidence of its appropriate use of the people’s mandate and a justification for that mandate to be renewed. Now, one may ask why I am going all this distance as if development projects can’t help improve living standards. I am doing so to prove a point that the persistent public criticism of President Mills’ leadership style and the failures of his government has more weight than the government’s boasts of “unprecedented accomplishments” based on development projects. Such criticisms will influence electoral decisions.

Beyond these development projects, what else has the government done to recommend it for a second term in office?

The people will be impressed if they are given monumental accomplishments other than development projects to assure them that they have a bright future and that their stake in the democratization process is not in vain. The people should be able to point to programmes and policies to that effect which have either drastically transformed the situation in the country or which will demonstrate the government’s ability to break away from the past.

In President Mills’ case, what exactly is there to instill hope in the people that the much-needed break has been made or is being made for the future? We don’t need any divination to determine anything. Evidence confirms that the government hasn’t been able to initiate any concrete policy-driven move to change the situation in the country for the better. It has only presided over what it inherited, satisfied that the status quo ante is unshakeable, and trying vainly to tweak things to its advantage but hardly succeeding. That is where the NPP draws its ammunition to launch the incessant attack on the government. It has seen the loopholes and will proactively hammer on them in its electioneering campaigns, forcing the government to expend time and resources in reaction. Unfortunately, the NPP’s own campaign is predicated on development projects and handouts (e.g., free secondary level education). Hamstrung too? The government shouldn’t allow itself to be pushed to the wall, but that is what it has succeeded in doing so far. In other words, for as long as the opposition can draw public attention to these inadequacies and connect them with the people’s sentiments, trust them to use this vantage to suck the government dry. Take a few examples, based on the social interventionist programmes that it inherited from Kufuor. The NHIS hasn’t been properly managed to ensure its viability. Some loud-mouthed government officials who deceived Ghanaians that there would be a one-time payment of the NHIS premium have found a way to go underground like dysfunctional submarines. The Schools Feeding Programme has virtually ground to a halt. Other programmes have followed suit. What is the cause and why isn’t the government handling these programmes properly? If managing such programmes is so difficult while the government hasn’t been able to introduce anything new for the benefit of the people, what else does it have to justify its demand for retention in office?

The controversy surrounding the performance of the economy is still raging on. While the political opponents are stridently pointing to weaknesses, the government is praising itself for improving the economy. On the ground, the people are complaining against the high cost of living, unemployment, and many others that leave me in no doubt that something is not adding up well for the government. There is concern that almost every sector of national life is collapsing under the watch of President Mills, but he has insisted that he is doing well. We see evidence of failures all over the place and will not be cajoled by any politically correct statement from officialdom. The government has many questions to answer and must prepare for shocking episodes on the electioneering campaign trail.

I am raising these issues not because I am against a second term for President Mills but because they are the very concerns that have eroded public confidence in the government and will threaten its campaigns for a renewal of its mandate. Anybody who misreads my opinion piece will be caught pants down when the time comes.

All the people cannot be wrong. The criticisms are real and the government needs to know how to tackle them if it so chooses to allay public fears, doubts, and suspicions. Those in government who have become so much puffed up with the perks of their offices may allow their self-importance to blind them to such concerns and go about thumping their chests that Election 2012 has already been determined in their favour. I pity them. The unfortunate part is that even when voted out of office, these politicians (especially the President) will continue to live at the expense of the very Ghanaian tax payer whose circumstances they didn’t do much to change while in power. As we are seeing in the case of the end-of-service benefits for Rawlings and Kufuor, so will we see in the case of Atta Mills. The disturbing part is that these leaders were paid monthly salaries and other benefits, which one would expect them to save for their retirement days just as other salaried workers are bound to do. Having cunningly done away with ESB for all the categories of workers but themselves, they end up cushioning themselves until death do them part.

There is too much injustice here. That is why one is very much angry at these leaders who, while in office, don’t do what will improve living conditions for the very people whose tax money they depend on by virtue of being in politics. We can’t all do politics to be able to bite deep into the national cake as they do; but it doesn’t mean that we should be wrongfully dealt with as has been the case all these years.

The kind of democracy that we have chosen to practise must serve the collective good for it to be supported fully by the citizens. What we have seen so far isn’t encouraging in any way because it serves the interests of only those who have access to the corridors of power and know how to manipulate the system to advantage. All the people can’t walk the corridors of power to benefit from the system. A cursory assessment of the situation indicates that the citizens are unhappy that the government isn’t meeting their expectations. One may defend the government to say that it can’t solve all the problems within this short time span. Agreed. But even if it can’t do so, it needs to behave in a manner that will assure the people that it has their interests at heart. It means relating to the people cordially and responding to their queries promptly. And then, taking steps that the people can see to address their concerns. Is that what we see happening? Complaints have emerged to confirm that the government is either apathetic or insensitive to concerns raised by certain individuals, communities, and institutions that have unjustifiably suffered harm in one way or the other. Some have said that correspondence sent to the government detailing instances of impropriety or injustice against them hasn’t been responded to nor has any government official taken up the issues raised in the correspondence. At a higher level, public concern has been rampant that President Mills hasn’t communicated effectively with the public on many occasions that demand a Presidential broadcast as is characteristic of a President who knows how to be in touch with the people. The latest grave situation created by Kennedy Agyapong is cited as a clear instance of the President’s lack of judgement as far as civic engagement is concerned.

Arguments have been raised that President Mills should have addressed the nation to reassure Ghanaians of his government’s determination to ensure that peace and tranquility prevail in the country. Agyapong’s threats offered President Mills a good moment to assert his influence more blatantly than he has been doing; but he failed to capitalize on it, receding to the background and giving his appointees the elbow room to take his shine away from him. He chose to be in the United States instead!! He is too detached from the people and shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences. Does he think that when he begins the routine electioneering campaign tours, he will get the enthusiastic following that he had for the 2008 elections?

More importantly, what will be his major campaign messages? A litany of failed promises or a new list of promises to be fulfilled if retained in office? The people won’t buy anything of the sort, having once been bitten and now twice shy.

Or pointing to what the people already see as development projects but won’t accept as the solution to their existential problems? A hungry people won’t value development projects, as the NPP will have us believe. Indeed, if our politicians were really interested in helping us move this country forward, they would do better than what they’ve done so far and stop bothering us with boasts concerning development projects. But they can’t turn away from development projects because that is the source of their kickbacks. That is why they concentrate attention there and shouldn’t attempt deceiving us. But electoral victory won’t derive from development projects, if they care to know.

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

• Join me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/mjkbokor

• Get a copy of my novel, The Last Laugh (PublishAmerica.com, April 2009)

• Coming out soon: The Story of the Elephant, a novel

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.