Does the Mills-Mahama Government Deserve a Second Term?

Mon, 5 Sep 2011 Source: Ohemeng, Frank Yaw

President Mills is reported to have said at an anniversary of the EP Church in the Volta region that he would hand over a peaceful Ghana in January 2017. People have interpreted that to mean that either he is taking the electorate for granted or that he has sinister motives to rig the 2012 elections. These views are rather off the mark and the statement ought to be seen as part of the usual political talk. Whiles the President might wish that he continues in office beyond January 2013, that is not within his gift to give. In any event, this would be determined by the degree to which the President and his government have been able to meet the expectations and aspirations of the people of Ghana and whether the election itself would be free and fair. We have come a long way in our current democratic dispensation (despite some challenges that still prevail) not to believe that the 2012 election would be anything other than free and fair.

Given this introduction: does the current administration indeed deserve a second four-year term? This question can be answered in terms of a number of ‘soft’ factors that may not be tangible, but when ignored, tend to obscure all that a government is trying to achieve. These are the ‘hygiene’ factors that fuel the perception of a successful presidency.

The first factor is the President’s ability to offer leadership to the nation, and in the wider sense, in African affairs. The perception is out there that President Mills is not in charge and there have been several instances where this appears so. This view is even held by his predecessor in the NDC: former President Rawlings. Evidence also abounds in the President’s inability to reign in his own appointees who have on several occasions exhibited behaviours unbecoming of public officials paid from the national purse. Also glaringly obvious is the President’s inability or unwillingness to join any national debate. His government has signed ‘big number’ loan agreements over a very relatively short time in office. The sustainability of these loans is a debate to be had on another day but for the President to appear to be sitting on the sidelines whilst the nation boils with debate on these is not a sign of leadership. The President should be leading the charge in making the case for what these loans will mean for the transformation of Ghana and improvement in the life of the Ghanaian.

Due to its illustrious history, Ghana has since independence been at the forefront of African affairs. Since the formation of the OAU and now the AU, Ghana has always been tall on the continent and for that matter on the international scene. It is in this context that the role of President Mills in the resolution of the two main crises that have faced Africa during his tenure has been largely disappointing. His ‘dzi wo fie asem’ foreign policy during the Ivorian crisis seriously undermined the collective position adopted by the AU. This contributed in no small way to the protraction of the crisis. For a time after his statement, the AU was paralysed and the international community did not know what to expect from Africa. In a rather bizarre way, after the crisis had been resolved through the military means he abhorred some people sought to give him credit by shamefacedly spinning diplomatic utterances by the UN Secretary General during his brief stopover in Accra as evidence of President Mills’ good leadership in African affairs. The silence of the AU has been deafening in the ongoing Libyan crisis where a foreign military alliance has become kingmaker in Africa. This has offered President Mills another opportunity to show leadership in African affairs but true to form he has dithered. He is reported to have said in South Africa that Ghana would not make any statement on Libya but preferred to wait. What formula is at play here? He is once again waiting for the inevitable military victory of the NATO-backed rebels before siding with the victor. The fact that NATO has abused a UN resolution to topple the government of a sovereign African country does not worry him much. On his return from South Africa, instead of making history himself, he preferred basking in the glory of Dr Kwame Nkrumah when he met the Press at the Kotoka International Airport.

The NDC came into power with the mantra of “A Better Ghana Agenda”. So whether they are contracting mega loans or commissioning projects (that some say were commenced by their predecessors) they all form part of this agenda. But what exactly does this mantra mean in real and tangible terms? We have been waiting for thirty-two months for President Mills to articulate his vision in line with this mantra. During this period the President has not delivered a single high-billed policy speech where he has presented a vision that would offer Ghanaians some sense of what the country would be like after his presidency. President Mills has had a number of high profile occasions, including two independent day celebrations and two state-of-the-nation addresses, during which he could have indicated the direction in which he wants to take the country. These opportunities were squandered with partisan speeches designed to irk rather than unite Ghana around a common aspiration.

The writer once sent an email to Joy FM’s Newsfile program to ask the Communications Minister (Haruna Iddrisu), who was a panellist, about what integrated policies the government had presented since coming into office. He was directed to the government’s web portal, to a document titled: “The Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Development Policies, 2010 – 2016: An Agenda for Shared Growth and Accelerated Development for a Better Ghana”. Those who put together that document must be commended and it is a recommended read to all Ghanaians. The document is honest and comprehensive and gives a vivid account of the problems confronting the country and the development challenges we face. It also presents the records of past governments, which are not as abysmal as they are made to look by NDC hacks. When it comes to tangible policies to be pursued by the current government to tackle some of these challenges, the offering is, however, quite tame and not detailed. They are largely the same grand wish list to be found in the NDC manifesto.

One problem with governments of all shades is their aversion to being honest with their own people. Ghana, with all the natural resource endowments and consequent exports, still relies on multi-donor partners to finance part of its annual budget (at times up to 40%). If for a particular year the donors fail to finance to the level assumed in the budget, we either experience higher budget deficits or we fail to realise some of the budget provisions. Our fourth republican governments have, however, been afraid to trust Ghanaians with this reality as a means of managing expectations. They rather campaign for power by making promises they know darn well they cannot keep. Hence after the gullible electorate has voted them into power they begin to dress ‘sheep’ up as ‘cows’ in the Baba Jamal exhortation mode. The Mills-Mahama government is perhaps guiltier on this count than any other we have had in recent times. We are experiencing the situation where government appointees and party spokespersons are always in overdrive mode to elevate this President to such a height that they have to exaggerate the little things that are happening on the ground. A Deputy Minister even claimed that the President has the ear of God to the extent that he could pray for flood waters to recede instantly. In keeping with this the government has had to announce projects and the President has had to cut sods for projects that have barely passed the feasibility stages. These include the ill-fated STX housing project and the two proposed public universities in the Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions.

The election that brought Professor Mills into power was for all intents and purposes a dead heat between him and Nana Akufo Addo. In more matured democracies it would have taken a lot of tact and negotiating skills to get anything done because the cooperation of the opposition parties and their supporters would be required to make any significant impact. This reality has not dawned on Professor Mills. Their actions in government have resulted in a highly-polarised country with no common purpose. It is an undeniable fact that the Mills-Mahama era has been characterised by political intolerance and increased partisanship. Part of this is the making of the President who called on his appointees to make way for NDC supporters and indicated during his interaction with the Press that he could not work with anyone who do not share in his political convictions. It is this irrational partisanship that has culminated, in the last few days, in the unceremonious sacking of Professor Frimpong Boateng, one of the few Ghanaians who can genuinely be described as having selflessly served his country.

Another development that is fast gaining ground with the Mills-Mahama administration, which could have long-term adverse consequences for the country, is the conscious and often deliberate attempt to politicise state institutions. This administration has the penchant to draw the security agencies, which should be neutral, into political debates. It has not stopped there but we have seen chiefs being used to mount pressure on opposition MPs not to carry out its function as mandated by the Constitution. Whilst the government actively courts these ‘endorsements’ their operatives brand any critical voice or any institution that would not do its bidding as belonging to the NPP. This tag has been given to the Judiciary, Trade Union groups, Chiefs and even Headmasters complaining about lack of facilities in their schools.

The Mills-Mahama administration has shown by some of its actions and public utterances that they can be petty at times. One expects a government that means well to show seriousness of purpose. President Mills has never lost the opportunity to remind all about “other peoples” debts referring to loans contracted by the NPP administration. The insincerity of it is that the first time he made this reference, he then went on to drive on “other peoples” road to “other peoples” refurbished Peduase Lodge to meet religious leaders. With this oft repeated criticism of its predecessor one would have thought that the Mills-Mahama government will shun loans; however they are the ones who have made contracting loans the first recourse and are contracting mega ones that they hope to bequeath to future governments. The explanation now is that Ghana has the space to do so, whatever that means. The Constitution, in Article 35(7), encourages governments of the country to continue and execute projects commenced by their predecessor governments. This is why it is baffling that a President who has sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution would say at Obuasi on his recent tour of the Ashanti Region that his major preoccupation was to complete projects he has initiated and not those started by others. This was a most unfortunate statement. You do not build a united Ghana, a developing nation that needs all its resources, on such a petty basis.

The reader might by now have guessed the answer to the question asked at the head of the article. The Mills-Mahama government has so far shown that it is not deserving of a second term. The President has not shown leadership in a lot of areas that affect our national life nor has he presented a vision that Ghanaians can rally around. The government believes more in spin than performance. They have created a divided country and infected state institutions, which should be insulated, with partisan politics. They simply have no plans to move Ghana forward in an inclusive manner. Perhaps the following apt quotation speaks volumes:

“Regrettably, the governance that we have experienced since 2009 does not inspire confidence or give Ghanaians any hope for the future”.

This statement is attributed to Mrs. Rawlings (Daily Graphic, 06 May 2011) when she launched her unsuccessful bid to be the NDC Presidential Candidate. If the wife of the NDC founder can say this, it is clear the Mills-Mahama government has its work cut out in trying to get re-elected. We shall know after December 2012 if they have managed to beat the odds.

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Manchester, UK

Columnist: Ohemeng, Frank Yaw