Opinions Thu, 14 Mar 2013

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Ghana: Beyond “Free, Regular and Credible Elections”

It is highly commendable that Ghana’s 1992 Constitution has fostered the country through twenty plus years of multi-party electoral elections that have won international praise. Even the latest one that appears to have had some relative hiccups is being subjected to processes as laid out by the Constitution and going through tests of the structures put in place by Ghana’s electoral procedures. It is still the longest streak of governance via the ballot box that the country has enjoyed since it gained independence from colonial rule some 56 years ago. Ghana took off in the late fifties and early sixties with growth and development that was the envy of nations in Africa and beyond. Based on its laid out legislative blueprint of building on freedom and justice, it soon began providing experts to other African nations out of the realization that its long-term growth and development extends beyond its geographic borders. Ghanaian Judges and constitutional experts have designed the early forms of governance in many African nations and Ghana did provide material and financial support for nation building elsewhere.

Yet, Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, however well intentioned, cannot be exempted from the current state of inertia, polarization, stunted national development, lack of common direction and the apparent national unease the country feels. Ghana is often described as having a lot of promise but, as a Dutch visiting official recently commented, the country appears to be losing ownership of its rich resources, both human and material, as it goes through this period of international interests and global challenges. Today, it is difficult to find 10 top Ghanaian entrepreneurs whose wealth derives from activity in the Ghanaian economy’s productive sector. The rich folks are either in politics or the service sector and the gap between the rich and the poor has gotten wider and unemployment is in double digits and rising. This cannot be the promise of constitutional democracy.

A study of the country’s current Constitution reveals several bottlenecks and contradictions that constrain sustainable national development for its people. These have given rise to criticism and claims by many concerned people that the constitution must be re-written so as to avoid a series of after-thoughts. Similar complaints have been made against the appropriateness of the indemnity clause in the Constitution which, according to experts, must be expunged. Dr. Nii Otu Quaye, a constitutional specialist also added his voice, calling for the removal or, at least, a substantial modification of the clause.

The current Constitution, both in intent and spirit, ends up creating a "legalized dictatorship" with the creation of an all-dominating President to whom all supposed "checks and balances" are subservient. Almost all the operative institutions of national governance are to the discretion and appointment of the President. The real accountability for the President is only at election time that happens once in four years, at which time he or she can use the power of incumbency to ‘entrench’ himself for another term.

The Constitution makes the President or the Executive branch the de-facto law making body for the country as in the example of former President Kufuor's Commission for the Determination of End of Service Benefits. Ghana's Parliament in real governance operation is rendered a toothless bulldog, with the President's majority party mandated to siphon off the "cream of the parliament" as stated in the constitution, 78 (1), which says the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament. Since the majority of his cabinet come from the elected parliamentarians, it dilutes the effectiveness of the "checks and balances" function of the Parliament. This effectively transfers legislative authority to the President and his cabinet. For example, it is a well-known fact that contracting authority is made very murky under the current constitution. Cases pertaining to international contracts have gone before the Supreme Court and others are making rounds in various high courts.

For a country with measurable development planning history from the 1925’s to Nkrumah’s 7-Year Development Plan, one very confused set up of the Constitution is The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). The NDPC is provided for under Article 86(1-3) which is set up as a tool for the President. Thus, its rise and fall go with the President in power. It is not constituted to have the people's buy in and allegiance and to ensure continuity that would have resided in it being a creation of the people's elected legislative body, backed by a functional and a solid civil service that will have a longer time horizon for national plans and programs.

Power is so much centralized to the extent that, it is largely creating the polarization in political discourse in Ghana and a win of the presidency at all costs, and the means to any semblance of social and economic livelihood is linked to one's closeness to the centre of power. This situation has created so many hero worshipers, foot soldiers, schemers, opportunists and carpetbaggers for myopic personal interests.

The history of governance attests to the fact that political polarization ferments fear and mistrust. This attitude stifles sustainable development. Ghana is not maximizing on its relatively regular electoral voting, and history of development planning. The country has rather fallen way behind its "development classmates in Asia" in maintaining a strong national productive activity. It is sad to note that the “commanding heights” of Ghana's economy today are in the hands of foreigners, turning the country into a mass consumption economy of imported products that used to be produced locally. Ordinary tinned tomatoes, fruit juices, textiles and many others are now imported from abroad.

What, then, are the real gains of our constitutional democracy that we pride ourselves in? What is the state of our Educational standards, Health, Food security, electricity and water supply? Can we rely on the public services in our towns and cities? More than half of our population may hold the symbolic gadgets of modernization, but how long does it take to travel three kilometres within our national capital, and other major cities? A 1991 OECD Study of the Western African Region in 2030, did forecast the intra sub-regional population movements of which Ghana and specifically the Greater Accra area will become a focal point for the sub-region. I wonder how many in government are aware of this study, the predictable signs of which are all over Ghana today but with no concerted efforts in place to maximize on these advantages. Currently, Ghana is going through what one may call growth pains. The path of this growth development will be shaped by the Constitutional blueprint that champions what institutions of state lead and drive this. But the 1992 Constitution only feeds on the goodwill of past foundations in an over- stretched and over-extended country structures and stifled institutions.

The only saving grace for a constitutional dispensation is a strong opposition in the legislature, if there is one. However, the governance structure by the Constitution only weakens the Opposition, so much so that they choose to resort to boycotts of legislative business as in Nkrumah's time. The opposition's continuous boycotts of the legislature in the Nkrumah administration made it easy for the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) to be passed and the country to be turned into a one party state. We pray history does not repeat itself. Every political party is, by design, self-preserving. The only guarantee of national cohesion is by fashioning an inclusive constitution as the supreme blueprint for institutional national governance in a real sense that acts as effective checks on politicians, political parties and the general electorate.

Our 1992 Constitution apparently came out of a similar "governance boycott" and subversive times. It is obvious that the Constitution was designed to protect individuals more than to lift a nation, draw on its rich history and give it wings into the future. Ghanaians are a tolerant people but we do rise up to our challenges to live to the creed of our foundation - Freedom and Justice. We should free ourselves of the delusion that the mere organization of quadrennial electoral voting is an end in itself. The progress of Ghanaians requires a vision of structures and institutions of governance that act in concert to stimulate, drive and offer inclusive opportunities for people to work and harness the fruits of their labour for sustainable happiness. The 1992 Ghana Constitution is fast becoming an instrument of missed opportunities. To maximize on the relative good institutional foundations laid for us in the fifties and sixties that truly have been our main sustainers in these visionless and lack of selfless leadership times, the country must be bold to do a re-work of the 1992 Constitution. It is clear the deliverables for the improvement of living standards of the people are misplaced and short charged.

How do we do this re-write peacefully and fruitfully? Let it be a parliamentary initiated process to prepare and write a new Constitution for Ghana – unlike the mockery of an Amendments Commission of Presidential power. We have the human resources ready to be used. Hey! Kofi Annan and some renowned Ghanaian Judges would love to lead real contributions to their homeland – and many more. Casting aside the atrocities and vengefulness of yesteryears, let us build together now a new Constitution of governance to carry Ghana and its people through the 21st Century that makes our past positively inform our present and future of advancement for Ghana.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu

Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads

Email: stephen.owusu@email.com

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

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