Presidential debates and sector experts (1)

Thu, 27 Oct 2016 Source: Hon. Daniel Dugan

Some years ago, the nation adopted presidential debates as preludes to General Elections, and the activity has come to stay.

However, it seems that apart from the 2012 debates, the key front runners never came together to slug it out.

The debate took a more informal approach, where each candidate took the opportunity to comment on, or respond to the opponent’s statements at political rallies. The ineffectiveness of this debate is that the any verbal attack has no immediate rebuttal.

Many saw presidential debates as a platform to have all, or most of the candidates together, responding to simple questions put to them about affairs of the nation.

It happens in the USA, and apart from being a crowd-pulling activity, some candidates who responded well and seem to be on top of issues, convinced the electorate that they could deliver, and they never disappointed – JFK and Ronald Reagan are classic examples. But America is different, because it is a country where all systems have the freedom to work, without any political pressure or hindrances.

When we adopted the presidential debates, we had the success of the American system in mind. However, we forgot to analyse our situation here before we started doing anything Yankee.

Let us begin with minor ones. First, we may suspect that the host is leaning towards a certain political party, and so will never be fair to our candidate. Even the impartiality of the body organising the event may come under suspicion.

Then we suspect that procedures adopted could damage our candidate’s chances, just like the 2016 presidential debates, which were botched, because of this story or the other about the organisers not following due process.

Political gurus in the various parties are very particular about these debates, and even if their candidate is willing to go, they could say no, because they have seen something in the soup.

To me, the relevance of presidential debates is lost on the people, who have never had the true picture of affairs of governance. We have our independence as a nation, but yet to have the independence of stakeholders and experts in affairs of the nation.

Here comes the serious issue, and I am especially referring to the professional bodies, artisan groups, unions etc., etc. In every political party, we have the medical practitioners, economists, bankers, lawyers, teachers, artisans, those in the transportation sector, and traders, to mention a few. Each and every one of these has sufficient experience in his or her field to know what is wrong, and what can be done to get it right. But the problem here is that even if they say things, as it is within the party meetings, they all end up wearing rose coloured glasses, tinted with the colours of their party, and, in the end, the ordinary Ghanaian does not know who is telling the truth.

Strangely, how come, with long years of studies, and much longer years of work experience, the economists in the parties will never agree on the true state of the economy? Dr. Bawumia of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) has also been outspoken on economic and governance issues, and has always been lambasted by economists of the ruling party, as being an economic mercenary, or simply put, a novice in that field. A novice? But that could be below the belt, for, on some occasions, some of the very things he was attacked on by political opponents, were endorsed by world economic power institutions like the Brentwoods (IMF and IBRD). And one can imagine that Bawumia and Seth Tekper and all top economists in the country studied the same subjects, and which had the same syllabus.

It is this partisan approach by the sector experts which is creating confusion in the minds of the ordinary Ghanaian, and, to me, had taken away the relevance of presidential debates. Americans know how their nation is faring, and they are told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, by the experts, who, generally, will agree or lean towards the same position on issues. This enlightens the ordinary American who can be told by top economists in his party, which is the ruling party, that things are not going well, when, indeed, they are not going well. With such an informed mind, the electorate appreciates the outcome of a presidential debate, and when even his candidate slips on a question, he immediately assesses his competence.

Here in Ghana, we are made to understand that all is well, when, indeed, all is not, or made to understand that things are not going on well, when, indeed, things have vastly improved and getting better by the day.

Just like die-hard supporters of Kotoko and Hearts, each group comes out openly to proclaim how useless a team the other is, and even rate it below the bottom clubs of a lower division. But, seriously, down in their hearts, they have deep respect for the other team.

So, in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) believes that the NPP are useless managers of the economy, while the NPP view the NDC as lower primary school dropouts, who have been given quadratic equations to solve, as far as governance is concerned. And, yet, in both parties, we have the experts who can agree on the truth of the matter on hand, because of their training and long years of practice.

So, instead of Ghanaians being truly informed by these sector experts like the professional bodies, we have incorrigible dyed-in-the-wool politicians, who go about talking for and on behalf of the experts on issues they themselves do not understand.

Yes, the firebrands, the loud-mouths, and the whispering campaigners go about doing what they believe will enhance the chances of the parties, but certainly not that of the nation.

Just check, after a political communicator attacks one policy or the other of the opponents, attempt getting them down and ask valid questions, and they will surely chicken out.

Columnist: Hon. Daniel Dugan