By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
November 19, 2010
Our national politics is still hampered by certain factors which, ironically, work to the advantage of our politicians. Thus, while their greed and self-seeking instincts grow exponentially, the people who put them in power continue to wallow in disease, poverty, and want. The time has come for us to lift our national politics a notch higher than the case has been all these years, especially since the beginning of the 4th Republic. The loopholes that prop up these politicians must be sealed if we are to tame them.
The voting pattern indicates that the NDC and the NPP feel confident that they have strongholds that will give them the political leverage they need, no matter what happens. While those in the NDC regard the Volta Region as their “World Bank” of votes, others in the NPP are satisfied that votes from the electoral areas in the Ashanti and Eastern Regions will always remain theirs for the picking. With this mentality when in power, the two parties feel hardly perturbed even when voters in those parts of the country complain against living conditions. After all, they know how to do damage control and will certainly go for the cheapest means—playing the ethnic card, especially—to win favour.
Knowing very well that the swing of the electoral pendulum in the remaining regions is unpredictable, they concentrate their campaign efforts there, hoping to lure the electorate their way with inducements such as promises to initiate development projects there, to offer jobs to citizens hailing from there, and through outright bribery. We’ve had glaring instances already (bribing and corrupting the electorate with bicycles, bags of rice, lanterns, corn mills, and what-have-you) and shouldn’t be surprised that the same approach will be used in future elections to get the nod from them. Unwitting and desperate, these voters become easy preys and, once these politicians settle down in power, they do things with impunity. This kind of politicking is dangerous and must be discouraged.
I will make some bold propositions which, if adopted, should help us clean up the political stables and tame our errant politicians. We must not continue to allow them to take us for a ride just because they know that for as long as the military doesn’t destabilize the current political arrangements, the status quo will function to their advantage. They have over the years found adroit means to massage the feelings of the electorate and to hold them captive just because of the false claims that their political parties have so-called strongholds that will deliver the electoral wherewithal to them.
We must adopt new approaches that should not only jolt these politicians but also send strong signals to them that we are intelligent and determined enough to call the tune. After all, real political power resides with the electorate and must be exercised as such. Here is what I propose:
1. DE-PERSONALIZING OUR POLITICS
In choosing our leaders, we must de-personalize our national and local politics to concentrate on cogent issues as the only viable yardstick. For that matter, the focus shouldn’t be on the mere personality of the particular individual who stands the elections but on the development-oriented agenda that such a candidate presents. I have in mind the need to go beyond petty considerations verging on the candidate’s ethnicity, physical features, or accomplishments based on transient items such as wealth. These considerations have beclouded our thoughts for far too long and beguiled us into voting for wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing who enter political office only to plough the entire field for personal gains.
The spate of greed and wanton expropriation of state property (lands, bungalows, movable property, public funds, business ventures such as the State-owned Enterprises, etc.) that has characterized the administrations that we’ve had since the beginning of this 4th Republic is a clear evidence of the extent to which our politicians can take their nauseating waywardness. Even when action is being initiated against the culprits, their supporters do acts to create mayhem, all because they feel attached to such characters by virtue of political persuasions. Let’s not give these politicians any blank cheque.
2. SHIFTING POLITICAL ALLEGIANCES
Let’s destroy the mentality of so-called strongholds for these parties. We must adopt what I will call “shifting political allegiances” and eliminate this madness of wholesale and entrenched positions for or against the political parties. What I have in mind is the situation where no particular electoral zone will doggedly remain and be designated as the safe haven for any political party, regardless of its performance (whether in government or opposition). If the electorate shift their political allegiance from one electioneering period to the other at will, it will definitely alarm the politicians and reduce to absurdity any tendency on their part to claim monopoly over votes even before the elections are held.
The electorate’s political power must not remain pegged on one political party to create the impression of a herd mentality in national politics. I am confident that such a move will help us reinvent our political inclinations and give the electorate the REAL power they need to control the ebb and flow of national politics. I challenge the electorate in the Volta Region (NDC’s bastion) and the Ashanti/Eastern Regions (the NPP’s trusted backers) to make the move, which should give a new direction to our politics.
RATIONALE BEHIND MY PROPOSITIONS
From what I have observed since the beginning of this 4th Republic, I am convinced that there is no difference between how the NDC wants to develop the country and what the NPP has up its sleeves. Both parties have made development projects the peg on which to hang their political agenda while counting on the traditional sources of revenue to deliver the elusive wherewithal. Dotting the country’s landscape with development projects has its advantages, but it doesn’t end the dire circumstances in which the people live. As the NPP functionaries told Rawlings in the period preceding the 2000 elections, “If we have good roads and schools but are hungry, how can we use them”? In other words, a hungry people will not eat development projects. Under Kufuor, the situation didn’t change, nor is it doing so under Atta Mills. Yet, both the NDC and NPP still claim to have strongholds.
Under Rawlings, the government’s policies failed to solve the problems that shackled the people and made it difficult for them to live in decency. Under Kufuor, complaints about the unbearable economic hardships were rife. Now, under Atta Mills, discontent is sky-high. The reality is that neither the NDC nor the NPP can claim to have the key to unlock the door. Unfortunately, the other political parties cannot find favour with the electorate because they lack vision. Even at the touchline, they don’t have any better policy directives to recommend them to the electorate.
A careful assessment of how the Rawlings NDC 1 government went about implementing policies, how the NPP’s Kufuor government did so, and what the Atta Mills NDC 2 government has been doing it since January 2009 leaves no doubt in my mind that these two political camps share common strategies for national development despite the loud-mouthed condemnation of each other by their functionaries. Differences in names given to these policies don’t really matter to me. The fact is that despite their different political colorations, these policies remain what they are—sterile!
Whether it is in the economic sector or the social one, nothing seems to change for the better. In government, both the NDC and NPP can’t do anything on their own without leaning on the international donor community or imposing high tariffs on local importers and the helpless consumers. They haven’t been able to lift Ghana off the ground; the country is still contracting foreign loans as the impetus for development, regardless of the adverse effects. Indebtedness to the international donor community is alarming while local industries can’t operate as expected because they either lack funds or have no markets for their products. This situation is terrible—increasing unemployment, excruciating poverty, high crime wave, and loss of hope among the people.
As if that’s not enough a dreary situation to horrify the people, there is a high degree of lethargy and insensitivity on the part of the government toward the plight of the people. A government that seeks the welfare of the people it rules will listen to their complaints and implement policies to alleviate their plight. It will not insist on implementing policies that are obviously unpopular. But our governments haven’t listened to the voice of the people. They will do so for as long as they can count on their strongholds to prop them up. Why continue to support a party that has obviously failed to solve the country’s problems? In this consideration, patriotism takes the back seat.
If the immediate concerns of the people are not tackled, discontent will continue to build up and deepen enmity across the political divides. When there is tension in the country, drawn along rival political lines, the people will be thrown into a panic mode as we are beginning to witness in the mass rape scare-mongering and increased acts of insecurity all over the country. In this circumstance, governance will be difficult and spur-of-the-moment actions to be taken by the authorities will not solve the numerous problems that the people are complaining about. Gradually, the government will be hamstrung and risk being kicked out for a new one that will not change anything because it has nothing new with which to bring about the much-anticipated relief.
In the 2011 budget statement just delivered by the Finance Minister, for instance, it is clear that the government’s intention to raise taxes and introduce new ones will worsen the already deplorable economic situation. Certainly, this budget has many contentious issues that we are yet to know in full. Some dissenting voices have already been heard, indicating that the government hasn’t done its homework well to know how to solve the country’s economic problems without imposing additional hardships on the people.
Obviously, there should be better ways to raise revenue from taxes than increasing the tax levels or forcing companies to pay their taxes in a shorter period than originally instituted. But as usual, officialdom will turn a deaf ear to such dissensions and go ahead to enforce these draconian measures. Then, long after the harm has been done, it will seek some subtle means to back down as a face-saving move. While all this shoddiness goes on, voters continue to be deceived to cling on to the idea of a party’s stronghold or the individual politician’s ethnic origin in preparation for election time. This approach to national politics is anachronistic and must be discarded.
We must instill fear in our politicians through decisive actions. We should give them a rude awakening. The electorate must face up to these politicians and dismantle their so-called electoral bastions to deny them predetermined or ready-made votes. Electoral success must not be won on account of the politicians’ individual personal attributes, ethnic allegiance, or buying of the electorate’s conscience. The electorate need to educate themselves on how to separate the sheep from the wolves at election time and must not continue to give the politicians the leeway that they have abused all these years. Let us work together to tame our politicians. Only then will our politics mature.