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Is there confusion over mandates in the NPP?

Mon, 18 May 2015 Source: Ohemeng, Yaw

The NPP has once again experienced one of its ‘Arthur Kennedy’ moments and it is not surprising that Nana Akufo-Addo is the one bearing the brunt. In the latest release from Arthur Kennedy, he is making categorical claims about personalities and laying blames. His article titled ‘CONFUSION OVER MANDATES IN THE NPP’ is as mischievous as it is short.

It is mischievous because he made several accusations that he never bothered to substantiate. He observed that the last two Chairmen of the party deferred too much to the interest of the Flag-bearer. This he thinks was wrong. He could not bring himself to accept this from the perspective that perhaps it was not deference but that they cooperated better. The prime interest of a political party is electoral success, and in a presidential system, the biggest prize is to win the Presidency. One would also have thought that the prime interest of the Flag-bearer is to win presidential elections; hence the interest of the party Chairman and that of the Flag-bearer should coincide. There should only be a concern if the interests of Flag-bearers and party Chairmen are divergent. In the USA where most look to for how presidential systems work, political parties always defer to the presidential candidates in the setting up of campaign organisations and structures.

The most serious charge Arthur Kennedy laid was that the party’s Flag-bearer is preoccupied with unseating the General Secretary and the Chairman rather than preparing to fight a campaign to win an election. He then went on to offer this as an illustration of how intolerant the flagbearer is. What is baffling is how someone who does not reside in Ghana can make these often categorical statements without the least caution that what he might have heard may be wrong. He either has a very reliable intelligence organisation serving his purpose or he is being briefed by those for whose cause he is fighting.

Of course he could not resist bringing in ‘all die be die’, a pronouncement against which he has been the foremost crusader. To continue harping on this, without the context in which it was made, suggests that he is more interested in doing damage than retiring this issue. In 1983 when we were attacked at KNUST by miners from Obuasi, at the time Arthur Kennedy was about to be sworn in as the NUGS President, his exhortation then was not that we turned and run. If for a bye-election at Atiwa, a constituency in the Eastern Region, thugs were transported from far to come and cause mayhem at Abomosu, would it have been in order for the party supporters to turn and run? Maybe the choice of language was poor but not the exhortation that people should not run away in the face of intimidation. Why can’t Arthur Kennedy let this matter rest?

To Arthur Kennedy, the ‘crisis’ within the NPP is due to the fact that there is some confusion over mandates. He threw this out there without going into any details but rather resorted to his usual trademark of using American political quotes, which are often taken out of the context in which they were made. It is in this wise that I find his article very short on details. He had the opportunity to explain further in radio interviews and his only explanation was that Nana Addo looked on whilst the First Vice Chairperson convened a meeting in the absence of the Chairman and the General Secretary. He ignored the fact that steering committee meetings can be called on matters that require urgent attention; he ignored that steering committee meetings can be held with seven of its members in attendance; and he ignored the fact that the meeting was attended by other high ranking members of the committee besides the Flag-bearer.

It is often held out to the public that the Flag-bearer is the leader of the party and he should be calling people to order. There is no such provision in the NPP constitution. Those who keep on making these claims are the ones confused over mandates. The NPP constitution does not cede political decision making to an individual but uses a collegiate system. The party has a hierarchy of decision making bodies who make political decisions for the party’s officers (both elected and appointed) to implement.

The highest governing body is the National Delegates conference, which is held once every 4 years. This body elects national officers and deliberate on matters arising from the reports submitted by the Chairman and the national treasurer. Below the highest governing body are the National Council, the National Executive Committee (NEC), and the Steering Committee of NEC, in order of descending authority. Membership of these bodies narrows as you go down the hierarchy. It is therefore misleading for anyone to suggest that somehow one official has the veto on what the party does.

The National Council directs the affairs of the Party in between the National Delegates Conference that is held every 4 years. Its role is to give such directives to the National Chairman that it considers could augur well for the Party. The National Executive Committee (NEC) is charged with directing and overseeing the activities of the party, subject to the directions of the National Council. This body is required to meet once every 3 months. The lowest decision making body is the Steering Committee of NEC, which is responsible for overseeing the day to day management of the Party. The Steering Committee is also required to act on behalf of the Party on URGENT MATTERS.

With the suggestion that mandates are not respected between the Flag-bearer on one hand and the General Secretary and Chairman on the other, it is worth examining their roles. The Chairman is required to preside over all meetings of the party, from the National Delegates Conference down to that of the Steering Committee. He is also charged with convening such meetings. The General Secretary and the Flag-bearer can neither convene meetings nor chair them. In the absence of the National Chairman, the first National Vice Chairman assumes the duties of the Chairman.

The General Secretary is the head of the party’s secretariat. He is charged with overseeing the operations of the national secretariat and is also responsible for coordinating the activities and operations of the party and employees at the constituency, regional, external and national levels. He has to perform these functions in ACORDANCE WITH THE DIRECTIVES of the National Executive Committee and the National Chairman (and by extension any other official who is duly acting in the stead of the National Chairman).

The Flag-bearer does not hold any explicit formal position in how the party is run. He cannot therefore, technically, prevent a meeting called by the Chairman or someone acting in his stead. There is no mechanism, other than through persuasion that he can employ to ‘bring party members to order’. He is, however, not debarred from exercising his influence as one of the members of the Councils and Committees mentioned above. The only explicit duty imposed on the Flag-bearer by the party constitution is that he consults the party in the selection of the running mate. Thus, those asking him to act as the leader of the party have missed the point; there is no provision in the party constitution that makes him the leader. If some see this as an omission, they should be calling for amendments rather than vilifying the Flag-bearer.

The NPP constitution is silent on how it organises itself for presidential elections. This is sensible as campaign structures and organisations, in a presidential system, are usually left to the Flag-bearer. Thus the roles of the General Secretary, the party Chairman and that of the Flag-bearer are clear and should not conflict with each other. Anyone making accusations about the Flag-bearer scheming to oust the General Secretary and Chairman has to present evidence that the Flag-bearer is side-stepping the decision making bodies to give directives on how the party should be ran.

One thing people fail to appreciate is that amongst all the officers of the party, only the General Secretary is a paid full-time position. The rest of the party officers, to a greater extent, are volunteers and part-timers. The only reason why the GS position is a paid one is that he is charged with administrative duties. The situation is very similar to what you get with civil servants; they make administrative decisions rather than political ones. A civil servant can provide advice to a political office holder but the advice does not have to be accepted. There is certainly no confusion of mandates. The basis for such a charge does not exist, unless the General Secretary does not see that any advice he provides is subject to the consideration of other higher bodies and higher ranked officers, who can reject it.

It should be appreciated that a political party is a loose association of individuals with a broad common purpose. In such loose associations, the strategy that should be employed by anyone in a leadership position is to ‘persuade and control’ rather than to ‘command and control’. When it comes to political campaigns, the ultimate focus should not necessarily be on who gets to input into decisions, but rather the output, which is electoral success. Any innovative means and structures that can lead to effective and efficient delivery of the output should not be held hostage to rigid party structures.

This article is not by any chance advocating that the Flag-bearer runs a campaign without the party. The Flag-bearer needs the party for the identity it confers, for the use of the party’s organisational capability in the recruitment of volunteers, for the clarity of policies, and for the support of voters. The political structures though should be flexible enough, in an election year, to accommodate changes the Flag-bearer wants to introduce to ‘own’ the campaign. This ought not to present problems. The talking is too much, has gone on for too long, and it must now give way to constructive actions!

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw