By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Under the First Republic, there was no position of a Vice President or Prime Minister. Dr. Nkrumah wielded enormous powers and virtually had Ghana in his hands. He wielded a clout that hit anywhere at any time, leaving in its trail very serious consequences. Although difficult to substantiate, we can guess that his manipulation of the political situation to outlaw all other political parties to make the CPP the only legitimate political party and himself as the Life President of Ghana was the most troubling problem within the period. No wonder that Nkrumah created many enemies in almost all sectors of national life and suffered for it.
Aware of these serious problems, the framers of the Second Republican Constitution turned to the Parliamentary or Cabinet system of governance of the kind being practised by Britain such that Ghana had a Prime Minister in charge of government business and a titular President who was good only at ceremonial events. This system was short-lived because of Kutu Acheampong’s coup d’état on January 13, 1972.
When moves were made to return the country to constitutional rule, the Third Republic rested on an Executive Presidential system such as is being operated in the United States and other countries, where two clear-cut positions of a President and a Vice President exist and constitutionally mandated functions for either clearly spelled out and enforced smoothly under the guidance of the system of checks and balances. The Limann government was also cut short by the military with Rawlings at the helm of affairs.
Putting together all that had happened in the country’s attempt at implementing a workable political system, the framers of the 1992 Constitution with which the Fourth Republic has been run since January 7, 1993, settled on the Executive Presidential system (gleaning from the previous Constitutions whatever was deemed to be useful as a safeguard against abuse of power, misrule, etc.). Thus, this Constitution—supposedly, an amalgam of the previous ones although it has new provisions to suit the demands of the time—has been in operation for 18 years now.
From the opinions so far expressed at several times, we know that sacrosanct though this constitution may be, it has serious shortcomings; hence, the establishment of the Constitutional Review Commission to collect and collate views toward a constitutional amendment. We are waiting for the outcome of the Commission’s work. Despite the lapses in this constitution, it has positively served the country’s purposes in many areas. Solving the hydra-headed problems hindering the country’s development shouldn’t be pegged on the Constitution as if enforcing its provisions alone will be enough to end the suffering of the people.
It is not as if Mr. Kufuor’s suggestion is strange or impossible to implement; it is its irrelevance to our national development efforts that is at issue. Evidence exists to show that such a system of governance is being practised in other countries. Let’s take Russia, for instance, where the position of Vice President isn’t created. Instead, there is a Prime Minister (currently, Vladimir Putin) who works under a President (Dmitri Medvedev). This Russian model has its own intricacies, which makes it unattractive.
We acknowledge the musical chairs aspect of it in this sense as the system currently operates: When Putin was President, Medvedev was his Prime Minister; then, when Putin’s constitutionally mandated tenure ended, he slipped down to become the Prime Minister while Medvedev was catapulted to the position of President.
We have seen the struggle for power going on between both, especially as the country prepares to hold another general elections next year in which Putin is rumoured to participate as a Presidential Candidate. He certainly knows how to take advantage of the loopholes in the country’s constitution to turn himself around in the political machinery, shuttling between the highest post and the one immediately below it on the political ladder.
We have also heard about the conflicting positions taken by Putin and Medvedev on international issues, especially the recent one concerning Libya, which portrayed Russia in a bad light. The international image of the country suffered as a result of this conflict of interest—while Putin was condemning NATO’s action in Libya, Medvedev was praising it. There is no doubt that both the Prime Minister and the President wield enormous powers and can sway drift of national politics for varying purposes.
Given this reality, there is no guarantee that the Prime Minister will necessarily submit to the President, especially in a conflict of interest situation. Doing so will definitely create a crisis in governance and create conditions for the President to grow wings and fly off as a dictator. There is the possibility that the President will be invested with too much power that will be difficult to control.
Cognizant of that fact, the framers of our Constitution created the position of a Vice President. For several purposes, this provision is strategically meaningful to our constitutional democratic experiment.
Chapter 8, section 60, sub-sections 1–4 clearly spell out the relevance and functions of the Vice President. What is assigned the Vice President is complementary to that of the President, not designed to confront or impede it in any way. Among these functions are those that “may be assigned to him by this Constitution or by the President.”
The provision that “a candidate for the office of Vice-President shall be designated by the candidate for the office of President before the election of President” is an important ingredient in the electioneering process because the nature of that candidate goes a long way to affect the electoral decisions made by the electorate. We can tell from the 2008 elections how the choice of Running Mate and the calibre of that person affected the elections and the fate of the parties.
The position of the Vice President is also pragmatically relevant to succession, which ensures a smooth transition. It is already known that whenever the President is absent from Ghana or is for any other reason unable to perform the functions of his office, the Vice-President shall perform the function of the President until the President returns or is able to perform (sub-section 8).
As spelled out in sub-section 10, “The Vice-President shall, upon assuming office as President under clause (6) of this article, nominate a person to the office of Vice-President subject to approval by Parliament.” Although we haven’t yet had such a situation, the fact that this provision seeks to address a future problem of power vacuum is good for us to uphold as an important feature inherent in the position of a Vice President.
Instead of scrapping the position of Vice President to make room for a Prime Minister to be appointed by the President, let’s ensure that those who enter office do what they are there to do. I think that any public-spirited Ghanaian who knows what it takes for countries to develop will not be in any mad rush to put his personal interests above those of the millions of citizens whose sweat and blood sustain government business. If our constitutional requirements and the apparatus for enacting and enforcing laws are rigidly enforced, we should see some marked progress in our circumstances.
But for as long as our leaders have turned governance into a goldmine to be exploited, no amount of proposals of the sort made by Mr. Kufuor will solve our problems. Having already been in charge of affairs, Mr. Kufuor should have known better that the country’s problems cannot be solved by such empty proposals that only re-position the wine bottle to be filled with new wine.
It is just a statement he made to be noticed as now back in the country after one of his irresistible foreign trips. If all the nearly 200 foreign trips he made in his term as President at the expense of the tax payer were beneficial in any way, something good would have come out of them to ease the burden. In his attitude to governance, we all saw the extent to which he hogged every opportunity to remain in the limelight while consigning his Vice (Aliu Mahama) to the backwoods, rendering him a virtual “persona non grata” in that government. If that’s what has informed his proposal, then, he is deceived.
Under the NDC government, we see how John D. Mahama is performing as Vice President, even if the government isn’t able to solve our problems. The very leadership problems that have been our bane over the years continue to militate against our development efforts. These problems are not caused by the positions in authority but by the calibre of people occupying those positions.
We don’t have any reservation against the position of Vice President. I suggest to Mr. Kufuor to lie low to be well served by the maxim that silence is golden. We don’t need a Prime Minister; we need leaders who know how to solve our problems.