By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Thursday, September 15, 2011
One peculiar fact about former President Kufuor is that he is not a good speaker. He lacks the flourish that characterizes the rhetorical manouevres of political figures who captivate their audiences with their speeches. He is more admirable for being a careful listener and thinker. That is why when he chooses to speak, he must hasten slowly. He will be better off respecting silence as golden.
But he just can’t keep his mouth shut and is in the news again for the wrong reason. Like some of our national figures who choose to draw unnecessary attention to themselves instead of remaining silent on controversial issues that they know will attract disdain, he is calling for the abolition of the position of Vice President, after having ruled Ghana for 8 years without advancing anything of the sort. What has he now seen to warrant this proposal, which he reiterated when he spoke on Metro TV’s “Good Evening Ghana” program on Tuesday September 13?
His reasons for proposing that the Vice President’s position be scrapped are two:
i. The current office of Vice President is irrelevant because the vice is only made to act in the absence of the President making him somewhat redundant.
ii. The Vice President in a way is more or less like a shadow of the president and that should the president collapse, the Vice President would step instantly into the shoes of the President. “I believe it’s tempting nature too much.”
Mr. Kufuor said he would rather have an office of a Prime Minister who will lead a team of Ministers to execute government’s agenda. This statement is troubling. It suggests that under the current arrangement, there is no central command structure for directing the government’s functionaries in the performance of their duties. Was that how Mr. Kufuor’s administration functioned? Or that the absence of a Prime Minister has pushed that responsibility to the President himself, which was too much to cope with?
More obviously too, it suggests that no one coordinates the activities of these functionaries because there is no “primus interparis” in Cabinet to do so. Does that lapse account for the sloppy manner in which the various Ministers and Deputy Ministers handle affairs? For the lack of harmony in government operations? Or for the emergence of cliques and self-constituted pockets of authority at the Presidency?
Be what it may, Mr. Kufuor’s proposal isn’t any solution at all. Of all the problems hindering our national development efforts, what he has identified is the least worrisome, even though it is part of the leadership crisis worth addressing, especially within the context of the inadequacies that we are quick to point to in our national leaders’ acumen or lack thereof.
An effective President will galvanize his appointees to do what they are in office for. It doesn’t have to take a Prime Minister to be appointed by the President to do so. As currently configured, the President is the Chairman of the Cabinet and presides at Cabinet meetings. He is the font of authority to whom all the members of Cabinet report. If such a leader is effective, he will put in place all the necessary measures to monitor the performance of his appointees and ensure that the government’s agenda for national development is implemented. If followed, the checks and balances in any constitutional democracy make it difficult for anybody to do things anyhow.
The problem with us is that we don’t have an effective leader to exert the kind of unfettered influence over government functionaries and be bold enough to punish errant functionaries if they go against the principles and tenets of good governance. Until we have a leader who can rise above pettiness, tribalism, nepotism, selfishness, and all the lapses that have endangered good governance and hindered our national development efforts, we can’t expect a mere abolition of the position of a Vice President and its supplanting with that of a Prime Minister to redeem our country from the doldrums.
What Mr. Kufuor has proposed is a novelty in the Ghanaian sense but irrelevant. What will a Prime Minister do that the Vice President can’t? Unless that Prime Minister is an MP, he can’t participate in deliberations in the Legislature, which means that he will have no direct influence on Parliament to push the government’s agenda through.
Even if he is chosen from Parliament for that position, there will be problems. What will be the status of such a person before Parliament, where the regimentation already has a power hierarchy with no room for the Prime Minister (as leader of government business)? I see no room for such a position and Mr. Kufuor shouldn’t spring anything wily on us.
We have already experimented three kinds of constitutional governance in the form of the “Presidential” (only one President position), “Parliamentary” (Prime Minister and titular President positions), and the “Executive Presidency” (President and Vice President positions) but are still not out of the woods. To have a President and a Prime Minister instead of a Vice President is new but unnecessary.
The basic aspects of Mr. Kufuor’s concerns are grounded in the provision that “Whenever the President dies, resigns or is removed from office, the Vice-President shall assume office as President for the unexpired term of office of the President with effect from the date of the death, resignation or removal of the President.”
But the rationale behind such concerns doesn’t persuade me to take Mr. Kufuor seriously. He situated his concerns in superstition and an unnecessary imputation of evil to the occupant of the position of a Vice President. Let’s hear him:
“You bring an angel to be a vice President and very likely the angel would begin to pray for the day when his boss the president would collapse so he can step into his shoes, that one to me is not common sense.”
I don’t know if Mr. Kufuor’s concern was based on personal experiences or that they were just the usual Ghanaian flight into fantasy; but it makes him come across as ridiculous. No doubt, this part of his justification for the proposal is a confusing and senseless talk.
In the US, this Executive Presidential system has been the bedrock of the democracy that the country practises. Neither the President nor the Vice President is wary of being torpedoed by the other nor is there any room for power struggle. Neither even loses sleep over misguided feelings of being undermined nor is the President ever apprehensive that the Vice President would be praying for his demise to take over from him.
Perhaps, we need to be reminded of what has been our lot since we emerged from the colonial dungeon of the Gold Coast into the modern state of Ghana—a peace-loving country blessed with abundant natural and human resources but that is still under-developed because its leaders don’t know how to use those resources to move it forward.
Moves toward gaining autonomy in the administration of the country saw Dr. Nkrumah’s emergence as the Leader of Government Business when his CPP won the majority votes in the 1951 elections and strengthened its grips on affairs at the 1954 polls. At independence, Nkrumah became the Prime Minister and metamorphosed into the President in July 1960 when the country became a Republic and the authority of the British Monarchy over the country’s sovereignty was completely jettisoned.
To be continued…