By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Folks, the national discourse on our problems of under-development continues. Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has struck a rhythm on serious political dynamics that should not be left uncommented on because it entails a lot. And I see a lot wrong with that rhythm. First, let’s get to know what Kufuor’s views are.
1. RECONSTITUTION OF COUNCIL OF STATE
He has called for the reconstitution of the Council of State into an Upper House of Parliament to serve as an effective check on both the Executive and Lower House. (As currently constituted, the Council of State is an advisory body to the Executive).
Kufuor said the Council of State has proved to be ineffective; therefore, the nation needs a non-partisan discerning body to serve as a check in decision making. According to him, this would ensure that bills formulated by the Executive are subjected to scrutiny by the Upper House before being passed into law. Reconstituting the Council of State into an Upper House, with regional and institutional representations, would ensure that the Executive and Majority in Parliament “do not have their way.”
2. OFFICE OF VICE PRESIDENT TO BE ABOLISHED?
Speaking on other ways of enhancing good governance, the former President called for the abolition of the Office of the Vice President and its replacement with Office of Prime Minister who would actively represent the Executive in Parliament. He stated that adopting the Westminster system would be more beneficial to the country than the present system where the Office of Vice President is almost redundant because of the active participation of the President in governance.
Former President Kufuor made the suggestion during a consultative meeting with the Advisory Committee on the constitution review process on the Winner-Takes-All (WTO) of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) at his residence in Accra, yesterday. The meeting was part of a series of nationwide consultation for input into the constitutional amendment process, which is aimed at addressing the challenges of the WTA political system in the country.
I sympathize with Kufuor but will at the same time ridicule his suggestions. First, the Council of State is irrelevant to our quest for solutions to our national problems, having demonstrated that it is nothing but a mere appendage to the system for nothing but a “job-for-the-boys/girls” purpose. Its so-called advisory role as stipulated by the constitution is already being played by all those surrounding the President and advising him on day-to-day basis.
I have already written a lot to suggest that this Council of State is redundant and a drain on our resources, which means that it must be abolished outright. That is why Kufuor’s attempt to whitewash it for it to be turned into a Second Chamber of Parliament raises serious fears, suspicions, and doubts.
A Second Chamber of Parliament is not needed. In the first place, the main Chamber (made up of 275 MPs representing all parts of the country) is so incompetent as to annoy Ghanaians at its mere mention. Its members are more focused on seeking self-interests than doing what others of their ilk in other democracies do. Why aren’t they deeply interested in performing efficiently to check and balance governance s is expected?
Our Parliament has been on the lips of Ghanaians all these years for the wrong reason that it is part of the problems to be solved. Adding a Second Chamber to this Parliament will be an overkill. That is why I consider as ridiculous Kufuor’s claim that turning the Council of State into a Second Chamber “would ensure that bills formulated by the Executive are subjected to scrutiny by the Upper House before being passed into law”.
What guarantee is there that this so-called Second Chamber will be more efficient than all the others (the MPs and the Executive)? What will be the relationship between that Upper House and the lower one embodying the 275 elected representatives of the citizens?
We note that a third of the membership of the Council of State is appointed by the President, meaning that he will definitely have his surrogates there to do his bidding. More importantly, I wonder what legitimacy that Upper House will have to embolden it into overriding the will of the people (as exercised by their elected representatives in Parliament).
Kufuor’s rationale is that “reconstituting the Council of State into an Upper House, with regional and institutional representations, would ensure that the Executive and Majority in Parliament “do not have their way.” It is overly simplistic.
Now, to Kufuor’s suggestion on the abolition of the Office of the Vice President and its replacement it with Office of Prime Minister who would actively represent the Executive in Parliament. What must Kufuor be thinking of?
First, our system of governance is fashioned on the United States version of the Executive Presidential system, making the President the fount of authority and investing in him all powers and instruments to exercise maximum authority in governing the country. He is to be supported by the Vice President whose purview is clearly defined as such. This system has no room for a Prime Minister, which is catered for by another system (the British Parliamentary or Westminster system of governance. In this system, the primus interparis (“first-among-equals”) is the Prime Minister, who doesn’t wield absolute power. That absolute power resides in the titular head of state, the British Queen/Monarchy). These are two different systems. No crossing over or blending of designations or functions!!
Kufuor’s claim that as currently constituted, the Office of Vice President is redundant cannot be justified. Probably, he must be speaking from experience when he hogged space and every opportunity to do everything (including the hundreds of foreign travels) while consigning his former Vice President, Aliu Mahama, to the doldrums and shadows. Aliu Mahama was virtually invisible and simply emerged as a glorified messenger to do Kufuor’s bidding if he couldn’t be present personally.
It was not so under Jerry Rawlings when the late Atta Mills was active, preceded by Kow Nkensen Arkaah, who was also given enough elbow room to operate, even when he began selling out the NDC government to its political opponents and got the worst experience in the hands of Rawlings (December 28, 1995, when Rawlings pounced on him at a Cabinet meeting).
The working relationship between former President Mills and his Vice (John D. Mahama) before Fate turned everything around was cordial and no one had any cause to doubt the integrity of the Office of the Vice President. There is ample evidence to suggest that the current Vice President, Kwesi B. Amissah-Arthur is not overshadowed and is performing his duties as constitutionally mandated. We feel his presence too. So, where is Kufuor coming from?
I don’t think that a mere designation will solve the problem. What powers will a Prime Minister under an Executive President exercise that will be denied a Vice President? How will the Office of the Prime Minister be constituted to make it more functional and constitutionally relevant to Ghana’s democracy that should warrant any suggestion of the sort made by Kufuor?
I see the problems with our mechanisms for governance as going beyond what might have prompted Kufuor into going this way. The Ghanaian problem is more attitudinal than constitutional. Not until our leaders change their own mindset to use power productively and to galvanize the citizens into supporting their initiatives, the problems cannot be solved.
A change in attitude will lead to the desire to strengthen state institutions for them to perform their legitimate functions and rid Ghana of “filth” (perceived as the main problems drawing us back. Name bribery and corruption, laziness, nepotism, ethnocentrism, theft of public property, and other unpatriotic acts, and you will be right). That is the only way to change the situation.
Constitutional changes are good, but they can’t accomplish anything if the people tasked with responsibilities don’t do what is expected; or if they adroitly turn such constitutional provisions into loopholes to be exploited. Ghana deserves more than what its leaders have given it so far. And that has nothing to do with the institutions of state as designated or constituted. It’s all about attitude and mindset!!
I see something contradictory in Kufuor’s advocacy, which reduces everything to a mere political gimmick on his part. Ironically, the very changes that he is asking for cannot be made without a constitutional amendment under the current set-up. Yet, Kufuor says that this same constitutional amendment should not be carried out.
While asking for changes to be made in the designation and constitution of the Council of State and Office of the Vice President, he is cautioning “against rushing the constitutional amendment process through Parliament and a referendum”. How can he reconcile these two contradictory positions?
To date, a Constitutional Review Commission has put forward some areas of our 1992 Constitution for review and an Implementation Committee is busily putting things together toward getting the Electoral Commission to conduct a referendum. I have seen a lot wrong with this manouevre and written to register my concerns about the cherry-picking being done and because there is a lot to worry about in this approach toward amending the constitution.
As for his advice that “Ghanaians should be made to own the process and understand the intended changes”, I will quickly dismiss it as a mere “rally ground talk” (thanks to Justice Atuguba. He re-echoes Jerry Rawlings and his populist revolutionary fervour (People’s Defence Committees, Workers’ Defence Committees or Committees for the Defence of the Revolution). Is that Kufuor’s version of “People’s Power”? I wonder.
Putting everything together, we can say that there is much concern among Ghanaians about how their democracy isn’t being used to solve problems so they can live decent lives. And under the circumstance, anything that can done to fine-tune this democracy will be admired; but not just anything (as Kufuor seems to be putting on the table). The systemic problems cannot be solved with this kind of tinkering.
I shall return…
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