Our politicians and the curse of electioneering campaign promises

Sun, 28 Nov 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

November 26, 2010

The anger which is gradually mounting in Ghanaians because of the inability of the politicians to fulfill their campaign promises is frightening. It is dashing hopes that our democracy is maturing. Having raised hopes to unexpectedly high levels with their Messianic promises but failing to fulfill them, our politicians are endangering our democracy. The current tense political atmosphere is the direct upshot of such chicanery in national politics.

We all know that promise-making is an integral part of human communicative strategies for winning favour. Indeed, every rhetorical act entails promise-making as a direct means for persuasion. In both private and public interactions, human beings use promises as a leverage. Making promises is not bad in itself but when failure to fulfill such promises endangers relationships, it must be seen as dangerous and condemned.

It is no secret that politicians everywhere in the world use promise-making as a means to an end, especially when they seek goodwill from voters to establish themselves in political office. When promise-making, however, tends to have a negative impact on human affairs (as it is in our contemporary Ghanaian situation), it has to be singled out and tackled decisively as a danger to our democracy.

In Ghana, the politicians have gradually emerged as the most conspicuous and notorious segments of the populace whose use of promise-making as a rhetorical tool is legendary. Too many of them are taking things for granted just because they glibly make promises to be elected into office; but when they fail to fulfill those promises and are taken to task, they adopt all manner of subterfuge to escape blame. While some deny outright ever making any promise, others resort to selective amnesia. By this unscrupulous conduct in public office, they distort the political line and create tension.

Take, for instance, the callous manner in which an MP has responded to public complaints. The MP for Sege, Alfred Abayateye, is reported as saying that the fact that a politician makes a campaign promise does not mean that it should be automatically fulfilled. He added that “politicians make all kinds of comments on campaign platforms but that these promises are not legally binding” (myjoyonline.com, November 24, 2010).

Ghanaians have been inundated with all manner of promises. When before the 1992 elections the NPP’s Odoi-Sykes told Ghanaians that an NPP government would extend the railway lines from Accra to Northern Ghana, he was ridiculed as making an unreasonable promise. Many of us wondered what the NPP hoped to achieve.

Since then, many promises have been made across the political spectrum. In fact, between the 2000 elections and now, the promises made by our politicians are numberless. In an attempt to outdo each other, the politicians seem to be in a mad race for public attention as far as promise-making is concerned. Promises on job creation, replacing the Ghanaian Cedi with the US Dollar, abolishing the cash-and-carry system, establishing numerous universities in the country, creating separate regions for certain ethnic groups, making education free at all levels, and many more, are known. Ghanaians have heard more of these promises than they may want to recall. Failure to fulfill such promises is annoying, more so when the politicians try to deny ever making them.

Considering the current impasse between the chiefs of the Western Region and Parliament (invariably, the NDC government), it is important for us to assess the impact of promise-making on our politics and to establish it as one of the major problems facing us. As the cheapest means to whip up interest in the people, recourse to promise-making has exposed our politicians as inveterate liars.

Of all promises, the one concerning what the chiefs of the Western Region are angry over cannot be wished away nor pushed under the rug just because someone wants to deny ever making such a promise. Or even if an unsympathetic Sege MP says this: “We all say things on campaign trails... Even if the Vice President made that promise, does it mean every promise should be in the law?”

Thanks to good record-keeping, the documentary evidence of that promise is available, as revealed on Tuesday, November 23, by Joe Baidoe-Ansah, MP for Effia-Kwesimintsim, to confirm that President John Dramani Mahama actually promised that an NDC government (if the party won the 2008 elections) would give 10 percent of oil revenue to the people of the Western Region. Why is the government now running away from that truth?

Here is the Tuesday September 2, 2008, edition of the Ghanaian Times publication in which Vice President Mahama (who was then the running mate to the NDC’s Presidential Candidate, J.E.A Mills) was reported as saying that:

“The National Democratic Congress running mate for the December polls, John Dramani Mahama, has commenced a campaign tour of the Western Region with a promise to use 10 percent of the oil revenue to develop the region… He said it is right that the people living in the area where the oil is to be drilled are compensated adequately due to the adverse effects that the oil industry will have on them.”

Indeed, the Vice President had been quoted in the Monday September 1, 2008, edition of the Daily Graphic that “because of the empty promises made by some politicians, all politicians have been branded as people who make promises and do not deliver them,” adding that “It is about time we changed that trend to gain the confidence of the people.” What a profound statement!

It is within this context that I pity the Mills-led government for its ongoing crisis of confidence. In the same vein, this context provides me the clue to take on others in other political parties who resort to promise-making as the 2012 polls approach. The NPP’s Akufo-Addo comes up for attention in this sense.

As if he doesn’t know the extent to which this promise-making crap can harm one’s political fortunes, the NPP’s Akufo-Addo is adding more trouble to his political baggage. He continues to use promise-making as a trump-card and is definitely plunging into deeper trouble. As he has just demonstrated at Tamale, he is not yet tired of making baseless promises. Listen to him:

“He reassured Ghanaians of free secondary education under his leadership and expressed the hope that he will win the 2012 elections.”

He made this promise without telling the people how his government would support such a measure, considering the economic (mis)fortunes of the country. How will the funds and infrastructure for such a free secondary education be generated? Akufo-Addo is dreaming of a fool’s paradise.

Currently, we know that there are some elementary schools in some parts of the country that still hold classes under trees. They had been doing so when the Rawlings and Kufuor were in power and are still in existence under the Atta Mills government’s watch. Numerous schools elsewhere have serious problems that seem to defy solution because of lethargy in officialdom. Should such a situation not merit anybody’s sympathy and solution first before anything of the sort being pushed forward by Akufo-Addo? He is already shooting without aiming and will not achieve anything beneficial.

In effect, Akufo-Addo is being petty and treacherous, just playing on the people’s sentiments for an anticipated political capital. It is unconscionable for him to take advantage of the people’s plight. When will this Akufo-Addo ever learn that such sugar-coated promises are no longer attractive as electoral bait? They are like a double-edged sword that may sway the unsuspecting voters in one swing but end up being the very basis for rejection at the next polls. That’s what promise-making entails, and that’s why public confidence in the party in office doesn’t take long to wane when such promises aren’t fulfilled as expected. That’s the lesson Akufo-Addo cannot learn, which makes him a huge, wily political joker.

He seems not to know how to do politics and can’t depart from the sterile approaches that continue to drag Ghanaian politics down the rough road. A careful analysis of the problems that the current NDC government is grappling with—or what kicked the NPP out of office because of voters’ dissatisfaction with Kufuor’s inability to fulfill his campaign promises—should alert Akufo-Addo to the landmine on which he has started walking even before the electioneering campaigns for the 2012 polls take off. This curse of electioneering campaign promises will surely take its toll on him.

The 2012 elections should be fought and won on a different score than promises. Both as a matter of prudence and political maturity, we must begun to act on the basis of what our politicians can achieve. The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the future of political office-holding is determined by demonstrated honesty and proven commitment to solving pertinent problems and not empty political rhetoric.

We must punish our politicians by kicking them out of office when they fail to perform satisfactorily. It must start from the upcoming elections and be carried forward. We must revisit the electioneering campaign trails in the pre-2008 elections to find out who made which promise. We must assess our MPs and the current government’s campaign promises to determine which has been fulfilled or left unfulfilled.

Then, on that score, vote for or against them at the next polls. Let us hold the candidates to their own promises and punish those who want to take us for an unsolicited roller-coaster ride. In the same vein, let us reject those who are making moves to enter the race with hatfuls of empty promises and empty boasts.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.