Over-expenditure by the Presidency reflects fundamental weaknesses of our democracy

Mon, 22 Dec 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, December 19, 2014

Folks, news reports about the over-expenditure of funds by the Presidency may be shocking only for partisan political purposes. In reality, the happening confirms fears long held by some of us that despite all the commitments made by Ghanaians to sustain this 4th Republic, the kind of democracy being practised isn’t fit to be depended on to solve their existential problems.

This kind of democracy serves the purposes of the wily politicians who are adept at pulling strings and manipulation it to personal advantage. That is why I find issues with the vitriolic reaction of the anti-Mahama elements to the news report.

If our democracy were functional, why would the Presidency overspend public funds with impunity and still not apologize to Ghanaians after being exposed as such? Why won’t Parliament take decisive action to punish those responsible for this errant misconduct?

Flashback: President Mahama and his team are reported to have exceeded by over a hundred per cent the amount allocated to the Presidency in the 2014 budget (as of September this year). As usual, the matter immediately provoked a damning outburst from political opponents only to quickly vaporize. The Presidency hasn’t even bothered to explain to Ghanaians why the over-expenditure nor will it show evidence for it. Anything goes!!

And the Ghanaian tax-payer hasn’t even bothered to pursue this deviance in any way, apparently because it will all end up in smoke. There is too much to frustrate anybody wanting to do so. Where will that person go? The courts? Nowhere but the brickwall. Why, then, waste time and energy pursuing the matter? Our democracy’s failure!!

The NPP’s Afenyo Markins (MP for Winneba/Effutu) led the chorus, condemning the President and his team for being undisciplined. He was ably supported by the entire NPP hub to create the impression that the over-expenditure confirmed their allegations that the government was insensitive and unfit to be retained in power at Election 2016. That chorus has, no doubt, found a legitimate place in the anti-Mahama agenda.

Where will it all end? Nowhere!!

The truth is that Parliament itself is liable. In a democracy, the most powerful link in the chain is not the Executive or the Judiciary but the Legislature, which brings together the elected representatives of the citizens whose electoral decisions feed the democracy and determine its fate. In truth, then, the electorate wield power to make or unmake the democracy; and by willingly vesting that power in those they choose at elections to represent them, they validate the Legislature to become the livewire or the democracy.

That is why in every well-crafted democracy, the Legislature stands up to put the Executive and the Judiciary on their mettle. After all, it is the Legislature that passes laws for the President (Executive) to ratify/sign and the Judiciary to interpret for enforcement by designated agencies (such as the Police Service and analogous institutions). If the Legislature doesn’t perform well, it creates room for the democracy to sag. And out Parliament is grossly incompetent, which is why our democracy cannot help us solve problems.

Our Parliament has turned out to be the weakest link, which is why it can be bamboozled by the Executive as is happening in our case. No regard for the principle of checks-and-balances because Parliament cannot check the Executive and the Judiciary nor can it balance its own performance. In this sense, then, whatever our democracy stands for is woefully deceptive, which is why those doing politics can easily manipulate the system and get away unscathed.

Now, here are some niggles. If the Presidency really respected the authority of Parliament—to which it submitted its budget statement for consideration, debate, and scrutiny before being implemented—why won’t it keep itself within bounds as far as the quantum approved by Parliament was concerned? Why would the Presidency unilaterally spend public funds without prior approval from Parliament?

The fact that the over-expenditure occurred long before its being detected by Parliament speaks volumes. It tells me that there is a huge disconnect between the Presidency and the Legislature, which is inimical to our democratic aspirations.

The over-arching question, then, is: Who has and who should exercise the oversight responsibility over the allocation and expenditure of public funds? The Presidency or the Legislature?

In civilized democracies, the onus lies on the Legislature, not the Presidency. We take the current (or is it recent?) case of the United States, for instance. Congress had to set the expenditure at 1.1 trillion Dollars to be approved by the Senate to avoid a government shut down!! The Obama administration laid out its financial framework but couldn’t go beyond that point without approval from Congress and the Senate. In this civilized democracy, the Presidency cannot do anything without the approval of the Legislature.

In extreme cases, the Legislature’s disapproval of any initiative by the Presidency in terms of public funds will have dire consequences for the system. Fundamentally, a disapprobation for the budget presented by the Executive means a government shut-down. It has happened before and will always happen if there is a disconnect between the Legislature and the Executive. That is how the principle of checks-and-balances is practically exercised so none of the three arms of government can do anything anyhow just because it feels it is what it is. Not so in Ghana.

In our case, although we claim that we have the three arms of government in place, it is the Presidency that wields the ultimate power to do as it pleases. Parliament is just a point of reference. It cannot do what its counterparts in civilized democracies do. An apology of a link in democracy!!

Folks, we can raise several issues to prove that our Legislature is a weakling and that it is made up of people who are not fit to be there at all but for the wiliness that propels national politics. A careful assessment of the situation leaves me in no doubt that whatever our democracy is designed to accomplish is elusive for as long as the Executive controls everything and remains a potentate to be feared or deferred to. Our woe!!

Let’s be plain here to say that if our democracy should “grow” to help us solve our existential problems, it must be re-configured and the citizens to become more involved in the process. Our institutions of state are complicit in the waywardness going on because those in charge are problems themselves to be solved. There is too much partisan politics involved. No one seems to put the larger interests of the country above sectional ones, which is why nothing seems to be working well for us. Principles have been thrown to the dogs and treachery against political opponents admired as the panacea to problems.

A democracy that is designed to move a country forward will have no room for what we see happening in our country. Those of us assessing issues and making our voices heard wish that the situation will change for the better; but how can that change come about when people take entrenched positions and refuse to be guided by principles? Democracy entails principled behaviour, which we must acknowledge.

Folks, there is a lot more to say; but let me end it all here to say that our democracy isn’t growing because it is not being nourished properly. The ground in which to grow it is not fertile; neither is any effort being made to feed it with what it needs to grow. Our institutions of state are pathetically incapable of carrying the burden imposed on them and the citizens seem to be caught in a double bind: neither knowing how to separate the grain from the chaff nor being prepared to go by the principles enshrined in a workable democracy.

Truth be told, there is no difference between the “buga-buga” politics of yesteryears and what the so-called 4th Republican constitutional democracy has portrayed since January 7, 2001. What we have in Ghana as a democracy is just a modified form of military madness (a “command-and-control, do-before-complain syndrome”, which empowers the Executive to do as it wishes, damn whatever any critic says. And because the Executive pulls the purse strings to influence the dynamics of what goes on in the Legislature and Judiciary, there is much at stake. Who in the Legislature or the Judiciary can dare bite the finger feeding it? No accountability to anybody when the Presidency acts!!).

Why is it difficult for Parliament to pass the Right-to-Information Act? If there were such an act, all the nonsense going on would be brought to light and used against the perpetrators. Are we really serious in Ghana?

To me, it is obvious that the Executive branch still controls everything and all the others defer to it as would be the case in a military regime when the military leader is the be-it-all-and-end-it-all. If anybody has anything to the contrary, let him or her bring it on.

The sad conclusion, then, is that Ghanaians will continue to be taxed and exhorted to tighten their belt for a brighter future that will never dawn for as long as the duplicity motivating national politics continues to numb them into acquiescence. What kind of democracy is this that will not solve problems?

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.