Reflections of Independence

Sat, 6 Mar 2004 Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Ghana, 3 years shy of the half-century mark has had a hard time living up to it?s potential and promise. An assessment of where Ghana is should of necessity include an assessment of the current parliament, the judiciary and the press.

As a nation, we can point to some notable achievements:

  • We have replaced one President with another not just of the same but of a different party through the ballot box. This is a historic achievement, rare in Africa, that we must celebrate while crediting the leaders who made this possible. A limited list of the heroes include the students of Ghana, the NPP with Professor Adu-Boahen, J.H. Mensah and, the President?s leadership and in the end the suprising integrity of NDC candidate John Attah-Mills who heard the people?s verdict and refused to join those who wanted to steal the election.

  • We have avoided the civil wars that have torn apart so many of our neighbors, not just in our sub-region but on our continent.
On the other hand, we have a constitution and attendant institutions which make it difficult for our nation to function with the effectiveness, efficiency, and serenity that comes from a government of laws rather than men. A few examples will suffice.

In 1996, the Supreme Court decided that Kwame Pianim, convicted of involvement in a coup, could not run for president even though Mr. Rawlings, a confirmed two-time coup-maker could. Also in 1996, a suite was filed seeking to annul the election of the NDC MP for Ayawaso Wigon. The Supreme Court managed to wait for the entire parliamentary term before ruling that he had been improperly elected. That was a classic of delayed justice being in effect a denial of justice.

Once the government changed, a similar complaint of the 2000 election was swiftly reviewed and a decision was handed down.

In an effort to foster national reconciliation, the National Reconciliation Commission was established to review human rights abuses and persecution in the past. After years of grilling the ?small fish? of the Rawlings administration, the man who had ultimate responsibility for the two most turbulent decades in our history came to give an accounting of his stewardship and somehow, the commission ran out of questions under an hour! The public wonders how they will have the courage to seriously question any other person when they could not question Mr. Rawlings thoroughly. To be fair to the commission though, they may have limited their questioning to avoid jeopardizing future criminal prosecutions of Mr. Rawlings and others.

It is reported that the President was recently asked what was the signal achievement of his government and answered, ?Ivory Coast.? To be fair to him and to my party the NPP, the President was being rather modest. In addition the Ivory Coast, he could have mentioned a nation at peace, the most open political atmosphere in a generation, unprecedented press freedom (due to repeal of the Libel Law), the introduction of National health insurance, elimination of petroleum subsidies, introduction of dual citizenship and a very accessible presidential style. These are certainly noteworthy achievements. On the other side of the ledger, there have been significant failures. Amongst these are the large size of the government, the failure to decentralize power despite the NPP?s manifesto and historic commitment to devolution of power; and the absence of educational and agricultural reform. Of all the failures, however, the greatest has been the President?s inability to deal with corruption. A President who came into office pledging ?zero tolerance? for corruption is now widely viewed as possibly tolerant of corruption or at best indifferent to it. As a policeman is alleged to have remarked to a motorist, ?masa, just give me my ?zero tolerance? and we can forget about this.?

Indeed, today the NDC whose administration had become so embedded in corruption that they had stopped pretending to be against it, are now complaining about it. Three years ago, the public believed that over half of NDC functionaries could have been prosecuted and convicted fairly of corruption. At that time, if any NDC functionary had had the bad judgment to talk about corruption, they would have been hooted off the stage. Today, they are openly condemning corruption, and getting a respectful hearing while the NPP government appears to be on the defensive. This situation, to say the least is a stunning turnaround. How did this happen? First, the NPP failed to prosecute fully the NDC functionaries against whom there were credible allegations. Second, the old corrupt systems and personalities associated with the award of contracts were left in place. Third, there is no aggressive efforts to find the facts and inform the public when there are allegations of corruption. While the rumors of corruption may be unfounded, after some time perception, even if based on falsehood, will become reality.

Let us turn to parliament. It has lived too willingly in the President?s shadow. While it should work with the President, it should initiate and pass good laws without always waiting for the executive?s direction. Also, there should be more assertive oversight of ministers and quasi-independent organizations. For example, parliament should ask questions about how efficiently the Electoral Commission is using the resources it has and inquire into the wisdom of creating more parliamentary seats. Indeed, there should be a full-fledged debate on whether Ghanaians need more parliamentarians or better service from the existing ones. Should we give existing MP?s more resources to do their jobs better or create more MP?s?

The press has been one of our national strengths most of the time during independence. Even during the height of oppression, there were always a few giants ready to stand up and be counted. Amongst these were John Kugblenu, Tommy Thompson and Ms. Elizabeth Ohene. Today, the press is at high noon in it?s vibrancy and influence. However, with this influence must come some responsibility. There is too much sensationalism and outright fabrication in news reporting. There must be more professionalism, resources for self-improvement for our journalists and better renumeration to decrease the influence of money on investigations and reporting of stories.

Our political parties need to be strengthened so that they can be the real backbone of our democracy. While the NPP is by far the strongest, it has had a difficult transition to the status of the governing party. This has been due to the mass exodus of talent from party administration to the government, a lack of clear communication lines between the government and the party and a surprising inability to use the star power of the President and his ministers for legal and ethical fund-raising to support the party. The result of all this is that the party has become to some extent, a creature of the President and his government rather than the government being the creation and creature of the party.

The NDC, which was created by a government to help legitimize illegal power is struggling. Due to the circumstances of it?s formation, it attracted more than a few opportunists. For most of it?s existence, it was a party held together by patronage rather than principle. It is said that when your enemy is in the process of destroying himself, you should not interfere. However, since Ghana?s future well-being depends on a vibrant, multi-party system, I will offer advice that if heeded, will help the NDC to survive. First, the NDC needs to get rid of those who joined it for patronage. Then it?s remaining true members must search their souls and consciences for some over-arching vision and principles that will unite them for all time; in or out of power.

Furthermore, they should end their association with the likes of the Tsikatas, Rawlings, Obed Asamoah, and the rest of that infamous gang that led the degradation of this country. Until they do this, their home will be in the ranks of the opposition. Third, as a manifestation of their newness, they must apologize to the nation for the two decades of atrocities and incompetence that they visited on Ghana. While elections are about competing visions for the nation, politicians and their parties must campaign responsibly. That is why NDC candidate Attah-Mills comments on the Dagbon crisis yesterday are disturbing. The injection of partisanship into the Dagbon crisis is evidence that Professor Mills will do anything to be President. That attitude will only add to the pain of Dagbon. Indeed, if Professor Mills wants to re-open investigations, he should consider re-opening the investigation into the 1982 murder of the three judges and Major Acquah. Indeed, all candidates will do well to remember that elections should be about the future, not the past.

As we move forward to face the future, we must confront the serious problems that still bedevil our nation. WHEN the President is re-elected, he must lead constitutional reform, tackle educational reform, modernize agriculture and our rural areas and most importantly, fight against corruption. While we wait for the judgment of history on his presidency, he must seek counsel from history. In a nation like ours, where no doubt sycophants abound, a good President must resist the temptation to be dictatorial or to cut corners, even in the pursuit of good goals. As former New York Mayor J.J. Gaynor once said ?good men in good times should not set precedents for bad men in bad times.? If he does these things, in the fullness of time, he will be remembered not just as a good President but perhaps a great one.

Finally, to my fellow citizens, may our nation move ever nearer to our motto ?Freedom and Justice? for all. Freedom, not just from the tyranny of men but from hunger and deprivation. Justice, not just in the legal sense but in the broadest sense so that we can each have the opportunity to realize our potential and contribute to our nation.

Let us promote a national culture based on the idea that ideas matter. Let us have faith in our nation, her institutions and her future! Together, we can make Ghana the great nation that our founding fathers and God meant her to be! A nation whose affairs till the end of time will be determined by those who have the force of arguments on their side rather than those who have the argument of force on their side.

While we struggle for all these things together, let us pray not only that God is on our side but more importantly that we are on God?s side!

Happy Birthday Ghana! May you grow stronger with each passing year!

Arthur K. Kennedy, MD
(Former President, NUGS)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina