Special Ethical Responsibilities of Leaders in Ghana's Fledgling Democracy

Wed, 11 Jul 2007 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Administrative Ethics is defined as the role moral choices play in the professional conduct of those persons in positions of authority — elected or appointed — who promote the business of government at the national, regional, or district level. Thus, it is salient to ascertain whether or not the concept of administrative ethics can be found among Ghanaian leaders, and if a democratic environment requires government officials to espouse a higher than average degree of ethical responsibility.

Robert Dahl argues that a “key characteristic of a democracy is the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals.” Dahl also holds the view that for democracy to succeed, government must respect the preferences of its citizens; these preferences are sometimes communicated individually or en masse (such as by means of an election). A democratic government must show moral uprightness through its officials by providing certain guarantees to its citizens: the right to form and join organizations; the right to free speech; the right of political parties to exist independently of the government in power; universal suffrage; free and fair elections; and eligibility for public office, among others. I believe these guarantees are evident in the contemporary Ghanaian society, although we must remain vigilant so no group of bandits, under the guise of a needed military intervention, will ever rob us of these universal freedoms again.

While Jerry Rawlings deserves the tag of “Father of Modern Democracy” in Ghana — you are free to disagree with me, but remember his willingness to hand over power to John Kufuor in 2001 is one reason we have civilian rule in Ghana today — it is John Kufuor who has accentuated the essence of what democracy truly is: Ghanaians can now form and join associations without fear of harassment or arrest; say and/or write just about anything; run for political office without fear of “disappearing” in the middle of the night; and elect their rulers without fear of being assaulted or tortured, although, like in any society, there may remain an element of imbecilic characters who foist their lawlessness on the rest of us. John Kufuor, a truly imperturbable leader, has allowed freedom of expression in particular to flourish in Ghana, to the extent that it feels as though we have had free rule for one hundred years! This is probably going to be this president’s greatest legacy. And I do genuinely hope John Kufuor’s successor will build on our collective freedoms so epitomized by the current administration.

In another sense, the constant inundation of the airwaves with the fire-spitting rhetoric of Jerry Rawlings, to the extent that it does not embolden renegades in our military to subvert our constitutional government, is good for our fledgling democracy, since Professor Mills’ voice is not strong enough to carry much weight in our political discourse (Professor Mills, please speak out more and be brave!). No democracy can survive without a strong opposition, although statements by members of any opposition tend to be perceived as skewed by those in power, and that is just the way politics works! If in doubt, just pay attention to what is happening in U.S. politics today, and you will realize that running for or being in public office is not for the faint-hearted!

As is clearly seen in highly democratic nations, such as the U.S. and the U.K., Ghanaians should be allowed to continue to freely choose their political leaders. The government must act ethically by allowing the will of the people to reign, which tends to come by means of the ballot box. Sadly, less democratic regimes to tyrannical ones — such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and North Korea — censor free speech; there is a limit also on who can vote and for whom. In Iran, for example, although the people elect a president, real power remains in the hands of certain religious leaders, headed by the Ayatollah. By not allowing the electorate to chart the true course of the nation, the Iranian government demonstrates minimal ethical responsibility towards its people. As a lesson, Ghanaian leaders must constantly be aware of what freedoms are enshrined in the nation’s constitution, and should endeavor to uphold these laws at all costs — these are special ethical responsibilities.

Herman Finer notes that administrative responsibility is vital for democracy to thrive; in fact, he argues that efficiency grows with administrative responsibility. But Finer also indicates that a sheer “sense of duty” alone is not sufficient for administrative ethics; a “fact of responsibility” must be introduced in order to “keep a civil service wholesome and zealous.” Finer believes that a universal administrative ethic must exist in order to restrain government activity: “Where a written constitution and judicial review are absent, political agencies are bounded only by the hopes and fears arising out of the electoral process. Administration begins where the legislature says it shall begin.” While there are bound to be disagreements among the executive, legislature, and the judiciary, it is expedient that each arm of the Government of Ghana be respected, to avoid usurpation of authority and to allow democracy to thrive.

Furthermore, the essence of the administrator — elected or appointed — is that he or she cannot make policy but must act according to the policies enacted by the legislature. Without such a system, the political process cannot be called democratic, and sooner or later, abuse is bound to occur. Finer sees democracy and special ethical responsibilities as intertwined: The servants of the public are not to decide their own course; they are to be responsible to the elected representatives of the public, and these are to determine the course of action of the public servants to the most minute degree that is technically feasible. This kind of responsibility is what democracy means.

Democratic nations have courts, the legislature, and government ministers who, collectively or otherwise, have oversight for public officials. While the conscience of a public official is in itself important, Finer argues, authority must be “exercised over officials by responsible ministers based on sanctions exercised by the representative assembly.” This leadership approach is one of the trademarks of a democracy, although the procedures and implementation processes may vary from one democratic nation to another.

York Willbern lends credence to a universal administrative ethic — he argues the existence of different levels of public morality: basic honesty and conformity to law; conflict of interest; service orientation and procedural fairness; the ethic of democratic responsibility; the ethic of public policy determination; and the ethic of compromise and social integration. Some of these issues of public morality are associated with individual actions and others governmental decisions taken by public employees. In effect, a public servant must have good morals, be honest, be respectful of others, and must uphold the law. That our leaders in Ghana should regularly examine themselves to see if they have these virtues as guiding principles in their day-to-day decision-making cannot be overemphasized.

In the United States, for example, the absence of excessive governmental power and the presence of an ever-vigilant press corps imply that there is less “opportunity for the transgression of the basic moral code,” according to Willbern, which is why I must applaud John Kufuor, once again, for creating the culture of free speech that permeates the Ghanaian society today. Without strengthening the so-called “fourth arm” of government, wrongdoing cannot be effectively exposed and leaders will generally be apt to flout the law. Moreover, trampling on the proletariat by unethical politicians is always cause for concern: this trend is one reason we have had many violent, ignominious regime changes on the African continent during the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, ethical responsibility in government is salient for the survival of Ghana’s democracy.

Conflict of interest issues are also vital if a high level of ethical responsibility is to be exhibited by the public official. According to Willbern, “Embezzlement of public funds, bribery, and contract kickbacks are all actions in which the offenders have pursued their own interests.” An unmitigated belief in the sovereignty of the people is a foundation of egalitarianism, and Ghanaian leaders must avoid lining their own pockets at the expense of the rest of the population. To convince Ghanaians that his government is truly accountable to the people, this president needs to ensure that allegations of corruption against some of his appointees are investigated before he bows out of office, without which he will not leave with very high marks.

During World War II, Danish bureaucrats defied their Nazi invaders by refusing to hand over thousands of Jews domiciled in Denmark. The Danes, in the process, elicited a high level of moral responsibility and espoused what Frederickson and Hart call “a patriotism of benevolence, an extensive love of all people and the imperative that they must be protected in all of the basic [human] rights.” I entreat my fellow Ghanaians to be accepting of their neighbors who, because of civil unrest in their own nations, have been forced to live as refugees in Ghana. Additionally, the nation’s leaders, as a matter of ethical responsibility, should continue to provide for these refugees and accord them due respect under international law, until such time that they are able to return to their individual countries or become Ghanaian citizens.

Since bureaucracies are part of the democratic process, whistle-blowing is simply a means of alerting the public to some problems in the conduct of government, and a special ethical responsibility calls for scandals to be exposed for the sake of the public good. While there is great risk to the career of a whistle-blower, this activity can never be exorcized from public service because there always will be conscientious public servants who would risk everything to safeguard the interests of the general public. Public servants owe it to the rest of the population to expose wrongdoing, and anyone who boldly exposes criminal acts should be honored, not persecuted.

In many democratic nations, the actions of public servants are under a constant microscope by a very vigilant press and the general public, which means that public servants must regularly exhibit a high level of morality in their conduct, as aberrations, deliberate or otherwise, will not be condoned. We need to make sure these same values become entrenched in our Ghanaian society, starting with those at the helm of state affairs. Holding themselves to very high ethical standards ensures that our leaders will continually promote the growth of our young democracy, which will, in turn, give our nation the political and social stability it needs. Let us keep the flag of democracy flying high in Ghana, and long live our nation!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. Please send your questions or comments to dpryce@gmu.edu.

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

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.