The Case Of Per Diem Debate

Tue, 25 Oct 2005 Source: Sophism, Yaw

The Need For Fairness, Truthfulness, And Respect In Our Public Discourse:

In the same way that we expect our political leaders to exercise moral and intellectual discipline, we owe them the duty to treat them with respect, gentleness, and fairness. I understand our duty as active citizens of our country to question, to criticize our political leaders, and to make useful suggestions to them. However, those of us who exercise this civic responsibility have the duty to do it with respect, fairness and civility. A healthy public discourse should help us as citizen to foster mutual understanding and to increase our overall stock of knowledge and epistemic horizon. The goal of this paper is to show the logical inconsistencies, the callousness, and the unfairness with which Mr. William Antwi treated the president per diem issue in his recent article. Let me mention at the outset that it is not the purpose of this paper to defend anyone or the per diem policy. My beef is with the way Mr. Antwi conducts his public discourse.

It is important to note that critical readers take the credibility of writers into consideration in assessing the authenticity of their writings. There are three basic types of appeals in any public discourse. They are what Aristotle describes as appeal to reason (logos), appeals to emotion (pathos), and appeal to ethics (ethos).

First, logical appeals rely on evidence, research, examples, and data to convince the reader of the truth or validity of an argument. The logical method is directed to the rational faculty of the reader through the reasonableness of the claims being made. This critical element was missing in Mr. Antwi?s article. Mr. Antwi relied on evidence that was not there. Second, the emotional appeals try to arouse the feelings, instincts, or biases of readers. Despite their usefulness, emotional appeals are neglected by writers who think them inappropriate in carefully reasoned writings. Mr. Antwi was effective here since he was able to use sophistry and chicanery to cause political sensation and to excite his political comrades.

The third one is the ethical appeals, which rely on the reader?s sense of right and wrong. Here, the authenticity or trustworthiness of one?s writing depends on the writer?s credibility and reputation as a reliable, qualified, experienced, well-informed, and knowledgeable person whose opinions are believable. It is here that Mr. Antwi failed miserably. The logical inconsistencies, contradictions, and unfair manner in which he conducted his discourse have brought his credibility as a writer into question. It is against this background that I want to assess Mr. Williams Antwi?s article titled, ?The President And His Per Diem Allowance = "Legalized Stealing"!

I am going to quote the following portion of his article extensively since it contains the thrust of his article. William Antwi writes:

Like the car loans for our parliamentarians, the President?s per diem allowance is ?legalized stealing?. We use the term ?legalized stealing? in its most classic, street Ash Town sense to mean immorally appropriating a thing that does not belong to you by the use of legal means. In other words, it is stealing through the nose of the law - using the law as a cloak to take that which does not belong to you. Strictly speaking then, even though, the President cannot be efficiently prosecuted and convicted before our criminal courts including the regional tribunals, he can easily be tried and convicted in the court of public opinion! This is not character assassination.

It is important for readers to know that Mr. William Antwi is a trained lawyer, and a former chairman of the Greater Accra Regional Tribunal. He is not a neophyte when it comes to legal proceedings and procedures. But instead of using his legal and prosecutorial skills in carrying out this civic responsibility, he abandoned his logical reasoning and decided to allow his passion to take over. First, he accuses the president of what he terms ?legalized stealing.? This he defines as, ?stealing through the nose.? Second, he wishes the president could have been ?efficiently prosecuted and convicted before our criminal courts including the regional tribunals.? Realizing the second option was not practicable or viable; he decides to subject his accuser to trial and to convict him in the court of public opinion. With this in mind, Mr. Antwi brings his accuser (the president) before the court of public opinion, prosecutes him and convicts him. He writes, ?Exposing and bringing razor attention to wrong financial dealings at the highest echelon of government when those involved blatantly refuse to see wisdom after repeated complaints.?

Interestingly, Mr. Antwi tells his victim that what he is doing to him is not character assassination. He abrogates to himself the right to tell his accuser what is character assassination and what it is not. Obviously, it is notoriously difficult to pin down precisely what is meant by the term, ?character assassination.? However, Mr. Antwi diatribe sounds and smells to me as character assassination carefully crafted to undermine the credibility of his accuser. What in your opinion is character assassination, Mr. Antwi?

The question that critical readers want to ask Mr. Antwi is: What evidence did you bring before the jury (public of opinion) to prosecute and to convict your accuser? Though he could not get answers from the ?accused? or his numerous forked-tongued spokesmen, he went ahead and prosecuted him before the court of public opinion. He writes, ?Not withstanding this cowardly and anti-transparent act reasonable men and women are bound to ask these simple, prime questions.? What Mr. Antwi does not know is that reasonable men and women don?t prosecute and convict people in the court of public opinion based on rumors. That is an insult to reasonable men and women.

One would have expected that someone with a strong legal background as Mr. Antwi could have brought some evidence, data, and reliable information to back his claims. Well, the evidence is not there. Mr. Antwi didn?t have any evidence to back his claims. In his ensuing article meant to explain himself Mr. Antwi writes,

?What this plain statement should tell even a casual reader is that numerous attempts were made to get or confirmed the authenticity of the ?rumor?. If, even at the height of this great debate, Mr. Dan Botwe, our information minister, does not even know how much per diem state officials are taking, then we should imagine whether a ?poor soul? like me would be provided with any direct, truthful information regarding this issue by the powers that be! ?

In other words, the ?rumor? that Mr. Antwi based his prosecutorial work on was never authenticated by anyone. Isn?t there any commonly accepted theory and agreed?upon standards of investigation by which lawyers establish and refute claims? What did Mr. Antwi do with coherence considerations in legal reasoning that entreat him to consider the logical and orderly relation of various parts that support his arguments? A good legal argument is supposed to link much of the assertions he makes in his article to legal principles, regulations and precedents. Yet all these important legal ingredients were missing in his articles.

What I find baffling to understand from Mr. Antwi?s article on the president?s per diem are the two contradictory statements in his articles. On one hand, he tells his readers that he didn?t know how much the president collects for per diem, and on the other hand he knew how much the president collects for per diem. He writes, ?One unique revelation about this financial scandal is that we cannot get any answers from the President or his numerous fork-tongued spokesmen on this national issue. ?

He continues: ?Notwithstanding this cowardly and anti-transparent act reasonable men and women are bound to ask these simple, prime questions: 1. Why should a desperately poor nation like ours pay the President $3000 (27,000,000 million cedis by conservative estimates) every night he spends outside the country taking care of the nation?s business when he doesn?t pay for his air fare, hotel bills, meals, gifts to hosts etc, etc? And, it is a big ?why?.? Why would a professional prosecutor proceed with a case he has no evidence on? Why the rush to prosecute the accuser?

One wonders whether Mr. Antwi knew or didn?t know his facts. In one sense, one gets the idea that Mr. Antwi was an inquirer of facts, but then on another sense, one also gets the idea that he had his facts. Did he know, or didn?t know? He CANNOT KNOW and KNOW at the same time in the same context. This is simple logic: Something CANNOT BE A and NON-A at the same time and within the same context. Mr. Antwi claims somewhere in his articles that all he had was rumor, yet he used it as a basis to prosecute, and to convict the president in the court of public opinion.

It is a dangerous practice for anyone to take a rumor or a partial truth and make it an absolute truth. Isn?t Mr. Antwi aware that contradictions are incoherent in legal theories and practices? The idea of consistency is inherently important in legal theories and practices; notwithstanding, he overlooks these important legal elements in his prosecution, and conviction of his accuser.

While his article had the passion or the pathos to warm up his political compatriots, I think it failed both the logos and ethos tests in his public communication. One does not make serious statements against someone without credible evidence. Some of his supporters argue that it is all right for Mr. Antwi to resort to sensationalism if that could force the government to reveal the information. I think that is a tricky argument to make. Such an argument can be challenged by a reduction ad absurdum, pointing out its absurd conclusion or consequences.

Please, let us treat our political leaders with respect and fairness in our public debates. Yes, we want them to do better, yes, we want them to have the moral and intellectual discipline to move our country ahead, yet we have to treat them with fairness and the respect they deserve.

In conclusion, I will say that it is not only the unfair and disrespectful manner Mr. Antwi treats his accuser that undermine his credibility, but also the logical inconsistencies, contradictions in his articles, and his disregard for legal reasoning, practices and procedures.

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

Columnist: Sophism, Yaw
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