The Danger of Free Press To Ghana’s Democracy (1)

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Sat, 18 Oct 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

This essay and its sequel follow the two-part series “Ghana’s Unrepentant Ugly Face.”

Somehow, in addition to making them more affordable, readership and circulation of newspapers need expanding in the Ghanaian body politic with a view to placing them in constructive engagement with public psychology. They need also be made more accessible to school children as well. It is worth pointing out that readership and circulation are not the same. The difference is subtle, however. Circulation roughly refers to the number of copies of a printed material distributed within certain time frames and readership the number of people who read a printed material.

Definitions aside, there must be formal and informal ways of familiarizing Ghanaian youth with the stinking odor of corruption and its negative corollaries to a nation-state’s development economics, right through their formative psycho-socialization. Teaching the youth about critical skills is extremely important because what is read and discussed on television and radio and written in newspapers is somebody else’s synthesis or understanding of an event. Critically reading a piece and drawing one’s own conclusions adds to personal development and cognitive individuation.

Schools, parents, and religious institutions have a responsibility to churn out productive, patriotic, and responsible citizens fit for Ghana’s, Africa’s, and the world’s development. It means making it known to the youth that corruption permeates every nook and cranny of human existence, including homes, churches and mosques, schools, civil service, government, etc. The major challenge is protecting the cause of media literacy, opening up human psychology to public acquisition of everyday political happenings, and expanding the intellectual libraries of citizens’ social knowledge of Ghana if journalism can be made more accessible to the masses. Thus, the degree of sophistication the language of journalism assumes, topical fixation of a given publication, literacy rate, etc., may determine a country’s caliber of readership across a hierarchy of investigational curiosities. It means, among other things, that the topical indulgences of journalists should capture the full spectrum of a society’s variegated and disparate absorptions without necessarily presenting a cross-sectional dissection of that society’s social and political issues.

The strategy minimizes easy tendencies toward selective coverage of issues. This is how the question of corruption and its aggregate negative impacts on a society’s development economics should be addressed, in their naked totality. Moreover, no one within the Ghanaian body politic can thump the chest and declare to the world he is completely spared from the ripple effects of corruption. The country has become identified with the social cancer, corruption at all levels of society, thereby making individual isolation or escape impossible. Ghanaians are in the boat together. In the boat, however, there is nothing like bystander apathy in the face of entrenched social fermentation. Benjamin Franklin aptly describes it thus: “Like a man traveling in foggy weather, those at some distance before him on the road he sees wrapped up in the fog, as well as those behind him, and also the people in the fields on each side, but near him all appears clear, though in truth he is as much in the fog as any of them.”

There is more to this statement than meets the eye. Let us discuss it: Franklin’s “man” instantiates the social problematic of righteous hypocrisy. It says something about individuals who will rather want to see themselves elsewhere in their relative comfort of moral isolation than to have their feigned elitist distance forced between the consuming conflagration of national decay and their righteous hypocrisies! Such individuals desire to see their righteous hypocrisies stand apart from social responsibility. Again, Franklin’s biting observation inferentially raises a number of interesting questions for public consideration: Lack of commitment and unity of purpose, social apathy, bystander effect, and buck passing on the part of private citizens and politicians. Buck passing, Ghana’s own version of political or moral equalization, represents a major obstruction to fighting corruption. Lamentably, no political criminal owns up to his crimes under the imposed cloud of moral equalization in the Ghana that has since become something indescribably appalling. Already the inventory of grievances we mentioned a while ago has driven Ghana into a self-directing pit of premature moral death.

How can things be set right? That is a multi-billion question. In part, for things to work effectively as should be expected of any organic society, however, Ghana’s emasculate institutions should have to reinforce her toothless laws with teeth of steel! This is a point we have discussed more than once. These teeth of steel must be sufficiently fit to bite deep into the corruptible thick-skin of political criminals. This backs our universal demands for passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI). Failing that, these hardcore political criminals are merely getting the wrong signals to churn out sufficient strings of corruptible future leaders for the country. The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) is therefore under moral obligation to look out for the public interest, and in that regard, to undertake a thorough nation-wide forensic autopsy of government payrolls for possible ghost names, our reference point being the National Service Secretariat scandal.

This must be done in a way as to assure the country’s youth that their future is not completely hijacked by corrupt politicians and a decaying society. This does not overlook the fact that the youth themselves are caught in the crossfire of corruption. Their pastors, teachers, parents, imams, kings, elders, chiefs, professors, and extended families are corrupt. Corruption in Ghana has extended to paranormal ontologies. For one thing, not too long ago a minister confidently declared dwarfs as the cause of the Cedi’s declension. For another, ghost names suddenly turn up as national service personnel to deplete the state’s coffers through the sinister hand of political kleptomania. Ghosts with names? Since when did Ghana become a land of fairies, elves, ghosts, changelings, and mermaids? Where does all the stolen money go? This is a question for the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the media, parliament, and the national constitution!

On the other hand, we have also wondered if the rope of corruption scandals universally taking root in the soul of the country is not part of a general scheme to siphon national wealth into incumbent campaign funds! This question may not be far from the truth. Where did a political party manage to get $20m in a cash-strapped economy to put up a flashy building when that country cannot provide her citizens classrooms, hospitals, roads, potable water, and electricity? This is one area the media must hound politicians until they cough up particulars. Unfortunately, a section of the media is already in cahoots with the political thieves to conceal or blur the financial source of the building. Rather the unprofessional political thieves attribute the financial source of the building to seed funding, crowdfunding, and what have you. Should the media not be asking for the heads of these scarecrow-faced political thieves with Atta Ayi’s?

Let us return to one of our earlier assumptions regarding a possible correlation between funding of political parties and political corruption. Ghana’s Constitution requires political parties to meet the following requirements:

1) To declare to the public their revenues and assets and the sources of those revenues and assets;

2) To publish to the public annually their audited accounts.

The question is not whether these stipulations are met according to constitutional design. The question should rather be whether monitoring strategies for accrediting the two constitutional requirements are effective and transparent at all. What is the point? Our contention is that parliamentary oversight bodies are too weak and too compromised to the point of being readily crashed under the jackboot of the winner-takes-all political syndrome, let alone measure up to the inflexible hassles of constitutional oversight. Ghana’s Constitution lacks that moral muscularity to impact society due to enforcement problems. Ghana’s free press is also too weak and too compromised to exploit the question to benefit the public interest. As well, similar reservations about the moral strength of certain Ghanaian institutions to set things right accrue to the constitution of the Council of State, because, like the unicameral parliamentary system, it too is tightly tethered to the winner-takes-all political syndrome.

It means all native institutions, without reservations, are slaves to the winner-takes-all political syndrome. Access to state coffers demonstrates similar impulse to institutional weakness. It is not in doubt that funding political parties and electioneering activities is breathtakingly expensive. Political commercials and universal bribing of the electorate, kings, chiefs, election officials and others, for instance, represent a financial chunk in the expansive outlays of political parties, particularly at the height of political campaigns and during elections. Then, we think, it is high time appropriate parliamentary oversight bodies got involved in the quest for the Holy Grail, a search for a possible correlation between political corruption and election campaign financing, if our theory has any success of verification or confirmation. In other words part of the stolen state loot may be heading in that direction, election campaign financing. A possible reason relates to the fact the politics of multiparty democracy has become such an expensive commercial activity that it can hardly survive without running on a well-oiled financial machinery.

It is then of no use trying to confirm if party dues from a given political party’s membership are enough to underwrite the deepening expenditure of that party’s extravagant political campaigns. The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and parliament may want to look into this claim. It is even possible the explosive entry of money laundering, drug trafficking, say, into Ghana’s multiparty politics may be the result rather than the cause of rapid financialization of Ghanaian politics. This view probably represents one of the trickiest trade-offs between multiparty politics and money on the one hand and a people’s conscience and their goodwill on the other hand. The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and parliament, and, yes, the same unicameral rubber stamp parliament, should look into the dubious politics of campaign finance, and if possible, pass the toughest laws yet to regulate it. This is one area journalists can demonstrate initiative as well as leadership, but where is the leadership of Ghana’s free press?

Ghana’s free press is a ghost name, as bad as political corruption and as good as her institutional weakness. Ghana’s free press can hardly be relied upon for moral proaction. It is morally and politically expedient, however, that framers of the Constitution thought it wise to enjoin non-Ghanaians from making financial donations or contributions to political parties with Ghanaian registration. The issue of lobbying on the other hand is another serious matter. We are not implying that lobbying is necessarily bad in every given instance. On the other hand we cannot ignore the practice’s high propensity for corrupting public offices. Like other expressions of democratization, lobbying requires a constitutional noose around its hyoid in the regulation of its breathing so as not to subvert democratic processes. The high-profile political lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff readily comes to mind. We may not, again, have to skirt the substantial link between rent-seeking and political lobbying in democratic enclaves for partisan political reasons.

Rent-seeking is one way unscrupulous individuals or organizations buy a government’s conscience or a legislature’s soul to mollify the greed of private interests. Regulatory capture is another. Both rent-seeking and regulatory capture potentially undermine the public interest, disable a government’s fiduciary responsibilities to its subjects, and render tendering structures less competitive. And while it is true that these concepts have not fully evolved in the context of Ghanaian democracy as in the West, particularly America’s, it is equally not debatable that the positive intentions behind lobbying strategies eventually may graduate to rent-seeking and regulatory capture. The Ghanaian Constitution is not primed to face these eventualities. Again, both concepts are far from the notional exigencies of positive externalities. The point here is to ensure that negative externalities from regulatory capture and rent-seeking do not end up hijacking Ghana’s development economics.

Accordingly, this calls for the authority of constitutional enshrinement, a process required to stymie efflorescence of rent-seeking and regulatory capture before they assume mature expression in the relative youthfulness of Ghanaian democracy. This is an important question Ghana’s young democracy cannot ignore. On the subject of funding for political parties registered in Ghana, however, we are not too certain what resources, if any, the appropriate oversight authorities have put in place to safeguard election campaign finance against encroachment of external contamination. All the same, experience has shown that it is in the nature of human beings to find ways to circumvent social, cultural, psychological, or legal traps that strongly oppose fruition of their natural tendencies.

By “natural tendencies” we mean the freedom to do as humans always wish, greed, and so forth. A good instance is the relative consistency with which individuals and private institutions ignore the so-called McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act to finance political campaigns in stark contravention of the Act’s statutory mandates.

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis