Opinions Mon, 3 Apr 2006

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The Presidential Term: Is 4 Years Enough?

The President?s press secretary, Mr Kwabena Agyapong recently hinted that President John Agyekum Kufuor may urge the legislature to re-think the current length of the presidential term (Ghanaweb lead story, ?President Kufuor to Push for a 5-Year Term,? 3/28/2006, and as reported by the Independent).

According to the press secretary, when elected, ?the President has to grapple with the difficulty of appointing Ministers of State and their Deputies, and District Chief Executives, an exercise which takes a long time to complete. In addition to that the president would have to take time to study the workings of the Civil Service.?

And even though Mr Agyapong later called the report ?a bit exaggerated,? this fact still remains: the president spends too much time learning the ?rules of the game and then forming a team to play the game.? And by the time the team is named, the game is over. In this piece, I will not be addressing the question of an optimal length of the presidential term, simply because, I don?t know what it should be.

Is 4 years enough? Should each term be 5 or 7 years? I don?t know. But I have a couple of suggestions that may allow the president to do a lot more in 4 years. And these suggestions are actually contained in the concerns of the press secretary. Simply, (1) The current (or a future) President must push for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act; and (2) The President must push for a more decentralized nation.

An FOI act not only promotes transparency in how the nation is run, but also allows a potential presidential candidate to be fully aware of the challenges s/he faces when elected into office. In addition, the same information (on revenues, expenditures, public sector wage-bill, binding contracts with trading partners, etc) will be available for all, so that each of us can will be better informed. A better-informed electorate disciplines the candidates both when they are campaigning for the high office (regarding the promises they make) and after they have been elected into office. As it is now, the office of the presidency involves a significant initial period of an ?on-the-job training.? The presidency is a serious job, and we can not afford to have presidents who should be learning what to do after they are elected. The world doesn?t wait for the president to learn on the job!

Let?s pass an FOI Act soon, so we can be empowered to seek answers from potential candidates during elections, and also question the decisions that are made after the elections. It is the only way we can be sure that an aspiring candidate for the high office is cognizant of the challenges ahead.

Secondly, if a president gets into office, and has to be concerned with appointing 230 DCEs and MCEs, and 10 Regional Ministers, then I am afraid that the president will have little time left to address the issues that s/he campaigned on. To put this into perspective, suppose the President of the USA has to spend time appointing the mayors of Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Sioux Falls and each of the umpteen cities in the union; plus appoint the governors of each of the 50 states. What else can the US president do in 4 years?

Not much. There is no reason for our constitution to reserve these positions only to be used as ?jobs for the president?s boys and girls.?

The NPP campaigned to work for a more decentralized nation, and it is truly disappointing that, just as the previous government, this administration has also found it convenient to shelve this initiative and continue with the status quo. An often-cited reason for our current flawed ?centralized decentralized? democracy is that it is necessary to have a well-educated expert served as the DCE of a district that lack such expertise. This rationale is just as warped as the argument that local elections will generate conflict among community members. Both reasons pre-supposes that our parents, brothers and sisters in the rural areas are incapable of making their own decisions and reaching a consensus peacefully through the ballot box. It?s almost an insult..

Since ?Adam,? communities have found ingenious and creative ways to solve their problems. What we need to do is to empower them to continue to do so. Allowing each district to openly elect their DCE will promote a competition of ideas, and such ideas can be aggregated to solve the community?s problems. Secondly, and more importantly, it ensures an internal checks and balances in the hierarchy of the government. The DCE, who is now accountable to her district, will push the Regional Minister for the resources she needs to do her job; and the Regional Minster does the same to the President. Since the President may not wish to be blamed for the DCE?s inability to fulfill her campaign promises, the President will have an incentive to fully disclose the total sum of money that is transferred to each of the 10 regions and 230 districts. It is that simple. In fact, a shrewd President will sell this idea to the nation, and push for a decentralized nation so that s/he will not have to take the blame for the incompentence of DCEs and regional Ministers.

Finally, a completely decentralized economy, where each district has an autonomy to choose the best policy for themselves, promotes policy experimentation at the district level. . If a local initiative fails, the damages will be restricted to that district. On the other hand, if an idea works in district A, then it can be replicated in district B, and others. The President will then have more time to focus on the development of institutions and the infrastructures that both facilitate and co-ordinate such growth-enhancing initiatives into an agenda for national development.

So, instead of pushing for a 5-year term, Mr John Kufour must direct his energy to push for a passage of the FOI Act, and an amendment of the constitution to empower all Ghanaians. Future presidents can then accomplish a lot in 4 years.

Edward Kutsoati
Arlington, MA

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

Columnist: Kutsoati, Edward

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