We cannot grow our democracy this way...

Thu, 2 Jul 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor


June 29, 2009

President Barack Obama of the United States is scheduled to visit Ghana, and there is already optimism from the NDC government’s quarters that his visit will ensure economic benefits for Ghana. As to how it will do so, I don’t know. Maybe, I’ll get to know only when the chips fall in place.

But one thing I know now is that President Obama is coming to Ghana as a man who can pride himself on concrete measures that his administration has already put in place to address the economic crisis that it inherited. He had campaigned for the Presidency on the severe criticism of George Bush’s policies and made clear his strategies for tackling problems both at the local and global levels. As soon as he entered office, he put into motion the mechanisms for a smooth administration. He has so far not faltered nor is public perception of his government dismal, at least, if public comments are anything to go by.

His drastic measures regarding the auto industry, credit card system, health care, immigration, and foreign policy are expected to yield positive results even if criticized by the Republicans. He has signed many bills (the recent one on tobacco) into law. These are the indications of a President who knows how to allay public fears and to instill confidence in the people. Between President Obama’s administration and that of Ghana’s President Mills, there is a huge gulf, and it will be naïve for one to put them together for critical assessment. The US has centuries of democracy and Ghana has done only 17 years on the road.

But this contrast doesn’t prevent me from ruffling feathers. What has President Mills done so far to create the congenial atmosphere for fallouts of the Obama visit (being perceived as economic gains) to fit into?

In terms of policy initiatives, very little has so far come from President Mills’ government to suggest that the NDC is indeed working under a Social Democratic agenda. In other words, the party’s manifesto has very good ideas on paper but there is little being done on the ground to assure that the NDC will do what Ghanaians expect. In one of my earlier articles ushering President Mills into office, I asked: “What will President Mills do differently?” I am yet to see anything drastically encouraging to hang on to. It will be myopic on the NDC government’s part to want to make any huge capital out of this visit because at the end of it, the realities of the harsh economic situation will jolt the people back into perspective to realize that the mere political gimmicks surrounding the Obama visit cannot redeem them from want, misery, and despondency. Reports indicate that most people are already disaffected, apparently because of apprehensions against the manner in which the government is handling issues. The cost of living is worsening as the economic situation remains dire and politicians seek personal comfort.

What Ghanaians expect is a government that will enunciate and implement good policy decisions to lessen their socio-economic burden. Unfortunately, there is too much talk and little action from officialdom. Indeed, if the current arguments being raised in public discourse are anything to go by, then, there is already cause for concern. There are red flags all over the place because of public perception that President Mills is either too slow or is weak in terms of the kind of leadership qualities he has so far exhibited. In effect, he was good at identifying the country’s problems while in the opposition but doesn’t know how to solve them now in government.

Although no one expects President Mills and members of his government to solve problems overnight, the people want to see some clear instances of dynamism in their handling of issues. Alas, there appears to be a free-for-all situation in government and each passing day brings along worries. It comes with conflicting pronouncements on government’s intentions and plans. It is as if there is no coordination of efforts in officialdom. The situation is discouraging because it creates the impression that the government is out of control. And many people are asking: How can an out-of-control government solve the country’s problems? This is an indictment, we must admit.

Take, for instance, the modus operandi of the BNI within the context of the Asamoah Boateng fracas. While some government appointees were vigorously defending the BNI’s recourse to verbal invitations to those of interest to it, the Vice President took a different turn, saying that prospective interrogatees of the BNI should honour the organization’s invitation only when done with a warrant.

Then again, on the fate of employees of the NHIS, Schools Feeding Programme, and NYEP, while some government functionaries are claiming that none would be dismissed, others are saying and doing the exact opposite. Evidence from the Volta Regional Minister’s utterances and intentions reveals that some of those people have already been dismissed in the Volta Region.

Again, while the Accra Metropolitan Assembly had indicated doing public education before demolishing structures in the Accra Business District, nothing of the sort happened. The owners of those structures woke up the following day only to be faced with the nightmare of having the entire edifice of their “economic lives” and hopes crushed.

Instead of being politic and astute in the handling of this sensitive issue, the Chief Executive Officer of the AMA is invoking “bye-laws” and insisting that the manner in which the action was taken was appropriate. No one is against decongestion of Accra or any other urban area; but a human face must be put on the strategies for implementing those measures. Otherwise, the harm done cannot be reversed and reaction to it will certainly manifest as a vote against the government at election time. There is only one question to ask: Is that how to treat the very people whose votes the government will need in future?

What is obvious is that in terms of policy initiatives, there is no difference between the NDC government and what the Kufuor government did. Let’s remember that the Kufuor government itself had been accused of implementing the NDC’s policies and programmes. If you have identified anything to the contrary, prove me wrong!

In fact, our democracy cannot evolve without a healthy dose of self-criticism, skepticism, and contestation. That is why the need to clean the political stables must be met. Those of us calling for the activities of functionaries of the ex-NPP government to be probed are not doing so because we love witch-hunting; we are not doing so out of mischief or spite either.

Instead, we are doing so because of our wish that drastic action will be taken to expose any malfeasance in their conduct in public office so that anyone who is found to have soiled his/her hands with public funds is punished to serve as a deterrent to those who find themselves in such positions of trust. Our firm conviction is that punishment for those who make ill-gotten wealth out of public office is a necessary measure to curtail dishonest practices. It is an obvious antidote against corruption.

Again, that is why if President Mills has found it proper to institute a probe into alleged misuse of public funds by the previous government (considering the probe into Ghana@50), he should not ignore what is happening in his own government at this early stage. Public outcry against the huge expenditure of the Transitional Team on itself, the acquisition of tractors from the Ministry of Agriculture by Mahama Ayariga and Alban Bagbin, the Muntaka problem at the Ministry of Sports, allegations of impropriety in the rehabilitation of official residences of Regional Ministers or Chief Executives of Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies, and others should be seen as worrisome. And the MPs’ car loans too!

Should the focus be on only functionaries of the previous government and not what is happening under his own watch? Something will certainly not be right if that is the case. Corruption should be tackled, irrespective of the political forces involved. Democracy cannot thrive where there is wanton corruption.

The complaints against the BNI’s handling of issues involving the NPP functionaries are issues to be handled wisely even if firmly and fairly. There are also incidents involving NDC activists in many parts of the country who have taken the law into their own hands and vandalized property, seized NHIS offices, lorry parks, public toilets, and many more. The appointment of Ministers or Deputy Ministers and Chief Executive Officers for the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies has created bad blood and dented the government’s image in many communities across the country.

The current high level of public interest in what the BNI has begun doing and the inauguration of the committee of inquiry to probe the activities of the Ghana@50 Secretariat indicates that Ghanaians (home and abroad) are observing keenly how the government is handling affairs. No one should deceive himself that the public are not monitoring events or that they are apathetic to issues. Comments that dominate public conversation indicate that the public are heavily invested in the matter to see how it plays out. So also is the interest in the allegations involving Muntaka Mohammed-Mubarak, ex-Minister of Youth and Sports. He has resigned but the interest in the matter hasn’t yet evaporated—and it won’t, for a long time to come.

The Ghanaian electorate are politically mature enough and know how to assess the performance of the government as they compile a catalogue of its failures and successes. At election time, they refer to their score cards and vote accordingly. The decisions that they make often go beyond an assessment of a single individual’s performance in government, although it could also be a deciding factor in some local areas.

Thus, the fact that President Mills has decided not to collect per diem allowances, for instance, will not influence the voters if, generally, he is perceived as incapable of controlling extravagance or stealing of public funds by members of his government. Again, if his NDC government fails to fulfill its campaign promises, no amount of self-denial by him or appeal to the conscience of the people will do the NDC any good at election time.

If we want our country to develop the way others have done (to become the likely destinations of Ghanaians in this brain-drain phenomenon), then, we expect our governments to do what will ensure national development and inspire good citizenship. President Obama seems to be doing just that.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.