When can one criticise the President?

Opinions Image Opinion

Fri, 27 Nov 2015 Source: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi

There is but little caveat on the right to criticise. Our Constitution grants us the right to movement, association, thought and expression. So long as the issue involved is a question of national concern and not about what the President chooses to wear or not to wear, then everyone has the right to express their opinion. It is pure and simple.

The beauty of a democracy is the space it confers on citizens to express their views on matters of national interest. There is a line in the famous poem “the desiderata” that goes this way: “listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”

So when a peeved president takes on the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) for continually tagging him as incompetent, one wonders whether the President is a new entrant in the game of politics.

I have never heard of anyone in opposition anywhere in the world sending flowers or being exceedingly complementary of a government in power.

An opposition exists not only as a counterbalance to governmental actions and conduct but also as a government in waiting. It should not, therefore, be a strange event when the government or President is described as incompetent. To be frank, there have been more scathing attacks on other presidents than on President Mahama.

In taking on the opposition the way he did, I have doubts if the President succeeded in any way to wash away the tag of incompetence levelled against him. In truth, what the President has succeeded in doing is to say that the opposition is more incompetent than he or his government is.

I don’t know what other conclusion, can be drawn when the President says “All of them in the offices they occupy, they should show us what competence they display.”

It is another way of saying that the one hurling the tag on government is no different from the government being described as incompetent. In short, it is a typical scenario of the pot calling the kettle black.

To be very sincere, but for the reiteration of the incompetence mantra by President Mahama, I would have simply considered it as just one of those opposition commentaries.

The President went on to say: “All of you guys have never ever come near the Presidency before. You know what it means to be President? And you stand and say ‘incompetent Mahama administration’, 'Incompetent Mahama administration'. What do you know about competence?

Of course, the President may be right in private affairs. After all, no one cares two straws about an opinion of marriage from an unmarried person. No one pays attention to someone who talks about the moon when the person has never been close to an uber-telescope.

But when it comes to governance, so long as we are citizens and not subjects, there is nothing wrong with commenting and expressing our opinions - no matter how foolish and uninformed the view expressed may be.

The measure of competence of a government has nothing to do with my proximity to the corridors of powers; but rather has everything to do with whether I am happy, healthy and capable of having access to opportunities that enables me to be better off economically, educationally, socially and culturally.

There is no overarching testimony of a government’s competence than these. And until we see and experience these, no amount of counter-words can negate and nullify the common experience of the Ghanaian.

That said, I would concede one point- that opposition parties usually do not know and understand the depth, complexities and intricacies of what they talk about. This is a reality of our politics. In making decisions about who to vote or not vote for, we must bear that in mind at all times.

I have listened to opposition after opposition party express opinions about the state of the economy and governance in one moment; then in the next moment, they turn out to have either grossly underestimated or misunderstood the challenges they identified and the solutions proffered as well.

We have seen governments acting no differently from the parties they took over from after so much criticism. We have seen it in terms of size of government. We have seen it in terms of the spending habits and patterns.

We have seen it in terms of foreign policy and domestic relations. We have seen it in terms of what government chooses to do or not to do.

But who do we blame for this when basic tools for deepening our democracy such as the passage of the right to information bill is not prioritised as it ought to.

Probably we should blame ourselves. But if I were the President, I would simply gloss over the incompetence tag and focus on those matters that create a sense of competence.

Columnist: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi