When is incumbency not ever (ab)used?

Sun, 4 Nov 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, November 2, 2012

Three civil society groups—the Ghana Integrity Initiative, the Centre for Democratic Development, and the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition jointly released a report yesterday, citing President Mahama for abuse of incumbency and the NPP’s Akufo-Addo for vote-buying.

We know what vote-buying entails. We have no problem knowing what incumbency is and how it is used. We also know how much currency is often made of incumbency and how it influences political considerations. What baffles us, however, is what constitutes abuse of incumbency. Sometimes, it is good be the devil’s advocate, which is what I am setting out to be.

The three groups were emphatic that President Mahama used the “Thank-You Tour” of the regions after the death of President Atta Mills to campaign, which they saw as abuse of incumbency.

They said “On 17th July, 2012, our observer in Cape Coast in the Central region reported that, H.E President John Dramani Mahama during the state sponsored “Thank You Tour” of Cape Coast following the death and burial of the late President used the platform to urge the people of Cape Coast to elect him to continue the ‘Better Ghana agenda’” (Ghanaweb, November 2, 2012).

I have a problem with this very misleading aspect of their report and suggest that what these groups are doing won’t help us grow our democracy. The report is clearly a misrepresentation of reality and won’t solve any problem.

How could President Mahama have gone on such a tour before the death of President Mills? We all know that the ex-President had celebrated his birthday on Saturday July 21 only to pass away on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

So, did Mahama’s abuse of incumbency in the case being cited by these groups precede President Mills’ death? Let nobody tell me that the wrong date cited is a typographical error or “the printer’s devil.” It is not. It is definitely a clear instance of the distortion of reality beclouding the work of such institutions, which casts very serious doubts on their integrity and raises troubling questions about their findings.

Nothing can hamper our democracy more than such deliberate, creepy, and calculating lies.

We are worried that such warped reports won’t promote our well-being as people fighting hard to grow our democracy. It doesn’t bode well for oneness nor will it encourage anybody to sacrifice time and resources defending any cause of the sort that might have prompted these groups’ activities.

I will stick my neck out to say that what has often been quickly fingered as abuse of incumbency will not end just because someone is pointing accusing fingers at the Presidency. The problem is that anything involving the Presidency will demand the use of state resources. How do we draw the line between a so-called purely “state function” involving the President and a partisan political one for which the President must be debarred from using resources at his disposal?

Whether President Mahama attends an NDC rally or not, he can’t do without the resources vested in his office. We don’t expect him to turn away from the state-provided vehicles to hop onto a taxi, an NDC campaign van, or his private car for that purpose. He will use whatever defines his status. Wherever he goes, he carries along with him the identity and privileges of the Number One citizen that he is. How can we, then, accuse him of abusing incumbency?

Again, recourse to “incumbency” is nothing new nor is it restricted to Ghana. It happens all over the world that a sitting President uses whatever is allocated to his office to perform his functions. I don’t see anything wrong with this arrangement until proved wrong by stronger arguments to the contrary.

We in Ghana are too quick to point gossipping fingers, which is part of our major problem. Of course, we must be concerned when state resources are misapplied, especially in the case of unconscionable public office holders who cede official vehicles to their wives and girlfriends for use on such capricious errands as funerals and sight-seeing tours. But then, enforcement of regulations becomes a problem.

We can, however, separate what these public servants do from what is being cited as an instance of misconduct on the part of the President to say that blurring the line is nothing but a calculating politically motivated move to dent the President’s image.

The report also accused Akufo-Addo of using his tour of the Upper East Region to buy votes, especially in the situation where “motor bike riders were allowed to draw fuel from a filling station for free.”

I don’t doubt this accusation, not because it pins down Akufo-Addo to an immoral political act, but because it is nothing new. We know how politicians have over the years induced or corrupted voters with material gifts, money, and high-sounding promises.

What these three groups noticed in the case of Akufo-Addo is just the tip of the huge iceberg that has made our democracy a laughing stock in many senses. Corrupting voters and winning their mandate takes many forms.

While blackmailing or outright intimidation is the major means used by some politicians, others even go to the extent of twisting the arms of those bribed with money and material gifts (roofing sheets, corn mills, vehicles, landed property, etc.) to swear oaths binding them to the terms underlying the corrupt act.

Some are even known to have invoked the natural/spiritual powers of river gods and other deities to bind the beneficiaries of their corrupt acts. Such benefactors are often heard boasting in public of their acts and assuring themselves of support from those so bound by such oaths.

Whatever is being reported about Akufo-Addo, Victor Smith (the Eastern Regional Minister and NDC Parliamentary Candidate for Abuakwa North), or J.B. Danquah (the NPP’s Parliamentary Candidate for Abuakwa North) is nothing new. How do we prevent it? Not through mere reports!

It will take more than mere reports of its occurrence to eradicate it from our political considerations. It will need more than a reference to laws in the statute book to rule out too. Mere pontifications on morality won’t solve the problem either. Our main problem in Ghana is the inability to enforce laws. We take more delight in hearing the laws bark than bite.

Yes, Akufo-Addo, Victor Smith, and J.B. Danquah have given material gifts to prospective voters to sway their electoral decisions. So what? Publish this report to shame them? As politicians, do they have any shame, though? Who says shaming them will deter them (or all those indulging in vote-buying)?

What will be done to “discipline” them and any other politician so caught indulging in vote buying? That should be our main preoccupation, which the three institutions neglected.

For as long as the needs of the people aren’t being met as expected, they will always remain as underdogs to be influenced with material gifts. Our politics is clogged with this kind of filth because that’s what promotes the interests of the politicians and their praise-singers all over the country.

And the law doesn’t bite these politicians. Is there any law against this vote-buying act, though? If there isn’t, will Parliament enact one to be enforced? And who constitute Parliament to do so and deny themselves the voters’ goodwill? Are these Parliamentarians themselves clean, anyway?

We have several instances of their abuse of the law and how they’ve been let to go scot free while ordinary hungry offenders are given long custodial sentences for petty theft of plantains and cassava!

Solving the problem demands more than mere reports reiterating the obvious. What are these organizations themselves doing beyond expending resources documenting these occurrences? How credible are they themselves to be relied on for practical action to deal with the problem?

I have had good cause to question the integrity and political neutrality of these so-called civil society groupings. It seems they have a huge smokescreen behind which they hide to colour their work with partisan political interests. And by their own carelessness, they expose and betray themselves as such.

I have very serious doubts whether those making such allegations have any integrity at all to warrant what they do. In many respects, they appear to be in too indecent a hurry to find fault where there is none.

We can’t readily solve the problem because the state institutions established to enforce laws and regulations are weak and unfocused. They have been largely politicized and turned into appendages of these wily politicians and used to pursue parochial interests.

How have the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Ghana Police Service, and analogous institutions performed to help us solve these problems? Very disappointing!

Of course, it is our responsibility to be vigilant and act decisively to curb abuses that threaten our democracy; but we must be careful how we do so instead of merely raising them to influence electoral decisions at this time. We need laws to be enforced for that matter. Where are they and who will enforce them?

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.