Yes, this Constitutional White Elephant (Council of State) must go!!

Thu, 29 Mar 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The call by Professor George Ayitey (a U.S.-based Ghanaian economist) that the Council of State be abolished is laudable and I support it wholeheartedly.

Prof. Ayitey made the call in an interview with Joy News’ Anny Osabutey (Myjoyonline, March 27, 2012). Nothing can be more imperative at this time than this call to get rid of the constitutional white elephant that the Council of State is.

This Council came into being by virtue of a provision in the 1992 Constitution, and we have had three versions of it in this 4th Republic—under former Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor and the current one.

No evidence exists concerning any concrete contribution that this Council has made for Ghana’s advancement to warrant its continued presence in our national life. It is just one of the institutions of state that exists because the Constitution says that it must be created. Doesn’t the President already have advisers at the Presidency?

The Constitution empowers the Council to perform certain functions, including:

i. Considering a bill which has been published in the Gazette or passed by Parliament if the President so requests (Article 90, clause 1).

ii. Considering and making, upon request or on its own initiative, recommendations on any matter being considered or dealt with by the President, a Minister of State, Parliament or any other authority established by this Constitution except that the President, Minister of State, Parliament or other authority shall not be required to act in accordance with any recommendation made by the Council of State under this clause (Article 91, clause 3).

Laudable functions; but let someone tell me what the Council has been able to do so far. No initiative to contribute anything concrete toward national development. In any case, the Council is constrained because it is subservient to the President. So, where does it stand in terms of independence to move us forward? Just part of the job-for-the-men syndrome?

Although the framers of the Constitution might have good reasons for institutionalizing the Council, its performance doesn’t warrant its retention. It has outlived its usefulness and must be scrapped.

Whatever the rationale behind its establishment might be, the Council is anachronistic, a duplication of Parliament and, therefore a drain on the country’s coffers.

What is not true about Prof. Ayitey’s arguments, though, is his claim that “…the Council of State was created way back in 1992 when we had presidential elections that were alleged to be fraudulent and the NPP boycotted the parliamentary elections,” resulting in “a de-facto one-party state and parliament role is to provide oversight over the executive.”

Also not true is his claim that “Because it was a one-party state, Western donors insisted that some kind of body should be created to advise the president.” There is no proof for this wild claim.

The birth of the Constitution preceded the Presidential and Parliamentary elections held respectively in November and December 1992. We couldn’t have had an NDC-dominated Parliament before the Constitution came into effect. Neither was the NPP’s boycott a factor that prompted the provision for the Council of State.

But these factual inaccuracies notwithstanding, good reason suggests that the Council must be abolished because it isn’t serving anybody’s interests to warrant the expenditure being made to sustain it.

Primarily, the Council lost its legitimacy right at birth. It is neither independent as expected nor is it really functioning to produce any tangible result to confirm that it is relevant to our national cause.

Here is the real issue. According to the Constitution, the Council is to have a maximum of 25 members, 11 of whom are to be appointed by the President.

Over the years, the three Presidents that we’ve had in this 4th Republic have appointed party loyalists while the remaining members of the Council were elected at the regional levels and others represented interest groups.

Indeed, those appointed by the President are known as members or sympathizers of the political party in power. Rawlings appointed praise-singers who had worked with him all those years while Kufuor also did same. President Mills has followed suit. Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor, Chairman of the current Council, for instance, can’t wash away his P(NDC) spots.

All these party loyalists recycled to serve on this Council won’t shed off their biases to function in any way other than what they are known for. They sing the appointing authority’s song and come across as sycophants. Those among the Council members toeing a different political line risk being sidelined or intimidated and can’t influence anything the Council deliberates on. There is partisan politics going on here too even if in very subtle ways.

Particularly intriguing is the fact that the Council hasn’t added anything concrete to efforts to grow our democracy. They haven’t been able to advise the President on how to solve the systemic problems or to help resolve the crises in many parts of the country. The Yendi and Bawku problems still persist and new ones emerge every day top remind us that our leaders lack the requisite acumen.

All the Council does is to look for favourites for appointment to boards and other analogous entities. Rubber-stamping is its forte, which doesn’t help us in any way.

Anybody arguing that the Council plays the role of an Upper Chamber as would be the case in a bicameral legislature is only being mischievous. Or anybody claiming that the Council of State is made up of elderly and experienced people (ranging from retired technocrats, professionals, traditional rulers, the clergy, and what-have-you) is just being lazy upstairs.

Yes, Ghanaians have respect for old-age but won’t just spend money on the elderly just for its own sake as is the case of the Council. That is why the defence put up by the Reverend Amo Darko, a member of the Council, on the usefulness of elders in the Ghanaian society as a justification for retaining the Council of State is bogus and inadmissible.

Let’s hear him: “The Council of State is an elderly, eminent members of the society who have gone through life… We have a former IGP, a former army commander, a sitting president of house of chiefs, a former Chief Justice… who are imminent citizens of the nation and who have known life and therefore are able to counsel the president and ministers and other stakeholders who govern our nation.”

Even when these so-called “elderly” and “eminent” personalities were in active service, a lot went wrong in the institutions that they controlled. What guarantee is there that now in their dotage they will do any better for the country to benefit from their so-called expertise?

I want to reiterate here that the Council of State is irrelevant and must be abolished. At this point in our democracy, we need to go beyond mere accessorizing to ensure that the institutions of state that we need to prop up our democracy are in place and functioning properly. Merely establishing them to comply with Constitutional provisions won’t help us.

From the debate that is still raging on whether to amend the Constitution itself or not, we can tell that not everything contained in that paper tiger is serving our purposes. The Council is one of those provisions; and the earlier we get rid of it, the better chances are that the funds being wasted on it can be redirected to serve needy sectors.

On a larger scale, I wonder if the Constitution Review Commission’s recommendations will ever be implemented to help us clean the stables and maximize the benefits of the constitutional democratic governance that we have chosen as the path toward national recovery.

The truth stands that a democracy that is fixated on only periodic political rituals to put people in office for its own sake is sterile. It won’t endure for as long as such people don’t do what is required to solve our problem of underdevelopment. We won’t lose anything if we rid ourselves of this constitutional white elephant called the Council of State!

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.