Politics Mon, 26 Jan 2004

The "State-of-the-Union" Address: Seen From My Desk.

As expected in every election year, the political gurus are currently at the peak of politicking. Political masters are showing muscles and pledging their hearts. It is in such a time that the rank-and-file wields what it takes for anybody to become a national political supremo. The president started this year’s "state-of-the-union" address by reminding those citizens with short memories the state of affairs when he took over the mantle of leadership. "Mr Speaker, fellow Ghanaians, let me remind every one that we inherited a bad economy." I think to put it this way, the President put it lightly, apparently in recognition of the presence of the former vice-president Prof. John E. Attah Mills and other dignitaries . Such a recognition is an evidence of a shift from rantings of Rawlings under the NDC. JAK was clearly living up to his image of humility and a democrat.
The right to give a State-of-the-Union address particularly is a blessing for political leaders both in the USA and the Republic og Ghana (to mention only two). It provides a fantastic platform for leaders in these two countries to reach their citizens and friends alike with their achievements and programmes. Contrarily, it is a depressing moment for the opposition. The Democrats in the US were polite in listening to their president’s address. Their counterparts in Ghana were not and apparently interrupted the President on many occassions with their shouts of "scent no scent no" and table top banks.
I watched President Bush’s address live on BBC World. I could see a determined personality with a brave face trying to justify, convince and even glorify the war in Iraq. A war that nearly torn the world apart, that has so far claimed over 500 American lives, that opponents consider unnecessary and too extreme. However, the President stood firm and tried to convince supporters and American people and the world that the war was for the interest of the great Nation and has succeeded in making the country and the world a more safer place, at least, than before his administration.
Unlike President George Bush jr., President John A. Kufuor has not led the nation into a controversy of the proportion like the US-led war in Iraq. Kufuor-Aliu’s government human rights records, the stabilization of the cedi and the taming of the galloping inflation (among many others) leave their chests high. Their government’s controversial baptize of the nation "HIPC" remains controversial in the minds of some, yet day in and day out it is becoming difficult for critics to condemn and win sympathy. There is ample evidence across the country to suggest that the hipc baptism has not caused more harm than good. Billions of cedis have been disbursed to the districts, municipalities and the metropolies, never before in the history of local government in the country. Like President Bush, the arrest of Saddam Hussein has increased his dream of re-election by raising his popularity – heavily belittling criticisms against the war. The democrat’s presidential aspirant, Dean Howar d, who was dubbed the hardest critic of the war is paying a price by trailing in the run-offs. The same scenario can be said to be taking place in Ghana today.
As expected, the President hit on his greatest achievements so far, in the areas of education, health, investment friendliness, modernized agriculture, private sector development, infrastructural and rural development, presidential initiatives and democratic governance. "Inflation is on a general decline, the Cedi has been relatively stable, domestic borrowing is lowest in many years, accumulation of foreign exchange stands at the highest in several years and interest rates have fallen from 50 per cent in the banks to the current 26 per cent." The "Golden Age of Business" policy has not been in vain but has created a drive to a more stable and enabling environment for business. On education, the president said the Ghana Education Service’s decision to release a league table of results of various secondary schools is a move that would inject more competition in schools.
What interest me most was the reactions that came from a cross section of the population, especially the NDC. The major source for attacks was the perceived refusal on the part of the President to attack corruption (left behind by the P/NDC’s near 20-year rule). It is paradoxical that these same people who nearly made this inhuman practice entrenched in the country would turn round to win sympathy just after three years since losing power. "The speech was just like playing an old gramophone record. We knew all the things that he said" , Hon. Doe Adjaho, the Minority Chief Whip is quoted to have said. The same finger points to the reactions that have come from their quarters. Many of us expected nothing than the usual insinuation and blame as we have witnessed since the address. The best judge remains the general Ghanaian public and we remain confident that they know better.
Prof. John E. A. Mills, the NDC’s flagbearer for 2004 elections, perhaps his heart filled with nostalgia of power, considered the 23-page address as "hollow and uninformed". The Prof.’s major reason being "no where in the speech did he mention what has actually been achieved in the fight against corruption". This may sound right but the sheer refusal of the opposition leader in the country to acknowledge the gains the NPP government has made so far gives readers ample opportunity to doubt the credibility behind the criticism. It was not the least enough for the NDC presidential candidate for election 2004 to only admit some "blunders", where his use of blunders leaves many of us in dark. Where "blunders" mean? There is little doubt in many Ghanaian minds that the NPP has done comparatively better, at least by providing some relief from the then march towards total lawlessness and economic demise – esp. putting the time within which this government has operated in persp ective.
In spite of the above, I do not doubt that there were loopholes in the President’s speech. Corruption continues to pose a serious threat to the Nation’s move towards democracy and prosperity. The fight against it should have been embedded at the heart of any government policy for sustaining any gains that are available. Unless the battle against corruption is fought and won, it will always be a serious thorn against unity and progress in the country. It would have been a praise-worthy thing if the President had pledged his commitment and determination to fight it. I have my doubts if the declaration of "Zero Tolerance for Corruption" still features as strongly as it used to be when President J.A. Kufuor first worn the crown of leadership in the country. There is no gainsaying that arrogance and self-aggrandizement is still pervasive in the country. It would be wrong (and indeed wrong) for the leadership to pretend that things are okay on this score. Silence is usually cons idered consent, so says a popular adage.
The speech also failed to give credit to the men and women whose efforts have made the gains possible. The Ghana Armed Forces, the Police Service, Immigration service, Customs and excise, farmers, teachers, the civil service and other deserve to be encouraged for defying all the economic hardships to keep the nation strongly moving. Government policies should envisage how best these do-without national institutions can be strengthen and be taken off the list of white-elephants.
Nevertheless, in agreement with the likes of Mr. Kwame Pianim, Dr. Baffour Agyeman-Duah and thousands of Ghanaians out there, I give the President a thumb up. I give my credit particularly for the President’s emphasis and determination on doing things in the country according to the dictates of the laws of the country. "This I believe is the surest way to success for the nation and for all of us, no matter our political stance", said President Kufuor. There is ample evidence around the globe to show that only civility prevails and wins. Saddam Hussein is the latest example to show the supremacy of rule of law over self-aggrandizement and tin-godliness. And I must add, rule of law is the only undisputable way forward.

Peter Ohemeng(Oslo, Norway)

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


Source: Ohemeng, Peter