30.08.2002 Feature Article

Getting the Rawlings conundrum and the nation's priorities right

Getting the Rawlings conundrum and the nation's priorities right
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Revelations that the national security apparatus considered putting ex-President Jerry John Rawlings under house arrest for allegedly posing a threat to the security of the State, and the BNI handling of affairs out of the irritating speech by the NDC founder, portray some things about us as a nation. Among these is the fact that 20 months after he handed over power and long after last year’s June 4 boom speech and that of several irritating statements whiles he was in executive office, we are yet to come to grips with what to expect of the former President. It also shows that halfway through his first term in office, the Kufuor administration does not seem to have an effective antidote to the Rawlings persona and that we are at the risk of reversing our march towards democratic governance. While fears that Rawlings’ recent statement in Kumasi could incite disorder and cut short our democratic experiment are legitimate when examined against our recent history, especially just before the overthrow of the Limann administration, the government’s reaction has been equally worrying. Rawlings has a history to his name and whatever he says comes with that excess baggage. He has led two successful coups. His distaste for democratic governance despite the fact that he led the first two terms under our present Constitution is public knowledge. He has never shied away from expressing that opinion. Therefore, while many would look at his speech with sheer interest, those, whose duty it is to protect our democracy would look at it differently. However, a critical examination of Rawlings’speech in Kumasi reveals what I’ve come to believe of the man: He’s the type for whom publicity is oxygen. He thrives on it, he feeds on it and he’ll do anything to attract public attention. Unfortunately, most Ghanaians tend to underrate Rawlings manipulative skills. He is certainly more intelligent than most of us credit him with and there is no doubt in my mind that he is playing cha-cha with our intelligence. Kumasi speech Appearing at a party event in Kumasi, the former President is reported by the Daily Guide to have stated among other things, the following: "I hope we could do something to stop the rot from going further down while waiting for the next elections If you believe in them, they would still give you some more lies. Very soon, 2004 the rate at which we are suffering, God help this country. I wish we could find ways and means of preventing the rot from going further down while we wait for the next elections". He continued: "We don’t have to wait for the next election to prevent the rot. There is something called unlawful order. We must use it, not just to accept wrong things. I’m afraid Positive Defiance is what I used to call it. Menuanom, saa da no, NDC be pae firi fom biom (my brothers and sisters, that day NDC would emerge once again). I hope when NDC comes to power that day, they (NPP) would have the courage to stay here as we have done. Let no one of them run out of this country. This is because when they wake up, all they do is tell lies about us, we people of virtue and nobility. They are accusing people of nobility; people with dignity and principles as if being noble is a crime. They are creating a society that regards lies as truths. There is need to do something about it so that by the time 2004 comes, there will be some dignity left in this country". A critical review of his speech raises some questions. What did Rawlings mean by this speech? What did he mean, for example, by unlawful order? Common sense tells me that anything that is unlawful cannot be orderly. And if it is unlawful, it is certainly illegal and, therefore, unconstitutional. Rawlings is no child. He knew and understood what he was saying. He could therefore not have meant anything else than what he said. He could not also be referring to demonstrations and other forms of legitimate exercise of one's right to protest as has been argued by some fine NDC minds such as Minority Leader Alban Bagbin and Honourable John Mahama of the Bole-Bamboi constituency. This is because demonstrations are lawful, even if one argues that they can be disorderly. They are legal and constitutional rights guaranteed by the Fourth Republican Constitution. So, obviously, the former President could not have been referring to that or any other legal means of displaying one’s disappointment with the Kufuor administration. IF Rawlings had wanted to say lawful disorder and not unlawful disorder, he has had all the time to explain himself. He has not done so, which means he simply knew well the import of what he was saying and said so for its effect. But an analysis of the other words used in the speech and the confusing context in which he used them reveals clearly that Rawlings was in his elements, playing game with words. His diction, sentences and selective use of "very soon, 2004" "next elections" and I wish we could find ways and means of preventing the rot from going further down while we wait for the next elections", suggest that he is ready to wait to exercise his franchise to vote the ruling NPP out in 2004. So what then is this hullabaloo about Rawlings statement? Simply put, it is because Rawlings is no ordinary Kwaku, Pusiga or Odartey. He is a former Head of State with a track record for instigating disorder using orderly means. The ruling administration certainly has enormous problems on its hand. Sometimes, its tendency to explain issues away so easily like the former NDC government, dims the hope of many people in it. But even if it were the worst Government in our history as Rawlings claimed, the government has not only the right but also a constitutional duty to serve out its four-year mandate. And since Rawlings alleged activities and speeches are too similar to those that he undertook under Limann, there is a cause to worry. But while it can be argued that Rawlings was inciting disorder in his speech, it can also be well argued that if he meant to incite a coup, he would not be talking of waiting for the next elections. Herein, lies our problem and confusion over this speech. Security handling of the Kumasi speech There is no doubt that the former President intended to create, and has succeeded in creating public debate, furore and confusion. He has succeeded in doing so and those who should have known better have decided that his speech is worth being turned into our topical meal over the past two weeks at the expense of other serious developmental issues. All these tell me one thing; we have a huge problem as a nation in knowing what our priorities ought to be. Otherwise how can we all be dancing to the former President Kpanlogo beat? How can a whole national security apparatus be solely focused on one man as if his very existence is the greatest threat we face as a nation? Rawlings’ speech, for me, was an attempt by a man deprived of the oxygen of his existence (publicity) to announce his presence. When I first read of it, I prayed that it would not distract our attention from the real issues facing the economy. My prayers were obviously unanswered. We have all since the speech pushed our priorities out of gear and spent time on this issue without stopping to ask ourselves whether it’s worth all the effort. Worst of all, we are at the risk of threatening the very foundations of our infant democracy in trying to deal with him.

This is what worries me the most.

I am not a security officer of the state. I am therefore not privy to the information that informed the basis for the BNI’s invitation to Rawlings. But as pointed out by Information Minister Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, the security agencies believed there was a basis for Rawlings to be invited to the BNI office. Nobody can contest the need for it, in the light of the confusing signals of what Rawlings meant in his Kumasi speech.

What confounds me, however, is how the security agencies have handled the issue so far? For example, why invite the man if the seven-man interrogation panel led by Lt. Col. Johnson was either not prepared, or did not have the authority, to decide what to do with him? Having dealt with the former President under the Limann administration before, one would have thought that the security apparatus would not be repeating the mistakes of the past.

But what did we hear? Media reports suggested that the BNI interrogators did not expect that Rawlings would honour the invitation to him with his personal aide Mr. Victor Smith. The report said the BNI officials according to Rawlings demanded that his special assistant, Victor Smith, left the room where he was to be interrogated. He is reported to have rejected their request, saying that he needed a witness and would only obey their directive if they allow him to record proceedings of the meeting.

"They sounded unwilling to talk and say whatever they had in mind. They insisted that they wanted to see me alone so when it looked like they would not talk, I said Victor, please excuse us. Having asked Mr. Smith to leave, they asked for an adjournment but I said let’s get this done. But they still said they will have to contact their superior’s", Rawlings told Joy Fm.

Here’s my beef. Shouldn’t the BNI have expected, or at least known, that Rawlings was likely to come with a witness, if not his personal aide with whom he almost goes everywhere? At least, it should be the duty of the security agencies to ensure that suspects are entitled to be questioned in the presence of their attorneys or witnesses during such proceeding, which could be used to indict or prosecute them in court. But even if it is not a duty, this is something that should have been expected by the security agents The reason given by the security men that they needed to get back to their superiors and re-invite him is worrying. Why couldn’t the superiors be the ones to tackle Rawlings during the interrogation? And why was power not delegated to the interrogation team to decide what to do? How serious was the effort to interrogate Rawlings? Why the waste of everybody’s time if it wasn’t meant to be serious? It looked like the interrogation team was unprepared for the very man they had invited and therefore had, as a necessity, to adjourn the interrogation.

At this point, one must admit that the account we have of what took place at the BNI is an account by Rawlings. But this is why I’ve always advocated the need for the security agencies, especially the BNI, to behave much more like their American colleagues in availing information that has to do with sensitive cases. You can trust the FBI to have officially given some information after the Rawlings interaction to the media before Rawlings did, were they in the shoes of their Ghanaian colleagues. The second invitation to Rawlings also brought with it a horrible mistake, where the team reportedly asked the former President to sign an undertaking that he would not make political speeches again. I hope this request was not truly asked of him. For if it was, it shows clearly that the people who dealt with him underrated the person they were dealing with.

Or as Rawlings put it, they just wanted to show off that he had been invited to the BNI office. Otherwise, why would they believe that Rawlings would sign such an undertaking? If he had, I would be extremely worried about the consequence. This is because the only way I can see Rawlings signing such a document was if he intended to break it. How binding would such a document without judicial backing be on him anyway? And if he signed and broke the undertaking, what would be the consequence? A trial? Why then wait for it to happen first? Why can’t he be tried now then? These are questions I have been trying to answer to no avail.

As Dr Kwesi Prempeh of the Ghana Center for Democratic and Development (CDD) noted in a recent interview with the National Concord, the rule of law must not have respect for personalities.

In simple terms, if Rawlings has violated the law, the best thing to do is to charge him before a court, not to make him sign an undertaking that would have sought to preclude him from making political speeches. The revelation in a story bylined by Sani Siddiq that the security agencies considered keeping Rawlings under house arrest worries me the most. Despite the official denial, my colleagues in Accra have confirmed with Intel sources that this option was at least considered as an option to control the former President. However, let every sane mind rejoice that the Information Minster says government has no such plans to keep Rawlings under house arrest. This is because the idea is dangerous and ridiculous. What would be the basis of such action anyway? The Constitution of Ghana is clear on how we deal with infractions of the law. The law courts are there for that purpose and if the government is convinced that Rawlings has broken any law, or is indeed a threat to our evolving democracy, it must convince the law courts, which can then direct that such orders be carried out. But to place someone under house arrest without due process, I’m afraid, would amount to a violation of the Constitution. Unless, of course the President by doing that exercises some powers conferred on him that I’m unaware of. The whole idea of it ever being considered sounds repugnant. This is not to argue that Rawlings is not a worry or cannot be. It is also not to say that the Kufuor administration has been the greatest government in Ghanaian history. As noted earlier, the Kufuor administration has its shortcomings. But whatever those shortcomings are, President Kufuor has a duty and responsibility to protect our infant democracy. However, protecting our democracy does not entail only the protection of the government machinery. It includes the protection of the democratic environment that ensures that people live in a society that guarantees their human rights. Any attempt to just ensure we have a government without necessary focusing on the democratic aspects of governance could be fatal. As a nation, we need to move forward, not backward. As a society, we ought to be mindful of government actions that set negative precedents. If without proper legal procedures, any government at all can put anybody posing real or unproven threat under house arrest, we can rest assured that governments would misuse this right. We may never be safe once that right is exercised. This principle applies equally to asking people to sign undertakings not backed by courts of law. This is why the Kufuor administration has to be careful with the option it chooses to exercise in controlling the Rawlings conundrum. For once, the government might as well listen to Dan Lartey of GCPP fame and put Rawlings on trial if it is convinced that Rawlings speech amounted to subversion. "Whatever he (Rawlings) says he must be responsible for it. If it falls foul of the law then the law has to take its course. Put him before court," the Accra Mail reported him as saying. The problem however is that it would be difficult to sustain a successful prosecution of Rawlings over the Kumasi speech alone. It would be an exercise in futility, if you ask me. It is unnecessary at the moment. If evidence however abounds to prove a case against Rawlings, the A-G’s office should simply file a case under the Criminal Code against him. What we must not do is to negotiate our way out of this hullabaloo using disturbing tactics. This is something the nation must avoid. If the security agencies cannot monitor Rawlings 24/7 and he has to sign an undertaking or be put under house arrest before any meaning thing would go on, then our security apparatus is not worth its name. It is time we get our focus and priorities right. Rawlings would forever be a sore thumb in the life of this administration. It is his right, provided his exercise of those rights fall within the ambience of the law. While the government has a duty to rule, Rawlings equally has a right – despite the fact that I disagree with his fanciful assertions and oft-irritating claims of probity, honesty and integrity - to propound his theories. The answers to Rawlings' rantings lie in fixing the economy. If the government does not get its priorities right and focus on doing what it has to do to lead the economy out of the woods, Rawlings would distract them on a daily basis from the real issues of development. And by 2004, they should not be surprised if Rawlings and the NDC ride on the back of populism to get back into office. Nobody should think this is impossible. Something similar, but more dramatic than our situation happened in Benin not long ago when the most vilified party in Beninois history returned to power after losing one election. Unlike the Beninois example, where Kerekou returned to power after the single term of Soglo, Rawlings may be barred from running for presidency again, but the NDC isn’t. This is why the government must concentrate outside Rawlings speeches and on fixing the economy; the media on serious issues, and the security agencies on protecting our democracy. For as Clinton once said, “It’s the economy, Stupid”. The world anyway is not waiting for us to catch up as we dilly-dally over one man and what to make of him. Ghana Airways faces last days? After well over a year of uncertainty fuelled by the inaction of government, the air of mystery surrounding the fate of Ghana Airways started lifting last week. With no reasons given, the Management Task Force led by Captain Kofi Kwakwa was asked by the fractured Board of Directors to give way. Then, in a manner similar to the coup executed by Dr Wereko Brobbey at the Volta River Authority last year, Acting Chairman of the Board, Mr Panford Bray, stepped in a Chief Executive. Informed sources on the unfolding Ghana Airways saga hint that Mr Bray may well be taking over to play a role akin to a liquidator of a failed corporate entity. According to sources, a Memorandum of Understanding initialed by the Minister of Roads and Transport Dr … and a three-man delegation from Nationwide Airlines of South Africa, consigned Ghana Airways to history. In its place a new airline is expected to emerge, jointly owned by Nationwide Airlines and the Government of Ghana. Under the deal facilitated by one Dr. Douglas Boateng, the new airline would not be encumbered by the liabilities of the ailing national carrier. Notwithstanding, Nationwide Airlines would hold majority stake and management control under the plan. From its profile, however, Nationwide Airlines is essentially a domestic airline with operations limited to the South African region. Its aging fleet is made up largely of 737 and BAC 111 aircraft which cannot serve on Ghana Airways route network. Given these obvious handicaps, the MOU specified that arrangements be made to draft Virgin Airlines, the UK-based private airline owned by Richard Branson into the deal. While it is heartening that government is finally doing something about the deplorable plight of Ghana’s aviation sector, analysts believe if the deal goes ahead, it would leave in its wake many casualties and leave the nation shortchanged on several fronts. First, the image of both the airline and the country has been battered by the extended indecision, irregular and muddled dealings that breached some unspoken rules in the global aviation industry. For one thing, until Nationwide Airlines was brought into the picture by the Minister of Roads and Transport, all parties interested in Ghana Airways came to Ghana to hold negotiations. The goal post shifted when Nationwide came into the picture as Ghanaian officials rather started chasing after the South Africans, until the July 31 visit to Accra by three managers of Nationwide. Again, whereas the continued employment of existing Ghana Airways staff was a cardinal consideration in earlier negotiations, there view is that only selected employees of the national carrier may be engaged in the new joint venture. How the many local and foreign creditors of Ghana Airways would be settled also remains unclear. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Nationwide Airlines deal is the suspicion in some circles that it looks very much like a replica of an earlier joint venture proposal submitted to the airline last February. That proposal, which aimed to help Ghana Airways clear its indebtedness over a four-year period, was left to gather dust on the desk of the Minister of Roads and Transport. Under that offer, Ghana Airways and Triaton, the offerer would create a joint-venture ‘SPV’ with the support of British Midlands Airline. The joint venture would dedicate 20%of its gross income towards repaying Ghana Airways. From the financial projections, this arrangement would have seen Ghana Airways offset its $160m debt. The retirement of the management task force, which has struggled heroically to keep the airline airborne in face of daunting odds, was expected for sometime as reports indicated differences between the MTF, some members of the board and the Minister. Capt. Kwakwa and his team were said to have declared that on merit, the proposal by Triaton, which projected restoring Ghana Airways to a debt-free status over a four year period was the offer to beat – a view that was supported by the various unions of the airline but opposed by some pilots. Board Chairman, Sam Jonah, who sought decisive government action to tackle the indebtedness of the national airline without much success resigned in frustration, particularly when he allegedly found his position frequently undermined by other members of the board who were thought to be pursuing narrow interests. On one occasion, Mr Jonah was reported to have curtly dismissed an attempt by a management firm to enter into a $20,000 a week transition management agreement with the airline, affirming confidence in the ability of the existing management to run the airline. Perhaps the clearest indication of the levity with which the national airline has been treated is the fact that although the Ghana Airways Board was among the first to be constituted by President Kufour, it was never formally sworn into office. According to Mr Bray, the future shape of Ghana Airways would be unveiled ‘in the next few days’. Until that happens, the many publics of Africa’s friendly airline would be sitting on edge and saying a prayer for the future of the aviation sector.

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