30.06.2004 Feature Article

Letter from he Presdent: A Council without Counsel

Letter from he Presdent: A Council without Counsel
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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents I was surprised the other time to watch part of the proceedings of the Speaker's Breakfast Forum on TV. I saw men and women, from the Speaker of Parliament to Chief Executives to MPs and mere parliamentary ushers munching at doughnuts and 'forking' sausages, bacons and eggs. It was an interesting sight, which informed me about the table manners of some of the big men in our country. Now I know who I can invite to dinner and who I dare not sit at a dining table with. After all the good food, the speaker and his guests sat down to chat with a law professor about constitutional matters. It was quite a sizeable gathering. I wonder why people go to the Speaker's Breakfast Forum anyway. Do they go there to feed on the sumptuous delights on the speaker's dining table or they go to listen to the wise men who speak at the forum?

Whatever the case may be, I think the speaker is wasting our money with these breakfast forums of his. If the idea is to get people to come and discuss pertinent issues of national import, I see no reason why those people who claim to be interested in these discussions should be fed before they start talking. It's always a party atmosphere at these breakfast forums and I won't be surprised if some researcher finds out that after the feast more than half the number of those gathered will not be interested in the forum itself. For most of them it's the Speaker's breakfast – forget the forum.

The forum is usually for those of you who don't have the privilege of sitting at table with the Speaker – you get to have your ears bombarded with what was discussed at the forum, usually via radio and television.

So after the last forum, thanks to the media, those of us who were not so privileged to go and 'chop' the speaker's breakfast heard about the paper that had been intelligently presented by the eminent law professor. He spoke well and long. In the end, he succeeded in annoying members of the Council of State, by suggesting that they are an almost 'useless' bunch of people, who have no role whatsoever to play in the governance of the country.

I say “thank you” professor, for saying what I feared to say. No matter what the Chairman of the Council of State says, I will side with the professor and proclaim that the Council of State is a useless appendage of state, which can be cut off without a painful surgery. Simply put, we don't need a Council of State.

The current chairman of the Council believes that he and his people are serving as a second chamber of parliament. He must be very comfortable with lying to himself. The Council of State can never be a second parliamentary chamber. This is because members are mostly political appointees who have to confirm decisions I have already taken and live with the delusion that they helped to take those decisions. For example, when I appoint a party faithful, with questionable qualifications, to the board of a state-owned enterprises council members have no right to point out to me that the appointee is not even qualified to manage a table-top store. Anyone who dares to question my appointment risks losing their position on the council. On the few occasions that I have sought for their advice, I didn't heed their counsel.

The Council of State is just a group of quite accomplished men and women, who just pride themselves in being members of the council of state. Members of the council take allowances for doing next to nothing. They enjoy several privileges which make my real advisers – the likes Ekessu, Dan B. and Osoi-Dykes – go green with envy. In Jerry Boom's time, members of the council of state were his messengers. Whenever he was so tired and was not willing to go and read a boring speech, he would send a council member. And they liked to say it that “the president has sent me to deliver a message on his behalf”. Well since, I took over, I have not been sending them to deliver speeches for me. I have, however, realized that there is very little for them to do. No wonder they were delivering Jerry Boom's speeches.

In my mind therefore, the council of state is, well, a council without a counsel – at least not for me. I seldom ask for what they have and when they do give some counsel, I refuse to heed it.

Now that the professor has been kind enough to put the council on the carpet, I have been wondering whether we should go ahead and disband it once and for all. I have also been toying with the idea that we should renew the council's mandate and make it more relevant.

In my heart, I favour the option of keeping the council and making it more relevant and useful. It need not necessarily be a second chamber of parliament. But it could be a body of eminent, wise men and women who will be duly elected. Their advice and counsel will be constitutionally binding, especially when it comes to ministerial and board appointments. An elected council of state will stop excellent ones from appointing their favourite elders to busy themselves in the twilight of their lives by pretending to be presidential advisers. An elected and more functional council of state will have a well-staffed secretariat to investigate the backgrounds of all presidential appointees, especially those who are to serve on boards and important commissions. By so doing, presidential streaks of nepotism and cronyism can be controlled. In my mind however, the council of state has very little to offer. If their advise becomes more binding and they are given the power to veto my appointments, I will have some difficulty getting “jobs for the boys”. So, I agree with the professor, the Council without a counsel must go. Excellently yours, J. A. Fukuor [email protected]

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