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21.03.2007 General News

Phasing Out Veep’s Office Premature

The government and constitutional experts have stated that it is premature to phase out the position of the Vice- President and replace it with that of a Prime Minister.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr Kwamena Bartels, speaking on behalf of the government, denied that the government had ever considered such a proposal at Cabinet, nor had the President mentioned it anywhere.

The former Vice-President, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, described the proposal as ridiculous, while Nana Dr S. K. B. Asante, Chairman of the Committee of Experts which drafted the 1992 Constitution, said there was no need for the amendment because the Constitution was flexible and broad enough for any co-ordinating role to be assigned the Vice- President.

While the Dean of the Faculty of Social Studies of the University of Ghana, Legon, Professor J. Atsu Ayee, described the proposal as superfluous and a non-starter, Professor Kofi Quashigah of the Faculty of Law, Legon, described it as a red herring.

Mr Bartels said Cabinet had never discussed the issue, nor had the President mentioned it anywhere, and, therefore, expressed surprise at the source of such information.

When asked if it was a red herring to test the pulse of the public, Mr Bartels said the government had not raised the issue at any of its meetings to even consider testing the pulse of the public on the subject.

For his part, Prof. Mills, flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), described the suggestion as very ridiculous, adding, “I see it as an attempt by someone trying to get the President to dodge the responsibility of running the machinery of state.”

He said the position of Prime Minister had created conflicts in some jurisdictions and noted that in times like that the Prime Minister was sacrificed for expediency.

He said the Constitution had a clear mandate for the Vice-President to contribute his or her quota to national development.

He said it was also not true that the Vice-President performed only ceremonial duties, saying that anytime the President was away, the Vice-President was entrusted with the day-to-day running of the state.

Prof. Ayee said there were more serious constitutional issues which needed to be resolved, instead of abolishing the post of Vice-President and replacing it with a Prime Minister.

He cited, for instance, the partisan nature of district assembly elections, the election of a district chief executive and splitting the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and said these needed to be resolved to enhance accountability.

Prof. Ayee said the problem of the excessive powers of the Executive Presidency could be resolved by reforming the presidential system through a review of the provision which required that majority of ministers should come from Parliament, a situation which undermined the accountability role of Parliament.

Prof. Ayee stressed the need for a better understanding of the neutral role of the Head of State, who acted as the Father of the nation, from the partisan Head of Government linked to partisan issues, saying that failure to blend the two had existed since the days of Flt Lt J. J. Rawlings to date.

He said a developing country such as Ghana needed the Executive President to lead the country in its development agenda, hence the decision of the framers of the Constitution to opt for that.

Prof Ayee said any attempt to amend the Constitution to create room for a prime ministerial position would divide the country more, since it was already polarised along ethnic and partisan lines.

Moreover, he said, Francophone countries which practised that system did not have any good examples for Ghana to emulate, saying that even in Israel and Italy there were problems with the system.

For his part, Prof. Kofi Quashigah described the suggestion as diversionary, saying it was not the most pressing issue for consideration now.

He said the real issues for consideration by Ghanaians were the strengthening of the decentralisation process, the strengthening of Parliament by doing away with the dominance of the Executive in the practice of the majority of ministers being parliamentarians and other issues raised during the 10th anniversary of the Constitution in 2002.

These same issues were raised in the report of the country's governance system under the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) about a year and a half ago, he pointed out.

He wondered what the seeming deficiency in the current system of a President with a Vice-President was to warrant the idea of doing away with a Vice-President for a Prime Minister.

To the suggestion that the position of the Vice-President was “blurry within the governmental system”, Prof. Quashigah said that was the making of Ghanaians.

He referred to the amendment in 1996 of articles 201, 206 and 211 of the 1992 Constitution which took away the constitutional function of the Vice-President being the chairman of the Police Service Council, the Prison Service Council and the Armed Forces Service Council.

He pointed out that apart from taking away from the vice-presidential position the constitutional functions of automatically chairing those councils, the amendment had been cursorily done, in disregard of Article 60 Clause 1 of the same Constitution which stipulated the functions of the Vice-President and further added that any change to that had to go through a referendum first.

Referring to the Report on the Committee of Experts on Proposals for a Draft Constitution in Ghana, Prof Quashigah read out the inherent difficulties in the suggested system.

The Committee of Experts proposed a split executive system but also captured inherent difficulties.

Prof Quashigah wondered why the issue of the Prime Minister, raised by the Committee of Experts and rejected by the Consultative Assembly, was now being revisited.

He said Ghanaians needed to be told specifically the need for such a proposal and how that proposal could contribute to the current democratic dispensation.

Nana Dr Asante discounted claims in certain quarters that he was part of such a proposition, saying, “I will not personally propose amendments to that provision of the Constitution now because it provides enough room for the President to assign any role to the Vice-President.”

He cited instances in the United States of America where former President Bill Clinton assigned roles to his vice, Al Gore, just as President Bush had done to his vice, Dick Cheney.

Dr Asante explained that although the Committee of Experts recommended the position of Prime Minister, he described that as history now and indicated that that recommendation was in accord with the terms of reference given to the committee.

He recalled that the Consultative Assembly turned down that proposition on the grounds that it was likely to breed conflict and instead proposed “what we are currently practising, as it would lead to harmony and greater collaboration”.

Dr Asante said, however, that the empirical evidence in Ghana's contemporary context was not exactly so because such collaboration also depended on the personalities occupying the two highest offices and the chemistry between them.

He said the Executive Presidency being practised required a lot from the person who occupied that position, since he represented the symbol of the country, must make himself or herself available to all, meet foreign delegations and interact with leaders of other countries, for which reason he needed the Vice-President to co-ordinate the activities of the government.

“I do not see any constitutional impediment in the way of the Vice-President playing the role of co-ordination and other duties prescribed by the Constitution to strengthen the government machinery,” he said.