The four leading presidential candidates in the December 7 polls were yesterday unanimous in the need to elect district, municipal and metropolitan chief executives (DMMCEs) as well as assembly members, along partisan lines.
They said the present arrangement where district elections were conducted along non-partisan lines was a mockery because political parties influence the election of assembly members and the confirmation of DMMCEs.
They also identified corruption as a major national issue against which they would wage a relentless war if elected into office.
Pitting their strengths against one another in the second edition of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) live television debate in Tamale yesterday, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Prof John Evans Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Convention People's Party (CPP) and Dr Edward Nasigre Mahama of the People's National Convention (PNC) also outlined measures to deal with the canker.
The debate, which was attended by dignitaries from the country's political spectrum, lived up to its billing as an exercise involving guts and wits as the four candidates sold out their policies and programmes in a bid to win the minds and hearts of the electorate as they approach the home stretch in the race to the Golden Jubilee House.
The Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Studies (GILLBT) Hall in Tamale where the event was held came alive on many occasions as some of the candidates, particularly Dr Mahama, Dr Nduom and Prof Mills, made hilarious comments that made the audience break their ribs with laughter.
The questions posed by the two moderators, Prof Ivan Addae-Mensah, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, and Israel Laryea, a broadcast journalist with Joy FM, covered a wide range of issues, including constitutional reforms, the deepening of the decentralisation process, the election of district assembly members, measures to deal with corruption, asset declaration, rural transformation, waste disposal and management and addressing poverty in the three northern regions.
Responding to the issue of corruption, Prof Mills said there was the need to first admit that corruption was rife, adding that when elected President, he would lead the fight against corruption and let the law take its course.
He said he would also strengthen institutions that dealt with corruption, adding that he would lead the crusade against corruption because it had a very harmful effect on national development.
“You must be seen to be biting and not just barking,” he added.
Prof Mills said corruption was breaking the society because people were getting away with it.
“We are not showing the right signals; when people are fronting with corruption, leadership must crack the whip,” he stated.
For his part, Dr Mahama said he would offer leadership by example and separate the Attorney-General's Office from that of the Ministry of Justice.
He said corruption could be controlled and that there was the need to put in place conflict of interest laws to help check the menace.
Additionally, he said under his presidency he would he would ensure that the Whistleblower Law was passed.
Nana Akufo-Addo intimated that fighting corruption required more than just rhetoric, noting that it required strong leadership.
He said he did not have any difficulty prosecuting corrupt Ministers of State and made reference to the fact that when he was the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, he had the occasion to prosecute a colleague minister on corruption charges.
He, however, admitted that much more needed to be done for the institutions mandated to deal with corruption, such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
In all of that, he noted that “leaders of government must show example”.
Commenting on the issue, Dr Nduom largely agreed with the sentiments raised by his colleagues but pointed out that there was the need to deal with the perception associated with corruption.
He said there was the need to introduce efficiency in fighting corruption by utilising technology, as well as strengthening institutions, including the Police Service, to deal with the issue.
On asset declaration, Dr Mahama said he would declare his assets publicly at the beginning and the end of his term in office as President and also require his ministers to do likewise.
He said Dr Kwame Nkrumah and Dr Hilla Limann in the First and Third Republics, respectively, “did not own hotels and they went about governance demonstrating leadership by example”.
“This is what I will do if elected President,” he stated.
For his part, Nana Akufo-Addo said he did not have any difficulty in declaring his assets publicly.
He, however, said the assets declaration system Ghana was currently operating had a lot of problems and that he would ensure a legislative framework that allowed that a law for fighting corruption was passed.
Dr Nduom said the situation was not acceptable and wondered why assets declaration remained a secret.
“It should not remain a secret at the AG's Office”, he stated, stressing that the Right to Information Bill must be passed.
He said it was a constitutional anomaly that the President did not pay tax and said under his Presidency he would reverse the trend, saying, “Leaders must be honest and let seriousness prevail.”
Prof Mills said asset declaration must be verifiable, saying that at the end of everything it should be declared and verified.
He pointed out that the exercise must be extended to surrogates and not just spouses.
On constitutional reforms, Nana Akufo-Addo said he would initiate the processes for amending the Constitution, considering the various concerns expressed on the subject.
Dr Nduom said he would also initiate a process for a constitutional amendment in the first 100 days of taking office, adding that he would pursue the separation of the Attorney-General's Office from that of the Ministry of Justice.
Prof Mills agreed that there were areas in the Constitution that needed amendment and that there was the need to collate views so that at end of the day we would learn from our mistakes.
Dr Mahama, for his part, noted that the Constitution was not the problem but that the issue had to do with good governance.
“Tampering with the Constitution is not the problem; what matters is the effective strengthening of institutions to work effectively,” he stated.
On the deepening of decentralisation, Dr Nduom stressed the need to put power in the hands of the people and ensure the devolution of power.
By so doing, he said, we must ensure that more revenue and resources went to the local level for its rapid development.
Prof Mills said appointing DCEs had some inherent challenges. However, he agreed that there was the need to ensure that district assemblies were accountable to the people.
Dr Mahama said there was too much concentration of power in the hands of central institutions and also agreed that all DCEs must be elected.
Nana Akufo-Addo stressed the need to put in place structures to begin the process of transferring power from the centre to the districts.
Story by Zakaria Alhassan & Vincent Adedze