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25.06.2009 Feature Article

Absolute Power corrupts absolutely

Absolute Power corrupts absolutely
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In my previous article entitled `BNI must be free of Government meddling', I tried to be constructive with my criticism of the Power of the State (i.e. Government, BNI, etc) current shape and form. But some readers misjudged me as an NPP sympathiser or affiliate. These die-hard NDC supporters accused me of double standard because I want high standard for public servants and elected officials NOW; but set zero standards for the same public bodies during the previous regime with my silence then.

Nothing could be farther from the truth! In the jargon of Politics, I am a floating voter open to persuasion. I want the NDC government to succeed in advancing true democracy in Ghana. This noble concept will not materialise in a climate of `political vendetta' and that is my concern and the concern of many Ghanaians with the nation's interest at heart.

Dr Poku, who contributed immensely to the debate I started with the article mentioned above, made an important observation about a sizeable chunk of our generation with a `lynch mob instant-justice' mentality that prevents them from seeing the bigger picture of a true democratic system of government and it's knock-on effect on the life of ordinary citizens. The demand for `pound of flesh' bellowing from NDC quarters is deafening and would only aggravate a vicious circle and split the nation. It is not a healthy ground for building the foundation of true democracy. We must learn to distinguish between Suspect and Convict. The Rights of Suspects should not be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency if our experiment with democracy is to succeed. There could hardly be a pertinent case for transparency in government than the airport fiasco involving the BNI and the ex-Minister of Information, Asamoah Boateng. There are claims and counter claims of the leverage, supervision and the size of POWER exercise by the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI). This is a matter of great public interest because if the BNI power is unlimited, the unit is unaccountable to any other power of state and can ran amok on citizens of our great nation shredding their rights as Ghanaians at their whim, as some commentators would want us to believe, then Ghana's fragile Democracy is an illusion. Absolute Power to any entity without the necessary checks and balances corrupts the entity absolutely. History is replete with numerous examples in every corner of the world.

Democracy is not just about given expression at the ballot box for our preferred representatives in the corridors of power, it is more to do with the Power of State being accountable to the people who confer power to them. That means transparency in the democratic system of government and state organs like the BNI demonstrating a high degree of independence in their conduct; and their power subject to review periodically to ensure there is no abuse. We have witnessed recently how some of the established democratic models of the developed world have experience great tremor when their leaders experimented with the `cloak and dagger' method of government under the pretence of national security. The suspension of human rights by George Bush and Tony Blair the former respective leaders of America and United Kingdom in their battle against terrorist did more harm than good to their Democracy and we must resist any temptation to follow suit. The incarceration and detention of suspect terrorist without trial for indeterminate periods were all an affront to human rights and did nothing to advance the battle against the terrorist. They lost the moral high ground when draconian measures, that dictators are proud of, were brought in to combat the terrorist.

My concern is about proper governance, the law, the process of the law and citizen rights under a true democracy; so I would like someone in authority, preferably the President of Ghana, to clarify the position of the BNI in the hierarchy of Power in Ghana. I think the public has a right to know how the power they confer on politicians are utilised and it will also clear some of the fog surrounding the BNI. How independent is the BNI? Which minister is responsible for the unit? Is the BNI power unlimited? Is their power of arrest subject to any condition? How long can suspect be held for questioning without charge? Can they run rough shod with the rights of any citizen? Do the security agencies have to seek court order or ministerial order to enable them to enforce Passport Confiscation? Some countries do have judicial overview regarding the confiscation of Passport. The Security Agencies Authority to seize Passport from holders stem from court, after satisfying a judge that there is a strong case for such action. However, Authoritarian regimes don't bother with such due process of the law. Which category do we belong to? Are the members of BNI above the law? Is the BNI fit for purpose? Is it true that the organisation `metamorphosise' into a hideous creature with structural and personnel re-organisation whenever a new Government takes the reins of power? Is the metamorphosis of the BNI designed to snuff the living day light of political opponents of the ruling Party? Is the Gestapo style of apprehension and interrogation by the BNI approved by government or parliament? Is it a Military government with decrees as a rule or Democratic government that enacted the legislation governing the BNI power? If the current legislative power of the BNI does not sit well with true democracy will parliament revisit the legislation and curtail it? These and many questions could be answered about the organisation to engender trust in the system of Government. Perhaps, a historical background of the BNI could also give an indication of the direction of the unit.

Mr President, if you are the one doing us the honour of dispelling the mist around the BNI then please answer the following question for me personally. If the BNI become dangerous `hounds' for your political foes and democracy in general, would you have the political will and summon the courage to rein them into their kennel, in spite of your Party's founding father's wish? The public has the legitimate right to know how public servants and elected officials carry out their duties. Hence it will be refreshing if you shine light on the `dark pool' of politics in Ghana.

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