Other People's Debts
Concluding their findings on the role that the media play in human rights in our country, the National Reconciliation Commission noted among other things that, 'There is a need to recognise and acknowledge their role in providing a culture of human rights abuse, as well as their role in helping to nurture dignity.
This is what would enable the media to spearhead the process of their own institutional reinvention, improve their capacity to champion the cause of human rights and thereby prevent future governments from using them to legitimise their actions.'
This is what has informed me to look at two areas in the interaction between President John Evans Atta Mills and the media as he observed his first year in office. The two issues relate to the fact that there is a fixation on whatever expenditure the previous government incurred, good or bad and the responses that President Mills gave in defence of the former Minister of Youth and Sports, Alhaji Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak.
President Mills is a devout Christian and he has never shied away from that. Therefore, he needs to be reminded of Isaiah 43:18, where we are admonished to 'forget about the former things; do not dwell on the past'.
In an answer to a question relating to provision of shelter for victims of domestic violence, President Mills rightfully pointed to the inadequacy of resources, which necessitated prioritisation of programmes and policies. But it was in the attempt to explain issues that he went into dysfunctional politicking, saying that his government was paying other people’s debts. Who are those other people, and from which resources is he paying those debts?
If the President says that his government inherited a huge national debt, no one would quarrel with him, but if he insists that his government is paying other people’s debts, then who are those people? If those people spent the money on the country's development, then how is it their debt?
If, on the other hand, those people spent the money on themselves, then President Mills owes Ghanaians an obligation to retrieve such money from them.
Otherwise, he would only be destroying the image and the integrity of politicians and politics as well as he would one day leave government and would never be able to pay for all the debts during his administration, which would be part of the national debt, and not any individual’s debts.
As I travel regularly on the Accra-Cape Coast road, and recently watched a documentary on the activities of the Community Water and Sanitation Agency in four regions on Ghana Television (GTV), coupled with the recent inauguration of the Achimota Transport Terminal by Professor Kofi Awoonor on behalf of President Mills, and as we keep on observing national ceremonies at the various jubilee parks in the country and playing football at the Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Essipong stadia, there is every evidence that these national debts were not in vain, even if paying for public expenditure in arrears constrains a new government from achieving its own agenda.
Turning to President Mills’ spirited-defence of Alhaji Muntaka, although at the end of the day there is a difference between murder and manslaughter, rape and defilement, corruption, forgery and misrepresentation, the bottom line is that they are all crimes.
In one of Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, he underlined a need for those who are in positions of trust not to do certain things although such things in themselves are not evil, because of the dysfunctional influence that they could have on the vulnerable.
Paul notes that there is nothing wrong for believers to share in food offered to idols, since idols are nothing and there is only one true God. Christians are free to choose to eat such food or otherwise, saying 'we are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do'.
He nonetheless cautions us to 'be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to Idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge'. I Corinthians 8:9-12.
The Good Book equally reminds us to be cautious about what comes out of our mouth as it could ennoble or defile our body. That is why no matter the mien of President John Evans Atta Mills, in his assurances as a crusader against corruption, the defence of Alhaji Muntaka serves as an antithesis to the fight against corruption and corruptible influences.
Indeed, the lowest point came when President Mills, seemingly irked and exercised about the incessant questions, despite his efforts at distinguishing corruption, forgery, misrepresentation and indiscretion, pronounced 'can you all say that this is the first time that a Minister of State has travelled with his girlfriend outside? Is this the first time that a Minister of State has spent public money on himself?'
That sounded close to the rumours that were told that at a meeting of the Supreme Military Council, when General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was told of public anger against his philandering tendencies, he asked his colleagues 'which one among you can say truthfully that you sleep with only your wives?'
Hopefully, when the President attempts a reflection upon that particular statement, he may persuade himself to admit that he went below the line.
And as to the question why the journalists did not ask such questions in 2001, it could well be that they never had the opportunity. For instance, in 2001, as the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission, I saw the opportunity of analysing the President’s statement in this piece would not have been possible.
More important, we all have to understand and appreciate that at a press conference, the organisers voluntarily submit themselves to the media and thus set no conditions. Equally, the nature and kind of questions are not as important as the answers.
Beyond all these, it is functional to have the President respond to the questions himself, since whatever the Ministers of State do, they do so on behalf and in the name of the President as set out in Article 58(4) of the 1992 Constitution that, 'Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution or by a law not inconsistent with this Constitution, all executive acts of Government shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the President.' Share Your Thoughts on this article Name Email Location Comments Graphic Ghana may edit your comments and not all comments will be published