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14.03.2013 Feature Article

Ghana: Beyond “Free, Fair, Regular And Credible” Elections

Ghana: Beyond “Free, Fair, Regular And Credible” Elections
LISTEN MAR 14, 2013

There are sections and clauses in the 1992 Ghanaian constitution that have given rise to criticism and claims by many concerned people that the constitution must be re-written so as to avoid a series of after-thoughts. Similar complaints have been made against the propriety of the indemnity clause in the constitution which, according to experts, must be expunged. Dr. Nii Otu Quaye, a constitution specialist also added his voice, calling for the removal or, at least, a substantial modification of the clause.

The current constitution, both in intent and spirit, ends up creating a "legalized dictatorship" with the creation of an all-dominating President to whom all supposed "checks and balances" are subservient. Almost all the operative institutions of national governance are at the discretion and appointment of the President. The real accountability for the President is only at election time that happens once in four years, at which time he or she can use the power of incumbency to win another term.

The current constitution makes the President or the Executive branch the de-facto law making body for the country as in the example of former President Kufuor's Commission for the Determination of End of Service Benefits. Ghana's parliament in real governance operation is rendered a toothless bulldog, with the President's majority party mandated to siphon the "cream of the parliament" by appointing majority of ministers from parliament as stated in the constitution, 77(1), which says the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament.

Since the majority of his cabinet comes from the elected parliamentarians, it dilutes the effectiveness of the "checks and balances" function of the Parliament.

This effectively transfers legislative authority to the President and his cabinet. For example it is a well known fact that contracting authority is made very murky under the current constitution.

Specific examples to support this write-up are as follows: The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), provided for in Article 86(1-3) is set up as a tool for the President. Thus its rise and fall go with the President in power.

It is not constituted to have the people's allegiance and continuity that would have resided in being really elected by the people's legislative body, and a functional civil service that will have a longer time horizon for national plans and programs.

Power is too much centralized to the extent that it is largely creating the polarization in political discourse in Ghana and a win of the presidency at all cost, and the means to any semblance of social and economic livelihood is linked to one's closeness to the corridors of power.

This situation has created so many hero worshippers, foot soldiers and opportunists whose aim is to get a share or receive favours for their unflinching support for the government in power.

The history of governance attests to the fact that political polarization ferments fear and mistrust. This attitude stifles sustainable development. Ghana is not maximizing on its relatively regular electoral voting and history of development planning.

The country has rather fallen way behind its "development classmates in Asia" in maintaining a strong national productive activity. It is sad to note that the commanding heights of Ghana's economy today are in the hands of foreigners, turning the country into a mass consumption economy of imported products that used to be produced locally. Ordinary tinned tomatoes, fruit juices, textiles and many others are now imported from abroad.

What, then, are the real gains of our constitutional democracy that we pride ourselves in? What is the state of our educational standards, health, food security, electricity and water supply? Can we rely on the public services in our towns and cities? More than half of our population may hold the symbolic gadgets of modernization, but how long does it take to travel three kilometres within our national capital, Accra, and other major cities?

The only saving grace for the current constitutional dispensation is a strong opposition. However, the governance structure by the constitution only weakens the opposition, so much so that they choose to resort to boycotts of legislative business as in Kwame Nkrumah's time that only led the country into one party state and the introduction and strengthening of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA).

The opposition's continuous boycotts of the legislature in the Nkrumah regime made it easy for the PDA to be passed and the country to be turned into a one party state. We pray history does not repeat itself.

Every political party is, by design, self preserving. The only guarantee of national cohesion is by fashioning an inclusive constitution, as the supreme blueprint for institutional national governance in a real sense that acts as effective check on politicians, political parties and the general electorate.

Our 1992 constitution apparently came out of a similar "governance boycott" and subversive times. It is obvious that the Constitution was designed to protect individuals more than to lift a nation, draw on its rich history and give it wings to fly into the future. Ghanaians are a tolerant people but we do rise up to our challenges to live to the creed of our foundation - Freedom and Justice. Our guiding principle must give us that.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads
[email protected]

Stephen Atta Owusu
Stephen Atta Owusu, © 2013

The author has 138 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: StephenAttaOwusu

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