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18.11.2013 Feature Article

OH MR PRESIDENT, WHERE ART THOU?

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Since President John Mahama assumed the highest office in Ghana when Excellency Prof Atta Mills was called by his maker, he had been confronted with lack of policy paradox. Without a doubt President John Mahama came between a rock and a hard place. The dilemma of being in a position where one faces with two equally unwelcome options appears to lie deep in the human psyche. On the one hand, were Prof Atta Mills faction who were in favour of gradualism. And on the other are his own followers who are demanding action in many areas to improve the economy, to increase access to health care while restraining costs, and to reduce energy costs, dependence on oil revenue, and fight corruption among others. Mr Mahama's camp wouldn't like him be one time president as it happened to late-president Dr Limann, when he lost control of his own leadership. There is nothing new about this ambivalence, but how President Mahama deals with it may make the difference between success and failure, measured in sustainable public support as well as legislative accomplishment.

While still grieving or mourning the sudden and unexpected departure of Prof Atta Mills and despite the NPP optimism of wrestling the power from him, President John Mahama used less than five months to convince Ghanaians that he was equal to the task and won the December 2012 election. As there is no such thing as free lunch, he faced another dilemma when NPP filed a petition at the Ghana's Supreme Court demanding invalidation of the Electoral Commission declaration for reasons of electoral fraud. The petition held the country at ransom for eight months. The opposition party during that period refused to recognise Mr John Mahama as the president, as well as boycotting his ministerial vetting and refused to all important national issues. When the Supreme Court vindicated Mr John Mahama, despite the leader of the opposition party accepted defeat, their ears were raised alert to jump into any hearsay that pops up across the media.

Incidentally, every work has its occupational hazard, and when it comes you bear it. Mr Mahama wanted to prove to his antagonists that, a grey hair is not criteria to dynamic leadership and was ready to finish his predecessor's BETTER GHANA AGENDA. However none of the major past governments has served to enhance the power of government in fighting corruption. Wherefore corruption is not a new syndrome that has surfaced in Ghana and for that matter in politics, but Mr Mahama has to bear the blame. Recent Gallup Survey that put Ghana to 89% in corruption scale cannot be blamed on Mahama-led government but the astute president does not want to be deprived of a comfort in the worst event, and will retain a consciousness of having acted to the best of his judgment.

Corruption according ex-president Kufour dates from Adam and Eve era. But that does not mean we should accept corruption as business-as-usual. Corruption is like the air we breathe in; our police is infested with bribery, job employment is according to bribe and who-you-know, our lawyers and courts are not clean, school admissions are through connections, customs, airport and harbour authorities are no exceptions, districts and metropolis assemblies are dirty, boards, ministers and ministries have become gold mines. Corruption in the private sectors is where others dupe and get scot-free. Predominant among them is where one parcel of land could be sold out to more than two people. Questionable political conduct shading into corruption has been an enduring feature of winning elections and running governments since Ghana gained her independence. Corruption has plagued human society throughout history and continues to manifest itself in our societies. Corruption according to one researcher is the abuse of public office for private gain. According to Plato, “no man is just of his own free will, but only under compulsion, and that no man thinks justice pays him personally, since he will always do wrong when he gets the chance”

While events affecting public trust in government could not be swept under the carpet most Ghanaians, whether centre-right or liberal, do not trust the delivery vehicle for most progressive public policy. Even if people support progressive policy goals, they do not support the policies themselves because they do not believe that government is capable of bringing about desired outcomes. For example, public support for some form of national health insurance exceeded any level previously measured. When ex-President JA Kufour took office, however, trust in the government had reached an historic low, a fact that contributed to the eventual success of his ambitious health care proposal. While it is risky to draw broad inferences from a single instance, however dramatic, it seems reasonable to assume that people will tend to resist, and perhaps reject, policy proposals that are wildly inconsistent with prevailing levels of trust in government.

Governments mistakenly assume that electing them to power automatically translates into support for their policies. People tend to hold their governments responsible for effectively carrying out its core functions, such as managing the economy, defending the nation, and preserving domestic security. The other key component of trust is the perception that public officials are genuinely concerned about the well-being of the people. Like competence, this component also has two dimensions. First, public officials must show that they care about the people's problems. Second, public officials must demonstrate that they strive to serve the people rather than their own selfish interests. Corruption undermines trust, and evidence that emerged such as Alfred Woyome and Waterville Holdings, Isofoton SA, GYEEDA, Subah InfoSolution, Drillship Discover 511 brouhaha and other gargantuan judgement debts scandals reduce trust even more than the scandals in the executive branch, where perceptions of competence are more important. The link between corruption and distrust is becoming synonymous. People are wondering why can't the politicians and the government just sit down together, roll up their sleeves and find the most effective ways of achieving those goals? Ghana has 275 members of parliament and what do they do to merit these fat salaries at the expenses of taxpayers?

Recently, the government appointed a sole judgement debt commissioner to examine various huge debt payments. Are we only going to listen to the wrongdoing, blames, accusations and counter-accusation only to forgive those who aided and abetted? Even CHRAJ which was a constitutional instrument cannot claim to have benefitted Ghanaians let alone Justice Yaw Apau's office. CHRAJ was mandated to fight corruption using Articles 218(a)(e) and 284 to 288 of the 1992 Constitution and Section 7 (1) (a), (e) & (f) of Act 456. It had also the powers to investigate abuse of power and “all instances of alleged or suspected corruption and the misappropriation of public monies by officials”, yet state's properties were looted, monies were unaccounted for and not a single person has been prosecuted.

Whether the central problem is overpromising or underperforming, most people today believe that the government wastes money and does less to curve corruption. Only few people believe that the government pays attention to what average people want and does the right thing. Justify it or not, this level of public mistrust constitutes a structural impediment to implementing a bold agenda. Putting deaf ears to these doubts or pretending they do not exist will not make the problem go away. Let us not forget that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Among recent call to spearhead the country is the call by Ashantehene to abolish the Single Spine Salary Structure. Retrospectively, the scheme is not bad after all but it cannot meet the insatiability wants of public workers. If the country spends more than half of her revenue on workers' salaries alone, what is left for other developments, servicing external debts and for the future generation? Experts are asking the government to cut down ministerial and various appointees. If Spain who has a population over 47 million people can be run effectively by 12 cabinet ministers, why do we need so many ministers and deputy ministers whose duties overlaps the other? If rich countries like Germany with over 80 million people can be managed by 14 cabinet ministers, France is using 34 ministers including deputies, and The Netherlands has 18 (10 ministers, 2 ministers without portfolio and 6 deputies), it is high time we downsized our ministers and appointees.

An effective cabinet can be: 1 Foreign Affairs; 2 Interior; 3 Defence; 4 Finance and Economic Planning; 5 Education, Youth and Sports; 6 Health and Welfare; 7 Information and Media Relations; 8 Local Government, Rural Development and Chieftaincy; 9 Trade, Industry and Tourism; 10 Transport and Communication; 11 Agriculture, Fishery and Aquaculture; 12 Attorney General and Justice; 13 Employment and Labour; 14 Land, Forestry and Natural Resources; 15 Road and Highways; 16 Energy and Petroleum; 17 Water Resources, Works and Housing; and 18 Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Ghana is ranked high according to Freedom House Report. According to the report the environment for freedom of expression and the press in Ghana remained generally healthy in 2012, despite the potential for political threats. Freedom of the press is legally guaranteed, and the government typically respects this right in practice. Criminal libel and sedition laws were repealed in 2001, but Section 208 of the 1960 criminal code, which bans “publishing false news with intent to cause fear or harm to the public or to disturb the public peace,” remains in force. The freedom of speech has turned politicians hawking from one station to the other to sending their messages across. Another side effect is the practising of politics of insults and government spokespersons presenting inconsistent information to the public. We expect political journalism where opinions are expressed, current political events are analysed, interpreted, and discussed by media pundits but not bias and fabrications.

In conclusion no one likes Groucho Marx's idea where politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies. But they have come to accept Albert Einstein ideas that “an empty stomach is not a good political adviser”. This they want to demonstrate to the government that he should surround himself with experience people and not those who come to politics with empty pockets. It also sends a clear signal to Mr President that his cabinet reshuffle is long overdue because “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. Winston Churchill also said “politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen”

Kwame Addo
Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Lewis Kwame Addo
Lewis Kwame Addo, © 2013

The author has 13 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: LewisKwameAddo

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