The news that the Constitution Review Implementation Committee (CRIC) has submitted a draft bill for the amendment of entrenched provisions in the 1992 Constitution to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Chairman of the CRIC, Professor E.V.O. Dankwa, gives me hope that we are about to arrive at a truly democratic and workable system of governance. We currently have a system patterned after military dictatorship where power resides in only one person.
One item that excites me is that the draft bill contains a provision that will require that the President, the Vice-President and other Article 71 public office holders, including the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice, Justices of the Supreme Court, the Chairman and members of the Council of State, ministers of state, deputy ministers of state and Members of Parliament to pay tax to the state.
I do not know what the framers of the constitution were thinking when they decided that our President especially should be exempt from paying tax. It has led to a “do as I say and not do as I do” mentality in government. The current exemption from taxes tells Ghanaians that before the tax authorities some people are more equal or special than others so much so that they should not be taxed. It reinforces the dependency syndrome in the higher ups of the public service. When our President in Ghana pays tax and does it on time as is done in countries such as the USA, then he/she can turn around with full moral authority and chase the rest of us to follow the good example. Most people in this world are followers so having our Presidents not paying tax has not helped us to raise the revenue the state needs for development projects and to fund important Constitutional provisions such as free, compulsory, universal basic education (FCUBE).
All our Members of Parliament and the entire country should support this amendment. In addition, I suggest that Civil Society, Political Parties, leaders of Religious, Business and Social/Education organisations must lobby Parliament and Cabinet for the amendment of Article 78, which requires the President to appoint majority of ministers from among MPs. Ghana needs effective separation of powers – legislature, the executive and the judiciary. When MPs also serve as ministers, separation between the legislature and the executive is severely compromised to the detriment of the nation.
Bad laws result and decisions are made without the consideration of the true will of the people. MPs end up only going to the legislature to “catch the eye of the President” to be made ministers. I have served as Minister while not an MP and have served as an MP and Minister. I have also served as an MP and not a minister. The two positions are demanding if we expect excellence and no one should be allowed to occupy both positions. It does not work. Ministers cannot give priority to the work of Parliament as the workload and expectations of the executive are too big to combine with lawmaking.
I am intrigued by the provision that will require the inclusion of representatives of political parties with representation in Parliament on the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). Why political parties with representation in Parliament. Where is that found in our Constitution?
Finally, I urge the CRIC to listen to the majority of Ghanaians and allow the people to elect their Metropolitan/Municipal/District Chief Executives freely without conditions that involve the President making choices of who should contest election.
Our local Assemblies are today used as political agencies rather than tools for development. It is this plain truth that has prevented NDC-Rawlings, NPP-Kufuor, NDC-Atta-Mills and now NDC-Mahama from allowing amendment to the 1992 Constitution for unfettered election of our Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) and all Assembly Members. This political approach to local government has led to very slow development in our villages, towns and cities. President Mahama should put partisan politics aside and choose a strong path to development. This he can do by announcing a decision to recommend an amendment to the Constitution to allow the people to elect their MMDCEs without any interference from the President. Our local areas remain underdeveloped mainly because the leaders, the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives are selected by one person - the President based on political patronage.
It is the view of the Mahama Administration that in “decentralizing in a unitary state, a delicate balance ought to be struck between central control and local autonomy”. The government has therefore decided that “Article 243(1) of the constitution should be amended for the President to nominate a minimum of five (5) persons who would be vetted by the Public Services Commission (PSC) for competence after which three (3) nominees would contest in a public election”. This proposal will apply to all categories of assemblies - Metropolitan, Municipal and District. The Government's White Paper on the Report of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) differs significantly from the will of the people as told to the Commission. The Commission watered down the people's choices but specifically recommended “… that Parliament should be empowered to determine specific mechanisms for choosing MMDCEs, which should vary according as Metropolis, a Municipality or a District.”
I humbly suggest to the CRIC and Ghanaians to reject the Mahama Administration's thinking about governance at the local level and give power back to the people.
PAPA KWESI NDUOM
March 17 2014