CREDIBLE information reaching The Statesman is that the MP for Mfantsiman West, Stephen Asamoah-Boateng is being impressed upon by powerful forces not to pursue his ambition to become the General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party. We dare say that the ruling party must guard against repeating the mistake of preventing good people from holding office with offers of other office, however transiently lucrative. The party structures are known to have suffered because of this and 2008 is too important to take such chances.
We do not believe that any core group of the party has a monopoly of judgment on who are the best candidates for any given positions. It is for this reason that the party constitution entrusts this task to delegates.
While we do not say for sure Asa B is the best candidate for the job, our argument is that all the good people who have expressed interest must be free and freed to compete in order to allow delegates a rich pool of probables from which to choose.
The argument that the so-called legal brains of the NPP appear to be using against Asa B's potential candidacy is Article 9 of the NPP constitution. They fear the possibility of another by-election and the possibility of defeat in a constituency actually controlled by the NPP. We beg to differ.
“The law”, in the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau, “will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.”
Thus, we urge the NPP to give a constructive and, at the same time, simple meaning of the constitution. Article 9 (g),(vii) states: “The General Secretary shall not be a candidate for the office of Member of Parliament or President of the Republic.”
The first rule of interpretation is to give words their ordinary meaning. Thus, the only bar that the constitution expressly places on a General Secretary is not to be a candidate, simpliciter. It does not say anywhere that one who is already an MP, for example, cannot become a General Secretary. It only prevents that MP, once a General Secretary, from putting him- or herself forward as a candidate for re-election.
We should not assume that it was for nothing that the framers of the constitution decided to limit the bar to a General Secretary as a prospective candidate for President or MP. They felt, in their considered wisdom that the bar should not be expressly extended to cover a General Secretary who was already an MP before offering him- or herself up for the party job.
The issue then is this, what was the intention of the framers of the constitution? In our considered view, their intention, since the bar also affects the Treasurer and Chairperson of the party, was to prevent a situation where the holders of such sensitive and powerful offices could use that to unduly influence the nomination of candidates for MP or Presidential candidate in their favour. That is why the constitution expressly forbids holders of the three offices from contesting as candidates.
It would be an exercise in futile and counter-productive legal gymnastics to stretch this interpretation to mean that once a person is already an MP that person should resign so as not to use his party position to unduly influence the legislative (or executive) position which that person already holds! But, this is not all. The other argument pushed by the “Stop Asa B” mob of constitutional straitjackets is this: Paragraph (g),(i) of the same article stipulates that “The Party shall have a national secretariat which shall be headed by the General Secretary, who shall be a full-time employee of the Party.”
They reason that one cannot hold a full time job as General Secretary and do something else. Our response is to quote Baron Charles Louis de Secondat, “Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.” Moreover, useless construction of laws weakens necessary structures and impedes the contribution of good people to the greater cause.
There is no interpretation anywhere that one person cannot hold two or more full time jobs at the same time. Thanks to the Republic's Constitution, a full-time Member of Parliament can also work as a full-time Cabinet Member. MPs are allowed to hold other jobs, with clearance from the Speaker. There is nothing to suggest that for the remaining three years to 2008, a General Secretary cannot serve well in that position and still find time to go to Parliament and, at least, vote.
Indeed, if Asa B is seen as a very good candidate but only stopped by the party constitution, then the party should remember that laws are made to serve and not vice versa. There is nothing preventing the party from inserting a clearer provision of flexibility in the constitution at that same November congress if Art 9 (g), (vii) is the only sticky point.
As it is, there is little argument that the party constitution frowns on an MP or Minister contesting for the position of General Secretary. The ambiguity, if real, only sets in after such a candidate actually goes on to win. We believe Asa B must be encouraged to run and be given all the support required. If he does win, let the thinkers of the party put in place contingency plans to accommodate his position.
Let us not stop a man who is, at least, perceived to possess the credentials for the crucial job of marshalling the troops of the NPP to that battle of all battles, 2008.