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21.12.2005 General News

Poverty is the greatest threat to democracy

By GNA
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Accra, Dec. 21, GNA - Poverty is the greatest threat to Ghana's young democracy and must become the focal point of government's policy, a political scientist said at the Speaker's Breakfast Forum on Wednesday.

"The most dangerous effect of poverty is the vulnerability of the poor to tyrants and demagogues, who could easily mobilise them to subvert existing democratic institutions."

Dr Kwame Ninsin, a Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Ghana made these observations in a presentation under the theme: "Consolidating Democratic Governance: The Role of Parliament and Civil Society.

He said poverty bred a sense of powerlessness, which was manifested as withdrawal from public affairs that led to apathy or indifference. He said for democratic institutions to endure it must be defended by the people, who should be should seen as appreciating the contribution of such institutions to their material prosperity.

"The more poverty there is the more people lose faith in the capacity of democratic institutions to improve their welfare. "Poverty poses greatest threat to democracy because it weakens the will and commitment of people to act in public affairs as a free and independent people."

Dr Ninsin said the fact that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Government took the country into the Club of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Countries was an acknowledgement that poverty had become a social menace compelling millions of Ghanaians to live in pain, drudgery, squalor and hopelessness.

"Those of our citizens, who are poor have been deprived of their rights and cannot be called citizens because they are not free: as long as this huge section of Ghanaians is not free we cannot claim to be democratic."

He said: "The poor cannot participate effectively in the politics and economy of our country. They cannot participate in the process of self-government yet democracy is about self-government. They cannot practice self-determination yet governance is a process that makes one to be responsible of his or her own actions and choices." According to Prof. Ninsin there was abundant evidence to show that people voted in elections to choose the government that would bring them relief from the deprivations and degradation they experienced on daily basis.

"They choose a government that promises to improve their material conditions and enable them to live as proud citizens of the country." Dr Ninsin called on Parliament as the institution vested with the people's trust to scrutinize policies and programmes that would take the people out of poverty.

"This means that the welfare of the people must be the supreme guiding principle of the deliberations of Parliament especially at this moment of our history when poverty threatens our nation's peace and stability."

The University Don said there was the perception that Parliament functioned in a partisan manner where parties stuck to positions rather than informed by the interest of the generality of the people outside Parliament.

"I must emphasis that such unrestrained partisanship is self-destructive and above all a betrayal of purpose and the trust of the people."

On civil society, Dr Ninsin asked them to always strive to safeguard the people's rights and freedoms.

"The gallantry of civil society won us a limited respite from dictatorship, corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power." He called on civil society organisations to be democratic, transparent and to have unity of purpose to push for economic freedoms. He said civil societies in their zeal to fight anti-democratic tendencies should do nothing to undermine the State.

"It is equally important to bear in mind that the Nation State still remains the only meaningful framework for the pursuit of citizenship.

"We strive to keep the Nation State intact. There is no freedom and certainly no democracy in the situation of war or conflict." Prof Ninsin said: "One of the greatest fallacies of our time is the current dogma that democracy is simply about political and civil rights. "Political and civil rights are extremely important. But as our history attests, freedom from hunger, freedom from disease, freedom from want, freedom from fear of tomorrow, freedom from fear of where to get food, money etc. for myself and dependents, shelter, roof over our heads; freedom from anxiety about life define who we are in society."

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