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21.01.2020 Feature Article

It's The Concealment Of Information That Leads The Public To Suspect Wrong-Doing

It's The Concealment Of Information That Leads The Public To Suspect Wrong-Doing
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All institutions, including Governments and their agencies, have the DUTY to put their case before the public.

Almost all of them depend on taxes paid by the public to carry out their functions. And in order that the public should remain PERSUADED that the public must continue paying the taxes that keep the institutions afloat, the public needs a regular flow of information on what the institutions are doing; how they are doing it; what difficulties face them; and how they are surmounting those difficulties.

It may seem to institutions that once they have been established, they can do what they think is right and SELL to the public, through slick public relations practices, the notion that what the institutions think is correct, is necessarily correct. (See https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2020/January-18th/new-register-is-a-done-deal-electoral-commission.php

But that is nothing but self-deception. Ask Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer. One way or the other, the public sometimes gets a chance to put institutions, including private companies (such as Boeing) in the dock on their “done deals”.

Over here, no-one would have thought that the Bank of Ghana, with iron-clad constitution-protected independence, would one day be answering questions about how it licenses commercial banks and other bodies that solicit funds from the public. (Just as Boeing, supposedly under the supposedly eagle-eyed supervision of the US Federal Aviation authorities, would hardly have been expected to be able to manoeuvre things and make shortcuts in such a devious way that it was unbelievably allowed by the authorities to put a new aircraft into operation, that would be so unsafe that it would be involved in two crashes that killed about 400 people).

In Ghana today , former bank executive after bank executive is being dragged to court to answer questions about fraud and other financial malpractices in their organisations. And people need to ask: what was the role of Bank of Ghana officials in those financial malfeasances? They were required by law to keep a close eye on those financial institutions. So why did they crash or need to be rescued by the state in order not to crash? Who will finally bear the cost of those bailout funds?

If a church that is favoured by the high and the mighty in the society (for instance) branches out into commercia banking, does it not have to adhere strictly to the rules governing all banks?

Independence, then, is a two-faced coin: on the one side of the coin, a financial institution should operate as its executives deem fit. But on the other, a church/bank (say) cannot claim that since it operates under the general direction of the deity, it cannot do evil and should therefore be spared the legally-prescribed supervision that the country's financial authorities are obliged to exercise over all financial institutions.

One body whose position is somewhat analogous to that of the financial institutions is the Electoral Commission. No other body in the country attracts as much notice from the public as this Commission. And that should be expected, for the reason is obvious: the EC manages the system by which we elect our all-powerful government. In some countries, the EC's behaviour causes blood to be spilt in defence of alleged EC cheating of parties and ethnic groups, which denies power to those entities.

For such a body to imagine that it can evade the total and ruthless scrutiny of its “done deals” because the Constitution endows it with independence, is to be naïve beyond belief.

The independence bestowed on it by the Constitution is predicated on the Commission being able to act in such a way as does not create even a whiff of suspicion, in the eyes of the public, that the EC is partisan, or that it acts in the narrow financial interest of EC officials and their secret financial oligarchies.

Unfortunately, there is a tradition in this country of being UNSURE about why the Electoral Commission does its “done deals”. We worry, in particular, about the when and how the Commission compiles its voters' registers, as well as the way and manner in which it conducts elections and declares results.

Now, here is an interesting thought: there is no person born of woman who can conduct elections in Ghana without being accused of BIAS in favour of one political party or the other! Everybody knows this, including EC officials!

What this widespread suspicion of bias produces must be one of two reactions on the part of the Commission: it can either throw up its arms and say, “Hey, we shall be accused of bias in any case, so let's go ahead and do things the way we want to!” Done deal, what?

On the other hand, a much more realistic Commission would warn everyone in the Commission that: “Hey, no-one forces anyone to work for the Electoral Commission, ok? So, be advised that once you're at the EC, whatever you do will be put, not just under a microscope, but a microscope that may, actually, already be smeared with unknown samples. You will find it difficult enough to separate the genuine from the externally-contaminated lot. But if YOU yourself do bring along, samples of your own to add to the pile, then do be aware that you risk creating a meltdown that can bring unknown disaster to our whole nation!”

Some of our earlier Electoral Commissions followed the second set of rules. Aware that microscopes can be manipulated to produce unscientific readings, some of our earliest Commissions (especially those of 1950, 1954 and 1956) went the whole hog to DEPLOY ACCURATE AND TIMELY INFORMATION on a massive scale, to DISARM public scepticism.

They were incredibly transparent about, for instance, the registration and the extension of deadlines for the registration of voters; the easy identification of political party symbols to be used on ballot papers; the laws governing registration of voters; and the disqualification of candidates; and ultimately, also about the counting of votes and the declaration of election results.

Anyone who was around in those days sat up, stopped everything, and listened, as the long-awaited information followed this announcement: “This is the Gold Coast Broadcasting System. The general elections. Such and such constituency.....” They had been prepared to accept the accuracy of this information, and they drank it in.

Today , we sit down and hear that the Electoral Commission has selected Company X or Y to compile the data that will be used for election purposes in all their shapes and forms. What are Company X's credentials? No-one is told! Where has it compiled similar data before? No-one knows!

What was the public reaction to the company's work in the countries in which it previously operated? (Silence). Who were Company X's competitors in the bidding for the compilation of data in Ghana? (If the EC has disclosed this, only a handful of “stakeholders” are privy to it. But ought this not be public information, not just because of the controversy surrounding the exercise, but because it is good policy? Why were other companies rejected while Company X was selected? What has been the reaction of the companies that failed to win the bid?

The answers to these questions are largely, zilch, zilch zilch, so far. I am sure that if some enterprising enquirer(s) were to go to the Electoral Commission offices to ask these questions, they might get the convincing answers to them. But I ask you, why should anyone go to a public body to seek information that the public body should make freely available to the public?

Well, the EC is learning fast that if these questions would not be voluntarily answered, contrived answers would be placed put in the public mind. So, the Election Commission is FORCED to issue AN ANGRY STATEMENT denying that the company that has just won the contract to compile our election-related data, was somehow connected to “the husband” of the current Electoral Commissioner!

Now, isn't that suggestion ridiculous? Maybe, but that's what you get if you think you can ignore the public and carry on with secret “done deals”, which you then try to sell to the public, or more accurately, selected “stakeholders”.

Is the Electoral Commission unaware that the current EC chair's predecessor was subjected to a huge cacophony of rumours in 2016-18, and that even a child of five could have ANTICIPATED (having been told of Ms Charlotte Osei's travails) that the current lady too might experience her share of maligning, and that extra care should be taken not to create a situation that would invite her being defamed?

Didn't experience tell the Commission that the current Electoral Commissioner should avoid all potentially controversial posturing? Can the selection of companies that would play a crucial role in the compilation of electoral data a simple issue in Ghana? Has the Electoral Commission got electronic consultants? If it has, and these consultants have replaced those who were hired before, why were the previous consultants dumped?

Where have the new consultants (if any) worked before, and what was the public reaction to their exertions? I man, you can't go and bring “experts” who have worked before in say, Kenya, and expect the Ghanaian public to just accept them because our EC says they're ok??

We hear a lot about arbitrary disqualification of voters by city and county officials (for instance) during elections, even in an supposedly “advanced democracy” like the USA. If that happens in the USA, a country with the most inquisitive media in the world and the most savvy electronics experimentalists, why can't our institutions learn that nothing is to be taken for granted during an election?

INFORMATION that belongs in the public domain should be put there as a matter of course, mustn't it, and certainly, not after a raucous demand has been made for it?

Our METHOD of selecting individuals to head important, sensitive institutions in this country has become anachronistic, in my view. Ph. D; years of practical experience; demonstrated ability in his/her field eta: .all well and good. But what about ORDINARY COMMON SENSE?

Wouldn't common sense warn a person in an important institution that “all eyes are on me. SO, like Caesar's wife, not only must I not be incorruptible but be ABOVE SUSPICION?”

There is no guarantee that under our highly polarised party-politicised atmosphere, even such an attitude will necessarily dampen criticism of appointees who are expected to be independent-minded but are suspected of acting in favour of political parties. But surely, it is much better to to try to attack the task with clean, open hands than to approach with secret dirt under the fingernails?Hoping that the microscope will not detect the dirt is a high-risk strategy.

It most certainly won't work!

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2020

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

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