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19.03.2007 General News

Prime Minister or Vice President? - Kufuor to open debate

By myjoyonline

President Kufuor is said to be ready to propose any time soon, the creation of a Prime Minister portfolio in place of the Vice President's office for Ghana's political administration system.

According to the Statesman newspaper, the fundamental change to the national Constitution, which will see the President appoint the Prime Minister as pertains in the French governmental system, has been in the pipeline since 2005.

The paper quotes its sources close to the President as saying the proposed change, which would require a national referendum to remove the entrenched constitutional position, should have been mooted in 2005 but was shelved because the timing was inappropriate.

“Now, the President had planned to keep the change under wraps until the presidential flagbearer race has been fought and concluded this year, for fear of detracting from the competition and sending a wrong personalized message about the proposal rather than a critical assessment of the Office of the Vice President”, according to the paper.

The paper says Alhaji Aliu Mahama may be one of the forerunners in the race, and Kufuor is keen to stress that the constitutional change has nothing to do with the vice presidential position holder.

The position of Vice President has long been seen as blurry within the Ghanaian governmental system, with no explicit portfolio for the holder of the second-in-command spot except an acting role as President but only in the case of a vacuum.

Officially, the Vice President deputises for the president when the need arises, such as assenting to laws and chairing Cabinet meetings. In reality Mr Kufuor remains the national president, even when he is out of the country.

Recent experiences in Nigeria, South Africa, and even Ghana during the first presidential term of the Fourth Republic, have gone to expose the difficulties that the structure of the vice presidency can pose, especially in the absence of good chemistry between the No.1 and No.2.

Although, in Ghana, the Vice President is still nominally Chair of the Police Council, many of the former responsibilities were stripped from the position under the presidency of Jerry John Rawlings.

Distrustful and hostile towards his then Veep, Kow Nkensen Arkaah, the latter was beaten up at a Cabinet meeting on December 28, 2005 and henceforth banned from the meetings as well as removed as Chair of the Armed Forces Council.

Although the current Vice President participates fully in Cabinet meetings, he remains a politician with few clearly defined official duties, his diary filled with openings, guest appearances and key note speeches.

It is time to create a position with more clout, is the thinking of the President, according to inner circle sources. A Prime Minister is likely to be chosen from the majority side of the legislature to head the Executive President's administration, freeing the Presidency to take an overview control of affairs.

Indeed, the current vacuum is often somewhat filled by the Chief of Staff. President Kufuor sought to go around it from the beginning of his tenure in 2001 by making J H Mensah Senior Minister, Majority Leader, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Head of the Economic Management Team. But, without any clear constitutional mandate the exercise of any such de facto prime ministerial role becomes very discretionary, often attracting toe-stepping resentments from other ministers.

The current situation remains unclear, as does the exact job description of the Vice President. Indeed, one of the functions of the vice presidential system has become a de facto means of achieving geographic and ethnic balance within Government, and this is one of the many criticisms against it.

The other argument is that, even under the premiership system, such a balance can still be achieved, except of course the PM has to be first elected as a parliamentarian in his or her own right.

An ethnic and geographical mix within the party is of undeniable importance, but this must be achieved from the grassroots level.
In the appointment of a Prime Minister, with more official legislative and administrative duties, such factors would not be allowed to influence the decision.

The new system expounded by President Kufuor is based on the French presidential system, approved by a referendum in 1958. It is the same system which has been adopted, more or less, by the majority of Francophone Africa as well as other parts of the continent, including Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Togo.

The interim government currently in place in Cote d"Ivoire, where scheduled national elections to end the civil conflict have been delayed twice since October 2005, is also semi-presidential.

Outside Africa, examples of the system include Finland, Haiti, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.

Under the system, the executive branch of government has two leaders, the President of the Republic, which is elected directly by universal adult suffrage as pertains in Ghana today and is the Head of State, and a presidential-appointed Prime Minister, who is Head of Government.

The system is described as semi-presidential, with both prime minister and president active in the day-to-day administration of the country.

It differs from a parliamentary republic in that it has a popularly elected president who is more than a purely ceremonial figurehead, and from the presidential system in that it has an executive prime minister who has a degree of responsibility to the legislature.

It can also differ from state to state; how the powers are divided between president and prime minister can vary greatly between countries. In France, for example, the president is responsible for foreign policy and the prime minister for domestic policy; Ghana would have to work out its own divisions of responsibilities, and these details have yet to be formulated.

Source: The Statesman

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