During a lecture presentation at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) recently, former Local Government and Rural Development minister, Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi, was reported to have advised the Atta-Mills government, as well as all future leaders of government, or presidents of Ghana’s Fourth Republic, to desist from making Members of Parliament double as regional ministers (See “MPs Should Not Be Appointed Regional Ministers – Ahwoi” Peacefmonline.com 3/24/11).
The context of Mr. Ahwoi’s lecture presentation, we are told, was a review forum on the Local Government System and Decentralization. First of all, I wish that Mr. Ahwoi, who is also a professor at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), had come out to boldly credit the Danquah-Busia-Dombo traditionalists for having midwifed the entire salutary governance system of decentralization, where the Nkrumah-led Convention People’s Party (CPP) doggedly championed the unitary system of governance in the dubious name of unity and national development.
But even more significantly, Mr. Ahwoi was reported to have further advised that District and Municipal Chief Executives (DCEs and MCEs) should continue to be appointed by the President, even though the overwhelming majority of Ghanaian voters, were such suggestion to be put to a vote, would definitely demand that their local government chiefs be elected. On the foregoing score, this is what Mr. Ahwoi had to say: “I have no doubt in mind that if you put the matter to a referendum today, Ghanaians will say that we should elect. Just as if you put it to a referendum Ghanaians would say that we should elect [our] ministers. We love elections; we have found that there is power in the thumb. Ghanaians would like every position to be made elective. I have always said that the popular position is the election of DCEs, but the popular position is not always the correct position.”
Well, it is all-too-predictable for Mr. Ahwoi to suggest that his personal opinion on this matter, as an individual, is far more constructive than that of the Ghanaian electorate at large, as egregiously presumptuous as it sounds. All-too-predictable because for nearly two decades, Mr. Ahwoi was a key player in a government that ran our country by executive edicts.
Needless to say, if Ghana is to constructively and organically move away from the divisive politics of winner-takes-all, then we had better seriously begin talking about the massive and thoroughgoing democratization of our political culture, especially at the local government level, where competence, more than all else, ought to be foregrounded. To be certain, about the only advantage in having District and Municipal chief executives appointed, is the stark and none-too-comfortable nor even productive fact that it gives the President and his close associates the patently unsavory opportunity to pack our local governance apparatus/system with cronies who may not necessarily be the most ideal candidates for these jobs.
But even more crucially, the continuous appointment of local government operatives creates the unsavory climate in the minds of local residents of being politically dominated by an occupying force. It also, crucially, does not rally the people around progressive and unifying political figures, thus effectively defeating the government’s much-touted objective of cross-ideological unification.
At the ministerial level, it is quite obvious that making Regional Ministers out of MPs is a no-go objective. This, however, has far less to do with the question of distance or geographical location, contrary to what Mr. Ahwoi would have his audience believe, but the basic fact that the job of a Regional Minister closely mirrors that of the President, in terms of magnitude and enormity. For like the President, the Regional Minister also appoints and presides over a cabinet to ensure effective local governance. Thus being saddled with two full-time jobs does not augur well for the effective and rapid development of our country.
Indeed, Parliament needs to initiate a serious dialogue very soon, on the imperative need to completely divorce the Legislative function of government from that of the Executive, in much the same way that, today, the Judicial arm of the Ghana government is discrete and enviably independent of the Executive. The current situation whereby at least half of cabinet appointees also serve as MPs is a prime recipe for rank corruption. It also clearly detracts from the crucial full-time duties of a Parliamentarian.
And so yes, Mr. Ahwoi is dead-on-the-money to observe that Ghanaians are a people who are madly and near-pathologically in love with elections. Still, such unreserved love for democratic governance has absolutely nothing to do with the proverbial “power of the thumb.” Rather, it inescapably has everything to do with “Freedom and Justice.”
Besides, hasn’t it been long observed that, indeed, the voice of the people is also the voice of God? And so, really, why would an individual citizen like Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi presume to better appreciate the most ideal form of governance that Ghanaians ought to pursue?
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and author of “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011).