Some things that hurt our democracy – An Analysis by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

…It seems some people (in Ghana) are doing overtime to set new standards of dishonesty or sink to new levels of irresponsibility.

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…Our politicians like working in a cloak of darkness so that their nefarious deeds remain hidden from the public…

The persistent unhealthy competition between the NPP and the NDC to catch the voters’ eyes and ears seems to be taking a turn for the worse, which is part of the factors responsible for the needless tension in our body politic. By constantly jumping at each other’s throat, functionaries of these political parties demonstrate an anxiety to create needless excitement and tension, which hurts our democracy.

A case in point is what happened just yesterday when the bigwigs of the NPP failed to participate in the activities marking the country’s 54th independence anniversary at the national level in Accra. The NPP’s General Secretary has explained that the party’s functionaries failed to participate in the events because they got their invitation at a late hour. This attitude is unbecoming and the explanation is inadmissible. It marks the apex of political irresponsibility on the part of those in government who were to issue the invitation and those who failed to see the celebration as an honour to those who sacrificed their lives to get us where we are today. It shows immaturity and lack of patriotism.

Some may even say that it reflects a hidden agenda by the NPP to cause disaffection for the government. Others may simply politicize the matter and see it as a reminder of the “spirit” behind the NPP’s political tradition, especially within the context of how the “Mate Me Ho” forebears didn’t want Britain to give Ghana its independence. Thus, why should they be part of its celebration? After all, on a similar occasion in 2001, Kufuor chose to spend time in Australia after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference instead of returning home to grace the occasion. That’s where the tension springs from too.

The matter won’t end there, though. Are these NPP functionaries telling us that they didn’t know that the country’s independence celebrations would be held on Sunday, March 6, to get themselves ready for the occasion? Or that the occasion is not meant for partisan politics? Or that not participating in the celebrations means their being unpatriotic, which sends a bad signal to the society?

This attitude is dangerous. Coming at the time that teachers had threatened to boycott the celebrations, the (mis)conduct of the NPP followers may be (mis)interpreted to mean an underhanded approach to handling affairs, especially considering the agitations within the teachers’ ranks and the decision to sabotage the celebrations. Whether coincidental or not, the picture painted by the NPP on this score is horrible.

Even if not given any official invitation, what or who could have prevented them from showing up on the occasion? It seems some people are doing overtime to set new standards of dishonesty or sink to new levels of irresponsibility.

Now, the stage has been set for the trading of useless accusations and counter-accusations. The government has already begun accusing the NPP of attempting to sabotage the Independence Day events, which the NPP will bounce back to deny and use as an impetus for further castigation of the government.

We have to look for ways to reduce the tension. Considering the seemingly uncompromising and irreconcilable relationship between the NDC and NPP, one would expect that the Inter-Party Advisory Committee of the Electoral Commission would be active and play its role to rein in the parties; but as is characteristic of such paper-tigers, it will not act on the common saying that a stitch in time saves nine. It will wait till the situation spins itself out of control before urging action through the security services at election time.
I know that this Committee’s main purview is defined by “electoral” issues but it seems to be the only forum at which all the viable political parties can meet to thrash out bottlenecks. That’s why I see it as an appropriate body to mediate between those parties. Someone has to do something; that’s all.

All other bodies aimed at conflict resolution seem not to know that they can serve the country better if their “charity” begins at home. They are bent on functioning in other countries while the very problems that they want to solve elsewhere are with us in Ghana. Our mechanisms for solving problems still remain reactive, not pro-active. How can we make any progress if we look on for problems to grow out of all reasonable proportions before attempting to solve them?

At the national level, there seems to be a conspiracy to make governance as esoteric as will afford the main actors the opportunity “to do their own thing.” There is too much mediocrity in our mechanisms for governance, which gives room for doubts, suspicions, fears, and distrust—the very issues that give rise to tension. Our politicians like working in a cloak of darkness so that their nefarious deeds remain hidden from the public. That’s part of why no one seems to trust the other well enough to expose anything to. Yet, we know that transparency is one important prerequisite for trust and cooperation.

One immediate solution to the problem is to make our politics transparent at all levels (except, maybe, the various parties’ secret agenda for membership drive. Of course, each party should safeguard its secrets to be able to strategize to reach out to the electorate.). Beyond that point, there is nothing to hide unless someone wants to devise adroit means to steal something that belongs to us all.
If we agree that our democracy should be built on a bottom-up principle—not a top-down one—then, we should create the necessary structures to allow the people’s voice to influence governance. The people must not matter only at election time. So far, that has been the norm. Governance is still shrouded in secrecy and a go-it-alone posture reigns supreme among the NPP and NDC, especially.

Transparency means opening the doors to Ghanaians to peep into government’s conduct of affairs. That’s why the stalling of work on the Freedom of Information bill must not be countenanced at all. Governance shouldn’t be anything to be mystified. After all, when the people know what the exact challenges confronting the government are, they will be better positioned to sympathize with it if it fails to deliver on its promises. Again, it will make them more circumspect in making demands and threatening to vote down the government if such demands are not met.

More importantly, it will reassure Ghanaians that their investments in the constitutional democratic experiment will not go to waste. They will feel empowered enough to come along with the government. Let’s not forget that input from the public is good for the government to use in administering affairs. We don’t want to think that those in government are all the “brains” that the country has or needs to solve problems. Those in government can’t claim to be the cream (intellectual or otherwise) of the Ghanaian society. They are where they are only because of their choice to engage in partisan politics.
There are better quality materials who don’t want to be involved in partisan politics because our politics is too dirty for them. They are excluded from the mainstream partisan political realm but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything useful for the government to tap into. That’s why it’s good for the government not to intimidate anybody but make itself transparent and flexible enough for such people to want to work with at various levels. I know many qualified Ghanaian technocrats and intellectuals who have been sidelined but whose input will be beneficial if harnessed.

The problem between the NDC and the NPP as far as policies are concerned can be tackled in better ways than what happened recently when President Mills presented his “State of the Nation” address or what has begun cropping up to heighten tension all over the country just because someone wants to grab political power or to retain it.

Opportunities should be created officially for the NPP’s (or any other recognized political party’s) voice to be heard on important policy statements that the government makes. For instance, at the presentation of the government’s annual budget statement, a forum should be created for the Opposition to present its views formally. This is the practice in the United States, where the opposition responds to such official policy statements presented by the President. This approach always gives the public the chance to hear from both sides and to make their own decisions as they compare notes from the government and opposition on issues that determine their fate as citizens.

This practice has to be formalized and given all the push it deserves so that official channels can be used for the fruitful exchange of views on important national issues. Instead of what we have now where no official response comes from the opposition but the floodgates are left open to ill-informed journalists and others to misinform and discredit the government (or opposition) at will, something formal should be institutionalized to indicate how we want to engage in debates concerning important national issues.

All the government has to do is to ensure that a copy of the official statement to be read by the President or Minister of Finance is made available to the opposition so that it can study it in advance and do its background work to be able to respond responsibly to issues of interest to it. We must streamline this give-and-take approach to ensure that the forum is not abused. When Ghanaians get both sides of the issues, they will be in a better position to advise themselves in the electoral decisions that they make. Our democracy will also be moved a notch higher where heads (reason) and not hearts (emotions) will determine the ebb and flow of the discourse and strategies for solving national problems.

For now, we are apprehensive. There is too much unnecessary tension in our body politic; what for, I don’t know. But one thing I know is that the more our politics becomes dirty, the better chances are that it will give the charlatans masquerading as the country’s “Messiahs” the undeserved opportunity to do things in their own favour. The more we allow partisan politics to tear us apart, the more we lose our bearings and the more likely it is that we can’t work together to solve the problems that continue to keep our country underdeveloped.