I begin with the caveat that this paper is not aimed to address the many aspects of our 1992 Constitution that beg for review and change. I limit myself to some key areas of personal interest.

We should pay tribute to those whose hard work, dedication and love of country, helped produce the Constitution of our Fourth Republic. The Constitution upholds democracy to be the only form of government we should cherish. It has therefore given us a framework that has sustained democratic rule for 30 years.

The preceding 36 years of our independence were replete with political insecurities, caused mainly by military interventions. Today we enjoy political predictability, as we change or retain governments every four years in relative peace. Little wonder, Ghana today is lauded globally as one of the most stable and thriving democracies. We should be proud of that.

Unfortunately, however, the accolade appears to impress a few Ghanaians. The applause for attaining a stable electoral democracy seems to have little meaning or significance to many. Not because people are oblivious to the achievement, but because of the growing disenchantment with the practice of democracy in the country, and the seeming failure of governance to yield both material and psychic dividends. The realisation has dawned that elections by themselves do not make successful democracy. The relevance of practising democracy is the issue at stake.

If this key concern – practice democracy – is real, and I believe it is, then a case should be made for a review of the 1992 Constitution which provides the framework for our practice of democracy and governance.

I should, perhaps, at this point, clarify the concept of democracy to make my presentation better understood and more meaningful. Like the two-edged sword, democracy has two mutually inclusive sides: principle democracy and practice democracy.

The first side, principle democracy, refers to the universal principles and values that all human beings deserve in other to live wholesome and dignified lives. Embedded in principle democracy is respect for freedom, liberty, justice, rule of law and rights – values that uphold the dignity of human life. These are what I call the intangibles of democracy, and controversies over their relevance are rare.

The other side, practice democracy, refers to institutions, systems and the human agency that must function to actualize the principles or values. The creation of this practical or tangible side of democracy must be informed and guided by the society’s own history, traditions and culture.

So, while principle democracy, which seeks to dignify human life, is universal and written in stone, so to speak, practice democracy is variable or flexible and is based on the peculiarities of the society. This differentiation accounts for the varying ways democracy is practised around the world. Clearly, democratic practice is not a straightjacket, a one-size-fits-all affair. And this is where controversies abound.

From my perspective, much of the growing public frustration and disenchantment with governance in Ghana today come from the shortfalls in the practice of democracy. Our practice is increasingly exclusive, divisive and extremist. It hampers economic progress.

Most observers attribute the condition of exclusion, division and extremism to the “winner-takes-all” electoral system, which is monopolized by two political parties, the NPP and NDC. In this duopoly, a party winning elections even with one percentage point takes complete possession of the state, from the national to the local levels.

The politics of exclusion, which is embedded in the “winner-takes-all” system, is, perhaps, the key reason for the rabid partisanship and rivalry between the NDC and NPP. This has led to any party in opposition having to simply oppose and discredit the government of the day. It has led to the disgusting habit of claims and counter-claims over who built this road or that school. It has led to the abandonment of projects initiated by the preceding government, irrespective of the relevance and how much has been sunk into it. Above all, it has led to a short-sighted approach to development.

Meanwhile, political party organization and electoral politics have been highly monetized. They have become a game for the rich and corrupt. As admitted publicly by some failed candidates, votes of delegates at party primaries are bought and the highest bidder often wins. At the national level, presidential candidates sell themselves with gifts and phantom promises.

Needless to say, the cost of participation and the embedded corruption in party politics have excluded many individuals with promise, young and old, who, otherwise, could opt for public service.
The dire consequences of the corruption of the political process for our development have led to persistent calls for state-funded political parties.

Another key area where the practice of democracy in Ghana seems to have flopped is the actualization of political participation. For 30 years we have limited participation in ballot casting and media pluralism that makes it possible for all voices from all corners to be heard. Not surprisingly, but sadly, many among us have reduced democracy to kabi-na-menka bi – “say your mind and let me say mine,” as in free speech and expression.

The true meaning of political participation is for people to have a direct role in decision-making on issues and policies that affect their lives and, to a large extent, be able to determine their own destinies. That, I believe, is the idea behind Local Government, as spelt out in Article 240 of the Constitution.

However, the structure of governance has been such that decentralisation that ensures popular participation has been rendered meaningless. Participation should be bottom-up, rather than top-down. Indeed, the bottom should be the grooming grounds for budding politicians.

Vibrant democracies are where participation is more vigorous at the grassroots, with communities meeting, deciding and charting their future. That is what I believe the Constitution designed the District Assembly system for. Future leaders must gain experience in governance from the grassroots of politics, and not walk straight into national positions from school, with no known experience and without being tested.

As if by design, so far only administrative, not political or fiscal decentralization has been achieved to empower the Assemblies to serve their true purpose. The latter two are so centralized that districts are made fully dependent on the ruling elite in Accra for handouts. Doesn’t it strike you when on their rounds in the districts, Presidents are begging for mundane things like public toilets? Why should a newly-constructed school building in a village be locked up until some big man from Accra is available to declare it open?

The Constitution (Art 240.2(a)) requires that statutory funds earmarked for the districts through the District Assembly Common Fund are kept in Accra and released at the pleasure of the Ministry of Finance. Reportedly, no government of this Republic has ever paid up fully on the Fund. Thus, tardiness or incompetence or recklessness of the central government easily transcends to afflict and disrupt governance and development in the districts.

What our centralised democratic practice has done is to reduce the people into beggars, just as the central government, with a bowl in hand, begs foreign donors! This should be reversed. Local governance must enable initiative innovation and creativity in communities towards changing their circumstance. Development thinking and initiation should not emerge only from the top, as if those at the bottom are incapable of their own salvation.

The constitutional provisions for ensuring transparency and accountability appear weak and shrinking by the day. This leads public officials oftentimes to act recklessly and with impunity in managing the country’s resources. Corruption and naked thievery are therefore rampant across the board.

Within the context of transparency and accountability is the idea of separation of powers in a democracy. It is to enable each of the three arms of government – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – to stay independent so they can hold each other in check and to account.

Yet, the 1992 constitution invests so much power in the Executive that the other two institutions seem subdued. The requirement for the President to appoint a majority of ministers from the Legislature, for instance, weakens the latter in holding the former in check.

The Constitution gives almost limitless discretionary and appointive powers to the President. Apart from appointing the cabinet, senior civil servants and heads of state agencies, he also appoints District Assembly members. Even appointments to institutions classified by the Constitution as “independent” are made by the president who is partisan. Yet, we expect these bodies to be neutral.

Apart from the so-called “independent” bodies, the Constitution places no limit on the numbers and levels to be appointed. This loophole and the discretion to create ministries and agencies at will, enable self-aggrandizing presidents to indulge in creating and dishing out positions, with or without justification and unmindful of the burden on the taxpayer. Increasingly, presidential appointments have become the means to creating jobs for party members, friends and family.

That is why debates and controversies have emerged in recent times over the number of ministers, Supreme Court Justices, directors and CEOs and their deputies of state agencies a president ought to appoint. The latest attempt by Parliament to block the president’s ministerial appointee was premised on the popular call for a reduction in the size of government.

The foregoing cases of constitutional lapses are among the reasons why strong voices have emerged, including mine, for reviewing the 1992 Constitution. Despite its beneficence, the Constitution has so many deficits that upend good governance. We must review and get it right this time.

While appreciating the diligence with which the Constitution was framed, we should also recognize its unique and unhealthy circumstances of birth. It came against the backdrop of eleven years of illiberal and intimidating military rule of the PNDC. And it’s the same regime that supervised the framing of the Constitution.

The regime, indeed, resisted change and only yielded when it could no longer stand against the wind of change. The wind included an assertive civil society, the donor community that had become influential with their bankrolling, and the global democratic tidal wave unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

The constitution and the transition to liberal democracy in 1993, therefore, cannot be said to have emerged out of the goodness or democratic proclivities of the PNDC. And it was rushed, given the circumstances and, therefore missed critical introspection and debate. It is even believed some sections were smuggled into it to appease a few individuals! Regarding the debate on constitutional review, three schools of thought have emerged.

The first, the rejectionists, believe a review is not necessary at this time. The Constitution has served as well. “If it is not broken, why fix it?” they seem to ask and argue: “It simply needs time to mature, and court interpretations and rulings will bring the needed changes.” This viewpoint was stressed in a recent interview in the Daily Graphic by the venerable Nana Dr SKB Asante, who chaired the Draft Committee for the 1992 Constitution.

The second viewpoint, emphasizes caution and limited reforms or amendments. “Let’s be careful, we should not rush to amend or review.” President Akuffo Addo’s comments on the debate exemplify this stance.

The third and final viewpoint is radical. It’s found mostly among young people and civil society groups who are impatient and show extreme frustration with the status quo. Short of revolution, they want comprehensive reviews or reforms. I belong to this last school of thought.

I understand that constitutions should not be needlessly tampered with. The American Constitution which is 234 years old, has been amended only 27 times, most recently in 1992, though there have been over 11,000 proposed amendments since it became operational in 1789.

However, we should not miss the reason why the American and other veteran democracies have preserved and carefully avoided fiddling with their constitutions. Their constitutions followed lengthy and meticulous preparations, including extensive and intense intellectual debates. They recognised and were guided by their history and traditions before crafting institutions and systems for practising democracy.

They did not copy blindly from others. The same cannot be said for the Ghana Constitution. That is why I make the case for a comprehensive constitutional review. Towards that end, and with the limited space I have, the following recommendations are proffered.

  • Advance inclusive politics. We should consider a “proportional representation” electoral system, where parties gain seats in Parliament in proportion to the number of votes obtained in elections. This would bring more parties into Parliament. It will mitigate the unbridled partisanship and the “winner-takes-all” syndrome.
  • Redefine power distribution (devolution of power). To promote popular political participation and make communities key agencies for development, the structure of governance must be decentralized. This requires effective decentralization, both in political (election of leaders) and fiscal (power to tax to generate revenue) terms. Circumscribe presidential powers to mitigate abuses, capriciousness and impunity.
  • Promote relevant traditional/local values. We should delve into our history and culture and create some core local values to complement democratic values. Our traditionalists, anthropologists, sociologists and others can be of help here. Indeed, chiefs should assume leadership of local development by presiding at district assemblies.
  • Strengthen institutions and structures to enhance transparency and accountability in public life. The legislature should be independent of the executive by eliminating the hybrid system. Assets declarations should be enforced and include end-of-service accountability. Public officials should be held to high ethical standards and breaches must be sanctioned.
  • Rethink and remake key governance institutions truly independent. The appointment to institutions such as the EC, NCCE, CHRAJ and Supreme Court, EOCO, and the Special Prosecutor can be made by independent panels, as we have in Israel and elsewhere. Other models can be studied to insulate political partisans, including the President, from making such appointments.
    After all, is said and done, and in the interest of peace for a single-minded approach to development, we should consider an interim special arrangement for a 20-year “Uniting for Peace and Progress.” This period for a “Unity” or “Union” government, will be devoid of partisan extremism and enable a 20-year national development plan that will be focused and disciplined. It will require the formation of an all-inclusive government based on meritocracy and backed by an elected Parliament
    Notably, countries that achieved rapid progress in recent decades, most of which were in the same league as Ghana in the late 1950s, adopted a single-minded approach to development and took 20 to 30 years to change their circumstance, mostly with tamed opposition and overbearing leadership. Paul Kagame of Rwanda is an African example of this approach.
    We can surely design a democratic framework for a Union Government, without autocracy and suppression of citizens’ rights. Practice democracy should be redesigned to meet the exigency of our time. We just have to rethink governance because our current path forebodes danger.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.