PRESIDENT MAHAMA AT THE IEA
Arthur Kobina Kennedy, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast
Last week, President John Mahama had an Evening Encounter at the IEA. It was the first appearance at the event by a sitting President and for that, he deserves commendation.
So too, does the IEA for organizing these events and others to advance our democracy.
Before discussing the performance of various actors, we should note that the same NDC spinmeiters who hailed and defended late President Mills’ decision not to participate in the IEA encounters and debates hailed President Mahama’s decision to appear in those events. This calls into question the candour and consistency with which advice and support are offered to our leaders.
Furthermore, I was struck by a few things.
First, the event, just like those by the other candidates, was too long. The introductory remarks by the respected Brig. General Agyemfra could have been more concise.
Second, while the idea of getting an eight-year old to ask questions is good , such questions should truly come from the child. While the child was obviously very intelligent, not many believed that she could compose a question with “Commander-in-Chief” and all those other tongue-twisters in it. Next time, we should let the child compose her own question or let the adults ask their question directly.
Third, I was struck by how long the questions were. Many questions were preceded by long speeches. If the organizations or persons at such an event need to be introduced at length to the audience at such length, then maybe they should not be asking the questions in the first place. Quite a few of the questioners should have been at an NDC rally instead of a forum to ask the President questions.
The moderator, Mr. Avle, had a couple of brilliant follow-ups but allowed the questioners and the President to go on for too long too often.
On the President himself, while his delivery and composure were good, I was surprised by how much of his presentation and answers had to do with promises for the future instead of the performance of his government. From the building of schools to peaceful elections to job creation, it was mostly about promises. While a President whose government has a spotty record might be inclined to focus on promises for the future, it was astonishing that not many of the questioners were interested in holding the President accountable for the performance of his government.
For instance, the President talked eloquently about increasing local content despite the fact that his government has repeatedly favored foreign investors over local businesses. An example of this was the ill-fated STX Korean housing deal in which the Koreans were favoured despite clear indications that our local builders could deliver comparable results at a cheaper cost.
A second example was the President’s pledge to build hundreds of Senior Secondary Schools even while those in existence are clearly struggling. To stay for a moment on education, if different fees by different Senior Secondary Schools are a problem, why has his government not fixed it in the last four years or the eight years between 1993 and 2001 when they were in government? If all that Nana Addo is promising in education is something already required by the constitution, why has the NDC been attacking him? Why did the President not just commend Nana Akufo-Addo and then pledge to work with him to make education at all levels freer and better? Do we really have to choose between free education and quality education? Ebei Ghana!!
To move to the President’s answers, the substance left quite a bit to be desired. His answers should have been tied more to facts and his government’s record and it was unfortunate that except in a few instances, he was not pressed to clarify his answers. For instance, answering the question on the disruptions by the Fulani, he invoked ECOWAS protocols as the excuse for doing nothing about them. Doing something about Fulani herdsmen does not necessarily mean expelling them. It means enforcing our laws. While waiting for the law on ranching that he has promised, there already exists in Ghana laws against rape and murder as well as for the protection of private property. He should have told us what his government has done to protect our law-abiding citizens and to protect property. Those things will not require any new laws— they require the enforcement of existing laws. On the same point, if the President had paid attention, he would have heard that regarding the ownership and/ or complicity with the Fulani, it is not just the Chiefs who are the subject of rumours. The politicians are too— big time.
When the President was asked about jobs, his answer was at best unrealistic. He stated that “what will create jobs is economic growth of 8-10%”. Well, Mr. President, not necessarily. In the last decade before the current global recession, only China and India averaged growths of 10 and 9% respectively so to expect that our economy can consistently post growths at that level is unrealistic. Furthermore, economic growth can occur without significant job creation, as I am sure Dr Duffuor and others can tell the President. While growth can contribute to job growth, the surest way to create jobs is to lower the taxes on businesses, to simplify our bureaucracy, improve infrastructure and to reduce corruption in our economy. While discovering more oil will certainly grow our economy, it will not necessarily create more jobs for us.
While the examples I have given underline the disconnect between the President’s promises and the performance of his government, no issue illustrated this better that the question of peaceful elections.
The President indicated that he had asked for a plan from the security forces and would implement the plan to ensure peace during the elections. While that is encouraging, the President and his government have had nearly four years to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful elections have not impressed any neutral observers. If the NDC and President Mahama are against violence and intimidation, why have those who caused violence and intimidation at Akwatia, Chereponi and Atiwa not been arrested and charged despite the presence of video recordings of the offenses in certain instances? Why have the victims of Lamagushie not had justice? For the avoidance of doubt, I do not wish to imply that all the perpetrators belong to the NDC. However, if we will be a nation of laws, we must punish the lawless, regardless of party or ethnicity.
While this encounter was not a debate, I could not help noting the differences in the mind-set of the electorates and even the politicians in the United States versus Ghana. During the Obama-Romney debates, Mr. Obama was repeatedly challenged on his promises in 2008 versus his record in 2012. That is why, despite his universally acknowledged eloquence, he had such a difficult time debating Mr. Romney. Surprisingly here in Ghana, the NDC, with concurrence of the opposition and the gullible public, have managed to turn this election into a contest of manifestoes and promises. Indeed, if you did not hear President Mahama referred to as the President, he could have passed for an opposition leader seeking his first term in office. Amazingly, instead of urging the voters to hold the government to account with their thumbs, the opposition appears to be on a self-defeating quest to out-promise the incumbent government.
Accountability is a central tenet of democratic governance. The way opposition parties win elections is by helping the public judge non-performing incumbents. It is a tried and tested formula.
It worked in Canada in 1993 when the Liberals under Chretien reduced the governing Conservatives from a majority to a rump with two seats. It worked in America in 2010 when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives only for the second time since 1954. It worked in 2000 when Ghana’s NPP defeated the NDC. It can work again in Ghana, if the opposition helps Ghanaians to hold the NDC to account.
The time to do that will be the Presidential debates and the man to do so will be Nana Akufo-Addo. During those debates, he must, to be successful, relentlessly shine the light on the NDC’s performance in the last four years and persuade Ghanaians that there is a better way and a better party, the NPP. Unfortunately, given the events of the last few months, it is doubtful whether the CPP’s Shakara and PNC’s Ayariga can be counted upon to hold the President to account for the NDC’s stewardship over the last four years. Nana will probably be on his own.
Let us move forward, together.
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