The title of this piece, and the subject for today inferentially, came to me when I was listening to morning radio discussions on vexing public issues last Wednesday.
I was struck by the deliberate ignorance of a majority of our public advocates and intellectuals on the basic meaning and implications of democratic government. It seems to me that condemning outcomes one disagrees with has now been effectively conflated with opposition to the utility of democratic rule.
It appears when one is having problems with the outcome of a particular decision making process, one goes on and on to condemn the whole structure and architecture of our democracy. This, of course, invests a perfect working system with a depressing lack of legitimacy, and reduces mass support for our type of government.
This is an extremely grievous mistake, and may well in an insidious way, invite nation wreckers or worse, provoke the destruction of our democracy because it has been thoroughly damned as inadequate by respectable public advocates who are pushing for changes to their advantage. It is even worse when in a moment of reflection, one discovers no inherent advantage in the new position being advocated.
Permit me to give examples. The so-called work of Parliament being seen as a rubber-stamp in certain cases and invitation to the President to interfere in the running of the business of the house by our advocates and intellectuals as if something strange and against the rules of parliamentary business is being done.
The long-running argument over the passage into law of the Right to Information Bill or RTI for short, and lastly, the interesting fight over who becomes the next presiding member of the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly.
It would appear when our public advocates in our non-governmental organisations and others in our civic and civil society groups fail to get their way, they blame the system, rather than their unwillingness to accept and learn the simple truth that democratic government is government by persuasion, and lobbying, and that acceptance or rejection of any position is no indication of refusal of the system to address matters of public importance.
Lobbying and persuasion do take time to achieve and realise its objectives, regardless of the inherent necessity or urgency of what is being lobbied for and who benefits. Even then, lobbying and persuasion must end in voting one way or another on the issue on the table. That is the kernel of democracy. Its opposite is tyranny, dictatorship and the cutting of heads by leaders who have imposed themselves on us.
Is that what our latter day civil society advocates want or desire?
I noticed this as far back on January 7, 2005, when Parliament was debating and eventually electing a new Speaker to replace the Right Honourable Peter Ala Adjetey who had been disowned and sacked for being impartial by his own New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Parliament which had the majority and, thus, the right to select a Speaker.
Many of those of our public intellectuals and advocates who were curiously enough, angry and frustrated because according to them, the House was wasting time in electing a new Speaker, and delaying thereby, the swearing into office of President Kufuor to begin his second term in office.
The issue eventually ended in the election of the Right Honourable Sekyi-Hughes as the new Speaker of Parliament. One would have thought that the delay which had been widely condemned for being time-wasting and frivolous would have been cured by Parliament with the requisite constitutional amendment to separate the election and swearing-in of a new Speaker from that of the President occurring consecutively on the same day.
Nothing of the sort happened. Meaning, the entire cacophony was inspired not by genuine problems with the architecture of events on that day, but with the valiant effort of the Minority then led by Honourable Bagbin to have Honourable Adjetey re-elected. Then I realised that it was opposition to outcomes that our public intellectuals are against, and not procedure which are transparently obvious and democratic to all.
The same thing is happening right before our eyes with the escalating debate and arguments over the RTI bill. The process in Parliament, completely legal and in consonance with the standing orders, is being portrayed as being against the wishes of Ghanaians. Who told the supporters of this bill that they are campaigning for us? When I was in the US, I discovered that similar legislation was utilised by only a tiny fraction of both the journalistic profession and researchers in the academic community, in spite of its vaunted usefulness to democracy. Without RTI, this democracy would still be very genuine, and address our needs and requirements as a people.
Demonising Parliament for the sake of a pet elitist idea not central to how we govern ourselves is unfortunate. Why should the House stop other business which appears more pressing to it to deal with a matter on which consensus on both necessity and urgency have not being crafted and agreed beforehand? Bringing in the President makes these advocates look painfully ignorant of how our democracy and constitutional architecture work.
This alleged delay, of course, feeds into the utterly indefensible and self-created perception that our Parliament is a rubber-stamp of the executive. The job of each arm of government is not to frustrate the others, but rather to facilitate governance. Else, there will be no government possible. This is so obvious and plain that I wonder each time I hear it from our public advocates and intellectuals whether they really want the system to work, and get their ideas passed into law eventually, or they don’t.
No matter how clever and patriotic ones ideas or proposals are, they still have to be accepted by the majority before they can become law, and, thus, persuasion is the currency of our democratic system of government. No Parliament in the world can get any work done if it is full of rebels, each with a cause that conflicts with others. It is no credit to the intelligence and cleverness of our public advocates when they seem to be promoting rebellion instead of consensus about how elected assemblies go about their business.
The same unfounded frustration is clear in the Kumasi City Council impasse. If it is true that the work of the assembly is being impeded by lack of agreement on a new presiding member and also a new MCE, that would be a more powerful impetus to consensus and effective provision of local government than the insults and abuse being hurled at people with differences on a matter dear to them.
Our democracy was crafted and purposely designed to take cognisance of differences in opinion over public issues. It is ignoring those issues or riding roughshod over them that constitutes behaviour dangerous to the health of our system of governance.
By: Colin Essamuah