Politics Of Exclusion

Around the time the Supreme Court was writing its verdict in the Presidential Election Petition last August, there were loud calls for serious introspection about the prevailing situation where Presidents appointed persons to public office solely on the basis of party loyalty, rather than competence. Thereafter, the agitations died down.

The matter came up again strongly last Monday at the National Interest Forum on multiparty reforms organised by the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) where the key speakers resonated the necessity for reforms on the winner-takes-all mentality. They condemned the development where only party loyalists and functionaries were appointed into public office, irrespective of their qualifications and competence.

The issue has nothing to do with the law or the constitution. It has everything to do with our lack of understanding of party politics. Although we profess that national resources must be employed in the interest of all our people, and our Presidents swear to do good and act in good faith towards all manner of Ghanaians, inwardly, we think national resources are the spoils of electoral battles that must be appropriated by the victors.

It is not only members of other political parties who suffer. Indeed, party members who do not demonstrate unflinching support, sometimes sycophancy and fundamentalism, are equally sidelined or rejected. The discrimination goes beyond Presidents into the district assemblies. Many otherwise competent candidates, technocrats and contractors have lost out because of narrow partisan interests of individuals. There are party executives who swear heaven and earth to blot the appointment of capable individuals because of personal greed or avarice; nothing to do with the national or even the party interest.

Despite the diffused notion that our Presidents are provided with awesome and domineering powers, the Constitutional Review Commission recommended that appointments to the National Media Commission should be ceded to the President. And when the commission recommended that the National Development Planning Commission be independent, the suggestion was scoffed by the government.

But even in the so-called Communist China, where loyalty to the ruling Communist Party confers certain privileges, the reality is that where the head of a public body is from the party, the deputy is of necessity from one of the existing opposition parties, although not many outside China know about the existence of about eight other political affiliations in that country. So then, if a country alleged to be a one-party state makes the effort to include other citizens in the management of national resources, why should a nation grounded in multiparty setting restrict the management of resources to only loyal members of a single party because it controls a majority of votes, when those eligible to exercise the franchise do not necessarily constitute a majority of the population.

Our Presidents have emphasised that we need all the available human resources to develop the country. Yet, when it comes to employment at all levels, appointments and award of contracts, we deliberately choose party loyalty over competence and expertise.

Each of our past Presidents under the Fourth Republic has had their Achilles heel. President Jerry John Rawlings used the June 4 celebration to wish the demise of an otherwise thriving indigenous company and a quality product, Apino Soap, because Mr Akenten Appiah-Menkah did not belong to his party, although Apino was a symbol of Ghanaian entrepreneurship.

President John Evans Atta Mills, an Associate Professor in Law, issued a single statement to dissolve all boards of public organisations to enable individuals unacceptable to the government to be replaced. Under President John Agyekum Kufuor, the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) was attacked for suggesting that Ministers of State should not be appointed as chair or members of boards to reduce conflict of interest.

On the other hand, where governments acted positively, the citizens had contrary views. When President Kufuor supported Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas to head the ECOWAS, it was seen as undermining the National Democratic Congress. Equally, when President John Dramani Mahama approved Mr Alan Kyeremanteng for the World Trade Organisation, it was seen as an attempt aimed at pushing him out of politics in Ghana.

Both at the level of government and as citizens, we seem to have a warped notion of party politics. Until we shed ourselves of such uninformed and unenlightened appreciation of being members of political parties, with the objective of providing alternative policies of harnessing and managing our human and material resources for the good of all and with the active participation of all, these concerns about the dysfunctions of winner takes all will remain unresolved. It is good to talk about such collective failures but we should not find scapegoats in the law.