|(Picture borrowed from graphic.com.gh)|
Don Quixote’s Battle
There is a contemporary affair raging on in Ghanaian politics which is quite quixotic to my mind. It is about the sale of real estate by the Lands Commission (of the Government of Ghana) to a former Minister of State. The property is located at Ridge – a gentrified neighbourhood.
The issue has taken on the badge of a battle between the ruling NDC and the main opposition NPP. Another measure is the seeming unremitting disfavour of some self-said devotees of the ruling NDC (and by weak extension the executive) for the judiciary. A third scope of the scrimmage is the insistence by some NPP adherents on an amoral application of the ‘law’ to give back Jake (the aggrieved Minister) the house which the government is loath to do.
This article is a deviation from my normal fare, and an attempt to appeal to Ghanaians to keep their eyes on the real issue and to resist the NDC-NPP cacophony that is clouding the perfidious asset-stripping that is bedevilling our country.
The Political Class
Every fourth year, since 1992, we have held elections. Three times have we changed presidents. At least five times, we have substituted many members of government. Two parties have shown realistic chances of winning, and have won at least twice. This year, NDC or NPP will win again. PPP has shown signs of making a first bleep on the radar for a third force. Whoever wins, it is the same ‘TV’d’ faces that will form the next government. It is this colossal, cross-party cabal of influential people which decides which scandals will cloud the civic conversation at any time. Let us call it the ‘Political Class’.
The current rumpus exposes a dangerous departure from convention – dangerous to the Political Class, salubrious for the people. It emerged in the public domain, no doubt, from a personal score to settle. For as long as only God knows, there has been a scheme urban redevelopment, and it involves ‘redistributing’ antiquated State property to the Political Class and the para-Political Class. The prices are sometimes ridiculously low, but that is a separate conversation.
The principle has been tacitly established: on a regular basis, official residents of State houses can acquire those houses. So can others with the right information or connections. Some members of both the NPP and the NDC have benefitted from this principle.
So, this not-so-public ‘dibi na me’ndibi’ has now become the news because somebody went ‘personal’ against Jake, who was only following an established policy.
There have been (perhaps deliberate) distractions from the main issue. Again, the main issue is asset-stripping by the Political Class. There have been media wars, court contests and cabinet repudiations. In my opinion, the racket about these events misses the main issue.
Many have been ‘red-herringed’ off the real scent. If every other Minister since independence had acquired their official residence, would the State have any more to house officials?
The main business of the State does not include construction of accommodation (though it might include facilitating same). Do Ghanaians want to see their taxes used to house the president and his men in hotels when State-owned houses run out?
Pots & Kettles, Law & Morality and Democracy
The pot-and-kettle arguments about morality and legality do not impress me. The Supreme Court has given its decision on the lawful observance of procedure in the acquisition (but not on its morality). The government wishes to look beyond the legal into the moral – the old law-and-morality argument. That is fine too.
The courts do not lay down administrative procedure for the Executive. They only look (by judicial review) to make sure the exercise of administrative power and discretion is fair and lawful. Therefore, if there is an established underlying principle (no matter how morally flawed) the curative duty is somebody else’s, not the court’s.
The morality argument impresses me. I just wish it could be pursued without adding this to the list of matters in which the government takes a posture of jousting with the judges.
If the house at Ridge was not unlawfully acquired, the cabinet has made a decision not to sell. I have tried to wrap my mind around the repercussions. In the main, I do not see a flagrant violation of the authority of the Supreme Court (although there may be disrespect). Instead, I see a government making a stand on high moral ground and risking a private lawsuit for breach of contract or specific performance (an order to perform the terms of the contract to sell the house).
Most importantly, I see a bleeding democracy. We should not accept the immorality that is asset-stripping. We should not accept the executive finding ‘convenient’ means around the Judiciary (or worse affiliates of the party in power threatening the judiciary as has happened in the not-too-far-off past). We should not praise the NDC’s position, if it is merely to score political points. We should exalt the NDC’s position if they are saying “We have been tacitly complicit in this. Now, we realise that it is wrong and must not continue it”. That is a position I could stand in the sun for five hours in December to defend with my thumb.
New Political Principles
Shall we then make a new compact between Ghanaians and the Political Class? Shall it be a continuing document we can all add to and subtract from?
The first principle could be “Let there be no more asset-stripping”. The second might be “Political appointees cannot acquire any assets they controlled or were associated with on the job”. The third principle may be “Let there not just be the actual absence of conflict of interest or minimisation of corruption. Let it be seen that there is none”.
Let all the acts of the Political Class be characterised by fellow feeling and respect for the people. They will not sit down until all the assets are stripped. We should pray that they react by speaking the same words the spokespersons of the Political Class obfuscate the issues in the media every day. But, if the masses do not have words (by reason of unfortunately low – or no – education), they do have hands: connect the dots for yourself.
The house at Ridge is our democracy. Let us be reminded of the wobbly foundations it yet stands on. Let us be reminded of the work and recommitment we need to put into it. What principles would you like to hold the Political Class to?