Opinion: Extending The Presidential Term In Ghana

Ghana should brace herself up for the most gruelling, albeit interesting, debate unknown since the inception of the Fourth Republic. When the constitutional review process starts, perhaps, this year, it is surely destined to confront the multiple democratic forces that have emerged and invariably consolidated their stakes in the Ghanaian policy arena since 1992. I believe that after almost two decades of experimentation, Ghana's democratic institutions as shaped by the constitution is ripe for a careful re-evaluation in response to changing socio-economic and political trends within and across the country. However, while upholding this, I believe strongly that the form and nature of the review should be a subject of great and intense public scrutiny, in order not to dislocate the gains that have been achieved over the years. One basic proposal that has captured my thoughts is the proposal for an extension of the president's tenure, which currently stands at four. The proponents of this extension have advanced several reasons to defend their argument. Foremost among them is Ghana's immediate past president, J. A. Kufuor. In his last address to parliament, he argued; �What my experience tells me is that tenure of four years for the President of a struggling developing nation with weak institutions may be too short. This is especially so for an incumbent who, though popular, may lack the requisite experience at the point of assuming office. Reasonable room should be allowed for the newly-elect to settle into the job...Perhaps, in the case of Ghana, a five year term renewable once will create the needed space for making a better impact�. Again, the Attorney General has also expressed firm belief in a five-year extension, which according to her will be one of the main agenda the government, among other things, will be pushing for in the constitutional amendment. The argument as always is that four years are not enough for an individual to make any meaningful impact on the country. I contend that the grounds for extension are baseless, unnecessary, bogus, unconvincing and a recipe for authoritarianism. First of all, given the needed commitment and hard work, any individual with a clear vision and requisite leadership skills should be able to transform a country which is blessed with enormous human and natural resource like Ghana into one where the potential for growth is obvious. Over the years, the protracted leadership deficit that Ghana has experienced is the main reason why Ghana has not seen the expected growth. Indeed, not only has the national interest been subsumed under personal and partisan considerations, our political leaders have never seriously committed themselves to developing the country. Our notion of politics is not inspired by the ideal of public service. Rather, politics has become the platform for advancing individuals' strategic place in the accumulation process. Any examination of why the country has failed which ignores this missing variable risk being overly simplistic. Hence, I argue that the past failure of the Ghanaian state is simply not a short presidential term; rather it is a much more complicated matter. I do not underestimate the impact of institutions to shape socio-political and cultural processes. Since the emergence of modern states from the 17th century institutions have been the bedrock of enormous human advancement and suffering. However I insist that institutions do not operate in a vacuum. When they lack any effective and sound normative basis, institutions could be highly dysfunctional. Again, I am not convinced that the Presidential term is limited to four years as some people want us to believe. This argument can only be held true within the legal context but has no substantive basis. Yes, under Article 66(1) of Ghana's constitution, it is clearly stated that the President shall hold office for a term of four years beginning from the date on which he/she is sworn in as President. However, this tenure is renewable for another four year period after an election. The argument therefore is that any President who demonstrates a capacity for improvement could have his/her mandate renewed. Fortunately, the constitution reserves this right to the people of Ghana. The justification for this is very simple. The bedrock of any democratic state is that leaders are subject to the will of the people voting in a free and fair manner. This is key for maintaining and solidifying the legitimate basis for the exercise of political power. A short and renewable term is therefore key for continuously renewing the citizens' mandate for successful governance and also rejection of incompetent leaders. Indeed, extended tenure will be helpful if there is an extremely competent leader, however democratic institutions are built on the skepticism that human and spatial limitations present. Prof. Busia was right: �No man is virtuous enough to be entrusted with absolute power� and the likelihood of prolonged destruction under and incompetent leader does not make long tenure for presidents attractive. Again, when the prospect for political change seems far, people might be impatient and may initiate destabilizing measures to express their dissatisfaction for a particular government. Under the current four year renewable presidential tenure, the President is sure that when he/she performs creditably the people would extend the mandate to eight years. If this does not provide enough incentives to pursue effective policies, then I dare say that even when leaders are given twenty years there will be no results. This brings me to the oft cited Asian Tigers miracle which has been attributed to the extended presidential tenure. Arguably, Sub-Saharan Africa has a lot of things to learn from these 'developmental states.' The crucial role of a strong leadership whose strength is borne out of the capacity to shape a national vision and pull the entire society along with such a vision is indeed what Ghana needs. Again, an effective bureaucracy, devoid of corruption and favouritism and which extols the virtues of hard work, meritocracy and coherence is very much needed in Ghana. Besides, a state-led business growth must not be discounted if most African countries, including Ghana, are to attain the needed socio-economic growth that they urgently need. However, the last thing Ghana can learn from Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, China, South Korea and Japan is an extended presidential term. In these countries prolonged presidential limits have been sustained with high state repression and a cost to democratic principles which the country can afford currently. Besides, the peculiar heterogeneous nature of the country and the fact that continuous democratic healing is required to deal with the potential problems of its diversity. Again, when all the foundations, as outlined above are missing prolonged tenure for president will achieve no results. This is not only based on normative concerns but can be justified on empirical grounds. Previous extended and even unlimited presidential tenure has produced very little for Ghana. Nkrumah's successes at the initial stage of his administration run out of steam at the latter stage of his administration. Col. Acheampong's strong nationalist programmes which were initially successful in building a strong national strategic social alliance floundered at the latter stage of his rule. Again, before his party was rejected in the 2000 general elections President Rawlings had demonstrated a very strong leadership fatigue. Even under J. A. Kufuor several observers contend very accurately that his last two years in office was the reason why the party lost power in 2008. So what will make a ten year mandate beneficial for Ghana in the future when it has failed woefully in the past? My position should however not be misconstrued as a rejection of continuity. Most definitely, a socio-economic transformation of Ghana cannot be attained overnight under a single leader no matter his/her term in office. Hence, the need for systemic and policy consistency especially in very strategic developmental sectors must be encouraged. It is on this score that the directive principles of state policy, creative legislation and policy making become crucial. Our governments need to pursue policies that could be sustained, and fashion out long term strategies that could be implemented irrespective of whatever government is in place. The premature extinction of development programmes has been the bane of effective leadership in Ghana. This for me should be the basis of any constitutional project.