It is an honour to participate on this IEA platform that is collating the views and opinions of a cross section of Ghanaians society on the issue of constitutional reforms. Indeed, this is one of a number of interventions that are being undertaken by various institutions, all with a view to ensuring that the proposed reforms see the light of day.
Before I go any further, I will like to situate my presentation in the context of the Introduction to the 1992 Constitution (preamble) and parts of Chapter 6 that is the Directive Principles of State Policy.
The preamble to the 1992 Constitution reads:
We the People of Ghana, IN EXERCISE of our natural and inalienable right to establish a framework of government which shall secure for ourselves and posterity the blessings of liberty, equality of opportunity and prosperity; IN A SPIRIT of friendship and peace with all peoples of the world; AND IN SOLEMN declaration and affirmation of our commitment to; Freedom, Justice, Probity and Accountability; The Principle that all powers of Government spring from the Sovereign Will of the People; The Principle of Universal Adult Suffrage; The Rule of Law; The protection and preservation of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, Unity and Stability for our Nation; DO HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
As I stated to the media on January 7th of this year as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of the constitution, 30 years of constitutional democracy marks a truly watershed milestone in the history of our democracy. None of our previous democratic constitutions lasted anywhere near this long. Both the 1969 and 1979 constitutions lasted approximately two and a half years, and the 1957 independence constitution only last slightly longer than three years. So this is a defining moment in Ghana’s political history and we should all be quite rightly proud of how far we have come. Our achievement is truly monumental, and Ghana’s reputation all over Africa as a beacon for democracy is very well deserved.
We have held eight successful democratic elections. Our elections are always keenly fought. But unlike some countries, the outcome is never pre-ordained. And even though they are intensely fought, the winner is always magnanimous and opposition always accepts the outcome - or uses constitutional means to challenge the outcome.
Let me also highlight, as I have on previous occasions, that our country’s economic performance for the last thirty years under democratic rule is vastly superior to the thirty years of largely military rule which preceded it. This is indisputable.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
That said, it is also indisputable that we live in a time of restlessness and discontent, with a unanimous clamour for constitutional amendments that will ostensibly solve all our problems. So by all means let’s amend the constitution if we must. However, let’s also make sure the amendments actually cure the ills we want to eradicate. We are all keenly aware that many of the problems plaguing our society will not be resolved by constitutional amendments.
What sort of constitutional reforms beyond the plethora of existing laws will make us more law-abiding citizens?
Which constitutional reforms will ensure that people who are already paid to deliver government services do not extort arbitrary fees before providing those services to citizens?
Why do we need constitutional reforms before we sanitize our airwaves? Currently it does not seem like there is any control or vetting of materials aired on either TV or radio. We have fed a whole generation of young people a steady diet of non-Ghanian movies, telenovelas that promote undesirable values. We see the results today, and still do nothing about it. Which constitutional reform can fix this?
We allow charlatans to actively promote false and indeed dangerous doctrines on the airwaves unchecked, and even though people are being duped everyday by these charlatans, we do nothing about it. How is this a constitutional reform matter?
Which constitutional reform will help us avoid a situation where a sick passenger is pushed out of public transport and abandoned in a community where he/she knows no one, gets no help and eventually dies? I’m sure we all heard that story.
Which constitutional reform will erase the culture of insults, abuse and online bullying that is now an integral part of debate and disagreement?
Which constitutional reforms will fill our hearts with true humility and make us cherish fearless honesty as prescribed in our National Anthem?
Truth is, we could set ourselves up for great disappointment if we proceed as if constitutional reforms will resolve all the pertinent challenges we face as a people.
As we work towards undertaking these reforms, we must not lose sight of failed attempts to achieve the same objectives in the past. In 2010, President John Atta Mills set up a constitutional review commission that undertook a comprehensive review of the constitution and produced a report that outlined an extensive list of proposed amendments. NCCE
partnered the constitutional review commission in that very expensive exercise, mobilizing town hall meetings in communities across the length and breadth of this country, so that citizens will have their say, and their desires and aspirations duly captured in the final report. A white paper was produced, after which the entire exercise came to a screeching halt. We all went back to our daily grind (as it were), and nothing more was done or even heard of for the next 10 years. A whole decade went by. Nothing happened.
Then in 2020, President Nana Akufo-Addo initiated the process for a limited but extremely important amendment that would have partially cured the much loathed concentration of power in the presidency, by reducing the number of appointments the president gets to make, because 261 MMDCEs would have been elected instead of appointed as things stand.
Think about it, a sitting president commenced a process that would lead to devolution of power from the presidency, that is essentially himself, to the people, thereby fulfilling the requirement of Article 35/d of the constitution that states,
The state shall take appropriate measures to make democracy a reality by decentralizing the administrative and financial machinery of government to the regions and districts and by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision-making at every level in national life and in government.
Bear in mind that this is one of the proposed amendments that has cross-party appeal as well as mass appeal. A substantial majority of Ghanaians agree that the election of MMDCEs is long overdue. Yet, somehow, we could not build the needed consensus to get it done.
Why did these two noble attempts at constitutional reform fail? The answer is a subject for another day but please let us not lose sight of these past events even as we push forward with yet another attempt at constitutional reforms. We must identify the challenges that led to failure so as to avoid similar pitfalls once again.
Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that Ghanaians as a whole have a relatively positively view of our democracy. Afrobarometer and many other surveys consistently show that Ghanaians overwhelmingly prefer democracy to any other form of government hence any step that will deepen our democracy is certainly a step in the right direction.
Ladies and gentlemen, the National Commission for Civic Education is only interested in constitutional reforms to the extent that the people of Ghana are interested in constitutional reforms. Guided by our mandate, the Commission by itself, does not hold a hard position on what should amended in the constitution.
The functions of the Commission shall be –
(a) to create and sustain within the society the awareness of the principles and objectives of this Constitution as the fundamental law of the people of Ghana;
(b) to educate and encourage the public to defend this Constitution at all times, against all forms of abuse and violation;
(c) to formulate for the consideration of Government, from time to time, programmes at the national, regional and district levels aimed at realising the objectives of this Constitution;
(d) to formulate, implement and oversee programmes intended to inculcate in the citizens of Ghana awareness of their civic responsibilities and an appreciation of their rights an obligations as free people; and
(e) such other functions as Parliament may prescribe
Our interest is in ensuring that the voices, hopes and aspirations of ordinary Ghanaians are reflected in any reforms. Also, as the only institution explicitly mandated to propagate the content of the constitution, we will play a key strategic role in disseminating the outcomes of any reform process.
To that end, over the course of the last several months, The NCCE has been collating and distilling public opinions on the aspects of the constitution that Ghanaians wish to improve.
We have received opinions about the distribution of powers between the three arms of government. We have received opinions about the need to strengthen the accountability relationship between the institutions of government and the people of Ghana. And of course, we have received opinions on how our local government structures can be improved.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a good time to go through with some needed reforms. Here are some reform proposals we have collated:
- Reforms on Constitutional provisions on decentralisation and local government to give much power to the structures of the District Assemblies.
- Bringing back the date for national elections to give much time to elected presidents to form a government.
- the need for citizens to uphold certain values, such as demand for accountability, trustworthiness, and transparency. we will not have the constitution work as we envisage
- Report of the Constitutional Review Commission in 2012 should be simplified and made available to the general public.
- The NCCE, which is leading an advocacy for constitutional reforms should have accessible and dedicated platforms where the public can submit their suggestions on which articles or clauses in the Constitution they think should be reformed.
- The introduction of non-custodian sentence and plea-bargaining should be incorporated into our criminal justice system to ensure equity and fairness for minor offences.
- The flagship programmes of the NCCE with intense national interest such as the Constitution Week Celebration should get more publicity to attract public attention and support.
- The twenty-one (21) years eligibility criterion for a Ghanaian to be able to stand as a Member of Parliament (MP) should be made to match with the eighteen (18) years voting age Universal Adult Suffrage threshold, because if one is regarded old enough at 18 years to vote, then such a person should be seen as old enough to be voted for.
- That the four (4) years of one term period for a President should rather be made eight (8) years for one term only so that a particular government can finish most of the initiated projects before the end of his or her term in office.
- The Controller-General of the Ghana Immigration Service should be made an automatic member of the National Security Council (NSC) per Article 83 of the Constitution.
- There must be attitudinal change in the citizenry and the politicians to enable us benefit from the democratic process.
- There should be amendments to reduce the over concentrated powers in the hands of the President, as the Constitution makes the President too much Powerful.
- The Metropolitan, Municipal, District Assemblies (MMDAs) should be made to mobilize and use their own funds in their respective administrative locations other than accessing the Common fund from the Central Government.
- The Presidential and Parliamentary elections should be organised at different times. This would enable voters to make informed decisions for both the presidential and parliamentary elections.
- The Judicial Council should be made to elect the Chief Justice but not the President as the Constitution mandates.
- Salaries and emoluments of chief Executive officers of state-owned enterprises and article 71 office holders are too high and must be reduced whilst salaries of the other sectors should be increased to match up to the current economic conditions.
- The Head of the Security services should not be appointed by the president but by the hierarchy of the security services.
Indeed, there are no perfect constitutions on this planet. Every constitution is a work in progress.
In my view, a constitution is many things and can be defined in many ways. But ultimately a constitution can partly be viewed as the embodiment of the social, political, and economic goals and aspirations of a people.
Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me to quote the words of the renowned jurist, Justice George Richard Mcvane Francois, who stated in the well-known Supreme Court Decision of New Patriotic Party vs. The Attorney-General as follows:
‘My own contribution to the evaluation of a Constitution is that, a Constitution is the out-pouring of the soul of the nation and its precious life-blood is its spirit. Accordingly, in interpreting the Constitution, we fail in our duty if we ignore its spirit. Both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution are essential fulcra which provide the leverage in the task of interpretation
These words were spoken by the Supreme Court on 30th November, 1993, just a few months into the life of the constitution. And they are as true now as they were then.
In applying the constitution as government officials, or as parliamentarians, or as judges, or ordinary citizens, let us be guided not just by its words but by its spirit. Words in a document can be interpreted and applied in all kinds of ways. They can be interpreted and an applied in a manner that furthers the political and economic ideals that are central to this establishment of this fourth republic, or they can be interpreted in a manner that does the exact opposite of this. Perhaps part of the reason we have so many clamouring for constitutional reform is not that the constitution is defective. Perhaps we the people have not been diligent enough in applying the constitution in a manner that is more in consonance with its spirit.
Ladies and gentlemen, as is often stated, we are one people, one nation with a common destiny. Our role as citizens of Ghana is to live by our responsibilities and the principles and dictates of the 1992 Constitution and contribute meaningfully to the democratic development of our dear country, Ghana. I am confident that your deliberations here at this gathering will contribute to this objective. I therefore wish us a fruitful discussion.
Long Live Constitutional Democracy!
God Bless Our Homeland Ghana and Make Our Nation Great and Strong!!
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