HEME: "The 1992 Constitution of Ghana at 30: Taking Stock, Assessing Progress and Reflecting on the Future”

It is an honour to address you on the occasion of the 4th GIMPA Law Conference. And on a personal note, it is a pleasure to be back at this Institute, and especially to the Faculty of Law where I taught as an adjunct lecturer for some time.

The theme of the conference is “The 1992 Constitution at 30: Taking Stock, Assessing Progress, and Reflecting on the Future”. This theme is apt. Ladies and Gentlemen, our democracy and our Constitution have come a long way. 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 lasted 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 the loser 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.

Chairman, 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? 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 assume that 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 would have their say and their desires 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, 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.

Let us 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. We hope that deliberations of this gathering over the next few days will bring us closer to meaningful Constitutional reforms.

Mr chairman, 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 be amended in the Constitution. 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. Mr chairman, as suggested by the theme of this event, a thirtieth anniversary celebration is an ideal time for taking stock and assessing our progress. It is also a good time to go through with needed reforms.

There are, in fact, 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. Ultimately, a Constitution can partly be viewed as the embodiment of the social, political, and economic goals and aspirations of a people. It reflects the nation’s past, but it also looks into its future. At the same time, the Constitution is a book, but it means more than just its black letter words.

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, and they are as true now as they were then.

In applying the Constitution as government officials, or as parliamentarians, or as judges, or as 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 you well in your deliberations.

Long Live Constitutional Democracy!

Long Live the 1992 Constitution!!

And God Bless Our Homeland Ghana and Make Our Nation Great and Strong


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