Posted on: www.dailyguideghana.com
By William Yaw Owusu
Friday, November 28, 2014
There was a heated but friendly debate at Alisa Hotel yesterday on whether Ghana has a ‘Winner-Takes-All’ constitution.
The scholarly exposition was between Prof. H Kwasi Prempeh, a constitutional law and governance expert who argued in favour of an amendment of some aspects of the 1992 Constitution to curtail some of the powers of the executive arm of government and Kofi Bentil, a lawyer and Vice President of IMANI who pushed for a vibrant civil society that would force public office holders to respect the tenets of ‘our workable’ constitution.
The forum moderated by Nana Yaa Ofori Atta, a communications expert, was put together by IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a policy analysis think tank as part of its 10the anniversary celebrations.
In the end, a slight majority of the audience came into a consensus that Ghana indeed has a ‘Winner-Takes-All’ constitution with the executive arm of government having overreaching powers that needed to be curtailed to safeguard the country’s democracy.
Prof. Prempeh was the first to make submissions when he said “the constitution is overly permissive and flawed,” adding “it is a Winner-Takes-All Constitution.”
He said the constitution must always be interpreted against a certain ‘context’ and ‘background’ advising “people should not read the constitution as though you are a lawyer but rather as a politician looking for opportunities to entrench himself in power.”
“The permissiveness of the constitution creates the Winner-Takes-All situation that we have. The constitution can empower and constrain at the same time.”
Prof. Prempeh said he has always been against the idea of power-sharing saying “I believe that the party and the President elected into office must be allowed to keep or select their own for positions to execute their agenda.”
He said “the President under our constitution has more powers that a good President needs and at the same time has more powers that a bad President needs,” saying “all powers without restraint is a recipe for disaster,” adding “when you allow a politician more powers the outcome is predictable…he will use that power to further entrench his political agenda.”
Mr. Bentil disagreed with the Professor and said the constitution could not be the cause of Ghana’s Winner-Takes-All problem but rather Winner-Takes-All syndrome or mindset that could be traced to the attitude of politicians.
“The constitution allows the President freedom to take decisions. The same constitution urges the President to be all-inclusive and if the President wants to do it he can easily do it.”
He said there are express provisions in the constitution to cater for the country’s needs and there was no need to put everything on paper saying “ if we have to put everything on paper we will be locking down our system.”
“We have built a culture where our public office holders are expected to do certain things. The constitution is not the problem but the attitude of the public office holders to the constitution.”
Mr. Bentil said “the constitution does not determine the attitude of politicians. Changing the constitution does not change the attitude of public office holders. Civil society and the people have to rather insist they do the right things.”
He said the institutions of state must rather be empowered to checkmate one another and in that way the constitution will be seen to be working well.
Felix Owusu Agyepong, former Majority leader in Parliament shared Mr. Bentil’s view that the constitution is not ‘Winner-Takes-All’ but rather the attitude of the politicians that had brought Ghana to that situation.
However, Dr. Kwesi Jonah of IDEG, Golda Addo an Advocate of Renewable Energy Development for Ghana and Angela Dwamena Aboagye, a long standing gender activist all agreed with Prof. Prempeh that the executive arm of government was too powerful and there was the need for effective checks and balances.
Still, there were other contributors who still shared Mr. Bentil’s opinion that the talk of Winner-Takes-All was due to the attitude of public office holders who needed to follow laid down rules to ensure the sanctity of the constitution.