Viewpoint: President Nana Akufo-Addo
There is a lot that is right about Ghana and its people. We are enjoying the longest period of stability since independence in 1957. We are a democratic nation, with people who are strongly attached to its freedoms. Our country is rich in human and material resources. We can draw on a significant number of educated, hardworking and enterprising people, both at home and abroad. Ours is a nation with a positive international image on a continent that is slowly, but finally, being taken seriously. We are hailed as a beacon of democracy and peace in our region and continent. We have a young, dynamic population ready to define their own destiny. The prospects for the realisation of our immense potential clearly abound.
One apparent restraint to our progress, what we may term the missing link in our governance system and which hampers the rapid economic growth and development we seek, is the deficit in the application of the rule of law. In recent times, our country has had to deal with phenomena such as vigilantism, illegal mining, smuggling of fertilisers, bank fraud, cyberfraud, sharp practice, identity theft, stealing of public funds, acts of bribery and corruption, and the behaviour of criminal cartels. All these happen either because of the unwillingness to enforce the law by those mandated to do so, or the failure by the citizenry to abide by the rules and regulations governing the country.
It took our country quite a while for the consensus to emerge that a multiparty democracy was the preferable and better route to prosperity for the Ghanaian people. In framing the document for the governance of our country, the framers highlighted the rule of law as one of the cardinal principles on which the constitution was based, and it was for good reason. Governing a nation in accordance with the rule of law means that state power is not exercised arbitrarily by any branch of government, whether the executive, the legislative, or the judiciary. Respect for the rule of law demands that the separation of powers be real, and requires also that application of the laws of the land be done without fear or favour. It is only when this is done that we can guarantee for ourselves the advancement of the purposes of a law-based state, where citizens can go about their lives normally and strive to improve the quality of their circumstances, and where peace and the safety of the people can be assured. We have seen, in recent times, what the breakdown of law and order and a clampdown on freedoms have meant for some countries in the ECOWAS region, on the continent and in other parts of the world. Cities have been laid to waste, millions of lives have been lost and these countries have faced the hard task of rebuilding, mostly with very limited levels of success. Indeed, the scourge of terrorist activities and violent extremism thrives on the absence of the rule of law.
Many a bad headline can be traced to a law and order problem. The story of every bank, financial house, or savings and loans institution that has had problems can be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or trying to cut corners by flouting regulations. When a building being constructed collapses and lives are lost, the cause can, in many cases, be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or cutting corners. The government has taken concrete steps towards ensuring that people who engage in some of the vices that have grabbed national attention are dealt with. Specific new laws have been enacted; institutional deficits in logistics and personnel of law enforcement agencies, especially the police, are being addressed; the public purse is being protected; and prosecution of persons allegedly involved in acts of corruption is ongoing.
The government has systematically increased funding for the accountability institutions of our state, such as Parliament, the judiciary, the Office of the Attorney General and the Auditor General. The Akufo-Addo government is committed to fighting corruption not just in words, but, more importantly, in deeds. Many of the actions taken by this government in dealing with alleged acts of corruption and much of the narrative I have outlined were unheard of in times past. The days when the so-called punishment of erring public officials was their relocation to the presidency are over. Where prosecutions are called for, they have been or will be initiated. The war against corruption will not be won overnight, but, with political will, it will be won.
The constitution of the Fourth Republic guarantees freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media, as a fundamental human right, and makes elaborate provisions to protect the independence and freedom of the media. Ghanaians are today – as they have been for much of the Fourth Republic – able to give boldly and freely their feedback on government policies and programmes. Civil society organisations are able to interrogate government actions and positions without fear, to compare them to best global practices, and to offer views and critiques aimed at complementing the efforts of government. The political opposition is able to dissent openly and canvass without intimidation for alternative viewpoints. No effort is made to suppress freedom of expression in Ghana. Indeed, the continuing vitality of the Ghanaian media and the intense diversity of our public discourse remain some of the most internationally admired traits of Ghanaian democracy. However, there is a need for continuous training, self-regulation, and an insistence on acceptable media ethics and journalistic standards by media houses, practitioners and their organisations as part of the process of installing a culture of accountable governance. This requires high standards and professionalism in the Ghanaian media, and is one of the surest ways of addressing the current shortcomings and ills that affect our media landscape.
Adlai Stevenson, an American statesman, observed, and I quote, “What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility – a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” I dare say it takes patriots to fight corruption and to resist the selfish lure of corruption. It takes state institutions with a patriotic culture and personnel to throw the book at those who steal to deny the school child a table and a chair; the driver a motorable road; the senior citizen access to free medical care; and the economy the oxygen to grow for the happiness of the greatest number of our people. The true test of our patriotic character is to stand for the right thing, even if it is unpopular or against your own perceived self interest. You cannot be a patriot and continue to indulge in acts of indiscipline that cost the nation dearly.
The peace, prosperity and unity of this and coming generations of Ghana can be assured only by our deeds and words of true patriotism, by which we must consciously and steadfastly abide. “My country! When right, keep it right; when wrong, set it right!” – a quote by Carl Schurz, a 19th-century German migrant to America – means if you love your country, then play an active role, however seemingly insignificant, to give it the best. Patriotism abhors the pull-him-down attitude. Patriotism celebrates success and denigrates failure. If so, then let me encourage all to associate patriotism with the common good, with the aim of responding to conflicts and other difficulties in ways which ensure that everyone, or at least the greatest number, benefits. Associate patriotism with your own productive contribution to nation building. Let us all make patriotism the backbone of Ghana’s development.
Patriotism is the steady dedication to patriotism that will enable us to build a Ghana Beyond Aid, a Ghana that has discarded a mindset of aid, dependency and charity, and a Ghana that has chartered a path of self-reliance for her progress and prosperity grounded on an intelligent use of her considerable human and material resources. A new Ghanaian civilisation beckons.
This viewpoint was adapted from a speech given at the 2019 Ghana Bar Association Conference.
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