“The duty of that government is to protect the natural rights of the people, which include life, liberty and property. If the government should fail to protect these rights, its citizens would have the right to overthrow that government.” John Locke (1632-1704)
President Donald Trump, in a 21 July 2016 speech, rephrased the same view as: “The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.”
Government is a social contract between the ruled and the rulers. It is, therefore, imperative for both parties in the contract to clearly define, clarify and assign the roles, duties and rights of each party in the contract. Once this is done, the ruled are able to ask government to do the right things.
The primary focus of government must remain the duty of ‘protecting the rights of the people’. This must be fulfilled through the development, provision and improvement of a variety of interconnected services and products. These include Education, Health and well-being services, Law and Order (army, police force, courts, jails), Environmental issues (protections), Industrial relations, Socio-Economic Welfare services, Infrastructure, (transport network, markets, portable water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunication), Technological development, etc.
It is also part of that social contract to decide how some of these projects are funded – whether through private or public finance, or a combination of the two, and whether through reliance on proceeds of natural resources, taxation, or borrowing (national or international). It is, therefore, imperative that the citizens are kept informed and reminded of their duties in becoming an effective part of the decision-making process, as well as holding government to account at all times.
Sadly, in most developing democracies, the ruled do not know or understand their roles. They let government decide alone and freely, guided by their convenience, more than by the ruled, thereby allowing themselves to be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse. In such situations, the rulers often get consumed with ‘absolute’ power and often neglect their duties or lose their focus on their primary roles.
Such power-drunk leaders assume demigod status. Their decisions, which often become influenced by the need for self-preservation in power, rather than by the desire to protect the rights of the ruled, cannot be questioned. They tend to use such power to manipulate, lie about achievements, intimidate and induce fear among the people and even among those in opposition, or belittle the achievements of the governments they succeed. They misappropriate resources and funds with impunity as there is little or no transparency and accountability. Their utterances are riddled with self-magnifying power talk, such as “I ….”, “My government ….”, “By the executive powers vested in Me, I …., as if to suggest they own the people and the resources that have been entrusted to their care. Phrases stressing collective responsibility working, such as, “We”, Our, Us, etc. disappear from such speeches.
These leaders ignore the tenets of the social contract with the ruled. They tend to become autocratic and, sometimes, reckless in their behavior. They do not engage the people they govern in determining their actual needs and instituting appropriate policies to commission and implement schemes to meet those needs. Projects are imposed on the subjects regardless of whether or not such projects are in the public interest. In Ghana today, some of such projects have come under severe criticism from various stakeholders, forcing embarrassing government walk back in some instances. For instance, the government’s intention to take over some TV stations currently operated by GBC for other schemes had been resisted by the staff of the GBC and the opposition party to the extent that the President had to personally intervene to prevent the proposed takeover. The proposed privatization or sale of parts of the Kotoka International Airport got the airport staff hitting the streets in a demonstration against the scheme, forcing Ministers to issue statements of some sort. There is currently a debate on the Agyapa Royalties project involving deals for offshore registration and obtaining loans on the scheme for development purposes.
It is important to be clear that government schemes are not inherently good or bad per se. The challenge is whether government has engaged, consulted or communicated with the relevant stakeholders within the social contract for their approval before implementing such schemes. Of course, it can be argued that government has already obtained the people’s mandate to act on their behalf and are doing exactly that. This may be the case in socialist or communist oriented democracies. In the case of the Ghanaian political system, the government still does require such permission, not from each individual member of society, but through their representatives in government: their MPs. The practice of conceiving and implementing national projects in secrecy without first subjecting such projects to close scrutiny, especially in parliament, is arrogant, bullying, deceptive, undemocratic and autocratic.
Additionally, most such projects are poorly planned: they are short-term in nature and are focused on the now. They are mostly conceived to suit the myopic interests and survival of the governing leaders and their party, up to the next election period at most. This is contrary to observations in some developed countries where schemes are conceived for long term gains, sometimes up to 10, 15, or 20 years ahead. Once agreed these schemes are enshrined in cross-party policy or law.
Unfortunately, some governments, especially those with a huge majority parliamentary representation, are able to get away with it for a number of reasons:
The opposition representatives in parliament may lack the needed number to win against government when it comes to voting (as voting is often done along partisan lines, rather than on matters of policy and personal conviction).
The ruled have consistently demonstrated a lack of awareness of their roles in challenging and holding government to account and government exploits this to its advantage.
Some opposition party members may be influenced by the personal gains they stand to reap out of a badly construed deal and may therefore tacitly side with government at the expense of their responsibilities to the people.
Some power-drunk leaders, by virtue of their assumed demigod status, could simply ignore the concerns of anyone. They may also have dubious systems in place to crush any voice of dissent.
Whichever way one looks at it, it is simply unethical and politically undemocratic. It also leaves wide-open the window of opportunity for the abrogation of some of these schemes and questionable judgement debts for non fulfillment of contracts in a change of government.
Modern advances in science and technology, education, various socio-economic situations, natural resources discovery, infrastructure, etc. all require new ways of thinking and governance for the effective protection of the people’s rights.
Vital institutions, such as the Judiciary Service, Police Force, Armed Forces, Education Service, Health Service, and so on, should be able to function without government influence or interference to ensure proper accountability. Currently, they cannot be described as being independent functionaries as their heads are appointed by the ruling government.
It is expected that modern political leaders are well-schooled, not only in effective leadership styles, but also when such styles can be applied for effective results. These leaders must also be familiar with effective influencing skills to attract keen followers. Resorting to manipulation, bullying, intimidation and lies to enforce followership and entrench stay in power has its eventual judgment day to be determined by posterity and karma.
Under the circumstances, the ruled people are encouraged to make every effort to understand their duties and those of their rulers in the social contract, and rise up to their duties and act responsibly at all times. The people must stop simply complaining about dishonest, wicked and corrupt governments. They must view leaders in power as their servants and stop the praise and worship of leaders in government for projects undertaken in various communities. After all, every money spent on such projects belongs to you, the people, and to your future generations whose lives and rights are mortgaged for loans. These loans, and their exorbitant interests, have to be paid back by the future generations.
Let us all come together to restore dignity, integrity and credibility in our system of government.
Columnist: Michael A Horlorku