No democracy can survive in an atmosphere of lawlessness
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Folks, sometime ago, I posted an opinion piece to complain about the “whom-you-know” or “who-knows-you” syndrome in Ghana, which is nothing but a negative attitude to national reconstruction. I complained that our Establishment has too many loopholes that let unscrupulous public office holders off the hook and portray them as “angels” instead of the despicable criminals that they are to be punished!!
The Supreme Court’s verdict against Alfred Agbesi Woyome in the deplorable judgement debt saga ties it all up for us to flush out all those working against the interest of the state. If the economic resources of the state are not protected and used to grow our democracy, there is no way that democracy can be sustained. Thieves, liars, and murderers parading themselves as nation builders should be flushed out as the laws of the land are used to streamline governance. And governance means more than the perpetual acrimony that we see about the NDC, NPP, and all the mushroom political parties whose leaders and functionaries continue to bore us with issues that negate our aspirations.
It boils down to the role of THE LAW in the affairs of human beings. Where laws are enacted, interpreted, and effectively enforced, human behaviour is positively influenced. And that positive influence improves governance and facilitates efforts at nation-building. In sum, no society can make progress if its citizens are lawless. A democracy that doesn’t punish lawlessness is doomed to fail.
And one major area that threatens every democracy is mismanagement of its lifeblood—the economic sector. Mismanagement involves not only the government’s inability to use the resources of the state for public weal but the use of carefully woven criminal networks by unscrupulous characters to steal those resources or to act in a manner that promotes bribery and corruption. In truth, then, a democracy that cannot punish those who suck its lifeblood will collapse.
As the situation has panned out, we know how the US system is taking care of itself, swiftly exposing and punishing those who fall foul of the law. No matter what flaws it may have as a human institution, the US’ version of democracy is thriving because it provides no safety net for those who breach the law.
THE WORKINGS OF THE LAW
The trial on corruption charges against the ex-Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell (a Republican who is accused of accepting loans and lavish gifts from a supporter) has begun and is set to run its full course. Jury selection has begun and McDonnell has begun keeping his fingers crossed already. He was indicted after leaving office in January 2014 and charged with accepting $165,000 (£97,144) from the head of a dietary supplements firm in return for promoting its products. His wife (Maureen) is also on trial. They face decades in prison if convicted on all counts. Both are charged with 14 counts in total, including fraud against the citizens of Virginia, obtaining property under colour of official right, and false statements. Mr. McDonnell was once considered a possible running mate to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney running in 2012. He says he exercised bad judgment but did not break the law. (Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-28529670).
The BBC report casts a wide light on the matter: The federal investigation into the finances of the once-rising Republican star cast a shadow over his last few months as governor. He left office in January after his four-year term ended, and was succeeded by Democrat Terry McAuliffe. (There is no talk of witch-hunting here because the malfeasance has nothing to do with partisan political interests).
According to prosecutors, Jonnie Williams, former chief executive of Star Scientific, gave the McDonnells a $50,000 loan without paperwork, multiple golf trips, vacations at Mr. Williams’ vacation home, and a shopping trip for tens of thousands of dollars in designer clothing for Mrs. McDonnell.
In return, prosecutors say Mr. McDonnell used his influence as governor to help Star Scientific on an “as needed basis”, including inviting the company’s executives to a reception for healthcare leaders in Virginia, as well as making a personal pitch about a company product to state officials during a meeting about reducing staff healthcare costs. The indictment also accuses the McDonnells of attempting to hide the loans and other financial benefits from Mr. Williams. Mr. McDonnell has said he paid back $120,000 (£70,650) of the money in question.
Mr. Williams will testify against Mr. McDonnell under a deal to protect him from further prosecution. Other potential witnesses on the prosecution’s list, released on Monday, include Maureen McDonnell and the couple’s three children, Sean, Rachel and Bobby.
Lawyers for the former governor say federal investigators were criminalising common political courtesies, like hosting receptions and arranging meetings, and that no government grants were awarded, nor did Mr. McDonnell take official action on his behalf.
This case is one of many that prove that in the US, the law is no respecter of persons (at least, from what we know about law enforcement). The administration of justice calls for equity. And the jury system is used to deal promptly with cases and to ensure that justice is neither delayed not denied. The jury system may have its pitfalls, but it is admirable for its immense benefits. If for nothing at all, it ensures that cases being tried are not unnecessarily delayed and that the accused can tell that they have peers (lay people) to go into the charge. It instills confidence in the citizens and proves that justice delivery is not as esoteric as the technicalities of the law may suggest. I know that some limited jury system is functioning in Ghana; but I have reservations on how it is set up and implemented. Knowing the general malaise that has afflicted the Ghanaian system, I shudder to think that what we have is really designed to solve problems.
Don’t trust the Ghanaian when it comes to anything that can be set up to yield personal gains!! We have ever heard of the case of a juror in a case being tried in Koforidua who approached relatives of the accused for a bribe to turn the table in his favour. He was eventually found out and discarded. Many others may not be reported, which worries us that our justice delivery system is still problematic. There is still too much rot to worry about. The Chief Justice is largely good at theorizing about endemic problems in the Judiciary but not taking any concrete action to solve problems. She is virtually a politician in wig!!
THE WAY FORWARD
Folks, I have raised all these issues to argue that our democracy can grow only if backed by efficient law enforcement. Ghana has a lot to learn from what is being done in other democracies, especially in view of the numerous happenings that suggest that some people are immune to prosecution, regardless of how much harm they cause to our democracy by their wanton and reckless attitudes that endanger public funds and morality.
Talk about what has happened in this 4th Republic and how the culprits end up being whitewashed to remain in public office and you should be wondering why our democracy is still not helping us solve our existential problems. It can’t because it is skewed in favour of those walking the corridors of power, those who know how to manipulate it for personal gains. This kind of democracy is ridiculous as a drain on the resources of the country, even though the citizens don’t want to discard it because they hate its obverse—military jingoism (for all that it entails. Experience will remain the best teacher here).
But are our democratically elected leaders and those in positions of trust doing what the citizens expect? If not, should the citizens continue supporting this democracy or look for something else (if the ongoing incitement by political opponents of the incumbent should be considered at all. They are asking President Mahama to resign or that the soldiers should step in. Pitiable narrow minds)? The conundrum persists.
In our own case in Ghana, we have instances of impropriety on the part of political office holders and their cronies which qualify as a gross violation of the law and ethics. Be those violators politicians or civil/public servants, nothing has been done scrupulously to bring them to book—and to prove to Ghanaians that by choosing democracy as the means to determine their fate, everything would be done to level the playing field. Of course, democracy entails equality before the law and equity in the sharing and enjoyment of national resources. So, if events prove that some are more equal than others, the consequence is grave: a lowering of morale and incitement to acts of selective sabotage against the very democracy.
We may be complaining about the high crime wave in the country or misdeeds at the workplace or in society, generally; but we shouldn’t go far to know why. When a people are not assured of security and better living conditions under a political system that they have sacrificed their lot to establish and prop up, they will resort to anything that can help them live their lives anyhow. And if it comes to that crunch, the very acts of commission or omission of the people will have dire consequences for the democracy itself. Ghana’s democracy isn’t maturing to cater for such exigencies, which angers the people.
It is not difficult to tell why. Over the years, many acts of malfeasance involving so-called high-ranking officials have come to notice and dragged on in the corridors of THE LAW!! Obviously, at the pulling of strings, the police don’t investigate such acts; they don’t prefer any charge against the culprits; even if they prefer charges against them, once the case enters the labyrinth of the Judiciary, it drags on till infinity while the culprits go about their daily lives as if not perturbed by anything that our democracy abhors. What sort of society do we hope to establish with this kind of laxity?
For our democracy to grow, it must be used to solve problems. It can’t do so if it is easily bent to serve parochial interests that undermine the Establishment and confirm the citizens’ apprehensions.
There are many cases involving public figures that have so far either been swept under the rug or put on the back burner because of lethargy on the part of the law enforcement agencies or some kind of criminal complicity to pass off bad nuts as role models. If our Ghanaian system can be cleansed to do the right thing, we should be seeing a new order.
Unfortunately, no one is interested in cleaning the stables. The result is that those who should have been punished for wrongdoing are rather applauded and upheld as role models. This kind of misjudgement will doom our democracy. If we really want to grow our democracy, we should be more serious than we have been so far. The law must bark and bite deeply as happens in the US and other countries that we quickly point to in our theoretical assessment of the values of democracy.
In our case, there is too much recourse to theory. Democracies are not built on theory but practical action to right wrongs. Let’s shift attention to the practical aspects of governance so we can grow our democracy. The bitter truth is that those in charge of affairs in government and the opposition are skewing issues to suit their narrow political purposes, damn the consequences. Are we really sure of where we want to be in the near future so we can live our lives in decency, almost 22 years after establishing this 4th Republic? I wonder; I really wonder!!
I shall return…
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