From right: • Justice Gertrude Araba Esaaba Sackey Torkornoo — Chief Justice; President Akufo-Addo, and Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin
From right: • Justice Gertrude Araba Esaaba Sackey Torkornoo — Chief Justice; President Akufo-Addo, and Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin

No democracy without transparency, accountability (2)

Transparency and accountability are the twin cardinal principles of democracy. Transparency means that government information must, with few exceptions, be available to the public upon request.

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Political accountability in relation to citizen-government interaction refers to the ability of citizens to hold their governments responsible through elections. This occurs when citizens are ‘well informed’/equipped with relevant information and only vote to reward or punish politicians. 

Thus, transparency is critical for the proper functioning of democracy. It is not a coincidence that we prefer casting our ballots in transparent boxes and not in the opaque ones with which we began elections in 1992. A legitimate question at this point is why do we cast our ballots/votes into transparent boxes and why do politicians insist that we stay after the elections to watch the counting process and be interested in the results? I leave that for you to answer.

As citizens who queue and cast our votes into transparent boxes, wait and watch the counting and the declaration of the votes, which politicians insist we do, we should equally be interested in what politicians do in office. We should insist that the three arms of government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary conduct their work in a transparent manner similar to how we voted for politicians. 

In view of this, the Executive, along with all government departments and agencies should take advantage of technology to put information about their operations and decisions online and make them readily available to the public. Transparency is an obligation that requires the government to be open, accountable and honest with citizens on how it is conducting business and spending public funds.

The timing of making the information available is very critical – the importance of transparency involves more than the availability of information. This is because the timing of disclosure can affect the importance of the information. Therefore, information about their actions and processes should be readily available to the people in a reasonable time. Citizens should let all these inform their voting decisions on an election day – the day of democratic accountability. 

For government actions to promote the welfare of citizens, the Executive, departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to incorporate citizen’s input into their policies.

Parliament 

Parliament, the legislative arm of government must also be transparent and accountable to the electorate. The 1992 Constitution has vested the Legislative, Executive oversight, financial control, representation and deliberative functions of the state in Parliament. The same Constitution charges Parliament to exercise these functions in the best interest of the citizens who are the sovereign. 

Generally, the final decision of Parliament in the execution of these functions is often made through voting. Currently, the voting in Parliament is generally done through voice votes and secret ballots. Under voice votes, those in favour of an issue ‘shout’ Yes and those not in favour ‘shout’ No. The Yes wins when the ‘chorus’ from them is ‘loudest’. In secret ballots, all MPs present vote for or against an issue. The problem here is that, in both voice votes and secret ballots, the constituents do not know how their Members of Parliament (MPs) voted to hold them accountable. What they know is which side won and in certain instances by what margin, in the case of secret ballots.

This type of voting does not promote transparency and accountability. Lack of transparency has made it easy for opaque contracts to go through without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament holds the key to promoting transparency in advancing Ghana’s democracy.

Consequently, Parliament should adopt roll-call voting which provides records on how individual MPs vote on various issues. In this way, MPs can receive praise and blame for their actions. Making MPs vote public is not new. Many countries including Argentina, Barbados, Belgium, Mexico, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay and the USA do so.  

Judiciary  

Finally, with respect to the Judiciary, Article 125 (1) of the 1992 Constitution states that ‘Justice emanates from the people and shall be administered in the name of the Republic by the Judiciary which shall be independent and subject only to this Constitution.’ Thus, since justice emanates from the people of Ghana and is administered by the Judiciary, then, it is proper for the Judiciary to engage the people for whom the justice sector works and furnish them with relevant information in a timely manner.

The Judiciary should do all it can to demystify the courts. Citizens should not be afraid for any reason – be it the potential waste of time, costs incurred in seeking justice or the complexity of legal processes in going to court. Legal processes should be made simple for the public to understand through appropriate legal education to be done by the Judiciary in collaboration with the National Commission for Civic Education. Simple manuals on everyday legal matters should developed and made available to the public in English and the major local languages. Also, court decisions should be available online in a reasonable time.

For the Judiciary to be truly independent, the Chief Justice should not be appointed by the President. This is because judges are similar to referees of a football match. It is a joke in a football match if the referee is picked by one of the teams. Democracy is similarly a joke or a disaster when the government picks the Chief Justice or packs the courts with its friends. This is because in even a properly functioning democracy, disputes do arise and the one to settle such disputes is the Judiciary which must be truly independent. 

The writer is a political scientist

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