Constitution Day tomorrow: Build on gains - Governance experts

BY: Emmanuel Bonney & Kweku Zurek
 Dr Bonsu Osei-Owusu — A Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Valley View University and Dr George Asekere — A Senior Lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba
Dr Bonsu Osei-Owusu — A Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Valley View University and Dr George Asekere — A Senior Lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba

As the country marks Constitution Day tomorrow, four governance experts have underscored the need for the country to build on the gains of the 1992 Constitution.

Constitution Day, a public holiday, has been set aside to mark the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution and the birth of the Fourth Republic.

The 1992 Constitution came into force on January 7, 1993 after it had been approved in a referendum on April 28, 1992.

It defines the fundamental political principles establishing the structure, procedures, powers and duties of the government, the structure of the Judiciary and the Legislature.

Consolidating gains

Apart from being the longest lasting constitution, the experts argue that it has witnessed a smooth transition from one party to the other.

Since the Constitution came into effect in 1993, it has witnessed the successful transfer of power from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in 2001 to the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The NPP also handed over power to the NDC in 2009 while the NPP assumed the reigns of governance again from the NDC in 2017.

It has also witnessed a period where the country had chalked up successes as one of the most peaceful, stable and democratic countries on the continent.

In order to strengthen the country’s governance system further, they suggested the need to make some amendments to make the constitution reflect the changing times.

The governance experts, who said this in separate interviews with the Daily Graphic ahead of Constitution Day tomorrow, January 7, 2022, are the Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Dr Kojo Asante; a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science of the University of Ghana, Dr Alidu Seidu; a Senior
Lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba, Dr George Asekere, and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Valley View University, Dr Bonsu Osei-Owusu.

Constitution Day

January 7, subsequent to an election year, is also the day heads of state are sworn into office in Ghana.

Constitution Day was first observed in 2019 and designated to remind Ghanaians of their commitment to uphold the tenets of the rule of law, constitutionalism and democracy.

More importantly, the day is to remind the citizens of their collective commitment to a regime of uninterrupted constitutional order.

Progress

Dr Asekere noted that the county had made progress as far as the 1992 Constitution was concerned and in the Fourth Republic under which it was being operated.

“But that is not enough, going forward we need to do certain things that will ensure that we build on the gains that we have made,” he said.

One of the principal things he said the country needed to do was to avoid things that would lead to constitutional coup d’état by using power whimsically to extend the tenure of a president, adding that when there were symptoms of those things, there was the need to openly oppose them.

“So we should make sure that the people who are in charge are accountable to the governed. At any point in time, the government must know that legitimate power is derived from the masses and it should be able to listen to the masses and it is what the masses do that we should hold supreme because power actually comes from them,” he said.

Dr Asekere said in addition to that, there was the need to entrench the freedom of the people and especially, freedom of the media which was very critical.

According to him, freedom of the media was critical to the gains the country had made so far.

“We should be making progress, there should not be any attempt by people in authority to harass or dictate the editorial opinion of media house,” he 

said, saying that moving forward, we should entrench that aspect.”

Political history

Dr Bonsu said marking Constitution Day was very important because of the country’s political history right from the First Republic through to the second and third which was chequered.

“So this is the first time Ghana has been under civilian regime for close to three decades, so it is worth celebrating,” he said.

In trying the build on the gains, he said there were certain clauses in the constitution that needed to be looked at and amended.

“This constitution has travelled very far and we need to look at certain clauses, especially with regard to the issue of separation of powers as an example. The President choosing more than 50 per cent of ministers from Parliament makes the work of the Legislature ineffective,” he said.

Moreover, he said the constitution should give a ceiling to the people who could become ministers in order to protect the national purse.

Again, he said the Executive seemed to be given too much power, especially with the appointment of heads of institutions.

Significant

For his part, Dr Asante described the 30th anniversary of the 1992 Constitution as significant having survived as the longest constitution in Ghana’s political history.

He, however, said it was time for the constitution to be reviewed or amended to reflect the changing times especially a review of the executive powers to improve the checks and balances in the democratic dispensation.

He said as a trailblazer in democratic governance in the sub-region, it was important that the country took stock of the provisions of the constitution and found ways of improving on it.

He cited the winner takes all, the political culture where it becomes an association of people or friends who invest in politics for their personal or group benefits.

Dr Asante said if some of those loopholes were not corrected, Ghanaians would lose confidence in the democratic system and begin to look for alternatives.

According to him, talking of local governance reforms should not be limited to election of MMDCEs but reforms that would bring positive development to the people at the grass roots.

“I think this is the time for us to reflect on the constitution and see what positive changes we can bring to bear on the people,” he stated.

Dictates

Dr Alidu urged all Ghanaians to ensure that they were guided by the dictates of the 1992 Constitution in their daily lives.

According to him, all Ghanaians, irrespective of their class or status in society, must respect and recognise their commitment to upholding the tenets of the rule of law, constitutionalism and democracy on a daily basis and not just on January 7 when Constitution Day is marked.

He bemoaned the situation where some Ghanaians, especially the elite, set aside the constitution to satisfy their personal interests.

"It is one thing to have a Constitution Day and another thing to obey and live by the core tenets of the constitution.

"People have thrown the constitution aside,the elite have colluded to disobey and amend the constitution to satisfy their interests".

He said the significance of Constitution Day would only be meaningful if all Ghanaians lived by and respected the 1992 Constitution which came into force on January 7, 1993, after it had been approved in a referendum on April 28, 1992.

"We (Ghanaians) need to live by the constitution, not only the poor but the elite and the rich who make the laws for us to follow. The supremacy of the law is very important for democratic development but there must be equality before the law".

He said the day must be used to remind Ghanaians of the impact made by the people who compiled the 1992 Constitution and urge all to emulate them daily.