After 25 years of democratic development under the Fourth Republic, Ghana’s democracy is evolving, but can we say the same for the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE)?
After transiting from a military regime that lasted for over two decades (1972 to 1992), Ghana is today touted as the beacon of democracy on a continent that had been bedevilled by systems of government that were nothing but oppressive.
As a critical stakeholder in the governance process, the role played by the NCCE in ensuring a peaceful, smooth and stable democratic frontier cannot be in doubt but to what extent has the NCCE played this role effectively?
Indeed, when the former US President, Barack Obama, paid a visit to Ghana in July 2009 and addressed Parliament, he made a number of remarkable statements that had since become referral statements for democratic benchmarking and schematics.
Among other praiseworthy things that he said about Ghana was the fact that the people had worked so hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections, adding that with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana’s economy had shown impressive rates of growth.
In the 21st century, he said, capable, reliable and transparent institutions were key to success, citing strong Parliaments, honest police forces, independent judges and civil society, stressing that those were the things that gave life to democracy because those were the things that mattered in the lives of the people.
Ghana needs strong institutions
But the most profound statement that former President Obama made was that “Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”.
The inherent truism in that statement is made evident in the fact that the success of Ghana’s democracy so far has hinged on developing among the citizenry, a culture of democracy through awareness creation and sensitisation with a view to ensuring full participation in all the democratic processes.
Without any shred of doubt, such a mandate is a huge responsibility for whatever institution that is mandated to carry out this patriotic function and in Ghana, that has been the NCCE.
Established by Act 452 in 1993, the NCCE has the functions to help develop among the citizenry a culture of democracy through awareness creation, sensitisation and participation.
Over the years, the NCCE has been instrumental in the strengthening and deepening of democracy in Ghana.
It has played and continues to play key roles in social and political development by providing the requisite awareness and sensitisation which have encouraged many citizens to exercise their civic rights and responsibilities.
The NCCE’s Medium-Term Development Plan was under the Draft Medium-Term National Development Policy Framework (2015-2017) which was provided for by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) with the reviewed effort over the years to position the NCCE as a constitutional body with a goal to make significant number of Ghanaians attain awareness of their civic rights and responsibilities for the achievement of democracy.
That Policy Framework had been an outcome of consultations and participation of the commission’s directors both at the headquarters and the regions, and key individuals of the institution.
Current profile of the NCCE
The present head office location of NCCE, within the Electoral Commission (EC) building, is inadequate and makes effective delivery of work difficult.
More so, it is abundantly clear that the EC is using its advantage of courting the attention of politicians whose fate they decide during every election, to out-muscle the NCCE into an appendage in the area they both occupy as their operational bases.
Staff have no offices as most share the limited space provided within the EC building, thus there are over 120 staff sharing just eight rooms.
In addition, there are no facilities for storage and maintenance of files, materials and information. Most NCCE staff have no access to rest rooms.
The ripple effect
The situation is not limited to the head office alone. The NCCE has offices in all the regions and districts of the country but these offices are also constrained by lack of office space.
While a large number of these offices are located in the regional and district administration blocks, others operate from rented premises with very high rental charges.
Compounded by low budgetary allocation, a number of offices in the regions and districts have defaulted in rent payment and are under threat of eviction.
It is also important to note that some of the regional and district offices have not been able to pay their electricity, water and telephone bills and have been disconnected.
These conditions do not provide the conducive atmosphere required for effective work, and as a result, most of its regional and district offices lack duty posts due to high rent advances demanded by landlords.
The irony is that we are all quick to judge the NCCE for failing to effectively fulfil its constitutional mandate but if our democracy would thrive on strong institutions, then the NCCE ought to be the first to be well-resourced to play its roles without let or hindrance, else we might only be paying lip service to our national agenda of entrenching democracy and good governance.
In the build-up to the referendum for the creation of new regions, the unspoken question of whether the NCCE will be well-resourced to play its constitutional mandate morphs into a dire worry for those concerned.
As a nation, we cannot treat the NCCE as a spare tyre where it becomes relevant when crucial exercises such as elections, and in the coming days, referendum on the creation of new regions, have to be undertaken, and thereafter it is relegated to the background.
The time to give true meaning to building strong institutions is now and that can start with the NCCE.