In the last few weeks, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, George Andah, Phillip Addison and Abeiku Santana have expressed their intention to contest in party primaries for the right to be party candidates for parliament in the general elections in 2016. I have heard some commentators welcome the move as an indication that people are becoming more conscious of their duty towards the country and are now willing to directly contribute to governance.
The intention of Kojo and George especially has come under much attention because they were hitherto unknown as members of any political party. Much praise has been given to both men for rolling up their sleeves to take their turn at shaping the political landscape and, hopefully, national policy.
I have a few issues to raise about this seemingly new interest in political office. But before that, I want to congratulate the aspiring MPs for their move. I also wish that the rumours that Gifty Anti may also be interested in public office are confirmed. The current ‘dirty’ tag hovering over politics is counterproductive. It may discourage many qualified people from participating for the fear of having their reputations soiled or alienating sympathisers on the other side of the political fence.
Now to the issues.
Our current parliament is stacked with an embarrassment of riches in qualified people. Celebrated lawyers, chartered accountants, journalists, social activists, economists, business people, educationists and some medical doctors have been or are currently in parliament. The idea that people in parliament have not had successful careers outside politics is neither fair nor supported by the facts. Any failure of parliament to live up to the expectations of Ghanaians cannot therefore be placed on the poor qualification of the humans that make up parliament.
We need to find out why parliament as a whole has been unable to effectively perform its oversight role over the executive. We need to know why our legislators still campaign on building schools and tarring roads. Why do these qualified women and men vote strictly along party lines on major legislations apart from those involving their perquisites? Who do the MPs owe allegiance to first of all, their party or their constituents?
It is my belief that pushing for the adoption of constitutional reforms that will help MPs to sponsor private bills, open up the selection of MMDCEs to the popular vote and removing the requirement of selecting 50% of Ministers from parliament will give parliament the focus it needs to propose and critically review legislations and effectively hold the executive to account.
Structural changes are clearly needed, and many times the duty has fallen on ordinary citizens and civil society to advocate for those changes. If the new class of aspiring MPs win, they can best repay the goodwill they have enjoyed from the public by using the influence they would have to push for these changes.
These people have become a symbol of change. They carry with them the hopes of many people for a new type of politics, one committed first to the people and then the party. This may sound idealistic but it is the burden that they hold. They are not the first people whose foray into partisan politics has raised the expectations of many, but they can be the first to meet those expectations.
I wish them well in the primaries, the general election, their battle against the barriers preventing structural change, the fight to disprove the cynics expecting them not to be different and the challenge to justify the faith which many Ghanaians have placed in them.