23 January 2013

Ghana: When Ghana Had Four Presidents Within One Day

opinion

Ghana's Fourth Republican Constitution provides for the succession to the presidency. Article 57 (1) states that: "There shall be a President of the Republic of Ghana who shall be the Head of State and Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ghana".

Article 57 (2) also states that: The President shall take precedence over all other persons in Ghana; and in descending order, the Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice, shall take precedence over all other persons in Ghana".

Article 57 (8), (9) and (10) make provision for the Vice President to perform the functions of the President in his absence, whereas (11) stipulates that: "Where the President and the Vice President are both unable to perform the functions of the President, the Speaker of Parliament shall perform those functions until the President or the Vice President is able to perform those functions or a new President assumes office, as the case may be".

On the strength of Article 57 (2), it becomes automatic for the Chief Justice to take over the functions of the President when the President, the Vice President and the Speaker of Parliament are all unable to perform the functions of the President.

The Constitution also makes it clear in Article 66 (1) that anybody elected as President shall hold office for a term of four years "beginning from the date on which he is sworn in as President". For this reason, the term of our presidents, as has been the practice since 1993 when the Constitution came into force, starts from 00.01 hours of January 7, and ends on the mid-night of January 6, every four years.

Going by this arrangement, President John Dramani Mahama, who had to complete the unfinished term of late President J. E. A. Mills since July 24, 2012, ceased to be president after mid-night of January 6, 2013. At the same time his vice also ceased to hold that office.

Interestingly, there was no Parliament and thus no Speaker of Parliament to take over the functions of the President because the new parliament had not been sworn in. This meant that from the early hours of Monday, January 7, 2013, out of the first four persons who take precedence over all Ghanaians it was only the Chief Justice who was at post and therefore by implication, the acting President of the Republic of Ghana.

Between 00.39 and 00.42 hours of Monday, January 7, 2013, a new Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon Doe Adjaho, was sworn in by the Chief Justice, making him the acting President of Ghana. He remained President until after 11.00 hours of the day when a new Vice President, Kwesi Amissah Arthur was sworn, and thus made the acting President because there was no president.

One spectacular observation at the swearing in of the President on Monday, January 7 was that the State Protocol, for a strange reason, decided that the Vice President be sworn in before the President. I have been wondering what accounted for that arrangement after I tried to find answers to some questions which occupied my brains while I watched the function on television.

First, what would have happened if after swearing-in the Vice President something unexpected happened which did not allow the swearing-in of the President that day? That is, some incident which could have abruptly ended the whole proceedings at the Independence Square that day?

Wouldn't it have been appropriate to swear-in the President first before his vice to ensure that the country had a substantive President in whose presence the Vice President would be sworn? Though it was not the duty of the President to swear-in his vice, swearing him (the President) first before his vice would have been more appropriate to quickly remove the vacuum created by our constitutional arrangements.

Following proceedings from after mid-night of January 6 until President Mahama was sworn in after 11.00 hours on January 7, one could count three other presidents before his swearing-in. First we had Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood, the Chief Justice, as acting President from after mid-night of January 6 to 00.42 hours of Monday, January 7 when she swore in the Speaker, then the Speaker acting from 00.43 hours to after 11.00 hours when the Vice President became the acting President before the President-elect was finally sworn in and became the President.

My worry is the process of producing four presidents in a matter of about the first 12 hours (00.00 hours to 12.00 hours of January 7) of every four years of a new president's term. In practice there is a vacuum as none of the acting presidents would have the real power and authority to move troops in case Ghana was under attack or there were other emergencies which required presidential authoritative orders.

There is an urgent need to remove this vacuum as we move on to solidify our democracy. The President's term of office expires at midnight of January 6, and the most effective and appropriate way to guarantee continuity of governance of the country is to immediately swear-in a new president without my delay.

In the United States, the President's term ends at noon of January 20 in his fourth year but the country's constitution provides for the swearing-in of the new President around the same time, thus avoiding any vacuum.

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, there is no vacuum in terms of governance leadership. As soon as a government is defeated in an election, the Prime Minister who has lost an election goes to the Queen to announce his or her resignation whiles the leader of the party which had won the elections immediately goes to the Queen for her to appoint him or her the new Prime Minister.

In both the American and British systems, the rules have been made in a way that no vacuum is created as we are doing in Ghana, where we have just exhibited.

As at now nobody knows what has happened to the Atuguba-led Constitutional Review Committee's report and whether any concrete modalities were put in it to address this serious shortcoming of our constitution. It is for this reason that I find it as an urgent issue to be addressed by our parliamentarians.

Yes, it is true that both the Americans and the British have practised their democracies for several years whereas we have done just 20 undisturbed years (as we have managed to put the soldiers to good sleep in their barracks to do their professional soldiering work), and for that matter we are so young.

Nevertheless, we cannot use our young nature to continue the way we are now since we have several experiences to learn from to enable us improve upon our system. Four presidents, in a short period of time is ridiculous enough to ginger us up to do something about the situation.

Another important thing our State Protocol Department must take note of is that we do not elect vice presidents, but rather we elect presidents. Therefore it is of utmost importance to always swear-in the president first, before the vice.

What we did at the Independence Square was a complete abnormality in that anything could have happened immediately after Vice President Amissah-Arthur was sworn in which could have prevented or delayed for days or months the swearing-in of President Mahama. In that case if you had an Arkaah-type Vice President, he would have made a lot of damage before the president was sworn-in, especially if he foresaw Rawlings-like treatment awaiting him.

My plea to Parliament is for its members to take up this issue and do something urgently about it. Our succession plan, in case of the death or resignation of the president is very good as this was demonstrated last July, but our succession plan from one president to another after elections is rather in shambles.

Let's not repeat January 7, 2013. We can make new arrangements to swear both Parliament and the President in at mid-night immediately after the expiry of their terms. US President Barack Obama's first term ended on mid-day of January 20, 2013 but because the day fell on a Sunday, Americans did not want any vacuum to exist, Obama was sworn-in at mid-day on January 20 in the White House, while the public inauguration was to follow the next day.

This is a very sensible way of doing things to ensure that the country did not have a time when it did not have a president. Ghanaians can conveniently adopt a similar system where Members of Parliament-elect could be sworn-in immediately after a parliament's terms had expired, and quickly follow it up with the swearing-in of the President-elect.

Dr. Frankie Asare-Donkoh is a lecturer in Political Science, Media and Communication Studies at Pentecost University, Sowotuom, Accra.

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