Winner-take-all politics in Ghana

I attended an interesting workshop last week at the Institute of Economic Affairs on the state of “winner-take-all” politics in Ghana.  Given Ghana’s 20 years of democratic alternance, I don’t tend to think of Ghanaian presidents as having nearly the power of some of Africa’s more entrenched leaders, like Kagame or Museveni.  After this workshop, though, I’ve been forced to revisit that assumption, because the Ghanaian executive has a whole range of powers that rather undermine the concept of checks and balances.  Among them:

  • The president directly appoints the attorney general, chief justice, governor of the central bank, head of the electoral commission, and speaker and majority leader of Parliament, with no parliamentary approval needed.
  • The president also appoints the chief executives of all 216 districts in the country, and 1/3 of the members of each district assembly.
  • All legislation must be introduced by the executive, rather than Parliament.
  • Parliament’s fiscal oversight capacity is further weakened by the fact that there’s no independent budget office to provide non-partisan analysis of proposed legislation.

It was an interesting presentation, and the ensuing discussion among the nearly 200 attendees (including official delegations from Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe) was quite spirited.  To take the first point, IEA’s suggestion that the president present a list of 5 possible candidates for these positions who would be reviewed by an advisory committee – barely even denting his overall power of appointment – was received as quite controversial by several speakers who thought this would unfairly limit the president’s ability to carry out his political mandate.  A rejoinder was provided by a commenter who pointed out that it’s not the role of the electoral commission to carry out a political agenda in any case.

The whole topic of electoral quotas for the district assemblies also generated a lot of debate, ranging from support for the current system of 1/3 appointed seats, to calls to abolish the appointments entirely, to demands to have these seats reserved for women and people with disablities – which immediately sparked the comment that this would lead to political parties removing all the female and disabled candidates from the seats they had to contest openly.  And so on and so forth for five hours.  For all the political challenges Ghana is seriously facing, it was impossible not to come out of this workshop feeling that at least the civil society organizations are taking their own watchdog roles quite seriously.