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Ken Ofori-Atta Charges Ghanaians Over Assault On Our Democracy, ‘Stop Being Quiet, Be Outraged!’


Ken Ofori-Atta Charges Ghanaians Over Assault On Our Democracy, ‘Stop Being Quiet, Be Outraged!’

17 March 2013

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Ken Ofori-Atta, the Chairman of the Databank Group, has charged on Ghanaians, including the youth, teachers, NGOs, journalists and clerics to stop being quiet and neutral in the search for justice and show some courage and outrage in the face of attacks on integrity in our democracy and the way the nation’s finances are being mishandled.

He said this when he delivered the second of the William Ofori-Atta (Paa Willie) Institute for Integrity Lectures at the British Council Hall, last Tuesday (March 12, 2013).

Speaking on ‘Ghana's future: Integrity, Rights, and Responsibilities of Citizens’, Mr Ofori-Atta used the seemingly neutral reaction of important bodies to the election dispute at the Supreme Court and the mishandling of the economy which has led to a record GHC8.7 billion fiscal deficit to illustrate his point about the worsening integrity deficit in our society.

He accused clerics, civil society groups, journalists, Ghana’s middle-class and other important organisations, such as the National Peace Council and the Ghana Bar Association of “cowardice and hypocrisy” and reminded the nation that it was this kind of culture of silence in the face of impunity that forced a young Jerry John Rawlings and his colleagues to stage their revolution of June 4, 1979.

“For me we can cause a revolution with our lack of outrage, with what Rawlings did in 1979, you will realize that this is not merely hyperbolic,” Mr Ofori-Atta cautioned.

He said said our democracy risked being destroyed if citizens do not actively ensure that it is built on a foundation of integrity and strengthened by pillars of integrity, predicting that if we continue to build our democracy on lies, deceit and fraud, all the talk of peace, stability and status quo would be meaningless. He also called on the justices of the Supreme Court to be alert to their responsibilities.

“Peace,” he warned, “cannot be attained without due consideration to justice; the two are Siamese twins. Those who hunger and thirst after peace must love justice and pursue it with all their strength and with all their might. Thus, we must overcome not only apathy but also one-sidedness in the peace-justice equation!”

He said, those who say they are for peace but are silent over justice are, in fact, not men and women of peace. Mr Ofori-Atta remarked, “in the face of injustice, apathy is criminality. To be apathetic toward issues that can destroy our country is to be negligent of the present and inconsiderate towards the future; to be indifferent when your voice can make a difference, or to be silent when those without voices count on you to voice their yearnings, their fears, their aspirations, and their hopes does not amount to being a peaceful person.”

With the President of the Ghana Bar Association, Nene Amegatcher, chairing the event, Mr Ofori-Atta, an investment banker, turned to him and said history would not be kind to organisations such as the GBA that has opted for silence today even though they promised to be neutral but active in public education over the petition challenging the election of President John Mahama in December 2012.

He described the election petition, filed by Nana Akufo-Addo and two others of the New Patriotic Party, as putting Ghana at a very critical juncture in our political history and yet, “the country is ominously quiet. We are withdrawn. The leaders of the society are quiet. Paa Willie would not have been quiet. It is our responsibility to defuse the tensions by open discussions of this matter. The Bar Association is quiet, the Clerics are quiet, the think tanks are quiet and the radios have been abandoned to mostly propaganda dribble and callers and guests ‘insulting’ the sensibilities of all of us citizens.”

Not many groups were spared as Mr Ofori-Atta lamented over the “growing integrity deficit” in the Ghanaian society and described the situation today as not that different to what got brave men like Prof Albert Adu Boahen to speak out against the military dictatorship of the 1980s.

Such, he said, is the “poverty of scrutiny in our media, in our civil society that we appear to have walked backwards into that culture of silence, without being prodded by the butt of an AK47.”

He accused Ghana’s growing middle class of becoming “silent accomplices to the culture of impunity and the assault on integrity within our governance space.”

Mr Ofori-Atta described the situation thus: “We are simply unprepared to rock the boat and would rather stay in as the water sips slowly but surely through the cracks we pretend do not exist. We have gone to the market of character and impressions and decided to trade in substance for form.”

He used the words of Dr Nduom in a post-election interview the People’s Progressive Party leader granted to the Africa Report magazine to capture the culture of integrity deficit that he said has engulfed our nation.

Dr Nduom stated: “In Ghana many people don’t like the truth, they want what is convenient, but what is convenient is not always right for the people.”

Touching on the dire state of the economy, which has affected funding for the National Health Insurance, among other things, Mr Ofori-Atta said, it was clear that Ghana’s treasury was recklessly depleted last year and because of the lack of sufficient transparency and accountability tools in the system we may never get to know the true state of the overspending.

“We may never know how many billions of cedis went down the drain last year alone. But in a year that we did not even meet our capital expenditure target, and spending in electricity, water and housing, for example, were no where near enough to tackle the crisis, we are entitled to ask: where is the integrity in how our money is spent by our government? “ he queried.

According to Mr Ofori-Atta, “The record 12.1% budget deficit is a telling indictment on the lack of integrity and discipline in how the public purse has been handled,” adding, “that GH¢8.7 billion overspending of 2012 did not happen because we had any particular crisis on hand. Even if we discount GH¢2 billion of that to the single spine salary structure, how does government explain the bulk of the remaining GH¢6.7 billion or some $3.2 billion? According to CEPA, about GH¢1 billion of this unbudgeted expenditure went to people who they describe as ‘ghosts’. They are not ghosts; they are members of that ever-growing population of what I will call the ‘Integrity Deficit’.”

He also spoke against Ghana’s total public debt increasing by nearly three-fold in cedi terms from GH¢9.6 billion in 2008 to GH¢33.5 billion in 2012 or doubling in dollar terms from $8.1 billion to $18.7 billion in just four years.

“Ghana’s future cannot be transformed if our governments lack integrity in both their operations and explanations of such massive derailment,” he cautioned.

Without mentioning names, Mr Ofori-Atta took a dig at self-serving pressure groups and journalists. “Pressure groups that were vociferous in amplifying bad governance, after one election cycle, turn around to behave as if they suddenly drove their newly acquired four-wheel drives on a very rich stash of piercing materials which deflated the pressure in their voices.

“Journalists, who were known to be principled critics have suddenly become principal defenders of all that is great and decent about he who does no wrong. I believe that phenomenon is called the No ko fio principle.”

He went on to define who a person of integrity is: “A person of integrity is one who would not do what he or she believed to be wrong. A person of integrity is not one who would defend what he knew to be wrong yesterday.

He said, in reference to the Ghana Cedi note which has the picture of the Big Six (including William Ofori-Atta on), “If it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, then what would it profit a man to give his soul for a few bundles of the Big Six – crisp cedi notes?”

Mr Ofori-Atta said the integrity deficit in our society, “especially among those who have chosen to lead us, is very much a part of the reason why we are where we shouldn’t be. We need people of integrity to lead us.”

Quoting Bishop Desmond Tutu, the nephew of William Ofori-Atta (a man who suffered more detentions than any other politician of our independence struggle) said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.

He reminded the audience of how a previously quiet, low-key pastor, Martin Niemöller, emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in German concentration camps. The salient point of interest to Mr Ofori-Atta was that all those who kept quiet during the holocaust were complicit in its occurrence or in its sustenance; by their silence they contributed to the spread of Nazism, and the deaths of six million Jews and countless others.

“No cause of our time is greater than the cause of boldly speaking the truth, as did Mensa Sarbah and Paa Grant and Kwame Nkrumah and Joseph Boakye Danquah and William Ofori-Atta and Ako Adjei of yesteryears and all the other gallant women and men who toiled with them for our liberty.”

Mr Ofori-Atta stated, “Today, we stand at the edge of a momentous history; a great political epoch is unfolding before us, with potentially dire consequences. Yet, all around us there is apathy of a most debilitating kind -- the apathy of the educated middle-class and the celebrated, top-notch NGOs of our country. At this critical period of our history, it is as if there is no learning, no scholarship, no courage, no vision, and no voice in our beloved country! Even the hitherto much-revered Peace Council appears to be buried in a very convenient and self-serving passivity and near-docility. “

He added, “On the contrary, to be so is to be a coward. And as Shakespeare reminded us over three centuries ago, cowards die many times before their death. And as the Chief Justice admonished us in October 2012, whether our children think of fairness and integrity when they think of us.”

Her ladyship Georgina Wood gave the inaugural Paa Willie lecture on October 8, 2012, with two months to go in the 2012 elections, had spoken on "Integrity, Elections and Democratic Governance in Ghana”.

She said then, “We must all assist in the creation of a democratic society of integrity by being courageous and sincere in our criticism of those we have reason to believe are corrupt… Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you."

The Chief Justice stressed, “Preventing the free exercise of the right to vote is tantamount to fettering free speech. But it is worse than that; it is a denial of the validity of the vote of the individual; it is a denial of the worth of that vote, it is a violation of the dignity and collective will of the people to give full weight or effect to every single voice expressed through the vote”.

Mr Ofori-Atta, referring to the above said, “Her ladyship must have had a crystal ball. Today the future of Ghana resides in her institution; we look to the judges to adhere to her call.”

He added, “No cause of our time is greater than the cause of deepening our electoral democracy, expanding the frontiers of human rights enjoyments, extending the scope of our observance of civic responsibility, and improving the scale of integrity in our society...”

History everywhere else is made by successive shocks, of confronting and overcoming successive challenges - then we may achieve a democratic state, he said, asking, “Are you and I responding to these successive shocks??”

He charged the young people of Ghana, “look around you, you will see enough that make you probably angry. These will provoke you to act as a real citizen. It will give you hope, you will be inspired by the court case, you will understand why there is a constitution that must be followed and is alive. As long as there is hope, violence is diminished but you must arise to assume your birth right.”

He urged Ghanaians to thank Nana Akufo-Addo, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, the 3 petitioners, for taking the case to court. And also President Mahama for reassuring the nation that he will abide by the decision of the Court.

Source: thestatesmanonline.com, 17 March 2013



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