Saturday, February 19, 2011

A New Political Culture? MPs Culture of Interruptions

Listening to the President’s State of the Nation Address I couldn’t but notice the regular interruptions of the President by the Members of Parliament (MPs). The President had to constantly repeat words and yell to project his voice over the shouts and taunts of the MPs. This is not the first time that MPs have behaved in this manner; in fact it seems to be the norm whenever the President or other government officials come to the House to discharge their constitutional mandate of addressing the Chamber. I don’t know if this is the new Political Culture we are trying to adopt. Already it seems like we are on track to develop a Political Culture of Insults on our public airwaves. This practice of heckling, taunts and regular boos on the floor of parliament must seize. I am not in any way implying that the MPs should sit on their bottoms with their mouths sealed throughout speeches delivered on the floor of Parliament. However for goodness sake they should remember that they are the Representatives of the People and they should exercise decorum in the conduct of their affairs. Their current behavior of taunts, jeers and regular interruption amounts to irresponsibility of the highest order. I wonder if this is the same body that has been preaching against public indiscipline. What is the difference between this behavior of MPs and taxi drivers who indiscrimately blow their car horns or for that matter the irate youth who have in recent times gone on rampage locking public building and preventing public officials from doing their jobs? 

Listening to the jeers and taunts of the MPs during this year’s State of the Nation address reminded me of my teenage years at secondary school. Whenever the food at the dining hall was not enough, we mounted the tables and shouted on the Dining Hall prefects as if it was their duty to buy food for the school. However even in this situation we quickly settled down when we heard the Head Master or any of members of the school administration was approaching the Hall. Yet the behavior of the MPs is uncontrollable and more disruptive than a bunch of hungry teenage boys at school. Sometimes I am inclined to believe that these MPs think they are at the sports stadium watching soccer. 

Please let us develop a political culture that we can be proud to bequeath to our children. How many of us teach our children that they should interrupt people when they are talking. How do they expect to hear what the speaker is saying when they will not keep quiet to listen in the first place? It is not surprising therefore that comments on such speeches by MPs are often distorted and without merit.

Cultural Legalities of the 2011 State of the Nation Address

It was rather unfortunate that the President did not acknowledge the presence of former President Kuffuor and Chief Justice Woods at the Chamber of Parliament when he delivered his State of the Nation Address a couple of days ago. However what is most regrettable and unacceptable is the behavior of the minority and the ensuing protracted discussion of the President’s omission in the media. This year seems to be an exciting year for Ghana as the government has promised “an action year”. A major housing project has just begun, two new universities are in the pipeline and our oil sector seems to be taking off. So I was looking forward to what the good people of Ghana are going to say with regard to President’s State of the Nation Address. I was particularly interested the discussion that will follow as to whether the government has set the right tone for the country.

However, the President’s failure to observe protocol has consumed the whole nation while the issues in the State of the Nation address have been relegated to the background. How is observing protocol or failure thereof going to put food on the tables of the millions of hungry Ghanaians? Too much political capital is spent on unnecessary discussions that have very little positive effect on the state of affairs of the nation. Yes, we take great pride in our culture and it is always respectful to acknowledge the presence of our elders, but for goodness sake we spent too much energy on these CULTURAL LEGALITIES. I wish such energies and strong passions would also be channeled to address the real problems that this nation faces. In any case the President realized his mistake right after the speech and quickly apologized. This should have ended the matter so that we could move onto the real issues. Yet 3 days after the President’s address the matter is still lingering in the public domain. 

It is interesting that all the attention seems to be focused on the conduct of the President. As far as I am concerned, the spotlight should have been on the unruly behavior of the minority MPs in the Chamber. They heckled and shouted on the president whiles he was still on his feet preparing to deliver the address to Parliament. These MPs should remember that the Presidency is an institution that represents all Ghanaians. Irrespective of whoever assumes the Presidency, we must treat the highest office of the land with the necessary respect it deserves. In any case what happened to giving a person the benefit of doubt? The President could have made a genuine mistake and yet the MPs quickly pronounce judgment on him and start behaving like school kids. It is a shame to think that these are the Representatives of the People. As far as Presidents of Ghana go, this President has distinguished himself as a gentleman and he will do everything possible to avoid a confrontation. The MPs could have at least exercised decorum in the Chamber and then registered their protest after the address. We would have applauded them for their sense of maturity. 

I believe that mistakes in such high charged situations are very common. Seasoned public speakers and TV personalities make similar simple mistakes all the time. Imagine having the onerous burden of delivering a speech to the entire world- literally (thanks to the internet) - with 24 million Ghanaians with different expectations all waiting to hear you address their 24 million different problems. Master, it is not easy at all and mistakes under these circumstances are not surprising. This debate should end. The President has done the right thing. He has apologized publicly and he has also called the affected persons privately to express his regret.