Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng writes on the process of acquiring power in Ghana
>From now to eternity, Professor Dominic Fobih, a fine gentleman with an unblemished record of public service, will have to live with his newly acquired reputation as the "no-pledge man", for he it was that fluffed his lines or rather had no comment when the Vetting Committee politely requested that he recite the National Pledge. I missed the jolly sight myself due to unavoidable circumstances, but that vignette, frozen in time would be one of television's great moments for which the box was invented. Remember former US Vice President Dan Quayle and his "potatos"? The man must have done some good in his time as the world's second most powerful man but he would forever define post-primary school phobia for spelling bees. Thus Professor Fobih must be rueing his life's choices: if he had been a taxi driver, say, he could be driving around Tetteh Quarshie Circle breaking all traffic rules with impunity but there would be no public shame heaped on him. Indeed, he could still be teaching university students and the worst embarrassment would be a wicked nickname. But now this! The pledge. Pah!
The Fobih moment confirmed my sorry view that while I was away this great nation was having fun. Although I missed that fun, I was back in time to savour its aftermath, which is the morning-after radio talk show. Fobih and the Pledge had pride of place with pundits and phone-in callers alike, and although a few spoilsports tried to inject some hypocritical gravitas into the whole thing, the overall tone gave the game away, namely that the whole vetting is one big national fun-time. From the time, the President named his nominated ministers we had all waited eagerly for the great grilling of the great and the good to begin. We managed to convince ourselves that this charade is a big exercise in democracy, but if we were honest, we would admit that the exercise is a voyeur's paradise. What we want is to see very powerful people humiliated in public, especially with the TV cameras running, not because we hate them but for the following three reasons:
1. To exact our revenge on the powerful people who order our lives
2. To enact a riposte to the endless moralising to which we are subjected
3. There is too little comedy on TV
The idea that this vetting is a great exercise in democracy is exposed by the fact that few people actually expect them to affect the outcome. Before nominating these men and women, the President would have done his own vetting, and given the resources at his command, it is unlikely that his snoops would miss anything that the MPS committee is likely to unearth. This is why for all the high public interest, and with all the razzmatazz of public participation, including expensive newspaper adverts not many people have written to the committee with any meaningful questions or information. In any case, Mr. Freddie Blay, the Committee Chair, is able to disallow any questions that might do real embarrassing damage. Actually, I support Mr. Blay in this because many of the "damaging" questions are merely intended to embarrass these ministers-designate without adding any real insight to either their character or ability.
A much more rigorous vetting could be done in camera instead of turning the thing into a circus because examination in private will remove the element of spectacle and playing to the gallery, which is a large part of this show. If we really, seriously wanted to know about say, Dr. Addo Kufuor's ability to handle the defence ministry, we would do much better by having him quizzed by a small group of military experts who would issue a report to Parliament, and for retired Major Quarshiga we could have a team of both agriculture and health specialists do the same, and so on. But where would the fun be in that? This is a show, which is the point of the whole shebang.
The public, media and even the MPs, especially the opposition lot insist on this public roasting of our ministers-to-be because it is our one chance to get our own back at them. Once in office, the don the slick mantle of power with which they slip out of our grasp. This is our one chance and we have to grab it, and we do it with a vengeance because this is our revenge. This is why the opposition MPs are having such a marvellous time, and we the paying public along with them. They don't really expect to derail the President's plans for his next cabinet but their plan is to cause as much embarrassment as they can on the way. We, the different constituencies in this enterprise, have our different agendas: for the media people, this is a good selling opportunity; after the feverish election period when their sales and viewing/listening figures hit high figures, this is a godsend to cushion the fall to lower numbers. For us the public, this revenge is good. Let me explain: during my secondary school days, I fantasised every morning that a particularly harsh housemaster would trip on his shoelaces as he ascended the steps to the high table in the Assembly Hall. Unfortunately, he did not fall in the five years I was in the school, but this is how it is with this grilling of ministers-to-be. You wish that there would be some serious verbal tripping. The opposition has its own agenda, which is to cause maximum discomfort but keep it within limits because it might be them next time.
I have a feeling that another reason we are fixated with these hearings is the excessive moralising that has gripped this nation. >From morning to night and next morning, pastors, priests, prophets, imams, sheiks, ministers, MPs and everyone with access to a public megaphone mount the high horse to preach at us. They don't tell us how they live their lives but how we must live ours. All the while, we suspect that they are just as bad as the rest of us. If we had our own way, all these moralisers, especially the pastors and prophets, would be subjected to such grilling but we know it won't happen so we accept these poor ministers-to-be, poor in spirit, that is, as the sacrificial lambs. Come to think of it; if there is any value in this public vetting then why limit it to potential ministers? For example, we could extend the same principle to senior civil and public servants, even the IGP, all Ambassadors, military chiefs and the like. If it must be done, it was well it was done well!
However, this circus would be unnecessary if we had a real comedy show on TV. The real value of this freak show is that it enlivens our otherwise droll, blighted urban lives. If you go to a real typical village anywhere in Ghana, their thoughts are unlikely to be on Parliamentary vetting and the National Pledge. The typical urban dweller now depends on TV for "entertainment", and because there is so little genuine entertainment on the box, we convert even the most serious business into one if it provides the odd moment of amusement. The MPs on the committee are aware of this and we are aware of it too. In that sense, they would be letting the nation down if they only asked serious questions. You can argue, if you like, till the cows come home, that the pledge question was a serious one; you know and I know that it was not meant to be. That a whole professor was greatly discomfited was unfortunate, but even he must be satisfied that he has played not a small part in this national comedy parade.
Don't get me wrong: I think it is very important to vet our in-coming ministers of state because we need to know where they have been and what they have been up to; more importantly, we need to know what they are capable of doing in their new positions. It is only that this partisanship, disguised as a bipartisan approach pandering to the cameras is a lot of fun but not really the business