Newly sworn Members of the Council of State, let me start by congratulating all you distinguished ladies and gentlemen on your membership of the Council of State. Some of you are here by virtue of institutional representation, one ex-officio and the others with the support of Parliament; some by virtue of having been elected as regional representatives; and others having been appointed directly by the President of the Republic. We have no living former Chief Justice, unfortunately, to complete the composition.
Whichever route you have taken, you are now all Members of this very august institution, which, in the wisdom of our Constitution, is the body to counsel the President in the performance of his functions.
Members of the Council, our elders say that it is always better to get the benefit of two or more opinions than to rely on one viewpoint. I believe the Akan saying is “tikro nko agyina”. In our custom, therefore, no matter how smart or how well endowed, every chief or leader has a group of elders to advise him or her.
You are that body and luckily for me, you come from different backgrounds and have a wide range of competence and experience, which, if properly harnessed, will enable you perform effectively this all important function. To this end, it is my expectation, and I believe the expectation of the entire nation, that you will elect, from among you, a chairperson who will be equal to this task.
In our tradition of praise singing and grand titles, it must be very tempting for a President to lapse into thinking that he is all powerful and able to do whatever he wants. We have had the experience of Presidents being accorded long and elaborate titles and being told that they are all powerful and cannot be contradicted.
Members of the Council, it is in the light of such experience that the framers of our Constitution found it necessary to establish a Council of State to give impartial and objective advice to the President. It is important, therefore, that, regardless of whatever your background, you would discharge your duties dispassionately.
This means that the Council has a great responsibility. It would be easy to fall into the well-known temptation of telling the President what you think he wants to hear. It would be equally tempting to tell the President he is the best thing that ever happened to Ghana and it would be even more tempting to tell the President to ignore his critics. I expect this Council will not walk this road.
After almost 25 years of the 4th Republic, I think it is fair to say that the most effective Council of State we have had has been the one that worked with President John Agyekum Kufuor. We saw an intellectually vibrant and active Council that took its responsibilities seriously. We saw a Council that kept its members well informed and kept government officials on their toes.
Members of the Council, in my view, the Council is not an extension of the Executive, and you will not, thus, be representing the President or his Ministers at functions.
I look forward very much to working with a Council that will offer me straightforward advice, based on unvarnished truth. I look forward to working with a Council that will help all of us deepen our democracy, and I look forward to working with a Council that will help us deliver a prosperous Ghana. Such a Council should not give advice to a President, the effect of which is to undermine the independence of any of the other arms of government, especially the Judiciary.
The Council has a broad scope of advisory functions in counselling the President.
It plays an important advisory role in the appointment of high officials of state, like the Chief Justice of the Republic, the Governor of the Bank of Ghana, the heads of the nation’s security services, officials of the President’s office and other critical officers of the State.
Again, according to Article 90, the President can request the Council to consider amendments to bills either before they are passed or even after they are passed by Parliament.
Further, Article 91(3) of the Constitution gives the Council what appears to be an unfettered remit to advise other bodies like Parliament or any other authority. In my view, this is not meant to be a busybody charter, but, on matters of significant national importance, the Council can let its views be known.
There is, though, an important specific function which the Constitution has conferred upon the Council. The Council is to advise the President on the suitability or otherwise of the creation of a new region. The Council’s advice is an integral part of the process for creating new regions. This function is certainly going to be exercised during my Presidency.
Members of the Council, Article 92 (1) of the Constitution requires the Council to meet at least four times in a year. At the moment, I fear there is a lot of work piled up for the Council and it might well turn out to be more like four times in a week that the Council meets to be able to deal with the work on its table.
Between the Council and the Presidency, we have a lot of work to do to get all the appointments in place to get the government machinery to work. I hope that we shall not insist on standing on ceremony, but get to work rapidly and efficiently.
You can, if you should so choose, quickly get into the “honourable and excellency” mode and you will find many people to play you up to that role. You can, if you should so choose, make your Council one that is a rubber stamp. You can, if you should so choose, make this Council one that is widely respected and seen as the place to go for advice by all institutions and I am hoping this Council will choose the latter path.
Members of the Council, I have been given to understand that the state of the infrastructure for the Council is not good. Work on the building started under President Kufuor to house the Council has been abandoned and the guest house for the use of Members who come from out of town has also fallen into disrepair. I hear the vehicles the Council uses are in a poor state and I understand the secretariat has not got a Chief Director or a full complement of staff to help it perform its duties.
This is an unfortunate state of affairs. I shall do my best to ensure that these matters are rectified promptly and the Council is properly equipped to do its work.
Members of the Council, you have been sworn into office at a difficult time in the history of our nation. Our economy is in poor shape. We have challenges of governance, especially the issue of corruption in public life. We need to enhance the efficiency of the State’s administrative machinery. In all these, I expect you to be proactive partners in our efforts to find solutions that will improve the lives of our people.
I look forward to a vigorous exchange of ideas between us, and it is my fervent wish and hope that this Council will help enrich my presidency for the benefit of the Ghanaian people so that, together, we can help realise the dreams of the founders of our nation to build a free, united, prosperous and happy Ghana on the basis of the principles of democratic accountability, respect for human rights and the rule of law and the dictates of social justice.
Thank you. May God bless you and bless our homeland Ghana.