TIME TO LEGISLATE AND REGULATE THE ROLES AND FUNCTIONS OF FIRST LADIES

Many Ghanaians secretly complain about the attitude and behavior of our first and second ladies, especially the first ladies. They complain about their unnecessary and unsolicited interference in governance. According to them they wield power without any obligation, accountability or responsibility. Some argue that public functions and activities performed by First and Second Ladies are financed from the public purse and therefore must be accounted for.

To the best of my knowledge, the 1992 Constitution gives them no official role to play as such. But somehow they have managed to acquire for themselves massive and limitless powers. First Ladies have made themselves very powerful and, sometimes, fearful. In fact, they are said to be the power behind the throne. In many ways, however, they are the throne! What they say, think, like and hate are likely to be the presidential fiat. Otherwise the President will never have any peace of mind in his home. They exercise these enormous powers without any constitutional or legal authority. Because their roles and functions are not regulated, their powers are limitless devoid of accountability and transparency. First Ladies are so powerful that they are more or less super supervisors of our Ministers. They are more powerful than any Minister or even the Chief of Staff. There was this Chief of Staff who, even though he was a bosom friend of the President, was removed by one of our Presidents because the First Lady was said to dislike him. Any sensible discreet Minister who wants to keep his job must submit to the First Lady.

There is no allocation for the First Lady’s so-called roles and functions in the national budget but it appears she ends up spending more money than many of the ministries and departments. These First Ladies go about making all sorts of promises to groups and communities. The fulfillment of these promises then becomes the burden of the Ministries. How dare a Minister refuse to finance a promise made by the First Lady! The consequences of such refusal are well known to all Ministers who tremble even at the sight of the First Lady. Some Ministers are in morbid fear of these First Ladies. What is more dangerous is that these First Ladies go about making policy pronouncements that are most of the time misplaced and not accurate. These days they even head government delegations to important international meetings even when the Minister of the relevant ministry is part of the delegation. In what capacity do they do that? This is not good for good governance

POWERFUL FIRST LADIES

Nancy Reagan of the USA was said to be very powerful. She was described as the “President’s President.” The wife of President Nicholae Ceausescu of Romania was another powerful “president.” Recently, in Zimbabwe, we witnessed the power of Dr. Grace Mugabe. She was so powerful and so ambitious that she caused the downfall of President Mugabe. In Ghana, we had the assertive powerful Mrs Rawlings and, to some extent, Mrs Mahama. People, especially party members, fear them. It was alleged that you had to pass through them or seek their favour if you wanted a ministerial appointment or juicy government position or contract. If you were not in their good books then you better forget it. These First Ladies are not to be displeased or to be said “no” to. One does so at his own disadvantage and even peril. In fact, the mood of a First Lady could change the position of a minister overnight.

Mrs Akufo Addo is learning very fast from them. The way she is making herself intrusively visible, dabbling in government policies and throwing her weight about makes me predict that she will soon join the league of strong powerful First Ladies who hide behind the President to exercise illegal powers. Have you noticed that for inexplicable reasons it is only wives of Presidents who exercise such illegal powers?  I am yet to hear of a male spouse of a female president exercising such illegal powers. If you know one please let me know.

FIRST LADIES AND NGOs

One of the tools used by these powerful First Ladies is NGOs. Allegedly, they use these NGOs to extort things, money and donations from ministries, Embassies and business organizations. People who want favours or want to catch the eyes of government and the First Lady rush to make donations to the First Lady’s NGO. These First Lady NGOs compete and even block the chances of other civil society organizations (CSOs). Why can’t the First Ladies leave this area to the CSOs?

LEGISLATING THE FUNCTIONS AND ROLES OF FIRST LADIES

Right now, the First Ladies exercise free limitless powers backed by no law. Their area of operation is not defined. They do and say what they like and they are not accountable to anybody, not even to Parliament. They can give directives to ministers and they expect the ministers to obey them. The consequences are dire if a minister, for one reason or other, does not follow the directives. Why should a First Lady pronounce on government policy when the sector minister is there? Why should the First Lady go out there and make promises with financial implications when that promise is not budgeted for? Why should a First Lady lead a delegation to an international meeting when the relevant minister is also a member of that delegation?

These overzealous First Ladies should be made to be accountable and responsible for what they do or say on behalf of government. The surest way this can be done is for the President to consider giving government appointment, ministerial or public service, to the wife if he feels she is an indispensable material. This way she will be compelled to work under rules and regulations under which ministers and public servants work and, of course, that will make her responsible and accountable.  But the most effective way of regulating the powers, functions and role of First Ladies is to officially recognize their position and pass laws to define and back their powers, functions and roles.

KOSI KEDEM, Former MP for Hohoe South. P.O Box LG601, Legon.

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