Monday, January 26, 2009

Bolivia's Referendum, Ghana's non-referendum state

I quite like the fact that Bolivians voted for an amendment in their constitution yesterday in a referendum.

Despite the furore caused by the opposition about what it would mean for non-indigenous community in that Latin American country, it has proved useful in testing the public pulse about the issue.

In 2005, when I asked then-Minister of Communications Professor Mike Ocquaye whether he would put the
question of Ghana's decision to liberalise downstream petroleum sector, he answered in the negative [see below:



When I asked him whether in his heart of hearts, he felt deregulation was a good thing, his first statement was sufficient to capture where he was going with the argument: “definitely”, he said, “it’s a good thing”. His basic premise was that if you have debt forgiveness—such as that provided by the German government very recently – what other option was there than to deregulate.


As to whether he would take the issue of deregulation to a referendum, he stated quite expressly that “this is not a matter of a referendum.” He continued that “this is a matter of public policy formulation”. Then, I wondered, why was civil society there? He claimed that the government was “gathering as many thoughts as possible” before submitting them to Cabinet and Parliament. At least, he assured me, “government has a direction”. Then he proceeded to direct the “blame” of deregulation process on the previous administration whilst contemporaneously adding that it would “be accepted by the people of Ghana”.

]

In Ghana, we make a lot of noise about being the paragaon of what one might call "electoral virtue"--yet in the almost-five years of being back home in Ghana, no government has had the temerity of calling a referendum.

I hope President Mills will be an exception!
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