Two quick Ghana stories (because, after all, my heart is in Accra…)
The New York Times has a wonderful story today titled “Studying Albany, and Giggling Politely”. A small group of Ghanaian parlimentarians was invited to Albany by USAID and the State University of New York to get a “firsthand look at American democracy in action” and, specifically, to understand how the budget process works in an American state.
Anyone who knows New York State politics is now laughing. Loudly. New York State’s budget has been late 20 years in a row. And the process that determines this budget appears to involve locking three extremely powerful, grumpy men in a room until they settle their differences. As the visiting parlimentarians observed, it’s a bit opaque:
“Here [in Ghana] we have to ask a lot of questions,” said Mr. Agyepong, a visitng parlimentarian “You [legislators in New York] just really don’t know how each allocation is spent. That is quite bleak.” (The additions in brackets are mine…)
It’s interesting to think what New York legislators could learn from going to Accra for a week or so and studying the national political process. One lesson would be the importance of being deeply informed on a wide range of issues so your views can survive public scrutiny – in Accra, several talk radio stations air daily call-in shows with ministers and parliamentarians. Government leaders routinely spend hours of their day answering questions on the air from callers around the country. It would be interesting to see whether New York State legislators could survive this sort of questioning, especially given how little decisionmaking power they wield.
BBC has a charming story titled Why Being Boring is Good for Ghana. The gist of the story – the danger of interviewing President Kufuor is that you’ll spend your time talking about HIPC and VAT taxes, rather than about political conflict. In a cheeky moment, the correspondent asked Kufuor if he wasn’t a bit, well, boring. The President’s response:
“If boredom gives us peace and stability for people to go about their normal businesses and live in dignity,” he said, “then I would say let’s have more boredom.”