INDIVIDUAL vs. INSTITUTIONAL...the good, the bad and the utterly disastrous

July 27, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah/
INDIVIDUAL vs. INSTITUTIONAL...the good, the bad and the utterly disastrous

The Electoral Commission. Falling, floundering and failing.

Chairperson Charlotte Osei. Deputy Commissioner Alhaji Amadu Sulley. Deputy Commissioner Georgina Opoku Amankwah. The airwaves have been hot with the revelations, accusations and allegations flying between these three. Allegation. Counter allegation. Insults. Fraud. Corruption. Lies. Dismissals. Rebuttals. He said. She said. Petitions filed.  Lawsuits filed. The Court of Public Opinion is duly in session. Social media is lit with posts, tweets. Opinions are many, accusations are plentiful.

The court of public opinion can be ferocious. We the Media are right to disseminate the story, seek context, clarity, articulate concerns. That is indeed the Media's job. Social media expands the opportunities for the public to weigh in. The Media's power and remit and the Public's contributions are no substitute for investigation. Resolution is not arrived at by the Media's engagement but by thorough investigation of each of the allegations, the 27 counter claims, the 25 point rebuttal and on and on.

What is on the line?

Individual reputations vs. institutional structures.

Beneath the headlines, behind the allegation and counter allegation, underneath all the commentary is a simple, powerful reality.

Weak institutions.

This is not a new story. But this story may represent a fresh opportunity.

We are repeatedly told weak institutions are the bane of a flourishing democracy. We have been encouraged to strengthen ours. President Obama reminded a Continent it did not need any more strong individual leadership as much as it needed strong institutions.

Are we willing to heed that call? Is this a test of this government's commitment to protect the Public Purse and not shield, interfere or protect lawbreakers?

There is something special about the Electoral Commission.

It represents the heart of a politically free democracy. It is the soul of political power during the potent mix of fire and freedom that are our presidential elections. So, to hear it maligned shakes a nation.

But, we should parse out some details.

Gender. Charlotte Osei is the first woman chairperson. There were spurious and outrageous allegations made about how she acquired the position. Throwing allegations of sexually transmitted promotion undermines without ever needing to be proven. So many in this nation was right to stand behind her, castigate the accuser and demand she be allowed to do the job she had been given. Is Charlotte Osei being targeted because she is a woman? Certainly the accusations of arrogance reek of the kind of sexism where strong women leaders are chastised and strong male leaders are praised. Arrogance is not criminal; it doesn't threaten the public purse. Osei seems to be a leader committed to working processes. Her willingness to exclude parties due to their failure to comply with procedure when submitting forms to run for the 2016 presidential election demonstrates that.  It appears to me Charlotte Osei is a reformer. Reformers are always met with resistance. So, yes Gender plays a role. For sure. In this case, it should not deflect from the seriousness of the allegations and the call to thoroughly investigate.

Structural weakness. Is the Electoral Commission suffering from structural failures that allow troubling levels of corruption to flourish? According to both allegation and counter allegation, there are gaping loopholes in the processes regarding how monies can be moved, contracts awarded.

The politics of personality.

We are a society who individualizes so much within our sectors. Arguments are made that Madame Osei must go. Even if she does, will that resolve the loopholes within this institution? If the Deputy Commissioners go “will that resolve it? Here is where gender does play a potent role. There is this expectation that Osei was a woman who did not know her place, who needs to be put in her place and if that happens“ all will be well. This is the cancer of sexism. It replaces common sense with ugly prejudice.  Let me be clear. If found to be guilty of the allegations, she “like any leader of a public sector institution“ should face sanction. As should her Deputies. Sanction should not be about gender.

Should she be removed? All three “Madame Chairperson and the two Deputy Commissioners - should be temporarily removed and be required to comply with a thorough investigation.

Some call to keep such allegations private and allow an investigation to proceed unknown to the public. There are those who argue that the public back and forth of accusations and counter accusations against what is considered such an auspicious body and the Media's reportage of the story shake the public's confidence in this institution. Really? Is the public shaken by the appearance of a functioning institution rather than the alleged evidence of a failing one? Should we have faith in crumbling structures? Or must we be willing to excavate, investigate, do the thorough unforgiving work of exploring all the allegations and counter allegations?

Secrecy does not serve transparency. Calls to shield the public treat citizens as if they are children needing protection and fly in the face of the media's job.

I am willing to sacrifice the individuals if the institution is made stronger post investigation. This is the real issue, the test and the challenge. EOCO had already begun an investigation into allegations of misuse of staff endowment funds at the Electoral Commission. They are now tasked to expand that investigation to include these new allegations and counter allegations.

Can we pause again?

The EC is a litmus test for a failing sector, shielding incompetence, corruption, unheeded procedures, glaring loopholes and staff benefiting from such mediocrity.

Change is not easy. Reform isn't either. Pushing procedures where a free-for-all has been the system is a recipe for implosion, explosion and disaster. But disaster is what change feels like when corruption is being replaced with order. There are members of staff who may have enjoyed the freedom of unfettered access to public funds without recourse, challenge or consequence.

What is clear is the rot appears to go deep. Separating individual malfeasance from institutional weakness may be its own challenge.

But it is a challenge we as a society must accept. This is what strong institutional structure looks like.

Do we fire the individual to restore faith in the institution? That is not the result. We should not put an individual's head on the chopping block to evade scrutiny of a crumbling institution. Individuals may go or stay“ the Institution must be stronger for this series of explosive allegations. Processes must stand, work and be engaged irrespective of who sits in the leadership chair. Investigate. Produce results. Require change. Make change. Tighten and eliminate loopholes. Fire the transgressors.

Who knows which individuals will be standing post this process?

Might this very public debacle begin a much needed path to strengthening this institution? The Court of Public opinion will shift its formidable gaze. It always does. The Media will shift its gaze. It always does too.

Maybe Madame Charlotte Osei represents the strong leadership we say we crave. Maybe she is guilty of what she is accused. No verdict from the Media or the court of Public Opinion should be allowed to decide that. Visionary leadership contributes to the strengthening of institutions. Is Madame Osei a visionary leader seeking to reform or a corrupt Chair? Let a thorough investigation decide. The same goes for her Deputy Commissioner accusers and accused.

Visionary leadership means reform. Reform is good. The Electoral Commission cannot be allowed to crumble. That would be bad. We should not sanction dismissal of individuals without thorough investigation into institutional practices and processes amid such allegations. That would be utterly disastrous.

A strong institution that should be the end result.