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The place of moral rights in public discussions [Opinion]

By: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi

Professor Ransford Van Gyampo of the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana is reported to have accused the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of having no moral right to speak on the Delta Force 8 saga.

In his view, the NDC had once signed a petition, which ultimately led to the remission of sentence for three sympathisers of the party – who made very unfortunate comments about some Justices of the Supreme Court.

In his view, for the opposition and minority in Parliament to comment on a similar assault on the judiciary is nothing but political hypocrisy.

This statement got me thinking. Is there a role for moral rights in public affairs and discussions? Certainly, the notion of moral rights does not lend itself to any easy definition.

But in everyday conversational terms, when one says to the other “you do not have the moral right” to do or say something, it could simply mean that because of your past utterances, actions or conduct, it is generally unacceptable for you to adopt a particular stance or decision.

So, Professor Gyampo might have meant that because of the NDC’s previous conduct and utterances, especially in throwing their weight behind the Montie 3 who said unpleasant things about the Supreme Court panel, they [the minority] have no right to comment on the release of the eight individuals who were arrested for disturbing the peace around the courts.

But how far can one take this concept of moral rights? Let’s face it; politicians are not consistent in their actions and in their ways. Or to be more charitable, politicians, political parties and other actors are entitled to change their minds and stances on issues every now and then. There is virtually no exception to this rule.

We hear politician after politician recant their views when faced with the reality.  They are usually the ones quick to allege that they have been taken out of context.

But the idea of having an opposition is to provide an alternative view of things – not some of the time but all the time. After all, we all don’t think alike. There is no obligation on a political party to be consistent all along the way. That is not humanly possible; and in the case of organizations whose members and directing minds experience frequent changes, this is more so very difficult.

So my view is this – saying someone or group does not have the right to speak or pronounce on a particular issue is of no relevance in public debates and discussions.

There is no form of “estoppel” barring a political party, which acted in a particular way on Monday morning from changing its mind on Tuesday evening.

And if we were to adhere to this standard, then no political party will be worthy of contributing to any public discussion.

As at the time of writing this piece, I am in a dark room. All I hear around me is the sound of generators from my neighbours.

Dumsor was one of the big issues in the previous elections. The current administration made a lot of capital out of it. They accused the previous government of incompetence and being clueless on the solutions to the energy crisis.

Is the minority entitled to speak on this issue? Considering the fact that they were in government for the last eight years?

Without a shred of doubt, yes. So long as the issue is of a public nature and involves the determination of who gets what, when and how, even the most discredited of voices in the land has the right to express his opinion and if possible go to the full extent of demonstrating and assembling to make his point.

That in fact is a constitutionally guaranteed right and except in very limited instances cannot be detracted from.

We have seen corruption in the previous administration. We will see corruption in the current administration. We have seen arrogance in the previous administration. We will see arrogance in the current administration.

We have seen politically sponsored disturbances under the previous government. We have already seen instances of that under the current administration. We have seen incompetence in the previous administration. We are likely to see the same thing in the current administration.

The current administration said a lot about the size of the previous government only to  turn around and have more ministers.

Are all the relevant actors in the system supposed to keep quiet simply because of some previous act? The system has a way of checking itself.

There is no value in accusing or alleging that someone does not have the moral right to make a suggestion or contribution on a particular issue.

The Ghanaian voter is discerning enough to understand the situation and determine what to do.

It is therefore a difficult proposition to say that persons cannot comment on public matters because they do not have the moral right to do so.

Note: The Writer is a Barrister and a Columnist for the Mirror Newspaper. This article was first published in this weekend’s edition of the paper and Graphic Online portal.

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