GHANA IN RETROSPECT PART SIX: THE FALL OF BUSIA
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
GHANA IN RETROSPECT 6 THE FALL OF BUSIA
GHANA IN RETROSPECT PART SIX: THE FALL OF BUSIA
Despite the remarkable achievements of Busia in a period of twenty-six months, he was overthrown in a coup d’ etat on January 13, 1972. The architect of the plot from the Fifth Infantry Brigade of the Ghana Army gave a number of grounds: political, social and economic reasons were assigned for Busia’s downfall.
One area which made the government of Busia unpopular was his disregard for a Constitutional Provision making it obligatory for him and his ministers to declare their assets. Twenty six (26) months after coming into office, most of the Ministers had not complied with this provision. This was of course not acceptable to many Ghanaians, more especially, as it was coming from a government which was committed to work within the framework of the Constitution. Besides, Article 61 (4) of the 1969 Constitution provided that no Minister of State, while in office was to hold any other office of profit or emolument, whether public or private and either directly or indirectly.
In November 1971, however, it came to light through the pages of The Spokesman Newspaper that J. H. Mensah, the Minister of Finance, was the Director of Odumasi Farms Ltd. which was in contravention of the Constitution. The Minority in Parliament tabled a censure motion calling on J.H. Mensah to resign for his flagrant disregard for the Constitution; yet, Busia’s government opposed this move by a vote of 81 votes to 24. This made people to harbour the idea that the government had something up its sleeves.
In line with Article 9 of the Transitional Provisions of the Constitution, the government summarily dismissed 568 public servants for corruption, ineptitude and inefficiency in what became known as "Apollo 568". Not only did the exercise cause a stir among the populace, but as a Western trained democrat, the Prime Minister shocked some of his supporters with his radio and TV broadcast on the night of 20 April, 1970 in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in the case, Sallah v. Attorney-General.
E. K. Sallah, one of the victims of "Apollo 568" challenged the legality of his dismissal at the Appeals Court presided over by Mr. Justice Apaloo and had judgment given in his favour. Making reference to what he had read from annotation of cases decided by the US Supreme Court (reference was made to a case: Decatur v. Paulding) Busia made it emphatically clear that ’No court can enforce any decision that seeks to compel the Government to employ anyone”. Though this view was legally admissible, it whipped up opposition against the Administration as Busia’s political opponents claimed it was an affront to the judiciary and dangerous to democratic principles under which the rights of the individual were firmly guaranteed. Moreover, coming from a government that had sprung out of people who had condemned the treatment Nkrumah had meted out against the judiciary in the Adamafio-Ako Adjei-Crabbe treason trial, it was a pronouncement the public least expected.
The removal from office of the editor of the Daily Graphic for being critical of Busia’s stance on the then Apartheid Regime in South Africa was seen as an attempt to stiffle press freedom, which in itself, was against the very Constitution which Busia had sworn to uphold and defend. This drew condemnation from the press and a lot of well meaning Ghanaians.
The PP government also failed to establish a Press Trust though it was widely accepted that this was a basic prerequisite of press freedom in Ghana. Busia’s policy of dialogue with the then Apartheid South Africa did not find favour with many Ghanaians and some African states. The PP government’s stance stood in sharp contrast to the country’s earlier position and that of some African countries on apartheid. He thus attracted criticism from the home front and among some African states. However, later political developments which led to the peaceful abolition of apartheid through all race elections in South Africa on 27 April, 1994 showed Busia’s vision as a statesman who was not only committed to peace but that his political thinking put him streets ahead of his critics.
The introduction of the Student Loans Scheme Act of 1971 under which university students were required to, for the first time, contribute to ’ "maintenance charges" whereas the government took care of tuition had a negative image on the government. The scheme came under sharp criticism from both students and parents who felt it was a total deviation from Nkrumah’s fee-free education policy. Some also argued that the scheme was a ploy by government to shirk its responsibility of educating the country’s citizens at that level.
Moreover, it was not good enough for new graduates to be burdened with debt servicing from the start of their working lives. The result of these criticisms was that the PP became unpopular as both parents and students withdrew their support. The imposition of the National Development Levy on workers when they were already suffering led to confrontation between the labour movement and government." This situation came to a head when the government on September 10, 1971 passed the Industrial Relations (Amendment Act, 1971, (Act. 383) to dissolve the TUC as the central organ of the labour movement.
The seventeen (17) unions which constituted the TUC met on the same day to reconstitute the TUC under its old leadership and with the support of the NUGS (allies of the TUC) which issued a strongly-worded statement to condemn the government, the working class became more defiant and confrontational.
This development led to the perception among workers that the PP government was "anti-worker" and therefore an implacable foe which ought to be removed before it imposed more hardships on workers.
In performing their duties in the wake of the Aliens Compliance Order of 1969 the police went to extremes as they carried out the order in an inhumane manner. This led to loss of lives and properties. The Order thus attracted sharp criticism and statements of condemnation from neighbouring states like Togo, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Nigeria whose nationals were mostly affected. Locally, the aliens won the sympathy of Ghanaians as they attacked the government for not restraining the police from the excesses. Busia’s popularity no doubt suffered a jolt by this Order despite its good intentions.
On December 27, 1971, the cedi was devalued by 43.8 per cent against the US$ to, as explained, "restore balance to the economy, control inflation, stimulate new investments and boost industrial production." However, this policy came with economic hardships to consumers and especially to workers in the private sector.
Production levels in industries started to decline, affecting in the process, employment and wages. For instance, labour strength dropped from 109.6 thousand to 101.1 thousand. The average monthly earnings per employee also dropped from 93.29 to 81.O3 These developments added to the sharp increases in the prices of basic consumer goods and services. To reduce the growing production costs, employers had to lay-off some of their workers with its attendant social problems.
Also, the government imposed an unofficial wage freeze. Wages therefore lagged behind inflation. For example, wage earnings went up by only 4.5% on the 1970 level while the consumer price index shot up to over 90.0% after a brief respite in 1970. Yet the demand by workers for upward adjustment of the minimum wage from NC0.75 to NC1.50 was ignored. This made the working class, mostly in the private sector, clamour for a new government which, in their estimation, would do better despite the fact that the Prime Minister had been forthright in presenting the realities of the state of the economy in a nation-wide radio and TV broadcast on New Year’s Eve, 1971.
The PP government was also accused of corruption and what was seen as opulent life-styles by members of government in the face of economic hardships among the mass of the people. In fact, some members of the administration were seen driving, in the estimation of some members of the public, flashy cars and working in plushy offices, a situation which was considered unacceptable. The 10 per cent cut in the defense budget in 1971 and the subsequent cancellation of some benefits enjoyed by the military won enmity for the government among the military as the leader of the coup d’ etat that overthrew him, Colonel I.K. Acheampong, complained that Busia’s government started taking from the Armed Forces the few amenities and facilities they enjoyed even under the Nkrumah regime.
This, Acheampong claimed, affected the morale of the Armed Forces, to the extent that officers could not exert any meaningful influence over their men. By all consideration however, it could be judged from later developments that the coup was staged to serve the selfish interests of Acheampong and the conspirators as the cut in the defense budget for the military was not cited as having significantly affected the operations of the Ghana Army. More importantly, the fact that Acheampong was believed to have stated that he started planning the coup only six (6) months after Busia had assumed office is an indication that he tried to rationalise an unjustifiable act.
Stay tuned for Ghana in Retrospect Part 7: The National Redemption Council (NRC).
Anthony Obeng Afrane
Writer Social Entrepreneur, Politician
General Secretary of Ghana Writers Asociation (GAW)
Author of ten published titles including
THE AGA OF A POLITICAL GURU