Thursday, 5 March 2009

On the matter of gov’t size...

Governance is proving to be a tough challenge in Ghana. Former President Kufuor got a sense of that, and I am sure President John Mills despite his executive experience is also realising that the Ghanaian is becoming very enlightened and is increasingly becoming very difficult to lead. Here I am talking about the genuine Ghanaian concerns and expressions of disappointment and frustration, like the one from my friend Ato Kwamena Dadzie, and not opposition politicians.

Aside the Foreign Minister, Mohammed Mumuni’s battles with the opposition which is giving him some bad press, the other major issue ahead of the presentation of government’s financial statement to parliament is the issues surrounding the president’s latest ministerial nominations.

While some have jumped up that the list of 75 as it is today defeats the campaign promise of running a lean government, others have criticised the president for allegedly nominating ‘boys’ with no experience. There are those who are even hoping that President Mills will later apologise to Ghanaians for been unable to keep government size low.

I am happy the public attention on the presidency is coming early in the day, and I get the sense that the presidency and indeed the appointed officials of government are paying attention to the concerns of the people, in order to ensure that the aspirations of the people are not dashed. I am tempted to say that the totality of government would work to meet the pre-election promises, which action will trickle down to the officers and civil servants to learn to stay within budget and not show any disdain to the people.

If the president is moving along with a small team, who are you a minister or deputy or operative to dissipate government funds when moving around. Let’s all be on the look out and once we notice, bell the cat and make sure that such wanton dissipation of funds is checked.

On the substantive issue of the total number of ministers so far sworn in and nominated, how I personally wish we could have a smaller number by scrapping some more ministries and merging some functions. Others have a different view- and with equally strong reasons why these ministries should remain. Having said that, it is not true as I have heard some say that all deputy ministers do is to represent their ministers at functions.

While in some time past, there were deputies like that who clearly couldn’t effectively manage their assigned functions within the ministerial set-up and/or there were some ministers who loved to keep things close and allowed little room for their deputies, many were hard workers. I know many deputies work very hard and many a time are the unsung heroes of their ministries and governments.

The 75 against 88 argument is another dimension to the Mills list and campaign promise some have cited. What many are failing to realise is that when the then opposition and civil society practitioners like myself were complaining about the size of the Kufuor administration, it was not just about the ministers and deputy ministers. Aside these group were countless numbers of Special Assistants who worked with almost all the Ministers and deputies, and Government Spokespersons who were all ranked as deputy ministers.

The Chief of Staff and heads of some agencies all had special assistants whose salaries, support services and accommodation (in some cases) were all borne by government.

Putting that second level aside was the number of high profile persons without any defined job functions at the seat of government (Castle) including Tommy Amematekpor, Gabby Nketiah and others. These large numbers of people were a drain on the national purse and represented what some of us referred to as the unusually large number of the government’s size. Indeed, operatives of the NPP also complained.

The Mills promise of reducing government expenditure has been brought to bear and his pronouncement that his promise to run a lean government has been fulfilled is indeed the case. Just do the math of the totality of the Kufuor team and subtract from the Mills team [adding the publicly named Presidential Staffers with defined job functions] and you’ll see the savings this country is making. Trust me, even if the difference were to be only five (5) persons, the reduced budget available to each of the ministers, effective control and management of State Protocol budget and government travels will surely save this country millions of Ghana Cedis. The value that will be saved on fuel supply alone will be huge.

My only plea is that as has been started, any appointments to the Castle are announced in the spirit of good governance and transparency despite the fact that we’ll criticise. And let’s continue to put in the check. Our screams will surely help stop the president is he has any plans of ballooning the numbers. Never mind the fact that we have a few more ministries and regions without deputies. My candid view is that, the regions do not need deputies. Yes, they do not. And I am only praying that one of these days when I wake up, the president will announce that he has withdrawn the deputies. If we have to satisfy them, the DCE positions are there and many others.

Touching on the Information ministry, the government size debate has hit it hard with some including journalists questioning why two deputies and suggesting that it is because of Zita Okaikwei cannot do the job. But they still go ahead to question if the two young men are the best to do that. My friend Ato put it more mildly when he says maybe it is to correct the Zita mistake and gives glowing praise to Sammy O-Ablakwa and James A-Boateng.
I am only inclined to ask if it was because Jake Otanka, Asamoah Boateng, Dan Botwe and Oboshie Sai were incompetent hence the appointment of many government spokespersons, a deputy minister and spin doctors on payroll.

Government information management is not at the level it was when KTQ was in charge, not even during the days of Spio Garbrah and John Mahama. A lot goes into information management today, and no government will take that lying low, especially when there should be greater collaboration between the Information Ministry and the Tourism ministry in branding and selling the country properly to the outside world. That is why the appointment of a Marketing Communication professional as a deputy to the Tourism Minister for me, is very appropriate.

As I have written elsewhere, I am only looking forward to hard work from the President’s team. They have no reason to fail the president and the people of Ghana including those of us who believe they can do it.

But Mr. President, do not hesitate to remove where necessary.

By S. Xoese DOGBE
Managing Editor- dailyEXPRESS

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