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09.02.2003 Feature Article

Our Parliamentary System And Productivity

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Roughly two weeks ago, Kofi Aduku wrote a remarkable article articulating the statutory basis for a review of our constitutional democracy. In a functioning democracy he argued, the separation of powers and authority is paramount, but we do not currently have that in Ghana. Rather, we have a system that somewhat merges the Executive with the Legislature.

In this current system, we run the risk of the potential of a rubber-stamping Legislature even if Parliament is evenly divided. If we ever end up with a ruling party having an overwhelming majority in Parliament, the President will really have the Legislature eating out of his or her palm because most of the voting Parliamentarians have allegiance to the president who appointed them to cabinet positions. Needless to say, that needs to be improved.

For those who care less about statutory matters, there is a critical flaw in this system that is of a major concern. This flaw has to do with the functionality, or lack thereof, that is attributable to the inherent merging of the Executive and the Legislature. It places so much on ministers of State that, try as they may, they could not possibly be productive.

I once witnessed this first hand. I arrived in Ghana, and called one of my Minister friends. “Oh, when did you arrive,” he asked. “Yesterday.” “We have to meet before you go back,” he said. To that I concurred, and proceeded to set an appointment with him. Upon arriving at his office, I signed in and waited at the reception. The next I heard was his receptionist running up to me to announce that the Minister was leaving for Parliament because he had been called to an emergency session. Homeboy had completely forgotten about our appointment. When I caught up with him at the foot of the stairway, he was genuinely apologetic, but you could tell his haste to get to Parliament.

He is not alone. I know of a couple more of these hardworking, and I mean hardworking Ministers of State. From Monday through Friday, they shuttle between their respective ministries and Parliament so much so that they are impossible to pin down to discuss anything meaningful with.

Then over the weekend, they travel to their respective constituencies to meet with their local elders and constituents in order to measure their concerns and priorities. With air travel almost nonexistent, you can imagine the toll that their weekly road trips put on them. Then on Monday, they start all over again. And these are the people we did not want to equip with vehicles.

Believe it or not, this system costs us dearly. In the business community here in Houston, Texas, most decision-makers easily tell you that they get better responses to their proposals from Nigerian Ministers than they get from their Ghanaian counterparts. The hasty conclusion is that Nigerians understand business better than we do. But the real reason is that the Nigerian system of government does not constrain their ministers as much as ours do. In many cases, a simple follow-up phone is hard to find, and that is because these Parliamentarian/Ministers are simply overworked.

We must understand that a worker is as successful as the tools or systems he or she uses. It is no coincidence that the first English colonists, who conceivable had the same work ethics and culture as their relatives back in England succeeded in building a more developed country in United States, albeit with the help of many other nationals, than their original country. The system of government here, while not perfect, simply works because it enhances productivity.

In today’s business environment, competition is the key. If I am trying to decide where to build a factory outside United States to avoid high labor cost and taxes, chances are, I would look at more than one options. And if I am dealing with two different ministers, and one returns my calls and e-mails promptly while the other keeps me waiting because he is constantly hauled to parliament, my decision gets significantly easy to make.

There is quite a resistance to anything American in Ghana, especially when it comes to systems. It is hard to avoid hearing the phrase “this is not America – it will not work here.” Curiously, we did not say that about the dollar; we did not say that about rap music; we did not say that about men with earrings. Why do we then think a system that separates the three main arms of government and promotes checks and balances will not work in Ghana?

When we place individuals at the head of our ministries, we have the right to demand productivity from them. We, however, have to set them up for success. Our current system almost assures ineptitude, and that is not because those individuals are themselves inept, but because the system makes it extremely hard for them to be successful. When you consider all of the above, and you assess the current level of work that the current crop of ministers are doing, you have to give them a lot of kudos.

Jermaine Nkrumah
Jermaine Nkrumah, © 2003

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JermaineNkrumah

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