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15.04.2003 Feature Article

A Muddle of a Shuffle

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If the purpose of the recent cabinet reshuffle was to enhance the focus of government and improve the quality of governance, then someone made some serious miscalculations somewhere. For the reshuffle reflects more of a presidential whimsy than a reasoned assessment of government and how best to run it. Consequently, with few exceptions, the reshuffle will almost certainly impede, rather than enhance, the coherent and efficient implementation of government policies. Worst, given the additional costs it involves, it could needlessly strain an already over-stretched national budget and sabotage the government's own efforts at fiscal rectitude, macroeconomic stability and economic growth. Consider the case of the re-incarnated Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (whose minister, incidentally, has the unenviable task of reining in government spending at the same time that his boss is blithely adding more layers to a bloated government bureaucracy). Long before the reshuffle, the existence of the Ministry of Economic Planning (and Regional Cooperation) alongside the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) was deemed a costly duplication of functions by two government institutions. This was because in the transition to constitutional rule in 1992, the economic planning wing of the then Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning had been cleaved off and transformed into the NDPC under the Office of the President. The change was in response to criticisms by experts that national development had been too narrowly focused on economic issues to the virtual exclusion of others. The new commission's work, therefore, was to cover not only economic planning but also planning for social and political development. Economic planning thus became a sub-category of national planning. In 2000, the NDC government formed the Ministry of Regional Economic Co-operation and Integration to, in its words, "infuse a new dynamism into our regional integration efforts". The OAU had been urging such a ministry to speed up the economic integration of Africa. In 2001, upon assumption of office, the NPP renamed the young ministry the Ministry of Economic Planning and Regional Integration, seemingly oblivious to the functional redundancy it was creating. The government even went so far as to place the NDPC, which has a wider scope of planning responsibilities, under the Ministry of Economic Planning and Regional Integration, whose only planning function was economic.
Now, with the cabinet reshuffle, the question arises as to who is in charge of economic planning in Ghana - the re-invented Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (according to the president's wishes), or the National Development Planning Commission (which answers directly to the President and has the constitutional mandate to conduct such planning)?
Only time will tell. A better approach, however, would have been the outright dissolution of the Ministry of Economic Planning (minus the Regional Cooperation section) and the transfer of its resources to NDPC, which, despite its centrality in national development, remains one of the most under-resourced agencies in government. (Several of the staff trained at considerable public expense both at home and abroad have either quit the Commission in recent years and either joined the private sector or left the country completely due to poor conditions of service).
The creation of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation and NEPAD (the so-called New Partnership for Africa's Development) is at once commendable and laughable. It is commendable because it reaffirms the importance of regional cooperation, and one hopes that the government would use it to vigorously pursue such noble objectives as the common West African currency. But it is laughable because it elevates NEPAD, a dubious framework for continental development, to the level of a ministry.
There is such a disparity between what the NEPAD document actually says and what our leaders claim it will do for us that one often wonders if these leaders have seriously read what amounts not to a partnership for Africa's development but a convoluted covenant for continental servitude. (Expect a separate discussion of NEPAD in a subsequent article).
The creation of a Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City has generated perhaps the most controversy, and rightly so.
You see, the problem with Accra is not that it didn't have a national minister. Rather, Accra's problems lie in the fact that over the years it has been a disproportionate beneficiary of national resources and, as a result, it has also been a disproportionate victim of the vices of unplanned development (or "mis-development,") such as reckless urbanization, over-crowding, homelessness, poor sanitation, crime, and environmental degradation, to name just a few.
By singling out Accra for even more preferential national treatment, the president perpetuates the kind of policy follies that got Accra into its current state of arrested development in the first place and left the rest of the country no better.
What plagues Accra also plagues metropolitan areas like Kumasi, Cape Coast, Sekondi-Takoradi, and Tamale, only on a smaller scale. What we need, therefore, are not more of the same Accra-is-Ghana-and-Ghana-is-Accra policies but effective urban and reg! ! ional planning throughout Ghana. That's how you promote national development.
Another ministry that could use some organizational realignment but got none was the Ministry for Women and Children's Affairs. Originally named the Ministry of Women's Affairs, it was so re-named after pressure from children's advocacy groups. But even the new name proved inadequate. What about the role of fathers or husbands in the family?
With overall government policy aimed at poverty reduction, the focus of this ministry should not be on women and children only, but also on fathers and husbands and more broadly the family unit. No matter how much empowerment women attain, the fact remains that a single-parent family is more likely to be in poverty than does a two-parent family.
A Ministry for Women and Family Affairs would thus be a better name, making it possible to focus on the special needs of women and still allow for issues about husbands or children and their fathers.
One change in the re-shuffle that has produced not disagreement but disappointment is the transfer of the minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu., to the new Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Considered the "Smooth Operator" of the Kufuor Team, this soft-spoken and purposeful minister has quietly but admirably carried out some of the most comprehensive reforms in local government in years. His decision to have all 110 districts publicize their financial records in order to promote transparency and accountability provides a model that the national government should emulate.
Baah-Wiredu is one of those rare government officials whose managerial skills make them ideal for any position in government, and there is no doubt that he will do for his new ministry what he did at his previous one, regrettable though his transfer may be. Contrary to what some commentators have said, having education and youth development under one roof does in fact provide a good synergy for developing the skills needs of the economy.
The only recommended change for future reshuffle would be that the sports department, which is known more for its financial scandals than its sport achievements, should be thoroughly reformed and made into a stand-alone ministry. It can be better monitored for performance this way.
Other reconfigured ministries, such as the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Special Presidential Initiatives, appear more as whimsical oddities than damnable organizational misalignments. Nevertheless, the ease with which a president can form and re-form (or de-form or even deform) such ministries with seeming disregard for their financial costs to the nation should be a matter of grave concern for parliament, the guardian of the nation's purse.
There is no justification, for example, for inserting "special presidential initiatives" into an existing ministry, with its consequent costs of reorganization, when a simple secretariat would have been enough.
Perhaps we should consider a constitutional amendment that would require parliamentary approval of any presidential acts (reshuffle or otherwise) that have significant financial implications for the nation. Under such an amendment, a president would be required to submit his proposed actions to parliament, complete with cost-benefit justifications, and to explain how he intends to finance them within the prevailing financial constraints of government.
Finally, the notion that more ministers (in whatever guise) is somehow equivalent to making government work better does not reflect the true challenges of development in Ghana today. Those challenges are largely lack of adequate resources, both human and otherwise.
Two years ago, when I asked a senior planner at NDPC for a simple piece of information on the Ghanaian economy, it took him three days to get me the information because his antiquated computer wouldn't work. In fact, he had to make the journey from the Commission's offices at Flag Staff House all the way to the Ministry of Finance where a friend did him the favor of printing the one-page information!
Such are the frustrations and challenges of development management in Ghana. Creating more bosses, instead of resources, for the foot soldiers of national development is akin to running strips of plaster across a cancerous sore that really needs surgery.
We should know better. And we should do better.
Next article: "And Deliver us from NEPAD"



Isaac Nii-Moi Thompson
Isaac Nii-Moi Thompson, © 2003

The author has 11 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: IsaacNiiMoiThompson

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