I am writing in regards to the a business news story published on Ghanaweb on Tuesday, 02 March 2004 titled "Ghana pays $300,000-a-year to "Mother of AGOA"
This story, while informative, does not educate the reader on "ex-officio" lobbying/consulting, nor shed much light on the value that such lobbyists, consultants, or experts bring to the market place. The article also provided no context for the reader to compare and contrast Rosa Whitaker with "ex-officio" lobbyists at large. Neither does it make any mention of systems, the role of the lobbyist, consultant, or expert in systems engineering, as well as, the benefits of using such people when dealing with any complex system. In my attempt to address these issues, I'd like to share the following story...
A Business Case for Outsourcing "Expertise"
A manufacturing company was experiencing some problems at one of their production plants. They stood to loose hundreds of thousands of dollars each day that the plant was not operational, so they decided to seek outside help. One of the managers suggested they hire the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who had designed, installed, and serviced the equipment years earlier, but was overruled by his boss because of the high fee they would have to pay the OEM.
The boss then decided that they should use their own engineers to do the job. This, he felt, would save some money. Since none of the company's engineers had dealt with this specific problem before, they pored over manuals, brainstormed, and tinkered with the machinery. They were able to get the plant somewhat operational. After two days and several reports later, the engineers still couldn't get the plant working at full capacity. In those two days, the company lost almost $120,000. Under pressure, the boss caved in and called the OEM, who then dispatched an expert engineer to address the problem.
The expert arrived and was taken to see the machinery. After inspecting the machinery, the expert asked one of the engineers to open a small compartment and to carefully clean it. After putting it back together, the expert asked the engineer to flip the switch, and presto... the plant was fully operational again. It had taken him only 25 minutes to do what three engineers couldn't' do in 2 days.
A few days later, the boss received the bill from the OEM for the work done - $11,000. Furious, he called the OEM and asked for an itemization of the charges on the bill. "Your expert was here for less than an hour, and he only gave instructions while my men did all the work, so why am I paying you $11,000?" he yelled into the phone. That same afternoon, a courier dropped off the itemized bill from the OEM. It read:
Cost of service performed ------------- $1000 (1hr or fraction thereof)
Cost of knowing what to service ---- $10,000
Grand Total ------------------------------ $11,000
At times, you've got to pity the man who can't see the big picture.
A Simplified Explanation of "Ex-Officio" Lobbying/Consulting
That the US leads the rest of the world in many fields is unquestionable. What makes this supremacy possible may be subject to debate. However, it is undeniable that the US supremacy is in large part due to leveraging the knowledge and expertise of the best and the brightest. Here is how it usually works. Some of the best and brightest in the private sector get recruited, appointed, or elected into public office, where they apply their knowledge and expertise to engineer new systems or fine tune what's already in existence. Once these people emerge from government service, they bring even more value to society by leveraging the aggregation of knowledge they have accumulated from both the private and public sectors. What makes them so valuable after their government service is their understanding of SYSTEMS, specifically, how the US governmental system works.
They become lobbyists for countries, corporations, and special interest groups seeking to influence US government policy favorable to their interests. Your personal view of ex-government employees as lobbyists, experts, or consultants who leverage their expertise not withstanding, if you're a developing country, a corporation, or a special interest group seeking to do business in America or influence American public policy favorable to your interests, you had better learn how to take advantage of such expertise. To put it mildly, these are simply some of the best and brightest, the most connected to the US power structure (whether in the public or private sector), and the most knowledgeable about how the system works. Each year, the Chinese, Israeli and many other countries spend millions of dollars on lobbyists for good reason.
As with any system, there is the potential for abuse. And some ex-government employees have walked that fine line for years. For example, the current US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who served as Secretary of Defense under George Bush Snr., joined Halliburton, a defense contractor, and made millions after he was out of office. It has been reported that Cheney continues to receive up to $1 million a year in "deferred compensation" from Halliburton to this very day! (See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,912515,00.html). Hence concerns by The Center for Responsive Politics that Rosa Whitaker is blatantly leveraging her expertise and credentials must be viewed within the context of the "ex-officio" lobbying world.
The High Cost of the Blind Leading the Blind
Developing countries like Ghana should know when to use the services of an expert, and when not to. In the case of AGOA, paying Rosa Whitaker $300,000 a year is a bargain given the potential return on investment that could be realized. I said "could be realized" because even an expert can't guarantee success. It will be up to us to follow through with the expert's recommendations in order to reach our goals.
Experts can help engineer systems for achieving your objectives. Locally, the many projects around Ghana alone that have either been abandoned, uncompleted, or failed because of lack of proper planning, inadequate needs assessment and/or funding among other things, underscore the need for the necessary expertise with a PROVEN track record who can apply their knowledge to help build the necessary systems for planning and managing such projects successfully. We may agonize over paying the right expert $300,000 a year, only to loose $30 million or more by doing it some other way (the case of the blind leading the blind). Building successful systems require people with the requisite experience, who understand how systems work.
The Role of the Expert in Systems Engineering – i.e. Ghana Soccer
Let us examine the role of experts in engineering a viable system. Let me use the development of Ghana soccer as an example… No one can deny the abundance of raw football talent in Ghana. Yet, Ghana has consistently underperformed, and has never qualified for the World Cup. These days, we can't even qualify for the African Cup. Why? This is due mainly to the lack of a PROVEN system. Building such a system requires expertise and the willingness to pay for it. The system must identify talent, nurture it, develop it and then “serve it up” to the public. Countries like Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria understood a long time ago that you must hire a proven expert, pay him well and then get the hell out of his way so he can do the job.
But in Ghana, we're too smart for our own good. There is always someone who will complain that the cost of procuring such an expert to build the system is too high. So we end up doing things the easy way. And the results always speak for themselves. A cursory study of the earnings of African footballers indicate that those coming from teams that participated in the World Cup get paid higher because of their perceived added value. Furthermore, players from such countries are always in higher demand by world class teams regardless of whether a specific player actually played on that country's World Cup team. The great thing about using an expert to engineer a system is that long after the expert is gone, the system will continue to deliver the goods, since the knowledge infused into the system by the expert becomes part of that system. Again, one has only to look to Cameroon and Nigeria's football programs. Ghana can engineer such a system by investing in a capable expert for about five to eight years. What is $50 million over 5 years when compared to the potential return of $200 million - 500 million over the long haul? But this article is not about football, so I digress...
Putting the Pieces Together
To conclude, not every problem requires the services of an expert, a lobbyist, or consultant. Yet, the benefits of using the services of an expert far exceed the costs, when you take into consideration that they can help you build a SYSTEM that delivers the goods – whether it is about trade with the US, engineering an IT Infrastructure, or building a system to harness the raw talent of our budding footballers. What is $300,000 a year, when the potential exists to create value worth a hundred times over?
Ghana must make a concerted effort to court and pay lobbyists/consultants/experts with a PROVEN track record to help us build our own systems or to navigate complex systems that we may not fully understand. Rosa Whitaker fits the bill when it comes to AGOA. The $300,000 being paid her is peanuts compared to what she brings to the table. And since she is the "Mother of AGOA" she would know her "baby" better than any body else. According to the story that prompted my rejoinder, Rosa Whitaker "had helped Ghana become the second African country to sign a special trade and investment framework agreement with the United States. The deal, signed in 1999, aimed to reduce trade barriers." This, to me, is a good thing.
By the way, since the first AGOA legislation was signed into law in May 2000, the United States has become sub-Saharan Africa's largest single-country export market, accounting for more than one-fifth of the region's total exports. Ghana must leverage experts like Rosa Whitaker to increase trade with the US, as well as help influence favorable changes to future AGOA amendments. Walter Kwami is an IT Infrastructure and Systems Engineering consultant living in Quincy Massachusetts and can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.