18.09.2005 Feature Article

Toward Employment Equity in Ghana Public Service

Toward Employment Equity in Ghana Public Service
18.09.2005 LISTEN

Ghana is a multicultural country in that it has diverse ethnic, tribal, religious and cultural groups. Some ethnic groups are dominant in the social, economic, and political affairs of the country for three main reasons. First, these groups live in geographical areas endowed natural resources such as diamond, gold, and bauxite and soil type suitable for cultivation of exportable cash crops. Second, these groups live in areas that were originally colonized by the British, where formal education as an instrument of social mobility was introduced. Thus members of these groups were able to avail themselves of the education facilities and obtain educational credentials required for employment and promotion in the public service. Third, other dominant groups live in areas where they benefited from the infusion of European technology and Christian theology that helped them to develop new social institutions and to improve existing ones.

Regions in northern Ghana – Northern region, Upper West, and Upper East- were the only areas that did not enjoy any of these advantages I have cited above. Therefore, Ghana was, and is still, imaginably divided into south and north unequal in economic terms, with the north extremely impoverished and the south enjoying relative economic prosperity. This situation has led to gross disrespect for and stereotype of northerners, though southern economic and social prosperity depends on the cheap labour that the north provides. Not only that, the tanning industry in the north provides essential leather products that Akans use to make their traditional foot-wears. It is also a historic fact that the loom technology that is used to make kente cloths was originally imported from Salaga in the Northern Region.

Nkrumah's regime tried to ameliorate these social inequalities through the introduction of free elementary and secondary education for the north and representational cabinet that reflected the ethnic mix of the country. Successive governments did little or nothing to address the economic and social disparity between the south and the north, with the exception of Rawlings regime that extended the Akosombo hydroelectric power to the north and established university there.

Though the university in the north, the University of Development Studies, is a total failure, it is a project that was long over due. However, it behooves on Rawlings succeeding regimes, including the Kufour regime to develop the University of Development Studies and bring it at par with those in southern Ghana. In particular, the UDS faces a variety of organizational and logistical problems that demand the immediate attention of the government. Today relative to other West African countries mired in protrated ethnic conflicts and wars, Ghana today enjoys peace because of these equalization programs both Nkrumah and Rawlings implemented in the north. This is contrary to popular belief among some Ghanaians that Ghana is stable because Ghanaians are by nature peace-loving peoples. This, in effect, implies that God created Ghanaians as peace-lovers while other West African nationals were created bellicose. Nevertheless, we should take a moral lesson from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther-King's saying that peace is not the absence of war or violence but the presence of justice. The general new item of Thursday, September 2005, reported systemic tribalism in Ghana School of Languages. Dr. Sebastian Bemile, the director of the institute, was accused of Dagarticization of the institution by hiring people of Dagarti extraction into key positions in the institute. Positions ranging from accountant, estate manager, translation officer, purchasing officers, public relations officer, and store keeper to research officer are reported to be Dagartis. It was also reported that Dr. Sebastian Bemile awarded a scholarship inappropriately to Mr. Laconiba Dery to study overseas. From my perspective, this case is symptomatic of a deep problem of employment inequality in our public service. However, it is not by any means an exceptional case that should be singled out and condemned in the harshest language we can command. Different southern ethnic or tribal groups dominate different sectors of the public service in a manner that makes the case in School of Languages pales in comparison. Yet because Dr. Bemile belongs to a minority Dagarti tribal group his tribalistic hiring policy was a trumpetic new item. While I do not condone tribalistic hiring policy and condemn the practice in the most venomous language, tribalistic hiring exists in our public service because of the absence of employment equity policy (EEP). Employment Equity Policy (EEP)will ensure that:

1) The employees of Ghana public service reflect the ethnic/tribal diversity of the country' population, so that no members of one ethnic group are hired out of proportion to its size of the population;

2) Qualified members of certain ethnic/tribal groups, underrepresented in the public services, are given hiring priority; and

3) Barriers to the employment of underrepresented groups such as behavioural, attitudinal, and access that adversely affect the employment of these groups are removed.

Unless EEP is put in place tribalistic hiring policy would continue in the public service. Perhaps Dr. Bemile saw that members of his tribal group were denied employment opportunities in the public service that was why he decided to hire people of his own group in order to equalize with other groups. Nevertheless, EEP is not likely to get the support of Ghanaian meritists who would argue that employment in the public services is based on merit (i.e. skills, education, knowledge, experience, etc.) and objective standards (i.e. interview, applicant personality, reference checks, etc.) in irrespective of tribal, ethnic, cultural, or religious backgrounds. But as a representationist, I strongly believe, based on my experiences and other empirical evidences, that hiring is never an objective process and that employment decisions in our public services should include other factors in order to achieve a representative public service. In fact, as far as human beings are involved in employment decisions some subjectivity is natural and inevitable. Consequently, factors such as the ethnicity or tribal background of applicants in employment decisions would counteract the subjectivity of the process and help attain a public service that mirrors the cultural and linguistic diversity of Ghana.

Ghanaian meritists are also likely to write off my proposed employment equity as a theoretical construct without any practical application. Nonetheless, the status-quo of meritocracy has not helped us either. If anything, it has led to the creation of tribalistic hiring policies not only in the School of Languages, but also in other sectors of the public service. Employment equity policy (EEP) has a high probability of reducing drastically the incidence of tribalism in hiring practices and ensures fairness in the distribution of employment opportunities. Guided by the norms of employment equity as I have outlined above, a properly constituted commission could draw up an employment equity policy that would shape hiring practices in the public service. Y. Fredua-Kwarteng, OISE/University of Toronto.