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10.11.2008 Feature Article

Are our structures of governance suitable?

Are our structures of governance suitable?

The various party manifestos can be criticised from many viewpoints. But on the whole, they are acceptable if only the proposals can be implemented. To borrow from Disraeli, they are organised opinions, and the public would generally applaud their own expectations.

Many have, however, questioned the availability of resources, both human and material, to implement the plans of the parties. But the all important question which is hardly raised is the ability of the administrative machinery to facilitate implementation.

To illustrate my point, let us recall a matter which hit the headlines recently and unnecessarily created some bad publicity for the government.

As one who is interested in the proper and lawful use of land, whether it be Ga Dangme lands or Achimota School land, I was pleased to read the statement by the Ministry of Lands and Forestry that "government had no plans to sell or dispose of the only greenbelt in the metropolis".

It was a positive and most welcome statement. I sighed with relief that the government of the land was at long last determined to halt the rapid deterioration of the metropolis into a conccrete jungle.

As one who also believes that the administrative structures and public institutions greatly determine the efficient implementation of plans and policies, I was interested in the events which led to the misinterpretation of the government policy on Achimota Forest.

I realised that this public misunderstanding was mainly due to a faulty administrative structure.

The misunderstanding arose following a petition from the Nii Owoo Family requesting the ministry to return some acquired land to them. According to the petition, "the land was originally acquired in 1927 under the Public Ordinance Certificate Title No 22d/1927 for the construction of Achimota School".

The ministry in a press statement stated that "this was after the Owoo Family had failed to convince the Accra High Court to return the land to them on the grounds that compensation was not paid for the acquisition but records available at the Lands Commission show that compensations were paid in respect of all acquisitions made during the colonial administration".

If this is the case, why then did the ministry write to the Lands Commission for advice?

Strangely, the statement continued that as a result of a request from the ministry, "The Lands Commission is still consulting with the stakeholders including the Forestry Commission, Town and Country Planning Department and the Environmental Protection Agency on the petition."

It is this factious consultation which gave rise to the rumours which questioned the government's re-forestation policy. Things appear to have greatly changed since the "bad old days" when I was in the civil service. At that time such a petition would first be handled by the assistant secretary or even by a more junior officer. He would make the appropriate contacts by telephone or personal calls. In this particular case, he would, if necessary, contact the National Archives office.

He would then obtain a copy of the proceedings and judgement dated between June 27 and 29, 1992 in the matter of Achimota Land acquired by the Government of the Gold Coast colony under certificate of Title No. 869/1921.

The judgment would be found interesting especially when some governments justify their reluctance to return lands on the grounds that it is not clear to whom compensation must be paid.

To continue with the young civil servant's research, he would interestingly find the letter below:

Owoo Street

Usher Town, Accra.

June 24, 1922,

Sir,

In the matter of Achimota land acquired by the Government of the Gold Coast colony under certificate of Title No. 869/1921. We, the undersigned claimants for compensation under the public land. Ordinance in respect of the above mentioned land hereby agree to accept the sum of four thousand pounds (£4,000) in full satisfaction of all claims which we now have or may hereafter have against the Government of the said Colony for such compensation as aforesaid.

We have the honour to be Sir,

Your Obedient Servant

(George Owoo)

Head of Owoo Brothers and Family S. W. Tettey for Oku We Family.

The officer would then submit a draft reply to the petitioner. His superiors would then approve it with or without amendments and a formal reply would be dispatched. With such a formal petition the minister would see the reply before dispatch.

These days however - and I do not mean today but for some time now - the original letter is likely to go to the minister who would give directives. Civil Servants have by experience through the years learnt not to make any comments or diligent study.

The results of study or comments may not please the minister who may wish to handle the matter "carefully" because the petitioner is an important party member or a relation.

Facts and policies no longer determine action and the role of the civil or public servant is, therefore, often found obstructive by some ministers. These ministers prefer that functionaries near them are those they believe they can trust. The administration of ministries is, therefore, made top heavy often by highly educated but untutored personnel who are party supporters or sympathisers.

The American system is often cited as an example for this practice. Our Constitution is a hybrid between the American and the unwritten British Constitution and we do not know which practice to adopt.

This is the time to learn something about American practice which we wrongly copy. Whoever won the American elections would bring in his selected staff to occupy key positions.

What we do not seem to realise is that the people brought in have been actively engaged in relevant disciplines. They might have left government office with President Clinton, but they would have been engaged in relevant institutions and academia.

In Ghana when political aides leave office, they scatter far and wide; they have to seek whatever means of livelihood is available. When a new government is installed, the political aides brought in often do not lack only the appropriate knowledge but also the requisite in-depth familiarity with recent events.

We have to face the problem. Do we need so many political appointees in the ministries? If we must borrow from the American System, do we do so blindly or judiciously? In our circumstances we may do well to maintain and promote civil service institutions with character and memory which are 'manned by competent men and women, conscientiously carrying out the policies of the party in power but with an abiding loyalty to the state of Ghana?

With regard to the Office of the President in particular, do we need a Chief of Staff and if we do, how does he relate to the Minister of State and the Civil or public servants in the President's office?

The past should throw some light on this matter. In the First Republic, the President was assisted directly by an officer who was both the Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service. We may find some similarities between his role and that of the Chief of Staff.

An important difference was that the civil service especially regarded the Secretary as their senior colleague who advised and co-ordinated their work with the aim of promoting government policy and assisting the President. The Secretary also worked closely with ministers to ensure that cabinet functioned smoothly and effectively and that its decisions were implemented.

It may be wondered how a subordinate civil servant, however highly placed as Secretary to the Cabinet, could co-ordinate the work of ministers. It was simple because policies were clear. The same is true of civil servants in the ministry. If policies are clear and the aim is to act within the rules and a well-defined system, then it is easy for civil servants to work effectively and assist ministers to achieve the aims of government.

And so let our would-be leaders and their parties give some time to the running of the government machinery. Are they going to be mesmerised by systems in foreign lands to the extent of copying them blindly, or are they going to study our past and establish a machinery and institutions which satisfy our needs?

Our present crop of civil servants and public officers know much more and are better equipped to handle the nation's administrative machinery than we were:

But the system creaks mainly because of the shortcomings of our political leaders and the resultant adhoc procedures which inter alia breed indiscipline. This is the time to establish the administrative structures and procedures which will facilitate the implementation of party plans and manifestos.

MyjoyOnline
MyjoyOnline, © 2008

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: myjoyonline

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