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19.11.2008 Feature Article

From my rooftopFixing square pegs in round holes

From my rooftopFixing square pegs in round holes

While delivering a lecture to mark the 10th anniversary of the Central University College in Accra on Tuesday, October 21, 2008 Mr Kwame Pianim, a very respected economist, made an observation which cannot be glossed of over.

The eminent economic consultant, while talking on the topic, "Training transformational leaders; Paradigm shift in tertiary education; developments in the national economy; implications for tertiary education", called on the government to ensure that persons appointed to chair the boards of state enterprises were competent and had the requisite expertise for such positions.

He did not mince words when he acknowledged that until the government learns to put round pegs in round holes, the state enterprises will continue to perform below expectation.

Closely related Pianim's observation is that of Professor James Hawkings Emphraim, the Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University at Fiapre in the Brong Ahafo Region.

While addressing the 48th annual conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), Prof. Emphraim also raised issue with the mode of appointment to very important positions in the public service.

Very often, he said, those appointments were based on loyalty to the appointing authority, not ability and competence. What that means is that while the loyalists who are deficient get the job qualified and competent people remain on the sidelines.

We all know the story of state enterprises.

They are all associated with inefficiency, mismanagement, losses, low profit returns and in extreme cases, total bankruptcy. In all cases, the prescriptions have been the same - bring foreign management consultants, download government shares or do an outright sale of the enterprise.

While we all seem to know the problems and are ready to offer solutions, we pretend not to know their causes, and even if we know, we are not bold enough to confront them in a pragmatic manner.

Over the years, the fate of most state enterprises had hung perilously on the shoulders of men and women in political power.

Going by what may be described as Mr Pianim's lamentations, most members of boards are appointed without consideration for expertise, dedication and commitment.

It is not only questionable, the membership of the boards sometimes the management staff may not be the best, but somehow they find their way into top management positions via routes other than qualification, competence or expertise.

Most of the state enterprises which have col1apsed or have found their way into the waiting hands of foreign companies could have been money spinning enterprises offering employment to our professionals but for interference from the powers that be. This is the naked truth we have been shying away from.

Ghana Airways, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation, Tema Food Complex and many others that have been divested of and Ghana Telecom in which Vodafone International recently acquired a 70 per cent share are just a few of the state enterprises that could have been making it big if only they had been left in competent hands without governmental interference which made them operate more or less like extensions of the ministries or as appendages of somebody's private business empire.

There are many Ghanaians whose competencies are not under question but who never come near certain public positions because they are achievers who will not compromise their principles and objectives for charitable favours. The few who get certain positions on merit realise, sooner than later, that the appointing authorities, are not going to leave them alone to perform according to the demands of the office.

There are many foreign companies operating here that are being managed by Ghanaians creditably. Mr Ishmael Yamson, for many years the Chairman of Unilever; Mr Kobina Richardson of the then Pioneer Tobacco Company now Brit1sh American Tobacco and the largely known Sir Dr Sam Jonah of Anglogold Ashanti fame, are some of the personalities in industry who have made this country proud.

They derived their appointment purely on merit and they remained in office because of their performance and not because of bootlicking. They were given set targets and all the necessary support to achieve those targets. There was no excuse for failure and they did not offer any. So who says our state enterprises cannot perform in the same way if the right things are done?

There are many young men and women with the requisite qualifications and expertise who can do wonders for this country if given the opportunity. Unfortunately because they do not respond to certain names or wear particular party badges, they may never get the chance to put their talent to the test. Unfortunately, we think the remedy for such a self-inflicted damage to our national development lies in foreign consultants who come to fleece us without responding to our needs.

It is one thing expecting our state enterprises to perform profitably and efficiently and another saddling these enterprises with the wrong leadership. In many ways, we have sacrificed the prowess of our state enterprises and that of the nation on the altar of cronyism, favouritism, blind loyalty and nepotism.

Both Mr Pianim and Prof. Emphraim cannot be wrong on the same matter. Our abiding faith in foreign consultancy firms stems from the fact that we do not want to use the local expertise that is available in abundance. Most often, we are torn between the national interest and individual and parochial interests and whenever we have our own way, we go for the latter.

We will be on the way to progress if we utilise the human resource at our disposal to the fullest in the national interest, against all interests.

Credit: Kofi Akordor, Daily Graphic

Kofi Akordor
Kofi Akordor, © 2008

This author has authored 11 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KofiAkordor

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