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30.01.2009 Feature Article

Transition Actions – An Indecent Haste?

Thanks to the internet, we are able to follow events unfolding in our country Ghana and I could not be more grateful to the clever geeks who made this possible. A lot of us outside Ghana were able to follow the electioneering campaign, the protracted Presidential elections and finally the declaration and swearing into office of a new President. In my case, I even had the opportunity to offer an advice or two on who would form a better government. Alas! What do I know? My recommendation was not accepted. I, however, felt relieved that the outbreak of violence that many feared did not materialise and I guess I am among the many heaving a big sigh of relief.

Thanks again to the internet, I, in particular, have for the first time followed how a new administration takes over from another and I do have mixed feelings about the current process. There is supposed to be a transition team whose membership is drawn from both sides (i.e. the incoming and outgoing governments). Apparently they are supposed to work behind closed doors to effect a smooth transfer. They are expected to treat each other with dignity, civility and respect. In our case this is not so. The incoming transition team is expected to put out as much damaging information as it can about the outgoing to discredit all that it stood for. This is an essential ritual to prepare the ground for a 180o turn from previous policies.

Changing governments peacefully is to be welcome but some of the events unfolding in the last three weeks have taken me back to my student days where the 6 O'clock News used to be dreaded. In the late 1970's and early 80's, 6 O'clock News used to contain orders for this and that person to report to 'Gondar Barracks'. For the subjects of these broadcasts, it was not something to be joked about at all. I think that, collectively, Ghanaians resolved not to go back to those days again when we embraced democratic governance. It is in this vein that I shudder at the present day announcements, purported to be released from 'Osu Abankesiem', that is read during the 6 O'clock News. Some have announced that with immediate effect:

- The IGP and the CDS are relieved of their posts;
- Boards of public sector companies have been dissolved;
- All MCEs and DCEs are to leave their posts; and
- The acting CEO of the DVLA and the head (?) of NADMO have been relieved of their posts.

Coupled with these are newspaper headlines announcing the sacking or dismissal of this or that official: “IGP Fired!”; “and CDS too!” - they screamed. People are enjoying this, but I am not. I am scratching my head and asking: why this indecent haste when, in most of these cases, the replacements have not yet been identified let alone appointed? The quest for an answer took me back to a section of the NDC manifesto that said that within the first 100 days, they will:

“Review and re-constitute the membership of Commissions and Boards, solely on the basis of expertise and competence; eschewing all partisan and familial considerations”.

Have they really, in less than three weeks, been able to do all these whilst still preoccupied with the transition? Wow! This is some efficient government!

In all seriousness, I think some of these actions are reckless, creating an unnecessary vacuum where none should be. Transition should not mean transition at the Presidential level only, but it should mean what it says – transition at all levels of governance. This is why occupants of positions, political appointees or otherwise, should be retained at post until proper handovers are carried out. It is inexplicable that a government, which is yet to have a single minister confirmed, has chosen to paralyse the workings of the state this way.

What we are seeing is the politicisation of the Civil Service, the Police and the Army and this does not augur well for a democracy. We are encouraging short-termism, which is not good for Ghana. Are we saying none of these appointees are good and that the nation can dispense with their services? How come we are treating our folks as if they belong to some sort of occupation army that has suffered defeat? At a time that we are lamenting the poor finances of the nation, are these people going to be handed end of service benefits and how much is it going to cost?

I hear some arguing that the previous government did the same thing and that we are only replacing the current office holders with those who previously occupied them who also replaced others who once occupied them. When are we going to draw a line under all of these? When is someone going to break this cycle of hiring and firing when a government changes from one party to another?

In more matured democracies, a government with a wafer-thin majority, such as this one has, usually take into consideration the sensibilities of the opposition. In an election that was almost a stalemate; the new President would have to be accommodating and skilful to have any of its programmes passed into law. The election that brought the NDC into service (not power as some claim) was no overwhelming endorsement for change. It is therefore vital that the President cultivates the cooperation of the opposition, if not for the successful implementation of its agenda, then for the sake of the nation. There is ample time for everything – for the Ghana @ 50 accounts, for state vehicles to be retrieved, for corruption to be punished. However, ushering in an administration with this amount of witch-hunting, vindictiveness and rancour will only breed antagonism and if it persists, it is my humble suggestion that this government will achieve nothing much for Ghana.

I never thought that if you win elections in Ghana, a new President has to prove himself by transforming into a gladiator, with the mandate as a sword and the constitution as a shield and body armour with which to do battle. I never thought he has to appear in a political amphitheatre ready to slay all opponents to the acclaim of his supporters who play the role of selecting the victims. I am informed that the NPP government also carried out similar exercises but I am not aware of the facts surrounding the haste with which they acted. If this has been the trend, then what sort of progress are we after? Does it not ring hollow when we proclaim that Ghana will attain a middle income nation status by some date?

What we are practising is 'treadmill' politics where a previous government is demonised to such an extent that suddenly they must be forgotten, together with all their policies and all who served it, irrespective of what it achieved for the country. Suddenly those who want to keep their jobs have to demonstrate their loyalty by joining in this fray on the side of the new masters.

What is wrong with taking stock, carrying out honest reviews, fine-tuning and continuity? Apparently, this is not within the Ghanaian political lexicon. So no attempt is made to find out the merits and shortcomings of the new education reforms, but rather even before confirmation, the new education Minister has hinted he plans ditching it. The promise made in the NDC manifesto was to depoliticise education by consulting all stakeholders. Yet not long after winning the elections did Capt Nfodwo proclaim that they will revert to the ill-fated 3-year senior secondary system. The only reason given was that the 4-year SHS was going to be too expensive for parents to bear. Should this be the sole criterion for assessing an education system? Please, please let us not be in such haste.

As I sat down to write this, I have read on 'Modernghana' that there is a transition bill to go before parliament for future transitions. This should be drafted carefully such that wanton termination of appointments is not possible during this period. Ample time, funding and resources should be devoted to the transition exercise such that all questions are answered satisfactorily during this period. The act of giving selective commentary should be avoided until the full transition is carried out. Loose talk, such as that of Ghana 'being broke' should be avoided. We do not live on an isolated island somewhere in the ocean. We are living in times where national economies are inter-linked and no one should be making pronouncements that could result in economic repercussions.

I know there are some who see politics as a blood sport, who may even send me an email or two to decry what I am saying here. I, however, hope that those who understand the rules of the political game are savvy enough to know that it is only a battle of ideas whose sole aim should be to move our country forward. Let these people step forward and take charge to direct pent-up emotions into useful and productive ventures for the advancement of Ghana.

Dr Frank Ohemeng, Manchester, UK

Yaw Ohemeng, Dr.
Yaw Ohemeng, Dr., © 2009

This author has authored 65 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: YawOhemeng

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