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11.02.2009 Feature Article

A Standard Prescription For Political Office Holders


Vice President John Dramani Mahama said: “I did a good job and did not betray the trust reposed in me. Even if you remain a pauper you feel a certain kind of pureness in you.” The 17 January 2009 edition of the “The Mirror”, a Ghanaian weekly, reported.

The Veep was talking about how he felt about himself as Minister in the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government before it was dislodged by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2000.

It could be argued that this self introspection of Vice President Mahama could serve as food for thought when it comes to selecting people for high public offices.

Vice-President Mahama's prescription should get you pondering about what is and would be topical for the next few weeks in Ghana; the character and orientation of persons to be appointed Ministers of State, District Chief Executives (DCEs) and other public sector executives.

Who then qualifies to be appointed to any of those offices of enormous responsibilities and any other public offices to help to propel the country through its myriads of problems into a middle income country?

Is the country likely to have many “John Dramani Mahamas” who at the end of their service could reflect and say those nice things about themselves as Vice-President Mahama did?

Finding in every appointee the capacity that blends technical skills with intelligence, commitment, party loyalty, patriotism and temperance, among others, is no mean task. Indeed a daunting task for President John Evans Atta Mills.

In making the appointments the President must meet constitutional provisions, which limit him, in the case of State Ministers, to pick 50 per cent of them from Parliament.

He must also ensure some regional balance, satisfy and perhaps pander to whims of certain powerful personalities and groups within the party.

There is also the ruling party and minority parties' cooperation arrangement, if there is any, which must be sealed with positions.

Professor J.R.A. Ayee, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ghana, had observed in an interview with the “Daily Graphic” that “moral and ethical uprightness must feature in the standards besides expertise, qualification and experience”.

He believes that “ministerial position apart from its functions of running the business of government is also a position that mirrored the government and the nation as a whole”.

For Professor Stephen Adei, the Immediate Past Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), “managerial competence and leadership” should guide President Mills in picking his men and women.

“All other variables such as political expediency factors, regional balance and party affiliations are important but incidental to managerial and leadership competence”, he stated.

Professor Adei said it is “short-sighted strategy to put people who are incompetent into positions because they have contributed to your campaign fund or said 'choo boi'”.

In a country where corruption is almost a culture, thus making it possible for a Customs Officer for example in a domestic brawl to brag of having three houses and other movable properties - albeit through underhand dealings.

Where financial and management malfeasance and subterfuges, appear to be submerging the due-process to the glee of 'The Establishment'.

No doubt the national purse is perceived to leak badly because of seemingly intractable conventional inefficiencies in the public sector.

Even the media, supposedly the fourth estate of the realm, is not above board.

Mr Charles Cofie, Chief Executive of Unilever, Ghana Limited, described media practitioners as people, who held “members of all other professional groups and occupations accountable to their professional codes, except themselves”. He was speaking at a media encounter the Company organised.

It is not unlikely, therefore, that a few of the appointees might not be able to bring the needed zest, to propel the country towards the direction of transparent and effective governance that the President is gunning for.

The possibility of appointees being bogged down by the perks of office and their capacities numbed by alluring courtesies and thereby stripping them of the courage and the ideas to break new grounds is real.

What had been the attitudinal and behavioural trends among political office holders that rendered them ineffective and unpopular in the past?

Togbe Dekortsu II, a Sub Chief of Ho, said thorough transparency would be a sine-qua-non for success for every political appointee to reduce the widely held perception that political office holders were generally not trustworthy.

He said in an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that there was some linkage between a politician or political grouping's popularity and perceptions about that individual's or groups' attitude to corruption.

Togbe Dekortsu, who has many years of public service experience, said one could not wish away the fact that a political appointee with a depraved sexual lifestyle and thought to have a penchant for “passing love affairs” would be doing himself and his political grouping no good.

He said morality might be regarded as intangible in evaluating politicians but, it did matter in the eyes of Ghanaians.

It appears from talking to people of different social groupings that there is a large credibility gap between the populace and politicians that warrants additional efforts by politicians to continually explain their programmes and decisions to the people.

For many respondents, every government in Ghana since independence, created its own class of rich people, and left the people poorer over the years.

The consensus among some senior civil servants was that Political Office Holders needed orientation in management, mannerism and general attitudes to enable them to raise performance levels.

On corruption, especially with contract management, the opinion was that, “it does appear sometimes that political expediencies force Political Office Holders to make certain demands-kickbacks”.

The respondents were of the opinion that some funding by the State of political parties might address that issue.

They said some of the political appointees were “gems” who would not make demands on contractors but others were 'overly amenable to corrupting influences'.

If you see the interviews as windows from which you see the politician and his challenges you would appreciate how difficult the job of selection could be.

There would be some protests against some appointees, some understandable but of little substance and need only reassurances from the appointed persons - some of course would be frivolous demanding outright dismissal.

Concerns of the public do matter and matter a lot, though.

The caution to governments is that the inclination to reward people with positions even in the face of public aversion, brushes their sensibilities and they wait with their response during elections.

A GNA feature by Sepenyo Dzokoto

GNA, © 2009

The author has 219 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: GNA

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