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12.02.2009 Feature Article

Ministerial vetting – Principles, Mediocrity & Lawlessness

It is time the standard for measuring proper conduct in, and qualification for public service evolves beyond what is legal and what is not.

The issue becomes not if the conduct of an office-seeker or public office holder passes legal muster; the more probative enquiry should be three-tiered.

First, was the act or inaction- was the omission or commission - consistent with moral precepts? Because moral standards invariably genuflect to religion, and we are not a nation of angels, this hurdle, necessarily, will be the most difficult to surmount. Therefore failure to clear this hurdle must not derail any aspirant to public service.

Failure to pass the next step must necessarily end the aspirations of a public servant. The next inquiry should be: did the actions under scrutiny accord with best practices? Was it principled? Was it ethical; for example, was there a conflict of interest that was disregarded? In my opinion, any seeker after public office – anyone - who will be paid directly from our taxes must, if he fails, immolate himself on the spires of this test. The Article 94 constitutional provisions for Qualification and Eligibility for Parliamentarians, for example, should be the bottom-line and not THE Standard.

Laws, by definition, aim to provide the thresholds below which conduct that infringes on rights, disrupt the harmony, or harms members of the community are proscribed. Standards of conduct in a community, on the other hand, reflect our value system. Oftentimes, they mirror those traits, characteristics and attributes that we place store on; sometimes they capture what we aspire to. We do not aspire to a standard that border on the fringe of what is criminal and what is not. That cannot be the standard for a good citizen, let alone an “Honourable” person. That is a test for criminality not leadership. Ghanaians deserve better leadership standards.

Which is why I find Honourable Mahama Ayariga and the Chairman of the Appointment Committee, Honourable Doe Adjaho's kerfuffles during the ongoing Ministerial vetting exercise repulsive. The former, when confronted by a radio talk show host about allegations against some ministerial nominees, responded that the allegations do not suggest illegal acts. The latter shielded Sherry Ayittey –with quasi-parliamentary procedural maneouvres - when committee members announced their intentions to confront her with the conflict of interest inherent in her dealings with the Divestiture Implementation Committee. She was (is?) a director of Caridem and a 'straw person' for the former first lady.

Further, I am equally uncomfortable with Cletus Avoka's circuitous reasoning to explain away the apparent conflict of interest in seeking the interior ministry portfolio having represented a side in a conflict he may well be required to broker. His actions are not illegal. But there is a potential conflict of interest that should counsel against his choice as the minister nominee for that ministry.

I am aware that under the ethical rubric I propose, a lot of Presidential nominees will fall –plagiarists included. And as well they should! I sincerely hope the President is not misreading the mood of the good people of Ghana. His election signals an involuntary moulting process - a shedding of unhelpful political and governance culture. We are hoping that his conduct will set standards that will be worthy of emulation by subsequent governments. That were Akufo-Addo to succeed him, he will be forced to match and exceed his predecessor.

We will not tolerate anymore the tired refrain “personally he was a man of integrity but the problem was his ministers”. For “ministers”, substitute “wife”, “cabinet”, “party”, “circumstances” ad infinitum, and you will have a different variation of a tired excuse that has been peddled to justify a failure of leadership. That is why it is important that this time around we insist on characters of unimpeachable integrity or something approximating that.

Personally, I believe Akufo-Addo will have been more ambitious and executed a grander vision. He would have loved to leave a grand imprint on our political landscape. The problem is given the legacy of the past NPP administration one cannot be sure whether that will mean another bout of Panem et circenses- Spanish phrase for the proposition that: The government provides leisure for the people to forget inefficient politicians or to escape from a tough reality. Cue football extravaganza, golden jubilee festivities, golden jubilee palaces, national awards orgy… White elephants designed as palliative for the masses even as they are being sucked dry.

In any case, however grand his vision as articulated, there was no escaping that it would have been superimposed on a decaying morality in public service and in the body politic. There was no clear water between himself and the acquisitive and 'property grasping' – never mind property owning – governance philosophy of the past government. Consequently, any grand designs were destined to be fleeting.

Finally, my two-piece on the Jubilee House, convert the Jubilee House into a show-piece state-of-the-art Library and research centre for the nation. Court the private sector for research and academic endowments. Invite intelligentsia and leading lights in academia across the globe to come and deliberate and share their findings and thoughts - to spread a leaven of culture. Use the edifice as a springboard to jumpstart and orient us away from the creeping philistinism. Now, that will be a “Presidential Special Initiative” worth its name. If the nation needs anything, it is not a self-aggrandising place of abode for the “King”.

By Abraham Agbozo

Abraham Agbozo
Abraham Agbozo, © 2009

This author has authored 5 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: AbrahamAgbozo

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