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17.02.2009 General News

From my Rooftop: A tale of courtesy calls

By myjoyonline

Every season has its peculiarities. Election 2008, with its suspense, fear and anxiety, is over. So soon, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, who just yesterday had been pronounced dead while in faraway South Africa, the man who was sighted in a prayer camp in Nigeria looking for God's intervention in his presidential bid, the man some of whose own political party members declared could not go through a vigorous and rigorous political campaign because of his so-called failing health, the man whose victory was to spell the death of some people on a hit list, has suddenly become the centre of attraction.

Since his inauguration on January 7, 2009, the length of the queue on his corridors is not seeing any sign of reduction, with all manner of individuals and groups making a daily journey to the Castle to congratulate the President and the Vice-President on their new positions as the two most powerful men in the country and to wish them well in their new endeavours.

Every new arrival at the Castle means a new set of demands and expectations that the President should factor in his policies and programmes. The visitors vary from business people, trade unionists, religious bodies, traditional rulers to foreign diplomats. Everyone wants to be seen and recognised.

The visits are necessary because this is the right time to express one's allegiance to the new 'king' and to erase any doubts about one's loyalty, especially as it could be recognised that during the electioneering many things were said and done by people who behaved as if they could predict the future. The visits also serve as a morale booster for the President who has suddenly, against all odds, found himself as the leader of over 22 million Ghanaians whose fate he holds in his simple hands.

Even customary practice provides for courtesy calls, especially when there are very important matters that need to be heard by the chief himself.

But should there not be a limit?
There is no record of a national survey to seek the opinion of Ghanaians on their impression about these courtesy calls on our heads of state but if the opinions of a few persons sought by the Daily Graphic on the subject (Daily Graphic: Monday, February 9, 2009) can serve as a barometer, then the State Protocol-people have to do a serious appraisal and conduct these courtesy calls in a more business-like and serious manner.

Receiving guests and listening to them are part of the functions of the presidency and we cannot run away from that. But there is need for selectivity based on importance and alternatives, otherwise our President will spend the whole day receiving courtesy calls, with little or no time left for any serious work.

According to an official of the State Protocol, what was read or seen by the public was just a tip of the iceberg because there were many other calls that did not come to public knowledge. He explained further that the new President received, on the average, visits from five groups daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. That is virtually the end of the active part of the day.

This is a new government that is working to consolidate its grip on the machinery of state authority and the President needs more time and concentration to 'hit the ground running', as President Mills himself put it. There are handover notes to study, new ministerial appointments to make, preparation of the 2009 budget for presentation to Parliament and numerous state duties to perform to stabilise the affairs of state. These cannot be done if the President and his lieutenants have to spend the whole day receiving guests who only go to congratulate the President and wish him well.

These courtesy calls are not going to be restricted to the early days of the presidency.

As has become the pattern, they are going to run through his tenure, and that is why it is proper that they are made to conform to certain standards so that the President is not seen to be selective in the choice of those to receive and those not to.

There are enough government institutions in the system that can handle most of the things brought to the doorstep of the President. For instance, it should be possible for the district chief executives and regional ministers to receive messages announcing the death of certain chiefs, instead of delegations travelling all the way to the Castle in Accra to take the President off his duties for hours because of a simple message.

The ministries can also take a lot of the burden off the shoulders of the presidency if the State Protocol will arrange that as much as possible only certain delegations can visit the Castle.

The tendency for people or groups to believe that their cases can only receive serious attention when they present them to the President directly may have been informed by experience. It is time to give the concept of decentralisation true meaning by ceding some executive powers to the districts and regions so that people can feel confident to deal with their immediate authorities, instead of going as far as to the top of the executive ladder.

By all means one should not expect the President to detach himself from the people by locking himself up in the dungeons of the Castle poring over documents day in day out. He needs to have a feel of the people occasionally and listen to them directly. But this should be regulated so that the exercise of visiting the Castle to meet the President does not lose its lustre and significance.

We have, over the years, entangled ourselves with the culture of meetings, workshops and seminars, leaving very little time for thinking and acting. The presidency should be saved from those trappings and the first step is to curtail the courtesy calls.

Credit: Kofi Akordor, Daily Graphic