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02.03.2009 General News

Voice from Afar: Have the priviledged betrayed Ghana?


At international meetings after independence, I got annoyed when some Western governmental and other representatives claimed to know the problems and needs of our people better than we did.

The belief was that we government officials were a privileged sect who were out of touch with the people whose wants we and the authorities ignored with disdain. Those of us who were politically alive dismissed the arrogance of those who claimed to be the true friends of the downtrodden with scathing contempt.

As the years rolled by and I watched the rift between the educated elite and the not-so- knowledgeable politicians transformed into a consensus of the advantaged to maintain and promote their privileged position, I wondered whether the foreigners I attacked did not after all observe developments early.

At independence, the politicians did not generally get on well with civil servants. The principal secretary, assisted by his array of competent officials, felt that he was in charge of the ministry and was the embodiment of the public conscience. He was the "obedient servant" of the people and signed letters as such. The political head of the ministry, the minister was generally to be guided in the mysteries of administration and governance.

The mature civil servants got on well with the ministers who were made to feel important and relevant. But quite too many rubbed the ministers the wrong way. The rift between political heads of institutions and officials deepened.

And so it was that principal secretaries were no longer considered suitable to act as heads of ministries when ministers were away. Deputy ministers were appointed to take over when the minister was not at post.

Now the civil service especially had a personality or character expressed in a set way of doing things. The ethos had to be broken. Civil servants who were methodical and followed the rules were accused of being wedded to red-tape. It became clear that those who bent the rules and procedures to satisfy the demands of politicians got on in their career.

Slowly but surely the spirit of the service was altered. The civil servant tried to serve the minister or politician and not primarily the national interest.

It is interesting to note that ministers or political heads who had clear ideas for the promotion of the national interest got on well with competent civil servants. The best example was President Nkrumah who attracted knowledgeable and hardworking civil servants like Enoch Okoh, T. K. Impraun, Dei Anang and F. W. Beecham to his office. Nkrumah also worked closely and effectively with mandarins outside his immediate office such as 1. V. L Philips and Osah Mills.

The true appreciation of the civil service and institutions of governance now appears to have been lost and officialdom generally sees its future in promoting self by satisfying those in power. It is a harsh observation but we should not be blind to the truth.

There are many developments and incidents which serve as illustration. The example of electricity supply should suffice. Most of us are annoyed with incessant power cuts which results in irritating darkness and the destruction of our electrical wares and gadgets.

On Monday, February 23, 2009, the Daily Graphic carried the news which was welcome by many that the Electricity Company of Ghana {ECG} planned to spend $194 million to halt incessant power outrages.

We were informed that the project which had already started involved "the addition of more sub-stations to ease the pressure and load on the existing ones” etc.

But surely our electrical engineers know and knew the tolerable and maximum pressure which the substations could carry. Why did they tolerate the excess load?

It is definitely not a question of incompetence. During my time as a teacher, many of the best students took to science and later entered the medical or engineering profession. It was not different when I was a student. E. L. Quartey, who was chief electrical engineer for many years, was my senior and mentor.

Hayfron-Acquah who joined our science class from Adisadel was a brilliant scholar who graced the highest ranks of the electricity department. We can• go on to show that the engineers in the electricity company have been and are second to none in knowledge and competence. Why then the inability of the electricity company to satisfy the simple demands of the people?

I venture to suggest that the poor performance of the company is but an example of the general lassitude of the privileged educated class in Ghana. The civil or public servant has learnt from experience that he gets his peace and promotion if he joins the politician and those in power to promote sectional interest and not those of the people.

Thus, if the extension of electrical facilities will bring undue pressure on existing substations, the electricity company does not insist on building more substations before the extension. It acts to please the authorities and eventually the entire public suffers.

In the same way, the privileged group of professional and political elite agree to housing estate which will have no water and so and so on. Those of us who are privileged by education knowledge and experience betray the entire nation when we do not stand firm against what is not in the national interest. We should not leave outsiders and NGOs to fight for the disadvantaged. That fight is the duty of those who, by change, have privilege.

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