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October 14, 2009 | Feature Article

Governmental double-speak

Ato Kwamena Dadzie
Ato Kwamena Dadzie

What is the difference between the presidency and the information ministry? And what's the difference between the presidential spokesman and the director of communications at the presidency? These are some of questions that have engaged my mind since John Atta Mills became president – especially with regards to his information management.

I just don't get it.
It could be because I don't have a university degree and these matters are too complex for me to wrap my mind around. So can someone please explain to me why the heck a deputy information minister and the presidential spokesman are singing two different tunes over the resignations of health minister, George Sipa-Adjah Yankey and minister of state at the presidency, Alhaji Amadu Seidu?

A day after the two men tendered their resignations, deputy information minister, Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa told JOY FM that the president had impressed on the men to tender their resignation, apparently after a lengthy meeting.

Okudzeto-Ablakwa quoted the president as saying: “I am a president who said that I will raise the bar when it comes to matters of accountability and transparency and so I will advise you to tender in your resignation.”

To my fickle mind, if your boss advises you to step down it's as good as him ordering you to step down. So a minister of state has no other choice than to heed a presidential advice to resign. It's like someone holding a gun to your head and asking you to jump off a cliff or have your head blown off – you take the plunge, in the hope that your chances of survival are better with few broken limbs than a skull blown apart. And that's how I interpreted Mr. Okudzeto-Ablakwa's comments over the weekend that the president “advised” the ministers to step down.

I was just about to sit and write a short message of commendation to the president for helping – or making it easier – for his men to do the right thing, when I read that the presidential spokesman, Mahama Ayariga had stated emphatically that his boss had no hand in the twin-resignation of Sipa-Yankey and Adamu Seidu.

Ayariga says his boss engaged in “extensive consultations” with those who are alleged to have taken bribes from Mabey and Johnson and thereafter, Sipa-Yankey and Adamu Seidu, “offered to resign and the president did not object to their offer to resign... the two ministers were not asked by anybody to resign.”

What exactly are “extensive consultations” and do they include “advice” to impress (or force) the two men to step aside?

Whether they jumped or were pushed might seem insignificant. After all, they have resigned, haven't they? Whether Jonah swallowed the whale or the whale swallowed Jonah, there was a swallow. But the president gets some plaudits for asking them to resign (if he did) and this fact is not lost on Okudzeto-Ablakwa. He was just trying to get people to applaud the president. Ayariga, on the other hand, is a lawyer and he is very much aware that any suggestion that the two men were asked – or advised or forced – to resign could result in a public presumption of guilt. Considering that the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice has been asked to investigate the Mabey and Johnson bribery scandal, such presumptions are not good enough for the people concerned, not to mention the government.

And so it was imperative for government officials to have agreed on how the resignations were going to be conveyed to the public. No such thing happened and that's why I am wondering why the deputy information minister will say one thing only for the presidential spokesman to say another, ostensibly for purposes of clarification.

Just last week, I had issues with my friend and brother Stan Dogbe on this same issue of government singing two different tunes on the same subject. Then it was the same deputy information minister who told journalists that a total of 50 million dollars was needed to complete the presidential mansion only to turn around to issue a statement of clarification indicating that what is required rather amounts to 15 million dollars.

After President Mills spoke to a group of journalists in Cape Coast about the competence of his ministers, there was a frantic rush in government as ministers and presidential aides hopped around with different explanations of what the president's words actually meant. The president himself called into a radio station on the issue at the same time his spokesman was on the network explaining and defending what he had said.

So what on earth is going? Why can't government speak with one voice, say what it means and mean what it says? It makes no sense that a government will have its information management system in such a mess when it has an information minister, two deputy information ministers, a presidential spokesperson and a director of communications at the presidency. Could it be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? I don't know.

What I do know is that as a journalist, I'm beginning to think that the information ministry sometimes operates separately from the presidency. On the issue of the presidential mansion there was a time when a Joy FM reporter who called up the information ministry for a few clarifications was asked to speak to the presidency. When one gets to the presidency, the animosity is not pretty.

And that's why my fickle mind still wants to know: What is the difference between the presidency and the information ministry? What's the difference between the presidential spokesman and the director of communications at the presidency? And why can't they just speak with one voice and one accord? Could it be yet another indication that 'Team B' is not 'seeing top'?

Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie (atokd.com)

Ato Kwamina Dadzie
Ato Kwamina Dadzie

The author has authored 146 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author's column: AtoKwaminaDadzie

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ato Kwamina Dadzie and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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