WRITING in The Statesman Wednesday, the Editor-in-Chief of this paper accused our present government of behaving as though it is “in office, but not in power.” He wrote of the New Patriotic Party's “self-destructive paranoia against exercising the inherent authority it has as a party in government,” and urged President Kufuor to assert a stronger and more demonstrable grip on the power he nominally wields.
The commentary, in our view, was not intended as a blanket dismissal of the Kufuor administration and its achievement to date, however; its intention was not to send a message to Government that its time is up, as Norman Lamont signified to John Major when he tarnished the British Tory government with this same “in office” label in the 1990s.
Indeed, it seemed to be intended rather as a warning, and a spur to action. The Statesman recognises that Government has made significant and tangible progress in several key areas, but believes this progress could be more marked and more effective if Government leadership would have the courage to take firmer and more decisive action.
In his Foreword to the 2006 Budget, read yesterday by the Finance Minister, President Kufuor said: “Indeed, the nation has been ushered onto a new economic plateau which facilitates the process of attaining the status of a middle income country in the next decade within the framework of good governance, private sector development, rule of law, respect for human and property rights and prudent fiscal and economic management.”
Recognising that running a country requires more than getting the economic management right, he added: “In pursuit of this goal, the country must unite and rally around a single vision which will engender high productivity and growth with sense of social responsibility and equity.”
The President urged Ghanaians to “now see the light at the end of the tunnel and reach for it.” Our little rejoinder to this is that: “Mr President make us see and feel that light.”
On the petroleum front, for example, the deregulation of the oil industry this year marked a radical departure from the state-controlled precedent, notwithstanding fierce opposition. Yesterday, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu gave some sobering statistics, indicating that subsidies and attendant losses at the Tema Oil Refinery since 1985 amount to about $2.0 billion. Now controlled by market forces rather than government price setting and political considerations, the oil business in Ghana is becoming one of the country's major growth industries, with imports this year amounting to almost US $1 billion. Even in this 'decision,' however, the Kufuor government had its hand forced from outside, compelled by the threat of stifled donor inflow if the market was not opened to competition. IMF conditionality made this decision for the Government: now it is time Government started making more, and more immediate, decisions for itself.
Kufuor was elected in 2000, and again a year ago, as a president; not a pope. As President, he has the inherent authority to hire and fire ministers, chief executives, ambassadors and other holders of public office. As President, he has the inherent authority and power to expect and demand the best and only the best, to counsel discipline where it is needed, to reign in wanderers, to stamp out mediocrity. He has a responsibility to strive for perfection and to take firm and decisive action to ensure his administration endeavours to these same ends.
Now The Statesman calls upon Mr Kufuor to act upon this responsibility. Almost one year since the inauguration of the President for his second term, several major governing boards, such as SSNIT, remain in a state of flux, awaiting government decisions which are not yet glimpsed on the horizon. If government leaders would take a firmer stance - flex the managerial muscles which lie latent in several districts and other state sectors and agencies – development in these areas would be a lot more efficient. Ineffective MDA directors should not be tolerated – and if government employees are known not to be delivering, they should be delivered out of a job.
In our considered view, the greatest difficulty facing the Kufuor administration is that it has the Rawlings administrations as the nearest yardstick. In our view, performing even three times better than the NDC still falls far short of what is required.
Little happened in the NPP's first term on public sector reform. Margaret Thatcher's dealt with the sector's inefficiencies by creating QUANGOs; President Kufuor's response is to appoint more ministers. Thus, he has attempted to circumvent the question of effective governance by simply reeling more ministers into the government machine. However, if this machine itself is not subject to regular service checks – if there is no skilled mechanic to take out and replace the faulty parts – then it will not function properly.
The President was not elected to be a nice man – he was elected by a suppressed, oppressed, depressed people to do what it took to put their country back on track. He cannot do this if he continues to work within a system that remains inefficient, however, and if he does not have the courage to make the necessary changes and replacements to stamp out that inefficiency. The President should command competency from his ministers, ambassadors, directors and chief executives, and should not suffer those incapable of delivering that competency.
The Government sells itself short, simply because it lacks the courage to act decisively. The $2 billion or so dollars required for the development of an effective national rail network, for example, is not beyond the grasp of this nation. An effective communications web is pivotal to the economic development of Ghana, to the realisation of the ECOWAS goal of free movement of people, goods and services across our sub-region. An increased 0.5 or 1 percent to VAT could easily find this kind of money, if Kufuor but had the fortitude to ask the public for it – and to reassert his office's hold on power.
The kind of boldness required to find the extra investment necessary to build such a vital infrastructure is lacking in this budget. Government is limited to finding a foreign investor who would have the 'social responsibility' to be persuaded to take 85 percent of a railway venture that would cover Upper West and Upper East. But, it could have been bolder and presented the plan to Ghanaians and say: “Let's pay for it! We need it!”
This is certainly a budget not bold enough but all the same a “Budget of Good News.” But who is to sell it?