THE Minister of Water Resources, Work & Housing has called on the supporters of the governing New Patriotic Party to rekindle their inherent collective spirit to overcome the current crisis and address the feeling of discontent among the rank and file.
Explaining what he sees as the underlining cause of the discontentment within the membership of the governing party, Hackman Owusu-Agyemang says, “It's all borne out of that culture created by the NDC about governance, where jobs were created and given on factional attributes rather than merit.”
The man hoping to succeed John Agyekum Kufuor after 2008 accuses the NDC of institutionalising the award of government contracts on the basis of card-bearing membership of the then ruling party.
“The reality of the past and the expectations of our activists in the present put this government in a very unenviable position. This is because we thought that if you open up the economy, stabilise the environment and provide the enabling incentives for the private sector to grow this will create jobs and raise standards of living for the benefit of our supporters and the general public, as a whole.This is in sharp contrast to the NDC.”
Returning to what he alleges to be the status quo under President John Jerry Rawlings, Mr Owusu-Agyemang continues to draw a distinction between the NPP and the NDC.
“Unlike us, the NDC had a definite policy directive which made sure that their foot soldiers were taken care of. During their time they encouraged their activists to form cadres, who were giving jobs; and some were even paid some sort of unofficial unemployment benefit.
“In my own constituency some NDC contractors would drive daily to the front of the constituency office in their pick-up trucks to get their activists and use them as casual workers after winning government contracts.” He argues, “It is not difficult to understand that our rank and file members, who saw this happening on a regular basis and felt severely discriminated against at the time, expected that after 2001 the situation would be reversed and speedily so.
“We can understand their frustration and must certainly work on how that can be legitimately addressed without compromising on our commitment to good governance.”
In his view, there is a need to address “this live issue of imbalance – through some form of legitimate and socially accepted programme that can positively expand the field and not just allow the old players to continue to benefit on the basis that they are better tooled.”
Speaking to The Statesman in an exclusive inter view Monday at his palatial East Legon residence, Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, MP, states, “We should not forget that they [the NDC-favoured contractors] got there through a special, highly unfair scheme of positive discrimination. This, we don't intend to exactly emulate though. But, in the same vein, we cannot pretend all is well and ignore the structural imbalance created by about 19 years of vindictiveness and sectarian favouritism under both the PNDC and NDC regimes.”
He continues, “It cannot be the case that most of the politically inclined people who control wealth in this country are all in the NDC. How many dollar millionaires, for example, have we created since 2001?”
He expects this weekend's delegates' conference in Legon, Accra, to “serve as the beginning of reinvigoration of the party. We must make sure we do right what we are supposed to have done wrong.”
He has also appealed to party members “to entertain a little bit more understanding for our commitment to enhance the quality of expectations of governance in this country and on the African continent at large. We have vowed to maintain good governance and the implementation of the Public Procurement Act, is one such mechanism of achieving that. It certainly limits the room for partisan manoeuvres. However, this was a conscious effort by a government committed to the general well-being of the economy to open up the space for competence and competition, irrespectively.”
While admitting that this year has been “rather difficult” for his party, the MP for New Juaben appeals to party members to “welcome the temporary crisis and deal with it decisively. Rather fortuitously this so-called crisis has come with quite a few years before we go back to the polls,” he underlines, philosophically.
He sees Saturday's conference, where a new national executive will be elected, as providing a timely opportunity to find real solutions to lingering internal NPP problems.
Conscious of the fact that the controversial statements by National Chairman Harona Esseku have been about control of party funds, the man who chaired the party's finance committee for the triumphant 2000 general elections, has asked for the relationship between government and party to be “properly defined.” He has appealed to the party to face the music and dance “but to a tune that can bring lasting harmony and greater rhythm to our collective forward march to beat the common enemy.”
Can the NPP overcome the current crisis?
“Oh, yes, oh, yes! History is replete with major political parties going through even worse difficulties and coming out stronger, wiser and better. That is the challenge and opportunity before the NPP today. The party leadership must learn a lesson from this. And the best way to approach this is, as I said earlier, to address the root cause of discontent among the rank and file.” Turning the screw of criticism upwardly and inwardly, the former Chairman of the powerful Finance and Fundraising Committee of the NPP said of the party's upper echelons, “We should recognise that we have not taken care of our people adequately. We must also recognise the cultural environment under which Ghana's political system has operated, even under the Fourth Republic. The fact is that even in those relatively established systems and institutions of democracy that we seek to emulate, the structures are still correcting themselves. It is a process and we believe we are winning.”
He assures party activists that “Every decent compromise will be put in place to ensure the consolidation and growth of this great party so that come 2008 we will have built an even more formidable party – the only party of choice.” Son of a goldsmith and farmer from Efiduase, Koforidua, the young Hackman took up political activism in 1963 when as Assistant Secretary General of the NUGS he opposed Kwame Nkrumah's one party state.
It was in his East Legon home in 1992 where some founding members of the New Patriotic Party settled on the Elephant as the party symbol. “We chose the elephant because it is all conquering, fearsome and fearless; strong enough to withstand any attack.”
The three-term MP, who served between 1992 and 1998 as National Treasurer of the NPP, believes there is an urgent need to strengthen the central structure of the party.
In his view, the “difficulties that the party is facing now will be overcome.” He reminds Ghanaians, “Whenever we of the Danquah-Busia tradition have felt threatened as to our survival, we have always put the interest of our collective survival and collective organisation before everything else. We coil back into our communal shield, strategise and strike out with the entire constructive armoury at our disposal.
He concludes with optimum optimism, “And I know that inherent esprit de corps; that determined single-minded fellowship of purpose will be rekindled for us to overcome our internal problems and go on with the greater task of rendering superior service to the people of Ghana. God willing.”