As President Mahama appraises his appointees…

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The headlines screamed: “Mahama reviews performance of Ministers”, and we were informed that President Mahama has started an appraisal and review exercise of the performance of his Ministers. The appraisal is being done by a policy unit set up by President John Mahama at the Flagstaff House.

Being the first of its kind in the country, the exercise may surprise some or excite laughter in others, depending on where one sees issues from. This performance review process is expected to feed into the president’s decision to terminate or renew the mandate of the sector Ministers.

I welcome it, even though my candid opinion is that some reputable “outsiders” could also have been co-opted to assist in the evaluation instead of its being limited to government functionaries. When birds of a feather flock together, it is difficult to sift seeming from being. It risks becoming a matter of taking turns to scratch backs.

In inducting of the Ministers into office, President Mahama had said openly that their continuous stay in office would depend on their performance. And they have been in office for some months now and provoked public reaction in diverse ways. Thus, the review exercise should give the President the chance to take a thorough peek into their performance. The searchlight will be beamed on them to bring out what will necessitate their removal from office or retention.

Indeed, it is gratifying to know that the review exercise will also include a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of the government within the one year that it has been in office. Thus, President Mahama will see himself in the mirror too because whatever his government has been able to accomplish or failed to achieve so far can be traced to the performance (or non-performance) of his appointees. So, the exercise is two-edged—focusing on the Ministers from one end and looking inward at President Mahama himself. In other words, it is a self-appraisal as well. We wait to see how this one stone can be used to kill two birds.

A good aspect of this exercise is that it will focus on practical accomplishments, not theories or grand designs on paper. The appointees will be made to answer for their stewardship concerning what they’ve been able to achieve so far and what is left to be done. Evidence on the ground will prove them right or wrong. Then, the public will be given the chance to know what the President would have known of each Minister reviewed.

My good friends, this move by the President to appraise his appointees’ performance is well placed, strategic, and re-assuring. It is also novel in Ghanaian politics. More intriguing is the fact that the review report will be made public. The first part is scheduled to be completed and the result publicized on Wednesday.

The exercise has already begun with the Ministers of Energy and Education. Although we don’t know the criteria by which the appraisal is being done, we can tell from happenings that the President will be very much interested in knowing what concrete achievements the Ministers have landed since assuming office some months ago.

The Minister of Energy will definitely be bombarded with questions on the specific measures that his office has implemented to solve the energy crisis. Of course, the probing in this sense will be a throwback to the President’s own agenda for national development in the energy sector because the Minister couldn’t have done anything in isolation; but I expect the President to scrutinize issues with the view to determining what is working well or not working well in that sector. I hope the Minister can survive the scrutiny.

The Minister of Education (Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang) is one particular Minister to love and respect for all that she is. She taught me research and Ghanaian literature at the University of Cape Coast, where I first got to know her as a disciplined, hardworking, and reliable public official. Since assuming office, she has been rather quiet and unassuming, unlike her predecessors who huffed and puffed all over the place even when they were not solving the problems that they were put in office to tackle. Her tenure has not been as rocky as had been the norm hitherto, even though the challenges facing her Ministry continue to mount by the day.

Indeed, the agitations rocking the teachers’ front haven’t yet ended but she has tactfully handled her responsibilities and is not likely to fear the President’s scrutiny. That Ministry has all along been problematic, not necessarily because of any appointee’s misdeeds but because of the heavy bureaucracy and political intrigues stalling performance.

We wait to see how the appraisal goes beyond these two Ministers. But even before we get to know who goes next, we can stick our necks out to say that the performance of most of the Ministers and their Deputies cannot stand the test of probing that is in place.

Obviously, those non-performing Ministries include the Ministry of Information and Media Relations, where Mahama Ayariga goofs more than gains anything to improve the government’s public image or even to claw back the goodwill that it has lost at the media front.

I expect Mahama Ayariga and his too many goofs to be taken up when it is his turn to be reviewed. In the first place, as I have kept saying, that Ministry is irrelevant and should have been abolished long ago. That Ministry is a watered-down part of the Communications Directorate at the Presidency—which is itself damn useless, anyway!

Many other Ministries are not needed: Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Women, Gender and Social Affairs (whatever the real name is), Ministry of Water Resources (or whatever at all it is called), and many others that anybody can point to as existing just to confirm the job-for-the-boys syndrome.

The Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department needs total redemption with the baptism of fire that will shake it to its roots. I know that when the sector Minister shows up, she will wriggle her way through, but I must caution here that the performance of that Ministry leaves room for a lot to be desired; and the President must ensure that everything is done to dig out facts and figures for discipline and efficiency to be injected into that sector.

It is clear already that the portfolio is too heavy for one person. That is why the call for the Ministry of Justice be separated from the Attorney-General’s Department is still relevant. It doesn’t mean that we must have two different Ministries in one breath. We need the Attorney-General’s Department to exist and function as a non-partisan institution, not tied to the apron strings of the government.

In that sense, it can function without any politically motivated consideration on whom to prosecute or let off the hook. In other countries, where the law is no respecter of persons, government officials are brought to book if they fall foul of the law, and it is the Attorney-General’s Department’s sole responsibility to do so. No one fears any repercussion because the President himself/herself is not immune to prosecution if he/she flouts the law.

But not in Ghana, where the law barks a lot but has no tooth to bite law breakers. That is why we have a lot of cases involving politicians and well-placed people in the society that have either not been prosecuted (under the annoying guise of “want or lack of prosecution”) or been brushed under the rug because of political connections.

If the Attorney-General’s Department becomes autonomous, it should expedite action on justice administration. But knowing what the “Ghanaian disease” is, I wonder if anything of the sort will add any new complexion to the matter. That is why we haven’t developed as expected. One step forward, ten steps backwards, more commotion at one place, little motion toward progress. Plop!!

Now that he has set the ball rolling, President Mahama needs to sustain his pluck and carry out this review exercise to the full. Then, it shouldn’t take him long to get rid of those who fail the test. As soon as the review session ends and a report on it is prepared, digested, and understood, the President must act to either dismiss the non-performers or confirm them in office. He shouldn’t spare anybody at all.

Otherwise, this exercise will end up as a mere smokescreen behind which to hide the inadequacies that have so far irritated the citizens whose daily lives continue to worsen as the economy stagnates or retrogresses. That’s not what should be their lot. They expect those in power to do everything to improve living standards, not to cushion themselves and still look for more to fleece. That is not what democracy entails; and that is not what the people are sacrificing their lot for.

There are too many Ministries, which must engage the President at this stage. I expect that the review process will reveal redundancies in policies and measures being implemented in the various Ministries to confirm apprehensions that the duplication of functions doesn’t help us make progress; it rather slows down government business and creates room for bribery and corruption to thrive in public office.

Thus, cost-cutting must prompt the President to act judiciously by either scrapping some Ministries altogether or collapsing some into others. Where necessary too, it should be possible to reduce them to Departments or Agencies to be directly managed by the appropriate institution of state so designated. All these Ministries have resulted in a bloated government with high wage bills but little practical accomplishments to compensate for national development.

We need a Constitutional provision to put a ceiling on the number of Ministries so no President arbitrarily creates anything new just to score some cheap points. In a sense, creating a Ministry for industries and technology is damn useless. We don’t need a Ministry for industry and technology. Instead, we need industrialists and technologists!!

In any case, we return to the substance of the review process to say that it clearly reveals to me the desire of President Mahama to step up the game and ensure that those he is working with do their work and account for their stewardship as such. He has demonstrated that spice of camaraderie to prove that he is not working alone and that his leadership style is not a “one-man-show” or one based on the holier-than-thou perspective that Ghanaians might be all too familiar with.

At least precedent exists to tell us that the Ghanaian Head of State is one who delights in a show-of-force and must be accorded the due respect as such. No need to go into details; but we can infer from comments that President Mahama is “laid-back” to conclude that those not conversant with his style of leadership are amazed—or rather confounded that despite all the enormous powers at his disposal to prove to all where naked power lies, he is humble and unassuming.

Indeed, President Mahama has been so self-effacing as to beguile his critics into thinking that he is not in charge of affairs. But there is nothing to confirm such poor opinions. He is the fount of authority and acts as such. What he has been doing and saying of late confirms that he knows what he is about. All he expects Ghanaians to do is to play their part so nation-building can progress smoothly.

As he moves on to the next lap of the review process, I encourage him to do more introspection to bring out the best in him and silence the nay-sayers and those intent on doing “book politics”—those who are criss-crossing the country spreading damaging lies and demoralizing the citizens because they are not in power. Those who won’t see anything good in what he does and wish that by 2016, they can use all means to return to power and pick up the pieces of their looting brigade.

They will see nothing good in others. They have already begun taunting President Mahama’s initiative to review his appointees’ performance, labelling it as an exercise in futility, even when it hadn’t begun. Do you see how these self-righteous “book politicians” behave?

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.