Clean the Foreign Service Too, President Mills

Sun, 25 Jan 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor E-mail: mjbokor@ilstu.edu

The appointments now being made by President Mills are coming at a time that expectations are still high among Ghanaians for the NDC administration to fulfill its electioneering campaign promises. Although the NDC did not say it would fulfill those promises within “the shortest possible time,” there are some positive signals from the Presidency that slow but decisive efforts are being made to prove to Ghanaians that the Social Democratic agenda of the NDC is worthwhile. Let’s see how the benefits will be rolled out for our people to enjoy.

At least, I am glad that President Mills has begun measures to eliminate some Ministries and to reduce the size of his government. This action was part of what I had suggested in an earlier article. We look forward to more of those strategic measures to strengthen government machinery at various levels and to reassure Ghanaians that the future is not bleak, after all. In that sense they will be motivated to support efforts at sustaining our democratic dispensation. With these changes and appointments looming large on the horizon, it is certain that the politicians are now in what is jokingly called the “cocoa season” when the jockeying for positions reaches its peak. In the political sense, it means that we are in the period of appointments to the public sector at the Ministries, Departments, Agencies and other places that hold in store for the appointees the perks of their offices. They are ready to cap their contributions to the NDC’s victory at the polls with appointments and to “reap” the benefits of their efforts.

While attention is turned to these appointments at the local level (Ministries, especially), we must not neglect those concerning our Foreign Missions (Embassies and High Commissions). As of now, I know that those serving at the pleasure of John Agyekum Kufuor have been given a deadline to vacate their posts for new ones to fill.

Yes, the “cocoa season” is with us and action must be taken to put the right people in our Missions to serve good purposes. I call on President Mills to overhaul our Foreign Missions to help the country make better gains than what has been happening over the years. A careful look must be taken at the number of these Foreign Missions; and, if need be, they must be pruned too. There are some that are not necessary and can be closed down and responsibility for them ceded to others in the same geo-political region. I have in mind some of our Foreign Missions in Eastern Europe that have no direct benefit for Ghana but are supported just for the sake of having Missions in those parts of the world. We don’t have to be represented everywhere on the globe.

In effect, the time has come to clean up our Foreign Missions. There are some deadwoods in them whose presence shouldn’t be tolerated any more. They must give way to capable hands who understand the dynamics of Foreign Service in the 21st century.

Genuine reasons exist for the clean-up to be effected. We’ve already had concerns from the government’s Transition Team about improprieties in the appointment of 30 people into the Foreign Service just a week or so before the NPP government left office. The improprieties that were uncovered are clear enough that all is not well. Although the recall of Diplomatic Passports handed out under the Kufuor government can be seen as a normal administrative measure, it also suggests that something needs to be done to streamline the business of Foreign Service.

For some time now, political appointments have tended to change the complexion of our Foreign Missions and created numerous problems in terms of unsavoury working relationships and friction. Such political appointments have been made by the various governments over the years. In recent times, Rawlings made numerous “political” appointments into our Foreign Missions, which Kufuor also did. President Mills may be tempted to do so; but he must hasten slowly. Some of the political appointments raised eyebrows. I remember that a former member of the ex-PNDC (Mrs. Aanaa Enin) who had earlier been dismissed from government on the grounds of being “insolent” (or something like that) was later sent out as Ghana’s Ambassador. How? But it happened until the NPP administration took over and her tenure ended.

Others were handpicked and sent out too. The trend continued under Kufuor when appointments to our Foreign Missions became an overseas haven under the “job-for-the-boys/girls” syndrome. In some cases, Kufuor put people in our Foreign Missions whose presence ended up creating credibility problems. For instance, Nyaho Tamakloe in Serbia, whose son was involved in drug trafficking. What impression do we want to create about ourselves to foreigners? Before then, Frank Benneh operated in our Switzerland Mission during the ex-PNDC era. Although he might be a qualified Foreign Service Officer, his arrest for narcotic drug trafficking and all the disclosures that emerged from investigations dented the country’s image.

As a major exercise to overhaul our Foreign Missions, the Research and Development Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be strengthened and staffed by people who know the importance of research/development and who have the requisite skills to do what they will be appointed to do. It could be beneficial to ensure that personnel come from reputable organizations who will not only add value to the work of research and development but who will use their professional, intelligence-gathering, and communication skills to help our Missions achieve better results than what we’ve had over the years. Passport racketeering (as was reported from our Missions, especially the one in Italy, some three years ago) should be a major negative activity to be tackled. It means appointing the desired calibre of people to our Missions. Such people must be properly vetted first.

Our Missions should redefine their modus operandi to serve the interests of Ghanaian nationals abroad. Do they even have any data base on Ghanaians resident in the countries where they are? I don’t think so. It’s important that they compile such a data base to be able to deal more exhaustively with their compatriots in foreign lands. We expect our Missions to serve us and not foreigners whose arms they twist to make unwarranted personal gains.

Let me repeat that service to Ghanaians should be improved. Some of our Foreign Missions are not efficient and others indulge in vices themselves. To a point, they don’t serve the interests of Ghanaians but discriminate against them to the advantage of foreigners. If our Foreign Missions cannot serve our needs in other countries, why are they there at all?

It is time to investigate the activities of some of the Heads of Mission who were handpicked and posted there for political reasons only and who are known to have messed up. Media reports on our former Ambassador in Japan, for instance, painted a gloomy picture of underhand dealings going on; former High Commissioner in London, D.K. Osei’s problem with the Ghanaian (Kohl) who claimed that the former Ambassador cheated him out of his entitlements or compensation; the High Commissioner in Canada, who was said to have maltreated a member of her staff and extorted money from him as payment for using the facilities of the High Commission---all these alleged happenings do not speak well of our Foreign Missions.

Just a few days ago, there was a complaint from somebody in Spain about happenings at our Mission in that country. Part of that complaint was about an assault on Ghanaian women, according to the version carried by Ghanaweb.com. The complainant made some important observations: We long to see Ghana send out diplomats who are capable of seeking national (not personal) interests, resolving discrepancies, defending the truth, justice and fundamental human rights and not resorting to violence, in the name of diplomatic immunity, allowing themselves to be taken to court by Spanish citizens, a situation that has led to unprecedented sentences of great impact in the European society. I also hope that henceforth it will be explained to Ghanaian diplomats sent abroad that diplomatic immunity does not mean ‘impunity’ and it is no license for them to assault women and get away with it. This complaint is one of many that must alert us to the rot at our Foreign Missions. The time has come for the NDC’s mantra of “change” to be translated into action at this level too. I call on President Mills to make drastic decisions to cut down or to eliminate completely the political appointments to our Missions. Career diplomats should be given the chance to use their expertise in serving Ghana’s interests on our Foreign Missions; their training should be enhanced. Those now in politics who wish to serve in our Missions should make the choice to acquire the requisite skills to know how to do things the way career diplomats do them. Do they qualify at all?

Ambassadors/High Commissioners must be rigorously vetted by Parliament before they are sworn into office and sent to their duty posts.

The Trade Sections in our Missions should be revitalized to perform their functions of marketing Ghana. In that sense, they will be doing a lot to project the country to foreigners and attracting investment opportunities for the country. Had they been doing so, we would have had a better situation to celebrate that would not create loopholes for anybody to exploit. And I have in mind the senseless foreign trips that Kufuor undertook for the main reason of promoting Ghana abroad. If our Missions were doing their work properly, there would be no need for such a travel maniac as Kufuor to waste the country’s scarce resources on those uncountable foreign trips.

All those in our Missions now must be re-vetted and the bad nuts weeded out. We want to know that those there are there because they are morally, professionally, and academically qualified to represent Ghana’s interests abroad. There have been rumours that under the NPP administration, all manner of people, especially unqualified young men and women, were appointed to the foreign Missions and given unholy tasks to perform. No one has provided any evidence but knowing very well that “there is always an element of truth in the Ghanaian rumour,” I am tempted to raise this aspect for attention.

Can we have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs periodically publish the composition of our Missions? We should be given the opportunity to know the strength of Establishment at those Missions and to monitor what goes on there. In that sense, we will keep our Missions on their toes. No one should be given any blank cheque to do anything anyhow. We pay for their upkeep and must have a say in how they function. The clean-up time has dawned already and we must gird our loins to do the right thing for the benefit of our country and its citizens. Let’s act now.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.