Opinions Sat, 18 Mar 2017

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Sorry, Mr. President; your government is too large

By: Cameron Duodu

I perfectly understand why President Akufo-Addo wishes to reward, with appointments to high office, as many as possible of those who helped to get him elected.

But there is a limit to everything, and in his appointments of ministers and deputy ministers, there the president has exceeded the limits of what the country expects of him.

Look at the context: great anger has been aroused recently against the members of the recently dismissed administration, for either selling motor-cars bought with public funds to themselves cheaply, or, in some cases, attempting to steal them.

This has created a backlash against the ‘privileges’ associated with holding a high office in the land. The perception, among many members of the public, is that government in Ghana is of politicians, by politicians, for politicians.

Look at it another way – one of the most dynamic governments we ever had, that formed by Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1954, was created out of a Legislative Assembly whose entire membership numbered one hundred and four!

President Akufo-Addo’s proposed government exceeds that number by six!

The president says he needs his 110 ministers and deputy ministers because of the peculiar “challenges” that his government faces. Certainly, the challenges are awesome, given the nature of his immediate predecessor’s administration.

But one cannot successfully meet a challenge by replacing it with a worse one. And the problem with large numbers of people trying to meet challenges and failing, spectacularly, to do so, is not unknown to management theorists:

QUOTE: “In Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, (London: John Murray, 1958) a chapter is devoted to the basic question of what he called comitology: how committees, government cabinets, and other such bodies are created and eventually grow irrelevant…

“Empirical evidence is drawn from historical and contemporary government cabinets. Most often, the minimal size of a state’s most powerful and prestigious body is five members. From English history, Parkinson notes a number of bodies that lost power as they grew [in number]: the first cabinet was the Council of the Crown, now the House of Lords, which grew from an unknown number to 29, to 50 before 1600, by which time it had lost much of its power.

“A new body was appointed in 1257, the “Lords of the King’s Council”, numbering fewer than 10. The body grew, and ceased to meet when it had 172 members.

The third incarnation was the Privy Council, initially also numbering fewer than 10 members, rising to 47 in 1679. In 1715, the Privy Council lost power to the Cabinet Council with eight members, rising to 20 by 1725. Around 1740, the Cabinet Council was superseded by an inner group, called the Cabinet, initially with five members.

“At the time of Parkinson’s study (the 1950s), the Cabinet was still the official governing body. Parkinson observed that, from 1939 on, there was an effort to save the Cabinet as an institution. The membership had been fluctuating from a high of 23 members in 1939, down to 18 in 1954.” UNQUOTE (Wikipedia)

(The British Cabinet now numbers 23 Ministers – as against Ghana’s 50 – for a country with a GDP of $2.858 trillion as compared to Ghana’s puny 37.543 billion.)

But eloquent as the figures are, they do not tell the whole story. The complete story is this: the greater the number of people involved in taking and implementing important decisions regarding development, the more difficult it is to get any development done at all!

Who got which contract and why? Whose idea was it? Does someone else like or dislike that person? If temporary alliances are formed to try and push through a particular measure, is there any guarantee that another clique won’t emerge to try and scuttle it?

Anyone who has been involved in the affairs of political parties knows that it is inertia that inevitably results from such internal bickering. And inertia ruthlessly wrecks the best plans evolved to enable a party to meet the challenges its ‘stated objectives oblige it to tackle.

The President has first-hand experience of how people’s unrealistic expectations can lead them to jettison common sense and pursue a course that is injurious both to themselves and their colleagues. And the larger the number of people who are put in a position that they can use to erect barriers against national development, the more likely they are to do precisely that. In multiples.

It would be a pity if a man with the vision of the President were to be reduced, by circumstances, to spend a lot of time dousing fires within his own Government, instead of being left in peace to concentrate on seeking creative ways of making his Government count in the annals of history.

Even more important, one does not need prophetic powers to foresee that the very size of his Government could put off development partners who, out of good will, might want to assist Ghana to solve some of its problems.

“What? A government comprising 110 members? He cannot be serious!”

They won’t say it to the face of the president, but they will secretly pencil it against him when they are ticking the boxes.

Mr President, it is always difficult for a sensitive person to say “No!” in case it may cause offence. But Ghana is in a bad way, and everything must be done to get her out of it, including being tough enough to reverse oneself when public opinion indicates that such an action might be required.

Reversing oneself doesn’t always make one lose face. On the contrary, if it is done to achieve what’s right for the nation, one’s political stature can only grow from it.


Columnist: Cameron Duodu

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