Magic number 998 and the battle ahead

Okudzeto Shithole Okudzeto Ablakwa, Minority Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs (author of the article)

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 Source: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

Finally, to the credit of our democracy and the persistence of the Minority in Parliament, the government has complied with Section 11 of the Presidential Office Act, 1993, Act 463 by submitting to Parliament the full list of Presidential Staffers.

As Parliamentary records and media reportage will confirm, we in the Minority raised concerns during the debate on the 2018 Budget Estimates pointing to an alarming escalation in the allocation for Wages and Salaries at the Office of Government Machinery (OGM). See: https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Akufo-Addo-under-pressure-to-list-Presidential-staffers-603350

The Minority subsequently embarked on what may be akin to a crusade reminding Government every Friday during the consideration of the Business Statement of its obligations under the Presidential Office Act. See: https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Presidential-staffers-list-soon-Monitoring-and-Evaluation-Minister-623074

After much hesitation and feet dragging, Government has done the needful. The content of the report has left Ghanaians genuinely outraged (if I may be permitted to borrow the President's contentious expression). Furthermore, the magic number 998 has become the butt of all jokes - you can trust Ghanaians to use humour to lighten the atmosphere in order to avoid a conflagration.

Ghanaians are undoubtedly upset with an OGM staff of 998 but what many may not have averted their minds to is the fact that President Akufo-Addo does not intend to stop at 998. As I pointed out during the Budget debate in Parliament, a careful scrutiny of Appendix 7 of the 2018 Budget document reveals that President Akufo-Addo's Government hopes to increase the list of Presidential Staffers to a whopping 1,697. Yes you read right - ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVEN.

To finance this unconscionable expenditure, Government has made an allocation of GHC 119.6 million of the tax payer's money in 2018 as compared to the 2017 allocation of GHC 79.3 million.

This matter gets even more nightmarish when one considers the record of President Akufo-Addo's Government; per Appendix A of the 2017 Budget, Government provided a Ceiling of Staff at the OGM of 953. The President's report to Parliament which covers only the 2017 fiscal year accounts for a staff of 998. This means that Government could not keep within its projected ceiling and thus exceeded it's own target by 45. This notwithstanding, we all know that Charles Nii Teiko Tagoe himself will agree with us that the 998 figure is understated seeing that his name and that of many other Staffers known to Franklin Cudjoe and some of us have been omitted. Therefore, if this trend is anything to go by, we may have to go on our knees in prayer with fasting for 40 days that the albeit scandalous 1,697 target for 2018 is not exceeded.

Perhaps we can now begin to understand the President as he no longer appears keen to fulfill his One District One Factory Pledge. Apparently, all the jobs primarily for party zealots are being created at the Presidency so why bother about factories that will create jobs for the rest of the teaming Ghanaian youth out there in the districts.

However, more fundamentally, having an understated staff of 998 and projecting to add almost 700 more in one single year to arrive at the 1,697 destination in 2018 cannot be the way to protect the public purse considering President Akufo-Addo's pledge. For a Government that has made inglorious history by appointing 110 Ministers, created new ministries, creating new regions, setting up new development authorities and establishing numerous other layers of bureaucracy, this must be most reckless.

In the UK where the President is currently visiting and seeking all kinds of assistance, Prime Minister Theresa May has a staff of only 170 at 10 Downing Street.

Clearly, it is time to have a sober reflection as a country. Do we need this legion of Presidential Staffers? Do we need 110 Ministers? Do we need 275 MPs? Do we need 254 Districts? Do we need additional regions? I honestly don't think we do in any of these instances.

We have reached a point as a country where we only pay salaries at the end of the month to workers who were virtually rendered redundant because we couldn't find the money to give them the tools and resources with which to work.

This is a country that continues to borrow heavily to finance basic needs because we complain about the lack of fiscal space. Have we estimated how much we can save on these humongous bureaucracies and the impact these savings can make on real development in our various districts?

During the 2018 Budget debate, we argued that it was unacceptable that the budget estimate for goods and services at the Presidency far exceeds the total capital expenditure of GHC 257,689,610 for the Ministry of Trade and Industry (about GHC 172 million) and the Ministry of Energy (about GHC 85 million).

In fact the total capital expenditure of about GHC 146.6 million for 3 strategic MDAs: the Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation (GHC 60 million); Ministry of Works and

Housing (about GHC 80 million); and the Ministry of Communications (6.6 million); does not come close to the budget estimate for goods and services at the Presidency.

The Ministry of Railway Development is allocated GHC 150,000,000 for capital expenditure for 2018, whilst the Presidency gets GHC 272,497,855 for Goods and Services.

The total capital expenditure of 72.8 million new cedis for the Ministry of Education (GHC 12.8 million) and Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation (GHC 60 million) is far less than the GHC 100,000,000 budgeted for renovating the Flagstaff House and the Peduase Lodge.

This Government must certainly rearrange it's priorities if the plight of the suffering masses is to be ameliorated.

While we are at it, it is becoming quite obvious that we cannot continue to rely on the good conscience and sound judgement of some politicians hence an urgent need to amend our laws and place a limit on the number of Ministers and Staffers a President can appoint. The critical term EFFICIENCT in Article 78 (2) when it comes to appointing Ministers doesn't appear to mean much to some Presidents. In the same vein, I am of the view that Section 11 of the Presidential Office Act, 1993, Act 463 which obliges a report to Parliament was intended to offer some check or barrier against the overpopulation of the Presidency, however, it is clear seeing how things are panning out that only an express provision capping the numbers will save our nation.

We also need an overhaul on the way Districts and Constituencies are created. Let's be bold to confront this.

Then there is the elephant in the room - the nature of our politics must change. Pressures from Chiefs, Clergy, Party stalwarts, foot soldiers and Party financiers to have everybody appointed somewhere cannot continue.

The people should not be made to believe and accept that politics is the problem. The consequences of that will be unimaginable.

Change should be pointing us in positive directions and not the negative.

May great leadership prevail, God willing.

Columnist: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
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