Mahama Ayariga scores government’s first OWN goal

Wed, 6 Feb 2013 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mahama Ayariga, the new Minister of Information, is on the loose all too soon, scoring the first own goal against the government and setting the stage for goofs that will damage the government’s public image beyond measure if not reined in.

He has been reported as categorically denying that President Mahama had known Andrew Solomon, an acclaimed US author and a renowned gay activist. His denial was in response to claims by the President’s opponents that he was sending mixed signals on his stance on homosexuality.

Andrew Solomon is the founder of the Solomon Research Fellowship for the rights of lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender and is alleged to have raised funds for President Mahama's 2012 campaign after paying 20,000 dollars for a copy of the President’s book launched in New York last year.

Now, the government has admitted that President Mahama, in fact, met and interacted with Andrew Solomon when the former was then Vice-President, quite contrary to the earlier report that the two had had no prior close relationship.

And Ayariga himself has admitted that the earlier information he churned out was “not entirely accurate”. He, however, emphasized that the president’s position on homosexuality still remains exactly as it is; that the act is criminal and punishable under the laws of the country (Ghanaweb.com, Feb. 3, 2013).

This flim-flammery is unpardonable a goof and Ayariga must be called to order immediately lest he sets a very bad example for others to emulate to the government’s disadvantage. There are too many problems already to engage the government and none of its own appointees must be allowed to add more to the lot.

But Ayariga’s goof is a reality that reflects the inefficiency that characterizes the NDC’s information management efforts. It reminds me of what has been the party and its various governments’ main headache over the years. Their inability to manage information properly and to have the right calibre of people in charge of its information management portfolio is obviously a major loophole.

It is as if those in charge of communication in the party and government don’t know how to do their work without incurring public mistrust or anger. Take Dr. Kwabena Adjei’s unguarded and veiled threat against the judiciary (“There are many ways to kill a cat”) and all that repartee comes from Asiedu Nketia in a sharp retort to opponents of the NDC and you can tell why I am concerned.

Of course, one is not suggesting that all that the NDC functionaries say is deplorable; but much of what they put out there—and how they do so—is particularly worrisome.

Much of what has dented governments formed by the NDC over the years can be attributed to bad information management that eventually provoked bad press and persistent public disapprobation for much of what it says or does in the public sphere. In governance, once the public take with a pinch of salt anything emanating from officialdom, it becomes very difficult for them to trust the government.

True, the NDC has found to very difficult to wipe off the bad public perception that its own miscalculations have caused, dating back to the rough-house tactics that characterized the Rawlings era.

It’s an age-old problem that negated very much the Rawlings’ administration’s public image and haunted the Mills one to a good extent. That problem was worsened when the late President appointed all manner of people to the Communications Directorate at the Presidency only for them to make unguarded utterances or to misconceive issues to goof on. Koku Anyidoho particularly messed up.

As if cursed to mismanage the communications unit at the Presidency, all the functionaries there went haywire and under-performed. What seemed to be a collision course for Mahama Ayariga (then, the Spokesman for the late President) and Anyidoho (claiming to be the overall boss in charge of information dissemination at the Presidency) was obvious. Not even the re-organization done there could improve matters.

The confusion was not limited to the goings-on at the Presidency alone. It affected the Ministry of Information too, considering all the reshuffling that took place there. Not even the removal of the various Ministers of Information and their replacement with others or the changing of batons among the Deputy Ministers of Information could strengthen the government’s communication wing.

What took a better part of the government’s communication machinery unfortunately turned out to be persistent bad-mouthing of political opponents in lieu of decent, decorous, and purposeful information management to redeem the government’s public image.

Were this problem limited to the Presidency of the Ministry of Information alone, one might say that it was limited in scope. But it wasn’t. It spread to many other areas. Even, the office of the then Vice President John Mahama (now the substantive President) wasn’t spared. The Vice President’s spokesman, John Jinapor, goofed on many occasions, leading to calls for his removal. He is still at post with the President and seems to be learning useful lessons on information management and dissemination.

The problem still persists on the larger level. Considering the political climate in the country in the post-Election 2012 situation, one hardly expects goofs all too soon. But such is the case.

The new Minister of Information, Mahama Ayariga has already set the ball rolling, making the most unpardonable mistake just a few days after being sworn into office.

Why would Ayariga create this credibility problem, which the NPP’s Sammy Awuku quickly latched on to as evidence of the government’s penchant for lying? And, for once, I am tempted to see things through his eyes. This palpable lie is destructive and must be conde3mned.

Of course, the matter is topical and particularly relevant now because of the President’s appointment of Nana Oye Lithur and her confirmation by the NDC Majority in Parliament as the Minister of Children, Gender, and Social promotion, which has provoked intense public debate, anger, or controversy—depending on how one sees it.

Nana Oye is a human rights activist who is known for her defence of gays and lesbians as part of her human rights activism. But that advocacy seems to be her undoing, especially in the context of how her detractors have used it against her to suggest that her appointment will position her to privilege homosexuality in Ghana.

Some of us have held contrary views, opining instead that it is her expertise that the President seeks to tap to improve governance. What she will do or fail to do as such lies in the womb of time; and we will keep an eagle’s eye watch on her to see how the tide flows in that Ministry.

With this goof, Ayariga has seriously embarrassed the government and created conditions for serious scrutiny of officialdom. As soon as such credibility problems surface, the government will find itself always pushed to the wall to be reactive instead of proactive. It will be forced to waste time and energy fighting against the detractors’ campaign of misinformation and disinformation. Is that what President Mahama has chosen for his government to do all too soon?

I have been wondering why he was posted to that Ministry, in the first place, because I don’t see in his credentials anything to recommend him as a better management of information than Fritz Baffour, the former Minister of Information. Or, for that matter, others not yet appointed to that office.

Why would Ayariga rush to open his mouth when he didn’t have the facts with which to defend the President? What was the compunction? Nothing except an over-zealousness to prove that he is now in charge of that Ministry. Such miscalculated over-zealousness is the bane of most governments!

Generally, though, I am a strong advocate for the abolition of the entire Ministry of Information because it is a drain on the national coffers. The Information Services department is enough to do what that Ministry (which, unfortunately, is the superordinate institution for the Information Services Department) is designed to do.

More importantly, if the main purpose of that Ministry is to disseminate information about the government’s work, what will be the value of the Communications Directorate at the Presidency? Useless duplication of functions, which is characteristic of a government that is more interested in shooting itself in the foot than managing information properly to its own advantage? You, be the judge!

Indeed, if President Mahama’s credentials as a communications expert is to reflect positively on his own administration, then, he will have to tighten the screws on his appointees so that they don’t create problems for him. It is too early for such damaging goofs to become the order of the day.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.