Opinions Sat, 18 Mar 2017

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The 110 ministers brouhaha: Our president is indeed a controversial politician!

By: Ayornu Ibrahim

"A politician who doesn't generate controversy is a dull politician and that is not an interesting politics."

The President was reported to have said this in reply to his critics who accused him for attempting to distort the history of the country in his 60th Independence Anniversary speech. I initially did not understand his response but I do now: he knows the size of his government- a number that will generate controversy and public displeasure.

Just as the debate on who founds Ghana was about settling down, the president generated another controversy when he announced the final batch of his ministers and deputy ministers bringing the number to 110 ministers of state, the highest in history of the fourth Republic. Out of the total 110, 20 are Regional ministers including their deputies, 40 ministers for the various ministries, including the ones operating from the Presidency, and 50 deputy ministers. The announcement was met with mixed reactions and displeasure from the general public, with policy think tanks, academia, politicians and individual citizens proffering their views either for or against the number of the ministers.

I am unable to have a definite individual position as others on the issue, at least for the first time. I find the views of both sides of the argument rationale. The concern of the critics is mainly premised on the fact that the number will drain the public purse considering the challenges of the economy at the moment, a position which any well-meaning Ghanaian will admit. The defenders on the other hand proffered that the expectations and the vision of any government influences its size.

The effect of the number on the public purse is indeed a cause of worry to some of us. The salaries, allowances, per diem and other benefits to be paid these ministers is a huge blow to the nation's finances. A minister is to be paid GH¢15,900 per month and also enjoys the benefits of two cars- fully fueled with the taxpayer's money, security, a house with staff and an entertainment allowance among others. A deputy minister's salary is GH¢14,800 with other benefits.

Doing my calculations right, a whopping GH¢1,535,000 of taxpayer's money will be spent on 50 ministers and 50 deputy ministers a month. But this is a government that vowed to protect the public purse prior to the last election. Or does the government think it is only corruption that amounts to abuse of public purse? Then they must learn that unnecessary waste of the tax payer's money is equally an abuse of the public purse.

What is more interesting is that this same President painted a gloomy picture of the economy during his maiden State of the Nation Address but want us to believe there is enough to pay the 110 ministers the huge salaries at the expense of the taxpayer who now have to pay more for fuel and transportation.

It is also important for the President to note that the large government size can breed corruption. The Chief of Staff and her deputies to whom the ministers report to, will have difficult time dealing with the large number of ministers and if these ministers are to operate at the blind side of their colleague minister responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation and the President himself, the President's determination to deal with the menace of corruption will be defeated long before the Office of the Special Prosecutor finally comes to being. It will be easier for the President to check corruption within a lean government than a government with 110 ministers of state.

This notwithstanding, I am tempted to find the justification from the government, some academia and other individuals also legitimate. The premise that the expectations and vision of a government influences its size is very true. The work to be executed by the government makes it imperative for it to get the many hands as possible to enhance an efficient and effective implementation of its programs and projects.

The President promised Ghanaians many projects prior to his election for which he has only a four year mandate to execute. Analyzing the nature of the projects to be implemented, one of my lecturers, Dr. Owusu Mensah of the Political Science Department of University of Ghana argued that he will even appoint a minister of state in charge of the one-district -one factory and a minister in charge of free secondary education if he were the president in order to fulfill the political objectives of the party. He further indicated that the president will be judged on output at the end of his tenure and not the number of ministers appointed.

It was also argued that some of the ministries created are unnecessary but I find them imperative if the government deems it fit to achieve a specific policy target. For instance, myjoyoline.com reported on 28th February, 2017 that the government of Spain had appointed a Minister for Sex for the first time. The minister's role was to get Spaniards to produce more babies to arrest the falling birth rate of the country. It might sound weird but that is the policy target of the government that must be achieved. The US also appointed a Minister for Brexit just to ensure US leaves the European Union.

It seems the argument that the vision of a government can influence its size is also backed by the constitution. For the avoidance of doubt, article 78(2) of the 1992 constitution states that: the president shall appoint such number of Ministers of State as may be necessary for the efficient running of the state. In the wisdom of the framers of the constitution, the visions of governments differ and there is the need for each government to be given the ample room to appoint the necessary number of hands it deems fit to execute its programs and policies without putting a limit on the number as we have in the case of the number of ministers who form the Cabinet.

I really find the issue controversial after weighing the argument of both sides from a more neutral and objective perspective. Any side one takes will sound reasonable depending on his views and analysis.

Ayornu Ibrahim

The writer is a student of the University of Ghana.


Columnist: Ibrahim, Ayornu

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