Three dominant themes typified Prof Mills’ presentation on the IEA platform; the pervading anguish over Tsatsu Tsikata’s unexpected incarceration under unusual circumstances, his remonstrations against vindictiveness while advocating reconciliation and continuity in government and an ambitious socioeconomic agenda.
These were all launched on the back of an extempore speech delivered confidently and in a relaxed manner.
Interestingly, Tsatsu was the one person whose physical absence did nothing to blunt his presence at every stage of the programme. Firstly, Prof Mills would dedicate the speech to “my friend Tsatsu Tsikata” and then again pay glowing tribute to the man whom he would credit for playing a major role in laying the kind of foundation that has resulted in Ghana’s current oil find. He would then answer the first two questions from the audience which were both Tsatsu questions; speaking in obvious pain about how Tsatsu had offered committed national service and amassed no ill-gotten personal property while simultaneously restating his commitment to maintaining the law on causing financial loss to the state.
Indeed at a point, there was a real threat of Tsatsuism taking over the Encounter till Joy Fm’s Matilda Asante issued a threat of her own; she would have none of it.
Time without number, Prof Mills would restate his commitment to national reconciliation and what he would refer to as “continuity of government” irrespective of the political party in power. To this extent, he would take a closer look at the work of the Prof Anamoah Mensah work on Educational Reforms which clearly came highly recommended in his view and yet which the NPP government’s tinkering had compromised. He would not be afflicted with the bug of rechristening i.e. we were unlikely to see a reversal of the name-change from JHS back to JSS.
There is another reason why I mention Education though for it was in the field of Education that Prof Mills had his best moments. This shouldn’t have surprised me considering that both Prof Mills and his wife are professionals in this sector. There was that memorable intellectually engaging tango between Prof Takyiwaa Manu and Prof Mills over the medium of instruction at the Primary level and what new emphasis ought to be placed on tertiary education. Prof Mills would then demonstrate great empathy for and understanding of the condition of the Ghanaian teacher right from Primary to Tertiary levels and commit himself to improving their remuneration. He would recall with some disgust the derision his earlier suggestions while in government for young graduates to venture into the teaching profession had been subjected to by his political opponents. Without saying so, he implied that by the combination of not improving the lot of teachers while affirming the low social status of the teacher, the NPP government was reaping what it had sown. He would expand the School Feeding Programme and make sure that at least in the Primary School, pupils would be supplied with school uniforms.
As a matter of fact, so cordial was the interaction between the University Dons, and some lawyers in the audience like Mrs. Gloria Ofori-Boadu who openly confessed to being Prof Mills former students that I could have sworn at a point that the law Professor had had a hand in engineering the choice of his friends from Legon and his students from Law School to shore up his candidature.
Agriculture also came highly rated with Prof Mills pledging to tackle our food needs by irrigating the 178 hectares of land on the Accra Plains. He would then point out that Ghana was not short of blue prints with implementation being the missing component of our leadership/development drive.
Now after laying such an ambitious plan, it was inevitable that the tough how question would come, which is what brought Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo to her feet. “Have you costed all these plans?” And as we are beginning to see, this particular question is so tricky that the candidates, who obviously do not possess the specifics that the critical audience seeks, dance around it in their best efforts. Prof admits not costing it yet, promising more detail in his manifesto and yet is quick to add that the combination of increased domestic savings and cutting down... what is the phraseology, “profligate expenditure” will do the trick. But how do you know for sure if you have not costed it?
On this question of the how, I presume what many seek is for a candidate to be able to say for example that my plan is to achieve target A. My regular sources of income are as follows and when I cut out waste in this area, it earns me this specific amount. I will mobilize revenue by the following measures and three years down the line, I expect to be earning so much from this policy. Indeed till this kind of detailed analysis is done, our politicians will always seek solace in the general and never allow themselves to be pinned down on the specifics.
There was also a strong man from the TUC who fired Prof Mills a powerful question bordering on the impact of the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement with provisions for tariff limits on his own plans to increase tariffs on poultry products. That was tricky and I watched out for his response little anticipating that academia will take over. With a glib turn of phrase, Prof Mills will bamboozle me by seeking refuge in some fancy Latin legal terminology-to wit that our International agreements and commitments ought to be respected irrespective of which government is in power. The implication of course is that he may not be able to increase the tariffs as planned.
On the drug menace, I left the encounter convinced that Prof Mills sufficiently appreciates the magnitude of the threat facing the nation and its implications for security and health. He was very tough on stamping out the drug trade which is great. On my question of the Mental Health Bill however which has been in the wings for three years and which is expected to address issues of severe staff shortages, obsolete drugs, and overcrowded psychiatric hospitals and increasing illicit drug use in secondary schools etc, the details were not similarly forthcoming. On addressing the alarming doctor: patient ratio of 1:10, 000 quite apart from his plans to enhance the training of Physician Assistants, he suggested further consultation with the Ghana Medical Association on the best way forward.
Prof also demonstrated quick thinking on a potentially embarrassing issue of a document which had been sent to the NDC seeking his views on the Women’s Manifesto which he had obviously not seen. This notwithstanding, he gathered himself quickly enough to restate his commitment to not less than 40% of his appointments going to women. He would then proceed to explain that women in his experience had proved themselves capable in more ways than one as a result of which this policy move was not to be considered a favor being done to women.
The night had one tense moment and many lighthearted moments. Interestingly the one tense moment simultaneously turned out to be a lighthearted moment in view of the manner in which Prof Mills chose to handle a sensitive question on his health posed by a columnist in the Spectator. He took the Presidential aspirant on for trivializing the communication on his health status when he had at one time said that everyone had suffered from one ailment or the other before. Once the question had been asked, I saw many visibly wince in obvious discomfort. In Prof’s answer however, he said that he had been unwell, had undergone treatment and was well enough to continue his work albeit not being in the privileged position to determine when he would be called to see his maker. He then made an appeal that he would be most gratified if anyone in the audience could confidently sign a bond predicting when the good Lord….by which time the auditorium had been thrown into laughter, drowning out both his last words and the matter of his health.
Another light moment showed up while confessing the “useful mistakes” (due apologies to Citi Fm’s Bernard Avle) he had learnt from his previous tenure in government. In Prof Mills’ words, he had been a poor judge of character, keeping at a distance allies he should have kept near. Anticipating our discomfort with a President who may then have difficulty selecting the right team, he was to quickly add; “Now I am very very good at judging character!” Ei! Politics that!
Typically, I conclude by drawing an analogy with the Face-to-Face encounters organized for student leaders to present their manifestos. In sharp contrast to the vibrant student fora, the Presidential encounters conducted under the glare of the cameras, tends to be rather subdued, very polite and so diplomatic! The strictly-by-invitation-only audience is characterized by muffled suppressed laughter, reluctant clapping and polite attentiveness. Sometimes, as an advocate of “free expression”, I miss the student Face-to-Face.
There, when we like your speech, we clap loudly and rapturously. If you drop one tantalizing quotation, we show our gratitude amidst screaming and shouting your name. If midway through your electrifying speech, Ensaw who is not exactly your best example of handsomeness makes a grand entry, the entire auditorium will erupt into a spontaneous singing of
Fine Boy Ensaw 4x
Ao Ensaw ei, Fine Boy! 4x. Repeat.
Thus liberated, we shall then proceed with the manifestoes!