Opinions Mon, 20 Mar 2017

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The more things change, the more they remain the same

A very popular saying that has attracted several interpretations ...’the more things change, the more they remain same....’ The hunger and thirst for change have been great in Ghana over the past few years and this was confirmed by the outcome of last year’s elections. The expectations are very high on this government.

I might be wrong but critically going through the history of the 4th Republic, this current NPP government is likely to enjoy the greatest cooperation from the citizenry even more than was enjoyed by the Kuffour administration. Such a cooperation, confidence, trust and support is the greatest non-financial asset (capital) a government can ever have. How do we maximize such capital? I will like to focus on the record 110 ministers of the current government that has generated a lot of attention.

After listening to the explanations given by His Excellency the President, there still remain some gaps and unattended issues with this development. The crux of the explanations by the President hinges on the marginal cost to the public purse because 65-70% are already parliamentarians who will not attract the same cost as otherwise.

Let me stretch the explanation of cost to cover non-monetary variables to give a better picture. If a lot of parliamentarians are given ministerial tasks to perform, can we be guaranteed a well-functioning efficient full house parliament? Or is it going to be the same old order of how parliamentary business was conducted? How objective can parliament be in terms of scrutinizing the executive if we find so many intersecting members? Is this not too costly to separation of powers of our democracy? What kind of dynamism are we seeing if things will remain the same? There are the costs of conflicting and clashing of interests and personalities. Just as the president premised his explanations on ‘if he succeeds’ (which we are all praying for), there is the other side of if the unforeseen happens; because we cannot control all environmental factors. Ghanaians might not be patient enough to take excuses, explanations and attributions.

The fact that NPP has got rich human resource capacity does not guarantee every NPP parliamentarian to be a good minister. I am worried about how well supervision can be harnessed to achieve the best results. The more we create several spots of responsibility through such appointments, the more the agency problem and possible risk exposure increase.

The agency cost increases because the agent must be monitored. Again, it is not too good for a coach to start all its stars in crucial matches. There should be a rich bench so that it can compel those who have been given the opportunity to ensure the best performance. Complacency must be guarded when there seem to be no close substitutes available. We can no longer tolerate the practice where a minister is found to have messed up in sector A, and reassigned to sector B (reshuffling).

When I look at the model being followed by the President, I can foresee a ‘schedule compression strategy’ which employs the techniques of fast tracking and crash principles in project management. The former can be explained as performing tasks in parallel so as to finish ahead of schedule and the latter means adding more resources to complete the project faster. There are huge cost implications of these strategies which include resourcing the project, overlapping activities which can be wasteful and possible rework due to shoddy execution.

It is my hope that the story of Ghana does not conform to how Justin Swanhart explained ‘the more things change, the more they remain same’. This was his explanation; ‘as one gets older, one experiences an ever increasing amount of technological change, but the fundamental human condition remains the same. The poor are still poor, the rich are still rich, the politicians are still corrupt, it is who you know, not what you know…’ Swanhart (2015).

Change is a coin that has two sides- dynamic and constant sides. I will want to see more of the dynamic side. Dynamism that uses rich benchmarks instead of past flawed examples which the people have indicated their displeasure against through the ballot.

It is sad to hear people cite some of the unacceptable excesses of the previous government as justification for the current actions. If the president will insist on maintaining this number of ministers, then there must so much transparency, accountability, public access to data so that we can do our own assessment and appraisal.

I had expectations for the current president some of which include: reducing the opacity of the public sector and its activities, strong supervisory mechanisms to ensure high performance, increase accountability and transparency, building capacity and resourcing the public and private sectors for efficiency and economic growth, emphasis on research-based policies and

actions and making data publicly available and accessible for research. These

expectations seem difficult to realize if so many ministries are created because of the financial implications.

I cannot end my piece without offering some suggestions which might help move the nation forward. The supervisory mechanisms of the government must be brought to bear. The NPP made us know (at least from grapevine) how fast they were able to collate electoral results from polling stations within record time.

I will like to suggest they use or advance same principle or mechanism to ensure accurate, reliable and timely reporting to the presidency so that monitoring and supervision can be enhanced.

Let me also advice unwarranted work of lobbyists. There is no need putting so much pressure on the President for appointments. We cannot muddy the waters upstream and come down to complain. It’s a shame to see some media personalities abuse the opportunity of having the microphone to back or incite the nomination of someone for executive position. The government must help build strong institutions and appoint selfless people of integrity to key positions. We must all grow in a culture of dynamic change. I still believe Ghana has a future and all must have a change of attitude if we really want to experience the better side of change.

Let us all work to experience a dynamic change so that we can be constant in dynamism. The only thing that makes change constant is its dynamism.

NB: I will like to acknowledge Fynn Nana Kwabena Kusi-Agyei III from whose post on Facebook I had this motivation and Pastor Ben Agyarko-Manu (Spain) whose input was incorporated in this article.

The writer can be reached via email: ohkatanga@gmail.com

Columnist: Ellis Kofi Akwaa-Sekyi

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