Opinions Wed, 25 Apr 2018

Understanding executive presidency in the 21st Century

It appears the fierce debate regarding the Ghana-US military base pact has relatively subsided and shifted gears toward the overdrive of the so-called 998 presidential staffers.

Like in the former debate, a bunch of Ghanaians as usual is displaying rational ignorance as well as interpreting political events based mostly in the realm of selective perception—thus, filtering inbound information via the lens of personal and sectarian interests far detached from present-day imperatives.

In many ways this is what is happening now in view of the issue with President Akufo-Addo’s parliamentary submission of the list of nearly 1000 staffers for the various offices of the presidency.

Again, an impassioned review of the current debates surrounding the presidential staffers speaks to a clear misunderstanding or an uninformed worldview of the modern presidency in the Internet/social media age undergirded by burgeoning expectations from exploding Ghana population.

The 21st century executive presidency has grown large, and it has also become complex bureaucratic establishment almost all over the world.

Looking in from outside, it appears deceivingly less complicated and relatively easy to run; but, as the old saying goes: “Looks are quite deceiving.”

Viable democracy thrives well on the three strong coequal branches of government—legislature, executive, and judiciary.

Indeed, each of these arms of government needs competent sets of staff to ensure its operational efficiency. This is not an attempt to defend or hold brief for the staffing approach of Nana Addo’s presidency.

Rather, the emphasis here is not only to educate as well as provide an honest assessment of the ongoing national issues, but also to point out the mushrooming roles and widening scope of contemporary fuuctions of executive presidency as stated early on.

It is instructive to note that in the field of modern political science, there seems to be unanimity of opinion among scholars that the ever-growing responsibilities of the executive branch have resulted in the remarkable increase in the number of presidential staffers worldwide.

Admittedly, the number or the total tally of the staffers depends largely on the individual president. Some want lean over large staff and vice versa.

Stated differently, there is no one-size-fits-all way regarding how a particular president manages or organizes his/her office and presidential staffers.

The circumstances or the emerging events, including the president’s leadership style, play pivotal role as to how many staffers are needed.

Once again, this is not to suggest that President Akufo-Addo’s presentation of 998 staffers to parliament for approval does not call for strict scrutiny from the Ghanaian taxpayers.

For many of us, however, the curious thing about the whole “presidential staffer” saga is the hyperbolic manner with which the debate has been framed as if it is “presidential scandal of the century” much the same way the US-Ghana military issue has been discussed on the various media platforms across the country, especially by its opponents.

As it has become almost a norm in Ghana today, a sizable number of Ghanaians who has no clue or have only general understanding of unfolding national issues of importance quickly jump into every debate regardless of their expertise levels.

The cumulative effect of such amateurish national debate approach has exposed many Ghanaians as a bunch of political obstructionists; suffice to say, half-baked policy analysts and attention-grabbing talking heads that happen to have unfiltered access to media forums and misusing them.

As noted elsewhere, contemporary presidency has dramatically morphed into an institution or an establishment where complex and various policy processes have become central part.

In view of this modern reality with its attendant web of offices, staff, analysts, advisers and the like, with the president at the apex, it is not surprising heads of government of our time resort to having huge staffers.

It does not necessarily mean the other two branches of government—legislative and judiciary—are subservient to the presidency because somehow they have comparatively less staffers than the executive branch.

The fact is coequal branch/power does not amount to equal functions of government. The judiciary or the parliamentary staffers may have grown over the years; yet, their rate of growth is incomparable to modern presidency.

Thus, the intersectionality of the powers of three arms of government aside, what one needs to understand is that the expanded roles and duties of the 21st century presidents make large staff support quite essential in this age where almost all the high expectations of the citizens are focused on the president.

Modern presidents under democracy have to do what they have to do within the constitutional constraints to fulfill the mandates of the electorates.

Therefore, any national discourse about the “998 presidential staffers” that ignores some of the preceding realities woefully lacks a commanding understanding of the concept of contemporary presidency!
Columnist: Bernard Asubonteng