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Feature Article of Sunday, 13 January 2013

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The president’s first week as a magician

By George Sydney abugri

This week, the mighty republic on the continent’s west coast called Ghana, got herself a brand new president who from the look of things, won’t be going on the so-called post-inauguration presidential honeymoon in a great hurry.

A brain child of the undisputed great grandpa of Western democracy, the presidential honeymoon refers to the first 100 days after the inauguration of a president, when under an unwritten pact, the opposition, its media and propagandists seize any attacks on the president and his administration, and Parliament is inclined to support any initiatives of the president.

I doubt if any African president has ever enjoyed the luxury of any such period of respite and in President Mahama’s case, it has been flak and more flak as usual during his first week in office. The transition to a new administration has also got the man busy in the first week:

The last transition in political administration in early 2009 was not without sky-flying tales about the harassment and persecution of officials of the departing administration but the transition that preceded that one was even more bizarre, Jomo.

Plucking worshipping political rivals from the hallowed pews of church auditoriums and frog marching them off to jail or literally snatching them from the gangways of airplanes before they can set the first foot on the tarmac is not exactly my idea of a smooth political transition.

Handing long-serving public officers unsolicited periods of absence from work under the so-called “proceed on leave” post-election gimmick, invading the homes of departing political rivals to seize motor cars purported to be state property or dragging them from behind the wheels of motor cars in the street, were all strange features of previous transitions in political administration.

This transition is without strife, as the president has the singular privilege of handing power back to himself! A new law governing the process of transition in political administration minimizes the chances of persecution of departing political rivals by an incoming administration, anyway.

I like this law, Jomo. It says even where a political administration hands over power to itself as is happening in the case of the John Mahama administration, appointees of the previous administration he presided over will still have to submit handing over notes and state property in their possession. Accountability is the name.

While waiting for the vetting of his nominees to state ministerial positions, the president has asked ministers of state and other appointees in the previous administration to continue in office in “caretaker” portfolios.

Critics have asked why Chief Directors of the ministries have not been mandated to head the ministries until substantive ministers are appointed. Something rather wacky is going on, Jomo: People with audible voices say the president should be allowed the constitutional prerogative to decide who he wants to work in his administrative team.

In the same breath, the same voices won’t allow the president space and time to operate and appear critical of what appear to me to be creative and innovative approaches to the attainment of the goals he has set himself.

His appointment this week of the first ever Executive Secretary at the presidency was met with criticisms cloaked as questions: Is he varying the existing administrative structure at the presidency? Won’t the Executive Secretary’s functions interfere with those of the Chief of Staff at the presidency? Some have criticized the president’s appointment for no other reason than that no previous president has done anything like that!

The president’s appointment of the first four key officials to his administration including the Executive Secretary and the Chief of Staff seem to have disappointed some people who say they are not typical party men.

Others have said any inclusion of skilled and competent individuals not known to be cadres in the president’s administration would only be in apt keeping with the all-inclusive government everyone including the president is advocating.

Don’t race with the crowd yet, Jomo, because methinks this issue is dicey and I am yet to access the sincerity of every argument relating to it.

The president looks around and spots a genius of a technocrat who could give his development programmes fillip, but hey, it is an open secret that the man is a die-hard supporter of the party that opposes the president in nearly everything. How is he supposed to trust a man like that? It is an old and still galloping story. Every president wants people he can feel comfortable working with. That is why the NPP and NDC have each never invited anyone in the opposite camp to work for them. The republic is so almost irredeemably polarized along the very acrimonies politics of the NDC and NPP, that the idea of an all-inclusive political administration although most desirable and ideal, seems impracticable if you are prepared to shed the cloak of pretence.

The solution? I am scratching my skull for one but I reckon that for a start, it would require tearing down the massive steel wall of hostility and hate standing between the two leading parties in the name of partisanship.

The whole world was here last Monday, but the NPP which is litigating the result of the presidential election at the Supreme Court, boycotted president Mahama’s inauguration on Monday.

The party leadership acknowledging the sensitive and unique position of President Kufuor as a statesman and former president, however extended to him the option to attend or decline the invitation to attend. He acted on the side of patriotism, maturity, prudence and statesmanship, subordinated party to state and agreed to attend.

Then the unbelievable happened: A crowd of supporters of the party besieged the former president’s residence and tried to physically prevent him from leaving the residence to the Independence Square! The police moved in before the former president could leave to attend the ceremony.

Some people say the NPP and NDC are mysteriously swapping stereotypes when it comes to the conduct of the foot soldier but don’t tell a soul I said THAT.

From clergymen and politicians to political activists and opportunistic journeymen, everyone in town has some advice for the president: It is often all worded more like commands and instructions than counsel: President Mahama must do this and do that and do that…

He has been especially warned to be careful who he surrounds himself with, lest he discovers too late that he has saddled his administration with opportunists and polished conmen and gets party founder Jerry Rawlings swearing and cursing all over the place all over again!

A fat lot of good all the counsel seems to be doing, what with party members who contributed energy, time, funds, logistics and other resources to President Mahama’s campaign clambering out of the battle trenches of a hard fought war to demand their share of sweet political power.

There is lobbying and there is lobbying, Jomo. What do you call the variety that has an army of lobbyists breathing down the neck of the newly sworn-in president, heaving and shoving out of public sight as if the call to national service and responsibility were a cocktail party? Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/web Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com editing@sydneyabugri.com

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