Feature Article of Sunday, 27 April 2003
THE Constitution gives immense powers to the President of the Republic. Perhaps, it is expected that as the father of the land, the discretion at his disposal will always be exercised in the best interest of the society.
President J. A. Kufuor won the 2000 presidential election on the basis of his pledge to the people of Ghana that an NPP government will cut down government expenditure by reducing waste and the number of ministers of state.
Nobody should, however, begrudge a political party which takes advantage of the shortcomings of a government to wrest power from it.
While in opposition, the NPP took issues with the ruling NDC and faulted it on many fronts, all in efforts to discredit that government’s policies in the estimation of the voters. It must be admitted that politics is always a contest of ideas and any credible opposition party should take advantage of the failures of the ruling party to build its own support base.
During the eight years of NDC reign, the regime was criticised for reneging on its promises to improve the wellbeing of the people. The then NPP Minority in Parliament criticised the NDC government’s economic policies, particularly when the prices of petroleum products were increased. The NPP then argued that the NDC had adopted the simplest means to balance its budget.
The NPP government tried to keep to its electoral promises by running a small government, declaring a fight against indiscipline and pledged to cut down on waste in the system when it assumed power in 2001.
A number of people were, however, disappointed that the appointees were just as large as that of the NDC, if not larger considering the number of special assistants. The government and its spin doctors tried to rationalise the appointments as necessary to make the government machinery functional.
But the bombshell came in October 2002 during the second presidential encounter with the press. At that encounter, President Kufuor told journalists that he was wrong, while in opposition, to have criticised the former government for having too large a ministerial team.
The President, at the inauguration of new ministers last week, said that the creation of new ministries and appointments were not designed to create “jobs for the boys”. Instead, he explained, they were intended to make government machinery effective in dealing with pressing national issues.
President Kufuor said it is unfortunate that some sections of the public have expressed concern about the apparent large number of ministers. He contended that the size should not be too critical an issue, provided that it is well intended and designed to enable the government to address national issues more effectively.
He said anybody who critically examines the issue will realise that the number of ministers appointed and the ministries created so far by the government are not a waste of state funds.
Mr President, I may beg to differ here. Your explanation that more ministers of state and appointees are required to run an efficient administration is not good enough and is an untenable alibi.
At 30, President Kufuor was a deputy minister. In the early days of the PNDC regime, he was a Secretary of Local Government. He was also an MP in 1979. Indeed, throughout the major part of his life, our President has been in government business.
Gradually, the electorate is being convinced that politicians, when in opposition, speak differently, in sharp contrast to what they say when in government.
Article 76 Section 1 of the Constitution makes provision for a Cabinet which shall consist of the President, the Vice-President and not less than 10 and not more than 19 ministers of state.
There are too many grey areas in the Constitution that must be reviewed to ensure efficient statecraft. It is difficult to appreciate why there is a ceiling on the Cabinet Ministers while it is a “free for all” when it comes to the appointment of Ministers of State and deputy ministers.
“Small is beautiful,” they say, and all over the world, businesses are shrinking as a means of reducing waste in the system.
The argument that more Ministers of State are required for other sectors may not be the best because, as a developing country, all the sectors are struggling to stand on their feet and each may require a Minister of State if the President’s argument is anything to go by.
The reality on the ground, however, is that the country lacks the resources to support the number of ministers and ministries the country currently has.
There are certain things that the people should be seeking consensus on and one crucial area should be the number of ministers that are required for efficient administration. I am told that in democratic politics, there is nothing like consensus building. It is said to be always adversarial because the business of opposition is to oppose and offer no alternative while the agenda of the government is to have its way.
Nonetheless, this country will gain a lot if all the political persuasions decide to build consensus on how effectively the government can cut down on cost and make savings to improve the economy and improve the lives of the people.
In our part of the world, first order needs, such as food, shelter, education and clothing are beyond the reach of many people, particularly the vulnerable in the society. That is why Ghana cannot afford the luxury of expenditure that can conveniently be reduced.
The President himself, at his inauguration on January 7, 2001, acknowledged the grave challenges facing the nation with the present economic circumstances in the country and remarked that such challenges are likely to put a severe strain on the people's belief in and enthusiasm for the democratic process and its attendant slow and arduous methods.
He, therefore, pledged that "we shall cut our coat according to the size of our cloth and utilise whatever help we get in the most appropriate manner”.
Many hailed the President when he made such an undertaking. But it appears President Kufuor is taking the immense goodwill he enjoys for granted and this is manifested in the way he is violating his own electioneering promises. For instance, the government, faced with the realities on the ground, was forced to increase prices of goods and services in percentages which were unprecedented in the annals of the country.
A few years ago, the critics of the NDC organised the "Yabre" demonstrations and the deduction from the actions of the demonstrators, some of them key figures in the present regime was that they were against arbitrary increases. It is difficult to determine what the NDC would have done if they had not been booted out of power.
The NPP Administration is being judged and criticised against the background of what it promised to do. It is generally held that it is only a fool who does not change his/her mind.
However, we may be undermining democracy if manifestos are not made to work and governments can dump their blueprints at will and take refuge in their lack of knowledge of the realities on the ground.
Based on the failure of successive governments to provide for the needs of the people, the electorate are re-thinking their participation in the decision-making process. They will soon begin to question why they should queue to vote and give jobs to others when they are unemployed.
The only occasion on which our politicians are likely to seek consensus is when they are talking about their welfare. When it came to the issues of $20,000 car loans for MPs and the renovation of bungalows, there was no debate or contest over whether or not the government had money, but when it came to increasing the prices of goods and services that they hardly pay for, the politicians so debated, with very little regard for the plight of the ordinary person.
There are a lot of problems confronting the country. The educational system, health care delivery and, indeed, all sectors are not performing well. Sometimes, it is perceived that there is a deliberate attempt to produce semi-literates from our educational institutions who will be unable to question government action or inaction.
It is high time certain things were done right and there is no denying the fact that Ghana has too many ministers, compared to our land size and population. More advanced societies and economies have fewer ministers. Germany, for instance, has 15 Cabinet ministers.
If the government machinery is not working, the failure may not lie in the numbers. The few resources that are available, including the human resource, must be effectively utilised. The present situation offers the best opportunity for a public debate on the number of ministers that Ghana needs.
Maybe a private members’ bill on the issue will help to settle the debate once and for all.