Opinions of Thursday, 19 January 2017
Columnist: Agbozo, A. S.
Dear Mr. President:
Congratulations on your inauguration. I thought your inauguration speech was heartfelt and uplifting despite concerns of plagiarism. It was heartwarming to hear you say, “Money is made in the private sector and not in government”.
A few disclosures about me should help place this piece in perspective. I am not a member of any political party, and what is more, my sympathies do not lie with any political party. I voted for the NPP this election with some reservation. And this happens to be the first time I ever voted for any of the two major political parties.
I would pass for a political animal; however, I am not active in politics. I concluded - I am praying you prove me wrong - that, in Ghana, political parties and organized politics are a magnet for self-seekers and time-servers whose service to the public is an afterthought, secondary to lining their pockets.
Events in Ghana this past half-century have only reinforced this observation. But as I divested myself of my sovereignty and vested it in you, I humbly ask that you indulge me as I share some thoughts with you.
This letter proposes a very simple thesis supported by clear historical record. Sir, posterity will look kindly on you if the only legacy you leave is entrenchment of good governance institutions and practices.
The focus for most incoming administrations has been the more quantifiable socio-economic and growth variables. The effect of good governance in boosting and sustaining the economic gains is often downplayed. It is my opinion that you would have done more than any of your predecessors to sustain, ironically, the more quantifiable economic and financial indices if you place a premium on good governance.
Sir, any progress you make economically, financially or fiscally if not anchored on a bedrock of good governance may be eviscerated by the succeeding government.
The cardinal lesson of the past eight years, if not the past four decades, is the relegation of good governance structures and its damaging effect on sustainable growth and development. Indeed this is the lesson of most African states since the brief honeymoon of African Independence.
Most of Africa’s independence came in the midst of an economic boon. In the post war era, world prices for African commodities- cash crops like cocoa and coffee and mineral products- soared to new levels. The terms of trade were favourable; oil cost less than $2 a barrel. Public debt was low; foreign currency reserves were high.
Even the rainfall pattern – a key factor in determining Africa’s fortunes- was propitious. Good rainfall fell throughout the 1950s, boosting agricultural production. In 1961, Lake Chad and Lake Victoria reached their highest levels in the twentieth century.
It seemed a provident and beneficent God was smiling down and willing us on! In his book the economics of African development, published in 1967, the World Bank Economist Andrew Kamarck concluded: For most of Africa, the economic future before the end of the century can be bright”.
The next fifty plus years however is a study in incompetence, because just over 30 years after this boon, Africa was dismissed as the “Hopeless Continent” (The Economist, May 13, 2000).
Sure, there were crests of hope: for a period until 2010, with economic growth rate of over 20 percent, Ghana, for example, was a beacon for the rest of Africa. But like all previous beacons, in Africa and elsewhere, without good governance structures, Ghana flattered to deceive.
Less than a decade ago, the African Renaissance and ‘Africa rising’ was on everybody’s lips. That hopeful chorus is becoming an almost inaudible whisper. It is challenging to pin point the precise mix of reasons why nations grow or fail to grow. However, there is a consensus on the basic factors that contribute to rapid growth of nations.
This include: allowing an efficient free-market flow of goods, money and people, encouraging domestic savings for capital accumulation, enacting laws that support efficient operation of financial institutions/markets to channeling money into productive investments, creating an environment that ensures that the rule of law and property rights work, utilizing new technology in the production process, keeping inflation in check, opening doors to foreign capital, and maintaining quality health and educational systems for human capital development.
These clichés are true and they usually lead to temporary, but not permanent growth. Particularly, they offer no real insight into how the growth they produce can be sustained to ensure economic development. In my humble opinion, I believe, the key element for sustained and holistic growth in the case of Africa, is good governance.
What do I mean by good governance? I posit three elements of good governance, Personnel, Institutions and Personal Example/Leadership Behaviour. Let’s start with personnel, the people you choose to govern with you.
Mr. President, the people you draft into your administration and cabinet will determine your legacy. More pertinently, your choice of human resources to staff your administration will signal whether it is business as usual or the beginning of a new epoch in Ghanaian politics.
Your inauguration address suggests the ending of an era: “We must restore integrity in public life. State coffers are not spoils for the party that wins an election, but resources for the country’s social and economic development.
I shall protect the public purse by insisting on value-for-money in all public transactions. Public service is just that – service and not an avenue for making money. Money is to be made in the private sector, not the public. Measures will be put in place to ensure this”. As playwright Arthur Miller once observed, “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted”. ”
What are the illusions that have blinkered your predecessors? First, the pool of people, especially party members, and activists, and past office holders who jockey for your attention and positions must necessarily be the pool from which you make appointments. I implore you to discard this constraint and appoint people with demonstrable or proven integrity.
Elevate competence above loyalty and familiarity. To do otherwise will amount to treading a well-worn path that has led us to where we find ourselves right now.
To provide positive reinforcement for my advice here is the example of Lee Kuan Yew culled from his biography “From Third World to First”. When his party, the People’s Action Party, was voted into power he faced the same situation that I assume confronts you now.
His near vision was filled with party faithful, activists and executives clamoring to be rewarded for their toils during the campaign. He resisted that and took a more daring decision.
He actively courted people with proven competence in the private sector who would not ordinarily venture into politics and persuaded them to join his government. He argues in his book that most of those who actively sought positions in his administration had nothing new to offer.
Moreover, the political culture up to that point provided a platform that most people perceived as the shortest and surest route to wealth, and this attracted a certain kind of people. An eerily familiar diagnosis I suppose.
I concede that you are constrained by the constitutional imperative to select majority of your ministers from Parliament. Also, no doubt such a move may cause disaffection within the rank and file of the NPP and consequently wreak havoc on your chances for re-election. This situation may give you pause.
Thankfully, there are no such constitutional fetters on appointments to the numerous governance institutions and statutory agencies. Sir, you have an opportunity to leave your mark and begin to establish a meritocracy in public service.
I urge you to display a boldness of spirit. What the nation needs now is not incremental changes. There is no doubt there will be political obstacles to an upheaval of an established order of bestowing patronage and job for the boys.
If establishing the public service as a cauldron of our best and brightest and attracting the right caliber and timbre of people is the right thing to do, then you should work to make it happen, no matter how long the odds.
In 1820 in the United States, one might not have been able to conceive that American slavery would ever come to an end, but there were some who advocated abolition. In 1950 in South Africa one might not have been able to imagine that apartheid would ever come to an end, but there were activists who already had begun to oppose the system.
I use institution in a very loose sense - laws, entrenched practices, systems, mechanisms, and institutions qua organizations are all lumped together.
It is important that we acknowledge a few home truths. First, corruption, sadly, but without doubt, is the most entrenched ‘institution’ of our post-independence era.
To attempt a workable prognosis, we must equally acknowledge the following corollary of facts: Our cultural practices have been ferociously supportive of corruption; there is a denial of the centrality of government in sustaining this state of affairs; successive governments have consistently trafficked heavily in the tropes of slogans (probity, integrity and accountability….zero tolerance for corruption…..public service charters) without the necessary rigour, commitment, nous and application required to dismember this institution.
Mr. President, we have created but we have not yet established and entrenched the good governance institutions, necessary for any functioning democracy. That roll call includes the auditor general, CHRAJ, an attorney-general, the police, an electoral commission, Whistleblower Act, Government Contracts Protection Act, Public Procurement Act, among others.
There is no gainsaying that recent events suggest that the above institutions have more huff than bite. On that score therefore, I suppose your work is cut out. On the one hand a radical programme of re-organization, or at least a well-conceived and consistent agenda of reform of agencies and, application and enforcement of existing statutes.
The more ambitious and difficult task is to identify other institutions that are key and will consolidate good governance in our current evolutionary state. I will seriously urge you to consider setting up two more institutions: a campaign finance regime and the office of the public prosecutor. Thankfully, the latter was part of your campaign promises.
He who controls the purse strings controls a nation. Whilst the source of this quote is unclear, its evident truth is not. Who knows where the money for political campaigns comes from? Corporate entities; self-interested nation states and businessmen; money launderers; criminals; corrupt politicians, or perhaps, all of the above? What we do know is that all sponsors of political campaigns treat funding of campaigns like paying insurance premiums.
After the win they will surely come and demand the insured amount. This is part of the genesis of government sanctioned corruption. The hastily approved contract whose terms defy common sense and prudence; public projects that are destined to end up as white elephants, money siphoning schemes masquerading as social intervention programmes - all disingenuous schemes devised to rob the Republic. A well-intentioned inaugural speech notwithstanding, you will not convince me you are serious about restoring integrity in public life if you do not bring transparency to the funding of political parties.
Equally, I find it at once irritating and amusing that the now ‘statutory’ eight year hibernation period for political parties who lose elections in Ghana is viewed by some of my fellow countrymen as punitive. If the standard retribution for reckless mismanagement of our economy and incompetence is the knowledge that it is inevitable that you will assume the reins of government again in eight years, it beggars belief how any sentient being with a shard of intelligence can construe that to be an incentive to be a diligent custodian or a disincentive to mismanagement and corruption.
In fact, I would argue that for these ‘honourables’ the ‘downtime’ is welcome because it affords the deposed office holder time to enjoy the spoils. What is more, the practice is that most of this past office holders assumes even more senior positions when the party regains power again after the eight years. Some perverse punishment and disincentive as one can ever devise.
Research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, a best practice insight company, identified seven key components of a culture of integrity; the most powerful of these components is organizational justice. Organizational justice measures whether there is fairness in an organization or a community.
We cannot “restore integrity” in public service if we do not address or thoroughly investigate allegations of malfeasance in public service. We will not restore integrity in public service if we continue to welcome with open arms into public service those whose previous tenure at the helm of government resulted in acquisition of wealth of doubtful provenance.
This is the reason why we need the special public prosecutor. This should be an individual outside the government appointed by the President or Parliament to investigate government officials for misconduct while in office. It is my opinion that the establishment of the office is not nearly as important as the competence, commitment, integrity and guaranteed independence of the individuals(s) chosen to occupy that office.
We do not need another governance institution that does not bite. When Lee Kuan Yew decided to prosecute his campaign against corruption, the first casualty was a member of his cabinet, no less. Mr. President, does your anti-corruption commitment extend to your cronies and financiers?
A credible and independent public prosecutor will be a deterrent to abuse of office. But more importantly, that office acts as a gatekeeper: if public service ceases to pay illegal and fantastic dividends, the unscrupulous and opportunistic will look elsewhere for more profitable ventures. Public service will then begin to attract those fulfilled only by the prospect of serving their nation and fellow citizens. I know it was a campaign promise of yours; your legacy will be considerably enhanced by fulfilling this promise.
Personal Example/Leadership Behaviour
This is probably the most important of all the components of good governance. I am sorry but I do not feel the same excitement that is palpable among most Ghanaians about your election (or any election in Ghana for that matter), about the peaceful transition, and about the pomp and pageantry of the inaugural ceremony.
Mr. President, haven’t we been here before? From Kwame Nkrumah’s clarion call “Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge - a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve - to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man.
Dare we ask for more in life”? Through let the blood flow euphoria of the PNDC 1979 and 1981 putsches, and its symbolic cleansing of our dirty ‘stables’. To the promise of NPP (2000-2008), symbolic also of a new era after 19 years of PNDC/NDC rule. These rushes of adrenaline have always ended in disappointment. Your speech acknowledges that after 60 years of independence we could have done way better.
Whether you acquiesce to pressure from your party to boost the coffers for re-election and therefore start interfering in government contracting, in nepotism and cronyism, it will all be interesting to observe. If you open the gate a fraction of an inch for such practices, the barbarians among us, and at the gate, will push it wide open and it will be open season all over again for the continued rape of the nation. From the bottom of my heart and from a heart aching for lasting change and reform, I wish you well.