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Press Review of Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Source: Statesman

Editorial: A performing President and his many men

As The Statesman reports today, plans may be afoot at the Castle to deal with the apparent 'problem' of excess presidential ambition within the higher echelons of the ruling New Patriotic Party.

As 16, possibly 17, candidates so far, including seven Cabinet Ministers and the Vice President, all eye up the presidential spot, the suggestion is to remove all those candidates who hold ministerial positions to allow them to concentrate on their campaigns. According to our sources in the party, this could take place as early as January of next year.

The suggestion is sure to raise some eyebrows, both within the party and without. Strong cases both for and against the plans will be aired - and should be. Today The Statesman sets the ball rolling.

Firstly, we must ask, is presidential ambition currently causing a problem within the party, within the running of this country – enough problems to justify such a drastic overhaul of the current status quo? Some will argue that a Cabinet re-jig less than two years before a crucial General Election risks damaging the government’s solid reputation with several months of uneasy transition, whilst new ministers adjust to their new positions and find their feet in their jobs. What will happen to development targets in the interim? Yesterday, this newspaper called on all the presidential aspirants and their supporters to be guided by the national interest and to appreciate priorities – the overall performance of the government, after all, will decide whether or not that government gets voted back into power in 2008. It was in no way to suggest that currently the ministers with ambitions are not doing their work. On the contrary, there are hints that they are trying to outdo each other on the delivery charts, which may only be good for party and country.

We cautioned against a loss of focus, against ministers or politicians losing sight of the wider goal of party success in the next elections – but we did not say that this had happened yet. President Kufuor must be careful to keep a tight rein on his Cabinet, to make sure they keep performing and offering Ghanaians the relatively excellent leadership that has become the hallmark of Kufuor’s presidency – but the necessity of dismissing those contesting for his position may not be the best way of holding that rein.

Indeed, to stress the point, a clamour to impress the electorate, a competitive rivalry between ministries, can coincide with the constant clamour of the NPP to push forward development in this country and to continue challenging itself and the country in our development objectives. And whilst there is a danger of rival contestants knocking down one another’s ideas or failing to co-operate properly as a party, so far this has yet to be a problem.

Another consideration must of course be the logistics of such an arrangement: if the President really plans to get rid of those contesting for the flagbearership in January, when, then will nominations be opened for those wishing to stand? With the actual party conference not expected before October 2007, and the nominations due to open three months before, according to the NPP’s current constitution – how does he decide who to strike off the Cabinet? In politics, names are sometimes bandied around to test the reaction; and not all 16 candidates who have voiced an interest will eventually stand. Does the President want to risk losing some of the most valuable members of his Cabinet based on mere intentions?

And what about the Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama? Whilst ministerial positions are open to reshuffling, the vice presidency most certainly is not. Would it be fair to the other candidates if one amongst their number is allowed to retain such a prominent position?

Another consideration must be the strength of the party itself, and of its performance in Government. The final two years before the end of President Kufuor’s two-term office should be seen as his strongest – building on six years of progress and development, paving the way, the party hopes, for another NPP candidate to win the next General Elections.

The NPP and Ghana will forever be grateful to John Agyekum Kufuor for giving this country the kind of leadership denied it for decades. We maintain our position that since Ghana’s Independence Kufuor’s leadership, a combination of development and rule of law, has been the best model so far.

Will getting rid of what could potentially be half the Cabinet help Government to achieve its targets? There may be the calibre of personnel within the NPP; but is there the experience? With any ministerial re-shuffle, it inevitably takes a while for the new position holders to find their feet and fit into their groove – although deputy ministers can sometimes make a smooth transition up a ministry in which they are already well-versed. Is a radical overhaul of the ministries really what the government needs now – as it strives to show how successful and strong those ministries have become under its direction? On the flip side, of course, some will argue that firm, decisive action by the President will help to strengthen his government – weeding out those whose attention might be elsewhere, and keeping it firmly focused on what they came out to achieve. Whether his plan will serve to strengthen or weaken his cause is something which must be thrashed out within the Presidency in the coming weeks or months.

One final consideration, which might affect these discussions, is the possible effect of the decision on the candidates themselves – and on the likelihood of one of those candidates gaining victory. Because ultimately, of course, the NPP wants an NPP candidate to win the elections in 2008 – it wants to remain in power. For each of the individual contestants, party victory rather than personal victory is the overall priority in two years’ time.

With the most popular, the most charismatic potential leaders knocked off the political rostrum and relegated to constituency level, it may be difficult for them to build the rapport with their party members and with the public they need to nurture and maintain in the coming months. For any aspiring leader, publicity is their oxygen – to deprive the NPP’s leading lights of this, risks taking the life out of the party, at least in the public eye.

Whilst the ruling party’s presidential aspirants must learn to harness their ambitions for the party’s cause, making them play out this competition in private, in university lecture halls, at symposia, in the small media space they can afford once off their public platform, may not be the best way to achieve this.

In discussing the fate of those vying for the presidency, Government is moving a step in the right direction. But it must be prepared to listen to the criticisms, and to think long-term – what will be best for the party and its election hopes?