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Opinions of Saturday, 4 August 2018

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

That awful AMERI deal rears Its treacherous head again

Every Cabinet is constituted by a coalition of persons holding different views; of individuals of different character and upbringing; and, of course, of social background and stature, as well.

It is therefore unrealistic to expect a Cabinet to be absolutely consistent in all the actions it ever takes, or to agree always on the line to be taken on specific issues.

The important criterion for judging a Cabinet, then, is not whether it is always united, but whether its members are disciplined enough to accept a decision they may have kicked against in Cabinet, but on which they had not managed to carry their colleagues with them.

Being disciplined means accepting the collective view without rancour. If the collective view happens to run counter to the conscience of a member of the Cabinet, and he feels very strongly about it, the honourable and dignified thing to do is to offer his or her resignation to the head of the Cabinet – in our case, the President – and in other cases (such as in Britain) to the Prime Minister. That's what recently happened in the case of Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary when he publicly disagreed -- irreconcilably -- with the “Brexit” policy of Prime Minister Theresa May.

If on losing an argument, a member of the Cabinet stays within the Government but goes out, "Nicodemusly" to attempt to defeat the collective view – through an underground media campaign, or by lobbying centres of power within the ruling party, then he has rebelled. A head of government who tolerates rebellion in his camp sends an unmistakable signal that he is "weak" (even if he is not, and in politics, perceptions matter as much as facts).

No-one who is not a member of our Cabinet can tell us exactly what happened with the new 'Ameri' energy-provision agreement, which was apparently rushed to Parliament for consideration. Was the presidency fully aware of its implications? Was it in truth devoid of the signatures or approval of the Attorney-General and the Minister of Finance (as is being suggested)?



It was extremely amateurish for the Government to treat the public presentation of such a controversial agreement in the cavalier manner it seems to have been done. Such an agreement -- even if had all the requisite signatures -- to have been have been placed before Parliament at very short notice. Was it not known that Parliament was about to rise? If it was known, why was it not anticipated that taking the agreement to Parliament under such conditions would suggest that it was somehow being "smuggled through"? Remember that perceptions do matter in politics!

No, this must not be swept under the carpet, for if the Government machinery continues to chug along in such an unconcerned manner, it will be deemed to be incompetent.

The point cannot be made too often that an agreement over which an NDC Minister was dragged over hot coals by the party now in Government; the circumstances surrounding the dispatch of a delegation to the domicile of the contractual party; and the Ghanaian public's propensity to suspect corruption in every transaction until it is proved clean, are not matters that any Government can ignore without shooting itself in the foot.

People who have seen the agreement claim that it is the same old 'Ameri' deal has been rebottled, relabelled and placed on the shelf. Will a Ghana in which every politician considers himself a wine-taster buy such a product? Have our rulers forgotten that their opponents go by the rule that "if he gives you a goat, say he gave you a cow" etc? How can they give such a political gift to experts in the dissemination of "fake news"?



Not to anticipate, in our current political climate, that the least sleight of hand with respect to ANY agreement, least of all a nuclear-powered one like 'Ameri', would produce a megaton explosion if not handled delicately, was negligent in the extreme, to say the least. I have said it before and I say it again -- people who claim to love the President must prove their love by taking care not to act in such a way as to embarrass him.

I have nothing but praise for those sharp-eyed members of the NPP machine -- especially the New Statesman newspaper – who blew the whistle over the unsavoury goings-on with regard to the new 'Ameri' deal. Now that the Vice-President and his economic team have also put in their oar, the presidency has a chance to thoroughly re-examine both the agreement and the processes that caused this embarrassment to the Government, so that no such attempt can ever be made in future. For those who have thrown stones at others must be wary not to rent glass houses, (so to speak!)

Two other issues on which there are signs that the Government might be fighting against itself, are the free Senior High School scheme and – galamsey. On the SHS issue, it appears that the Finance Minister is concerned that applying the non-payment of fees to ALL students, whether their families can afford to pay for them or not, will dig a hole into his budget. I do not envy him, for the demands of the society are enormous, due to pent-up demand

I counsel the Minister to take cognisance of the fact that the system of “means testing” – whereby the incomes of applicants for state benefits are assessed before they are granted benefits, is unpopular even in Britain where it originated from. Although the “welfare state” has been in existence for a long time in the UK (the National Health Service there, for instance, is 70 years old this year!) right-wing politicians have never ceased to nibble at it, using ever more stringent "means testing".

Now, if in the UK (where record-keeping is efficient and pervasive) disputes constantly arise over whether assessors do so fairly or are encouraged by rightwing politicians to ignore the real conditions of life of the poor in society, how much more our country, where even physical residential addresses are only now beginning to be systematised?



Besides, opposition to state assistance to the indigent in society usually comes from the affluent in society (most of whose wealth is inherited!) I therefore counsel the Minister again to tread carefully on this issue, lest he arouses emotions with which he has no need to contend. Political labels are difficult to shake off, once acquired -- whether justified or not.

On the question of galamsey, I see that Prof Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, who heads the Inter-Ministerial Committee appointed by the President to oversee the ban on illegal mining and try to mitigate the effects of the ban on the employment opportunities of the youths forced into galamsey by the lack of jobs in the rural areas, is being viciously maligned by an individual to whom he graciously granted audience, and who claims to have the answers to all issues regarding galamsey.

Prof. Frimpong Boateng has roped in the Tarkwa School of Mines to provide technical services of the sort the individual is peddling, and probably at a cheaper price than what the maligner is proposing for himself and the team he has "recruited" from abroad. How can a Minister sit in Ghana and have his personnel recruited for him by a graduate student?

The President did not appoint a man like Frimpong-Boateng to head the anti-galamsey campaign for him to be buffeted by people through their so-called political "connections". Whoever is behind this young mining student in the US must call him to order. The Inter-Ministerial Committee not to allow itself to be manipulated by “carpet-baggers”.

For their task is a monumental one: namely, to save Ghana's water-bodies and farmlands for the generations that will succeed our own. Personality conflicts and petty jealousies must not be allowed anywhere near the fulfilment of such a sacred duty.