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Opinions of Friday, 13 January 2017

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‘Ministermania’; a symptom of a larger problem

By Henry Kwasi Prempeh

The way I see it, this recurring ‘Ministermania’ is but a symptom of a larger problem. The real drivers behind the upward tendency on the number of Ministers are two-fold: a cultural one, and a constitutional one.

First, the cultural. We tend to measure the importance of a project or task or function in a government and of the person selected to execute it by whether that person will carry the elevated title of Minister or not. If the position is not designated as that of a Minister, we tend to downgrade in our minds both the office and the status of the person assigned to it. This is especially so if the person selected to do the task is a known politician.

Let’s take Dan Botwe’s assignment: “Regional reorganization and development”. As I see it, what Dan Botwe has been put in charge of is really a “project” — culminating in the creation of four new administrative regions. A Ministry is typically a unit of the executive branch that oversees a number of operating agencies, each of which is in charge of implementing specific policies and laws related to the sector. Dan Botwe’s project is not of the kind that warrants or fits the mould of a Ministry.

However, if Dan Botwe was named as the man in charge of executing this big political project of creating additional regions but his job did not come with the title of Minister, we would conclude that he had been downgraded: “Dan Botwe did not get a ministerial position mpo”. So, well, why not just call him a Minister!

In this case, since it is not exactly clear that the project he’s been put in charge of entails overseeing a number of operating agencies implementing specific laws and policies, he ends up as a Minister but, presumably, one that cannot have a Ministry per se. The same goes for Dr. Akoto Osei’s job: Monitoring and evaluation. A very important function in a government.

But if it was announced that Dr. Akoto Osei was the government’s M & E guy, but the job did not come with the Minister designation, we would conclude that the former Finance deputy under Kufuor had been demoted or skipped over. So, well, why not just make him the M&E Minister to show that both he and his function or project are important.

In each of these cases, the Minister appears to me to be essentially a Minister of State at the Presidency, except that here their precise projects have been clearly spelt out. The second factor driving this Ministermania is constitutional–but with political effects. The constitution says a majority of your Ministers must come from Parliament.

This means that, whenever you tap an MP to perform an important project within the Executive, the natural thing is to make that person a Minister, so that the appointment would count towards meeting the majority-of-Ministers-from-Parliament requirement.

There is also the additional fact that the Article 78 requirement for a majority of Ministers to be drawn from Parliament generates tremendous pressure on a President from MPs of his party to be made Ministers, especially from those MPs who regard themselves, or are widely regarded, as exceptionally capable or politically influential in one way or the other.

And if you have 170 or so MPs in a 275-strong Parliament, each feeling entitled to some ministerial juice (to make them important and valuable in the eyes of their constituents) and all of them knowing the President has no numerical constraint to how many of them he can make a Minister, you can imagine the scale of the problem. The combined effect of these constitution-driven pressures is to drive the number of Ministers up and up and up.

If Dan Botwe and Akoto Osei and Joe Ghartey were not MPs, they could simply have been appointed as senior staffers at the Presidency in charge of the special projects they’ve been tasked to undertake. But being MPs, their inclusion in the Executive in any capacity other than as Ministers would look rather odd and even harder to justify. It would also be “wasteful”, as you would have to tap more MPs in order to satisfy the Article 78 requirement.

It is, therefore, not accidental that all three Ministers put in charge of special “projects” (Regional reorganization; Railway development; and monitoring and evaluation) are also MPs. Then there is the somewhat related fact that, within the emoluments scheme, Ministers are ranked above MPs.

Therefore, whenever you wish to appoint someone to an Executive position, particularly if that person is an MP, an Article 71/emoluments logic also compels you to make them a Minister. This also goes back to the cultural logic: Every constituency, social group, and region would like to see their ruling party MP or kinsman in there as a Minister–not just any insider. This is largely because, besides having better pay and perks than MPs, Ministers control more patronage, which makes them more valuable to their constituents.

In short, the way I see it, until we undo this Article 78 majority-of-Ministers-must-come-from-Parliament thing, we shall continue to experience this ‘Ministermania’ from one government to the other. Even though these ‘Ministryless’ Ministers do not come with the additional administrative costs associated with running a Ministry, they are still Ministers and, therefore, are Article 71 offfice holders.

In that regard, they do come with Article 71 emolument implications. None of this is by way of justifying either the phenomenon or any particular announced nomination. Mine is merely a perspective that I share here, in the hope and expectation, that it would help us better understand where this Ministermania is coming from and why constitutional reform must be a part of the CHANGE agenda.