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Opinions of Monday, 9 March 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Cobwebs in my head: Letter to Koku Anyidoho

Efo Koku,

You are a very perceptive man. I am very impressed with your diagnosis of the “cobwebs” in my head. I appreciate your attempt to have them removed. Sadly, you failed. Your prescription for removing the “cobwebs” wasn’t effective because you overlooked the basic reasons why they got into my ‘coconut’ in the first place. Your boss, the President of the Republic, generated the “cobwebs” because he had me confused. He promised a “lean” government but ended up producing one which, even though is not as ‘fat’ as the previous one, is still “obese”. In your failed attempt to clear my “cobwebs”, you ended up demonstrating that you also have a fairly unhealthy amount of soot in your skull.

Your response to my opinion piece on the size of the government failed to address the core issue I raised: that your boss could have done much better than merely reducing the number of ministers and deputies from 88 to 75. You say the reduction will lead to “significant savings” on the national purse. That’s true. But my argument is that “significant” is not good enough. Tell your boss to reduce the number of ministers to 50 and the savings will be higher than “significant”. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.

Also, tell your boss that next time he makes any promise, he should do well to spell out exactly what he intends to offer. Next time, he should explain exactly what “lean” means. Since he left it open for interpretation, I decided that “lean” is 50 ministers and deputies or less.

Your argument that, your boss’ appointments have “not reached the 88 mark of former President Kufuor” is shamefully lame. I am very worried that the communications director at the presidency will gleefully point out to the whole nation that his government will measure its successes by the failures of the one which preceded it. If Ghanaians wanted to be governed by “the mark of former president Kufuor” they would have retained the NPP in power.

President Mills promised change. He cannot measure his successes by the failures of the Kufuor administration. So don’t offer us tokens because we will complain. And when we do complain, the least we expect is for you to tell us that “If you think it’s bad, look at what Kufuor gave you in similar circumstances”. We’ve had enough of that sort of nonsense from the Kufuor gang to last us five more decades.

Mr. Anyidoho, you also say that President Mills has ordered his ministers to avoid special assistants and this will also help reduce the cost of running government. That’s true. But isn’t this directive being flouted already? There is a gentleman who is already posing as Mahama Ayariga’s special assistant. Did you know about this? He was on Metro TV ‘analysing’ the Independence Day parade, supposedly on behalf of his boss. I suspect Ayariga is not the only government appointee with special assistant. It’s hard to tell but in the sweet by and by, we will find out.

Mr. Anyidoho, not only do you fail to convince me that we need 75 ministers. You also fail to convince me that your job as communications director at the presidency doesn’t overlap with that of the presidential spokesman. Your job, you claim, goes beyond writing press statements. It includes writing speeches and having the media “scanned”. You referred me to the White House “working structure” and pointed out that “other presidencies also have the same structure”. Conversely, we can also say that several other presidencies don’t have this sort of structure.

The White House has three “entities” whose functions all come under the schedule of communications. These are the Office of the press secretary (the equivalent of Ayariga’s position), Office of communications (something like yours) and Office of Public Liaison and intergovernmental affairs (described as “the front door to the White House through which everyone can participate and inform the work of the President).

Contrast this with the structure at No. 10 Downing Street. The office of the British Prime Minister has ONE directory of Communications and Strategy UNDER which there is a Press Office (responsible for dealing with the media), a Strategic Communications Unit and the Research and Information Unit (which provides factual information to the Prime Minister and his staff).

In both the American and British structures, you’d realise that an Information Ministry doesn’t feature in the government’s public relations machinery. Indeed (all apologies to your boss), the Brits have a Department of Culture, Media and Sports. But it’s not a PR outfit. If you want to tell me that you are going with the American system, go ahead. But can you explain to me why we need an information minister and two deputies whose jobs are also geared towards sprucing up the image of the government when there is a presidential press secretary and a communications director at the presidency? Remember, Tony Blair had a confidante called Alastair Campbell. He was in charge of everything to do with communications at Downing Street and he was such a powerful guy. Campbell spoke for the Premier, wrote his speeches and did everything to make his boss look good until he resigned in 2003. If he could do all of these by himself, I insist that what you claim to do and what Ayariga is supposed to be doing can all come under one man.

For my money, and for us to make more than ‘significant’ savings, I’d say that we should scrap the Information Ministry – and sack the minister and her deputies – and adopt the British system. If we do adopt the British system, you will become Ayariga’s boss or he will become yours. I am sure you’d prefer the former. But the president, in his wisdom – and for very good reason – will settle on the latter.

You mention that Ayariga, Nii Lantey Vanderpuje and your good self were the “campaign legs” of Prof. Mills in 2008. Is that right? What I know is that Ayariga was Mills’ spokesman. But in the heat of campaign ’08 Ayariga was busy contesting for re-election in Bawku – which meant that speaking for himself was hard enough for him, not to mention speaking for someone else. That was why you became the de-facto spokesperson for candidate Mills by virtue of your position as “communications director” of the campaign.

If Ayariga had won the parliamentary contest in Bawku, he couldn’t have been President Mills’ spokesman. The job could have fallen on your lap. Unfortunately for the both of you, Ayariga lost the Bawku seat and the President very rightly saw him as the best guy to be speaking for him. Then you were peeved – and justifiably so. I would have been peeved if I were in your shoes. It’s only human. As they say in my village, “Obi nhuhu ma obi nkeka” – meaning that “I won’t blow cold air over a hot slice of roasted yam for you to come and take generous bites.” Why should you help the candidate to win power only for some other guy to come and take up the juicy job?

True to human form, you reportedly made your position on this clear in various ways – putting a lot of pressure on the president. In circumstances like these, what’s a man of peace supposed to do? The president came up with a compromise deal by creating an amorphous communications structure which seems to satisfy you quite well. It’s all good for you but it doesn’t help the president to deliver on his promise of a “lean” government.

Mr. Anyidoho, I appreciate your invitation for me to come over to your office to have a look at your job specification. I don’t know whether I want to take that risk. The last time the NDC was in power, some of the people who were ‘invited’ to the Castle came out with “identification haircuts”, their heads shaved with broken bottles. I am scared and I can’t take that risk.

That’s why I have been calling you on the phone to find out if you could just send me your job specification (along with Ayariga’s) by email. None of my calls have been answered. I even left a couple of messages on your ‘Kasapa’ line asking you to get back to me. You didn’t. I suppose you are too busy ‘scanning’ the media. Keep it up! But when you do get the time, please send me the documents because I don’t want to take the risk of coming to the Castle. Not yet. I will come when I am convinced that you are not going to give me an identification haircut and tell me that it is not as bad as what Rawlings’ Castle was noted for.

I’d also be very grateful if you could send me the job specifications for the various ministers at the presidency. Frankly, I consider them to be hangers-on who have added some extra ‘fat’ to the government which was supposed to be lean. I will conclude by insisting, with all the “cobwebs” still in my head, that the government could be leaner than it is now and until it is trimmed further, I will not stop saying that your boss pulled a fast one on us.
I remain,
Citizen Kwamena


PS: Next time you issue a rejoinder to an opinion piece I have written, please do well to let me have a copy. You rather unwisely refused to send me a copy of the one you recently wrote and I was forced to go and beg a friend to let me have one, which I posted on my blogsite. And, hey, if you have time on your hands, please, let’s meet up for a drink sometime soon – probably at Duncan’s in Osu. It’s a neutral venue! Thank you very much. May God make our government leaner so that our nation will become “greater and stronger”, as the president put it on Independence Day.

Click here to visit Ato Kwamena Dadzie’s blogsite
E-mail: ato@atokd.com