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Opinions of Friday, 4 October 2002

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

Debate Optimal Size of the President's Ministerial Team

Yesterday, President Kuffuor addressed a press conference, which even his ardent detractors admit was a colossal success. He touched on many issues including the recovering economy, the declining crime rate, the favorable prospects of a $1 Billion IFC loan and efforts to revitalize the energy sector.

While the President must be praised for addressing the conference, which underscores his commitment to transparency and accountability, he also put some issues on the table that are quiet disconcerting to those of us who believe in small government.

Specifically, in a brilliant political move, that probably disarmed his political opponents, the president confessed that he was wrong in criticizing the former government for having a bloated ministerial team. He hinted that he might create three separate ministries from the ministry of lands, mines and forestry. He also hinted that tertiary education might get its own ministry. Citing the example of India, the President even hinted that he might create separate ministries for roads and even for Ghana Airways (so called Aviation ministry).

Those of us who follow Presidents and other authority figures know that they have a natural propensity to demand more staff and perks. Presidents, left to their own devices, can never have enough ministers, deputy ministers, advisors and special assistants. Further, they can never have enough state cars, state houses, plush carpeting, etc.

Nor, is such a tendency restricted to Presidents. The secondary school headmaster wants more teachers, kitchen staff, office staff, school buses, etc. The Attorney General is always ready to make a strong case for hiring more prosecutors and legal assistants. The director of Korle-Bu could spend a whole day delivering lectures on why he needs more doctors, nurses, equipments, etc.

Indeed, the norm is to wish for and consume more resources, especially when the resources come from the state or someone else. This is the classic moral hazard problem. As is well known, however, the state has limited resources and is just not able to accommodate all these wishes. In fact, this is the very essence of budgeting. Priorities must be set and scarce resources must be allocated in accordance with those priorities. In effect, all of us, including the President, must learn to live within our means or as they say “cut our coat according to our sizes.”

During Chairman Rawlings era, we bemoaned the size of his ministerial team and longed for a regime that will streamline government and reduce the ministries and ministers to manageable and affordable proportions. We voted for change but today we are being told that our complaints were misplaced and stemmed from a misunderstanding of good governance.

Fair enough, but it must be emphasized that President Kuffuor simply confessed his “sins” without ever telling us what is the optimal size or even how he came to the conclusion that he had committed the “sin of underestimation.” The closest he came to justifying his conclusion was “Now I think we need separate ministries for Lands; Mines; Forestry; Roads; Transportation; Ghana Airways; Ports and Harbours; Tertiary education. The other justification was what he learnt from Malaysia and India. With all due respect, Mr. President, “Now I think” and “I saw in India and Malaysia” are not sufficient grounds for creating ministries in Ghana. In fairness to the President, it is true that he also made some fleeting references to efficacy and efficiency as the main considerations but that begs the question of how he determined what is efficient and effective.

The lesson from this confession or political somersault is that we cannot and must not count on the good nature of the President or man to control his appetite for consuming state resources. The people, through their representatives, must have a serious debate on how many ministers the nation can afford. The same arguments hold for imposing a ceiling on the number of Supreme Court justices and issue that I addressed last week on Ghanaweb (see here).

To his credit, the President also indicated that he was putting this issue on the table “not to alarm us,” although you can tell that I am alarmed, but to allow us to “discuss this in the public domain.” For us to have a meaningful debate, we must assume that we are starting with a blank sheet and admit only ministries that have a clear purpose, consistent with national goals. Further, we must start with a ceiling on the cedis that we can spend on ministers or number of ministers, consistent with our financial condition.

We must question the objective of each ministry and inquire whether its functions cannot be subsumed under other ministries. For instance, what is the exact role of the Senior Ministry (J. H. Mensah’s outfit)? Why do we need a minister of Parliamentary Affairs? What is the responsibility of the minister at the Presidency (Elizabeth Ohene’s position)? Why do we have a minister of economic planning as well as a minister of state responsible for the government’s economic team?

We must take into account that Mr. Addo Kuffuor has combined his functions as Defence Minister with acting Interior minister since the resignation of honorable Malik Alhassan. Yet, he has performed admirably. The same is true of Mr Debrah’s role in Brong Ahafo and the Northern regions. Along these same lines, one wonders what the deputy ministers actually do when substantive ministers from other sectors have to be brought in to act whenever there is a temporary vacancy? Does this not suggest that there are potential economies in combining some of these functions?

In debating these issues, it is also important to keep in mind that the president is a beneficiary of many advisors created by the constitution. For instance, the 13-person National Security Council advises him on national security. The 6-person National development Planning Commission advises the President on development planning policy and strategy. The 25-person Council of State counsels the president in performance of his functions.

To initiate the debate on this important issue, I make the following recommendations:

There should be no more than 20 ministers and 10 regional governors. The ministries should be streamlined to identify the 15 to 20 sectors where they are really needed. In looking at the manifesto of the NPP, the NDC and all the other parties, I came out with the following 15 portfolios as being able to address and implement their respective visions:

    Agriculture

    Attorney General and Justice

    Interior

    Defense

    Finance and Economic Planning

    Rural Development and Local Government

    Commerce (trade, industry, etc)

    External Relations

    Education

    Health

    Labor Social Welfare and Development

    Transportation (roads, highways, air, sea, etc)

    Environment (land, mines, forest, pollution, etc)

    Works and Housing

    Sports

    plus another 5 to be determined by each President in accordance with his vision and priorities but never to exceed a total of 20. Moreover, this shall be his cabinet.
Article 78 (1) requires that majority of the ministers of state shall come from parliament. This is a problematic clause and is compounded by the fact that the whole chapter 8 of the constitution is entrenched. Thus, it cannot be amended without significant difficulty and cost. To meet the restriction of 78 (1), each Minister will have an MP as his deputy. The MP’s function is to be the liaison between the ministry and the parliament. No full minister shall be a parliamentarian at the same time. Those who are appointed ministers should resign their seat or decline the appointment.

Each minister should create departments consistent with the president’s vision and the funds appropriated to that sector. For instance, a department of lands, department of forestry, etc., can be created under the Ministry of the environment. The directors and career civil servants will effectively run the departments in accordance with the policy objectives articulated by the sector ministers.

At the end of every year, each minister will give a full accounting of his year to the president (directors to the sector minister, etc). The liaison in parliament shall do the same to the parliamentary oversight committee for that ministry. Non-performing ministers should be fired and given a full year's paid registration to SIL, the Ghanaian Internet chat room, which abounds with free ideas.

The President can also have 5 key staff members, and their supporting staff, in the castle: Chief of Staff; Press Secretary; National Security Advisor; Legal Counsel and Special Assistant. But that is it!

Currently because of 78 (1), various MPs have been appointed as regional ministers, a situation which is untenable. For instance, my childhood physician, Dr. Osafo Mensah is the MP for Mpraeso (for which, he is supposed to be based in Accra) as well as the Eastern Regional Minister (for which, he is supposed to be based in Koforidua). But this is an avoidable problem because regional ministers and their deputies are appointed under article 256 (1), which is not an entrenched provision. This article can be amended so that these appointees are designated as governors or some other title that removes them from the scope of article 78 (1). Given the state of transportation and communication in Ghana, No PARLIAMENTARIAN should ever be a regional or deputy regional minister. This issue begs for resolution and the President and Parliament must attend to it immediately.

My purpose here is to take up the president’s call for a debate on this important question. I hope many more will take part in the debate and all the views will shape whatever solutions emerge.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.