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Opinions of Friday, 17 April 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Hundred Days of Mills: Not even on his marks yet

On his first day in office, President Mills was heard rumbling and fumbling – unable to say his vows coherently. He was also seen stumbling, unsure of his steps. The 99 days that followed those first 24 hours of the Mills presidency, have been marked variously by uncertainty, inactivity and, in some cases, serious missteps which have seen the president literally stumbling and falling flat on his face!

Watching and following President Mills’ every move over the past one hundred days, I have come to one conclusion: the man came to power unprepared and unready. I have heard it been said that victory in December came to candidate Mills as a rude shock – not a pleasant surprise. He didn’t expect to win. In his mind that last electoral contest was supposed to be his last and he seemed more ready to dismantle the Mills political platform than he was to form a new government.

So it took President Mills the best part of three months to form a government. That’s completely unacceptable and unpardonable. It is common sense that anyone running for the most important job in the land should have some inkling of the people he intends to work closely with – even before he gets the job. I wonder why this seems to have escaped candidate Mills and the best way to explain it is just to say that he completely ruled victory out.

The delay in forming a government, coupled with the chaotic and un-coordinated transitional process, effectively ensured that this country has literally been on ‘pause’ for the past one hundred days.

The decision to dissolve the boards of all state-owned enterprises – some say it was an illegal move – has made matters worse because it put an indefinite freeze on anything from the issuance of academic certificates in the polytechnics to the payment of contractors. Even after taking office, most new ministers are still learning the directions to their offices, some of them can’t believe their luck – like the man who appointed them – and yet others are so inexperienced that we are told to be patient and allow them to learn on the job. At least, one of the new minister is such an airhead many Ghanaians cannot fathom what the president was drinking (or smoking) when he decided to make her a minister.

In the midst of all of the uncertainty, the president managed to present a budget and deliver an excellent sessional address, spelling out some very laudable targets. In fact, one of President Mills’ best offering over the past one hundred days was his sessional address in which he promised to endeavour to “make a difference”.

Basically, he wants to cut back on government spending and channel a lot of the savings into social programmes and infrastructural projects that will help improve the lives of the many poor in the country. In this regard, he constantly reminds his ministers to be “modest”, he has marginally reduced the number of ministers and, unlike his predecessor, he refuses to attend every international conference there is. I am inclined to believe that his austerity measures will certainly rake in some savings. But when you see government officials riding in brand new Toyota V8 Four-Wheel drives and some NDC faithful waving at you from their new posh cars, you will be left to wonder if the savings will be used to better the lives of ordinary people or enhance the luxury of those around the president.

As the president and his team take their own sweet time to settle in, the economy has been in steady decline – the cedi is losing value at such an alarming rate (even people who do not care much about economic indicators have had cause to worry), interest rates are all over the place – galloping like a horse on hashish – and, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any serious plan to stave off the impact of the global recession on the fragile Ghanaian economy.

It is only in Ghana that a losing presidential candidate thought of and proposed an economic “stimulus package”, leaving the elected president and his men scratching their heads. I don’t fully buy into Dr. Kwesi Nduom’s stimulus proposal but, at least, he’s got a plan. The Mills administration, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any. They have a financial policy statement, of course. But it doesn’t really spell out any specific, proactive measures tailored to deal with the global recession. In these tough times when the strongest economies in the world are buckling under this severe recession, it doesn’t bode well that our government seems to be merely groping in the dark, seemingly content with its own false self-assurance that the crisis may not reach to this part of the world. Failure to put a plan in place might hurt this economy more than the crisis itself...

But then, I am reminded that the country is on “pause” and when someone presses the “play” button, government might stop pretending that all is honky-dory.

Very few exciting things happen when the whole nation is on “pause” – the people get very little or no inspiration from a president holed up in his castle, the government is not proposing any radical policies to excite us about the future and almost the entire government machinery is on vacation.

Thankfully, the Mills administration ensured (sometimes inadvertently) that we were never left yawning out of boredom for too long. Most of the excitement over the last 100 days has been generated by cars and perks for politicians.

The first one hundred days of the Mills administration will be very well remembered for the chaotic manner in which state-sponsored thugs went about seizing so-called executive assets (mostly luxury cars) from officials of the previous administration. Cars were mistakenly seized in such a brutish manner (notably from the opposition party’s former presidential candidate), returned and due apologies rendered only for some nincompoops to go snatching more cars again – and for the cycle to start all over again. The brutish manner of the car seizures reminded Ghanaians of a by-gone era and many were left asking: “who the heck is in charge? Is it the meek and mild Mills or the brawny Rawlings?”

All the talk about ex-gratia packages for retiring politicians also added to the excitement. There were days when many were left wondering whether there weren’t any important issues to engage the attention of the nation besides cars and houses.

After all the uncertainty and near-inactivity, it is quite remarkable that President Mills finds it appropriate to pat himself on the back for doing what he considers to be a pretty decent job within his first one hundred days. He gives himself a score of 80 percent for, among others, appointing a council of state, having most of his ministers at post (never mind that many of them are going to be learning on the job), removing fuel taxes and reducing the size of government (which I still insist is obese).

Sadly, President Mills uses the failures of his predecessor as his benchmark for success. Even where he has failed to deliver, he forcefully claims to have succeeded. For example, he promised to take steps to clean up the filth in most of our cities within the first one hundred days. No such thing has been done (besides a talk-shop on waste management) and the country is as filthy as ever. He also promised to reduce armed robberies and ensure security for all within one hundred days. But stories of dreadful armed robberies abound in the media every day and Ghanaians do not feel any safer now than they did before the NDC came to power.

The fact remains, however, that Ghanaians voted Mills to serve a four-year mandate. We expect him to deliver so much within the shortest possible time – but certainly not within one hundred days. This hundred-day honeymoon was given added significance because the president promised to deliver certain things within the period. He has succeeded in some areas but in others he has failed.

The good news, though, is that Ghanaians will not judge him on his first one hundred days in office. The full report card will be ready at the end of four years and when that time comes, the president will not be the one grading himself.

When President Mills said he was going to “hit the ground running”, most Ghanaians expected him to spend very little time warming up. In hundred days, he doesn’t seem to even have gotten on his marks. Now that the honeymoon is over and we expect the president to quickly break into a sprint and start running as fast as he can. It’s going to be a long, arduous race. There will be mountains and valleys and there will be moments when he will run out of breath. But most Ghanaians are keen and ready to follow his lead and very few, if any, expect him to tumble.

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