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Opinions of Monday, 8 May 2006

Columnist: Agboka, Godwin Yaw

If I Were The President??..

The night of Thursday April, 27 2006 may not have been a good experience for some Ministers in the current administration. Some of those I considered big shots within the administration lost their portfolios, as the President embarked on a grand and vigorous drive to reshuffle his ministerial appointments while creating other portfolios. It is not known if these ministers would be re-assigned. Personally, I was surprised! Indeed, there were wild rumors for consistent amounts of time but while I treated such rumors with contempt I was sure that should it finally happen, some ministers who lost their jobs would go unscathed. Of course, the Ghanaian media landscape has witnessed some spurious levels of reporting, thus, should some newspapers indicate in their headlines: ?GHANA SITTING ON A TIME BOMB? it might as well indicate peace in the country. However, this time there seemed to be some iota of truth in the rumors.

If there was one issue that the reshuffle foregrounded, then it is that the President is in charge. I have read, elsewhere, several reports questioning the Chief Executive?s courage to call the shots even though it is his constitutionally mandated right to appoint and [dis]-appoint. Previous ministerial reshuffles saw almost the same sets of ministers being re-assigned to other ministries which were manned by their colleagues. Of course, there had occasionally been replacements which saw some ministers such as Nana Akomea, a former Minister of Information, the late Edward Osei Kwaku, former Minster of Youth and Sports, and Joe Aggrey, a deputy Minister of Youth and Sports lose their spots to other ministers. However, if there is any reshuffle that may have sent shocking waves to Ghanaians, then it is this one.

One of the campaign promises of the NPP administration during the run-up to the 2000 elections was the ministerial downsizing rhetoric which seemed to have appealed to many discerning voters. Before then, concerns had been raised about the number of ministers during the NDC administration. For, the NDC at the time had 76 ministers excluding 17 other ministers of state and other Special Assistants who enjoyed similar pecks that went with their positions. Of course, it sounded economically prudent when the then candidate Kufour made the issue a priority on his campaign list. As the President was swamped in the reality of political office and administration, he could not do as promised, which he gracefully admitted during one of the People?s Assemblies held at the Accra International Conference Center.

Rumors have it that his Excellency would like to shrink the size of the ministries from 88 to 70 (others even put the figure at 60). If this is the intention of the President as is being bandied around, then it would take a lot of tact, courage, and planning for the Commander in Chief to execute this plan. It is one of the best economic moves for the country but it has to come the hard way. He might have to step on toes. The United States of America, for instance, has a population of 298,629,047 but the size of the Federal administration is very small and effective. The President, George Bush works with a cabinet which includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments?the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General. Under President George W. Bush, Cabinet-level rank also has been accorded to the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency; Director, Office of Management and Budget; the Director, National Drug Control Policy; and the U.S. Trade Representative. The various departments have other equally effective agencies/units empowered by the country to man its affairs.

My piece will not address the overly discussed issue of the need for the President to downsize his government, as it is obvious from Thursday?s reshuffle but I will argue against what I term ironical in the President?s creation of new ministries and make some suggestions to the President. A careful observation of the list released by the office of the President indicated that the President did not only make new appointments to old ministries but created other ministerial portfolios and merged others. Some of ministers who moved to other ministries included: Attorney General & Justice: Joe Ghartey Communication: Prof. Mike Ocquaye, Education, Science & Sports: Papa Owusu Ankomah, Energy: Joseph Adda, Information & National Orientation: Kwamena Bartels, Manpower, Dev?t & Employment: Boniface Saddique, Aviation: Gloria Akuffo, National Security: Francis Poku., Interior: Albert Kan Dapaah, Local Gov?t, and Rural Dev?t & Environment: Stephen Asamoah Boateng. Indeed, I am not so keen as to the ministers? movements to these ministries as the positions are purely administrative which is why civil servants enjoy permanence to take the ministers through the nitty-gritties of their jobs should they have any difficulties, but I argue that the creation of these new ministries will defeat the purpose for which the downsizing and it to no less than a greater degree result in a duplication of functions, while taking a toll on the resources of the country.

Perhaps, unless the President indicates otherwise, I am convinced that some of the new ministries are no different from the previous ones for which reason they could have been merged and manned by a single minister. What will be the job description of the new Ministry for Aviation? Will it be solely responsible for travels, travel arrangements, and if so, foreign or local travels? Couldn?t the ministries of Aviation, Ports and Harbors, and Transport have been merged? Don?t these ministries deal with transport, whether local or foreign, sea, road, or air? Concerns have been raised about high patronage of Ghanaian Ports but the GPHA should be able to handle them considering their skilled human resource; after all the position of the minister is administrative. One of the concerns I raised when Mr. Kwabena Agyapong initiated the laudable bi-weekly press briefing was whether he was not doing what Mr. Dan Botwe should be doing. What then was Mr. Dan Botwe informing Ghanaians about? What information was he managing and giving out if Mr. Kwabena Agyapong was meeting the Press and providing information which could as well be given by the Minister of Information? The new ministry of Communications could be merged with the Information Ministry together with the Press Secretary position unless, of course, the Press Secretary would handle matters strictly related to the Castle and the President. The concept of the Information Ministry has become redundant in recent times, which is why an umbrella term for these two Ministries should be able to manage issues of communication that span the areas of technology and information management and delivery.

And why do we need a ministry for Fisheries separate from Food and Agriculture? What makes fisheries separate from food and agriculture? Indeed, when the fisher folks in Tema clamored for a separate ministry for Fisheries which led to the appointment of Mr. Ishmael Ashitey, MP for the Tema East Constituency, I wondered the rationale behind that. Do people just want to be rewarded because they voted for the government while the nation spends money that could have been channeled into other areas? More so, why not Science, Energy, and Environment, instead of Education Science, and Sports since after all these areas are connected albeit indirect?

What happened to the Modernization and the Capital appendage to the Ministry of Tourism? Has the capital undergone the full cycle of modernization? Interestingly, Diasporan Relations has displaced this term and gone to bed with the term Tourism. Id don?t the job description, and perhaps I am putting the cart before the horse, but I don?t know what this portfolio will do different from the foreign missions and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Is Mr. Obetsebi Lamptey?s new office going to be involved in extending voting facilities to Ghanaians abroad? If yes, why? Is the EC not capable of performing that job? In fact, if the new portfolio facilitate the enhancement of the relations between Diasporans and the country then, the government could very well empower its missions to carry out their functions effectively while the Minister of Foreign Affairs assists in that direction.

Mr. Paapa Owusu Ankomah may have a Herculean task with his new portfolio too. As far as I know Education, Sports, and Science are integral areas to the development of the nation. What is more, these are areas that take a chunk of the national budget and merging them might impinge on the development agenda of the nation. In the past, there were many who advocated separate ministries for Sports and Education. It is not known if the ministry in charge of Tertiary Education still exists but if it does, will it stand separate from the Education ministry? The pivotal role education plays coupled with the demands associated with institutional concerns from the primary to the Tertiary levels of education are too gargantuan for education to be treated as an appendage of other portfolios that are equally tasking. Already, there are curricular concerns in the educational sector and the country?s highest institutions?the tertiary institutions?have come under the spotlights for their academic focus and their products? non-performance on the job market and it would hurt the fortunes of the nation a great deal should these key areas lend themselves to some fusion.

Obviously, the President?s attempts at downsizing his government are laudable but the purpose appears being defeated with the creation of some of the new portfolios. However, already the Chief Executive of the nation has shown he can bite irrespective of how hard the object is and re-assessment will not be a bad idea. Mr. President, mine is a suggestion but you have the discretion. As far as I am concerned, Ghana should be the winner in the end.

Godwin Yaw Agboka
USA


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