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Opinions of Thursday, 21 August 2014

Columnist: Agyepong, Emmanuel

NPP and NDC MPs give Spio-garbrah another record

In the office complex of parliament house, anxiety, expectations and finally, a "chilled goose pimple" fulfillment filled the faces of expectant Ghanaians, the young and old, chiefs and followers, NDC, NPP, CPP folks et al who endured a historic long vetting proceeding of the Trade and Industry Minister- designate, Dr. Ekwow Spio Garbrah. Even though Dr. Spio made it clear he cannot turn around the clock single-handedly and therefore needs the collective effort from his colleague ministers, his excellent performance has further raised expectations of what his widely acclaimed expertise and competence will bring on board the NDC government. The NPP MP, Mr. Titus Glover who has not seen anyone of Spio's quality before was right to praise and eulogize him. Yes, he truly "dazzled".

As a youthful member of the CPP, I welcomed with great enthusiasm the nomination of Dr. Spio-Garbrah as Minister designate for Trade and Industry. My excitement was such that I wrote an article entitled "Welcome On Board, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah!!" which was published in .a number of newspapers and websites, under my name Emmanuel Agyepong- CPP Cadet, KNUST. I got a variety of responses to my article, mostly very positive (see: . As a result, I was encouraged to attend the Vetting of Dr. Spio-Garbrah in parliament House on 13th August. I file this follow-up article therefore as an eye witness to a very unusual historical event in Ghana's politics.

In my earlier article, I cited how impressed I was about some of Dr. Spio-Garbrah's achievements. I mentioned his passing the Common Entrance Examinations at the age of 9, and this matter also caught the attention of the Appointments Committee when they probed him about how old he was when he started Primary School. Ghanaian listening to the vetting must all have wondered how anybody could start primary one at the age of 3 or 4, but apparently Spio-Garbrah did. The nit-picking of his CV was not necessary, but it helped some of us to hear that Dr. Spio obtained a distinction in his Master's degree in the USA, an extraordinary achievement. We also learnt that actually Dr. Spio has graduate qualifications in International Banking and Finance, so we now understood why he was able to take on the Bank of Ghana for not doing enough about the high interest rates, and also why the BoG allowed such a wide spread between savings and lending rates in Ghana.

To many Ghanaians, the most distinguishing aspect of Dr. Spio-Garbrah's vetting is the report from many media and political analysts that his six-hour vetting was the longest single vetting of any political appointee in Ghana's history. So here again, Spio-Garbrah has scored another first. Although the Minority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah, tried to taunt Dr Spio for claiming various achievements on his CV, such as being the youngest ever Ambassador of Ghana to the USA. If NPP MPs were unhappy that Dr Spio-Garbrah has achieved so much already, they have painfully added to his many achievements, as this longest vetting will surely remain a record for a long time in Ghana's political history. In confirming his exceptional intelligence, astuteness and competence, most pundits including members of the opposition NPP have credited Uncle Spio for some brilliant answers to most of the questions he was asked. Most Ghanaians, I believe, wanted to hear his views on the pressing issues facing the trade and industry sector, and how that sector could help create jobs. His answers to questions about Destination vrs Pre-Shipment Inspection, about protecting local industries, and the challenge he threw to Parliament to set a better example by using Made-In Ghana furniture, won him a lot of applause both in the Appointments Committee Room and throughout many homes in Ghana. The vetting has exposed that, Dr. Spio-Garbrah seemed to have a full mastery of all the issues facing the Ministry he is expected to oversee, from the issue of foreigners who have invaded Ghanaian markets, to the issue of importation of second-hand clothes, to clauses in the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, and to the roles of the Ghana Export Promotion Authority and promoting Ghana's exports and made-in-Ghana goods. The incoming Minister demonstrated to the Appointments Committee and Parliament that he understood fully the roles of the various agencies under his Ministry, such as the Ghana National Procurements Authority, the Free Zones Board, the Ghana Standards Authority, and the Trade Fair Authority. He had solid ideas as to how these agencies could be better managed. Most impressively, he made some suggestions about his vision to transform the Trade Fair Authority in partnership with experienced foreign companies.

Contrary to earlier public speculation, Dr. Spio made it clear that he intended to be a team player and to work closely with other Ministers and heads of agencies. To a naughty question posed to him, he asserted that he expected to work very closely and collaboratively with President Mahama, even though the latter was his Deputy at the Ministry of Communications in the late 1990s. The question on the minds of most Ghanaians is why the President wasted so much time in bringing Dr. Spio-Garbrah on board. From the line of questioning at the vetting, it became clearer that Dr Spio-Garbrah's entry into government was delayed by nothing more than his alleged Team B statement. What worried many who watched the grueling of the former Ambassador and Minister is why so many MPs wanted to focus on his so-called Team B statement, even after the minister designate had apologized for it. Even when the nominee had proven with a copy of the Daily Graphic that he did not write in his article that he believed the Mills Government had appointed only Team B Ministers, some MPs on the Appointments Committee just did not wish to give up on that propaganda line.

Then came the unexpected, the low point in the whole vetting process, when Hon. Baba Jamal, still agitated about the Team B allegation, showed to the whole world why he probably fits into the Team B mould by pronouncing Ohio (for Ohio University) "Oheeo" rather than "o-high-oh". Several Ghanaians who commented on this later, wondered how any Deputy Minister of Ghana, who had been in office for nearly five years could make that kind of basic mistake after traveling overseas to so many international conferences and events. One can imagine the gross embarrassment such a Team B minister will cause for Ghana if he attended an international conference and spoke to the "Oheeo" delegation.

For me as a CPP cadet, the high point of Dr Spio's vetting was when he described himself as an Nkrumahist and argued that the Economic Partnership Agreement that Ghana (and other ECOWAS countries) was to sign with the European Union, depended on how Ghana valorized the terms of the agreement, rather than the mere text of the Agreement itself. His clarity on this matter and the obvious negotiation skills Dr. Spio displayed, made me and my youthful friends feel very strongly about the need for the CPP to invite him to reclaim his father's membership of the CPP. Since many NDC appointees are apparently unhappy with Dr. Spio because of his Team B statement, we should invite him to join the CPP where he will certainly become a formidable Presidential candidate. So, if the NDC continues to perform poorly even if Ghana gets an IMF loan or bail out, the CPP should seriously consider inviting Dr. Spio-Garbrah to lead it in 2016 or 2020. The CPP needs to increase its chances of winning the Presidency to bring back some of Nkrumah's industrialization policies. Dr Spio-Garbrah maybe the one to help us do it, since the NDC do not seem to realise his full value as all other Ghanaians seem to see. Well done Dr. Spio- Garbrah!!!!

Emmanuel Agyepong