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Opinions of Thursday, 5 March 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Team Mills: Not so “lean” after all

President Mills has pulled a fast one on Ghanaians.

In his sessional address to parliament, he proudly proclaimed that he has so far succeeded in helping government shed off some excess ‘fat’. “We have already delivered on our promise to establish a lean but effective government by realigning and reducing the number of Ministries,” he proclaimed. At that time he had appointed just about 36 ministers and that statement made me feel that he was only going to appoint just a few more so that the list might not go beyond 50.

Alas! Just a few days after delivering the address, the president issued a new list – mostly of deputy ministers – which has significantly increased the size of his governing team to near ‘Kufuorific’ proportions. There is a reduction alright but the government is still ‘obese’. It’s not healthy. The president should get his government back on the treadmill for a serious workout – to shed some more fat. Seventy-five is just too much. I hope to God President Mills is not going to tell us some cock and bull story about changing his mind about the size of government after being faced with the reality of being in office.

Kufuor told us a tale like that and his failure to trim the government marked the opening chapter of an encyclopaedia on how to keep political promises unfulfilled. I am afraid President Mills seems unwilling to resist the temptation to follow in the steps of his predecessor. The promise he claimed to have fulfilled is still pending and I have already singing Becca’s ‘You lied to me’. I will keep singing until I see the list of ministers reduced from the current 77 to 50 or less.

If the president needs some help (and I suppose, he doesn’t) here are a few ideas from my fickle mind.

In his sessional address, he mentions a “new way of doing things”. The appointment of so many deputy ministers (and other support staff) doesn’t exactly strike me as a “new way”. If the president is really intent on doing things differently, I think he should get rid of most – if not all – the deputy ministers.

From what I’ve seen in the past, deputy ministers work as subordinates to the substantive ministers. They hardly ever do anything substantial. Most of them only go about “representing” their bosses at events – delivering winding, senseless speeches in which they urge Ghanaians to do one thing or another – like learn to use toilet rolls. I don’t see NDC deputies doing any differently. Ministers can go about their ‘ministering’ duties at the various ministries on their own – with support from their chief directors. All they have to do is work to a schedule and stop going around town literally throwing themselves about as “honourables”, receiving ‘fans’ and delivering speeches at workshops, seminars, symposiums, fanfares and funerals. I am by no means suggesting that these meet-and-greet sessions are bad. They should be reduced to the barest minimum and the ministers will have more than sufficient time on their hands to do what they are paid to do. And when that happens, there will be no need for deputies.

When the minister is not around to do his job, the chief director of the ministry should step in. In these days of great advancements in telecommunications, I am sure the chief directors will always find a means of communicating with the boss if the decisions that ought to be taken are beyond them. If the minister is on his death bed, ready to heave his last breath, the president should immediately appoint someone to replace him.

If the president insists on appointing deputy ministers, he needs to send them to just a few key ministries and for me, these are finance, local government, interior, education and health. And even for these areas, having two deputy ministers is what the Americans refer to as an “over-kill”.

Therefore, the decision to appoint two deputy ministers for information is really very questionable. I get the impression that the president is trying to cover up what one mean man describes as his “Zero information to all” (Zita) mistake. The two guys who are going to the information ministry as deputies are both very smart. I think either of them can be the substantive minister and will not need a deputy.

Apart from the mistake of appointing all of these needless deputies, I think the president is also recruiting too many support staff – and “ministers at the presidency”. In the Castle, there is a presidential spokesman and there is a ‘director of communications at the presidency’. The administration has been trying hard to explain that their functions don’t overlap. But I am not convinced. It seems to me that Mahama Ayariga (the president’s spokesman) is supposed to be doing the talking whiles Koku Anyidoho (the director of communication) focuses on writing press statements. One man can do both jobs.

When President Mills first entered the Castle and named Ayariga as his spokesman, he seemed to have really angered Anyidoho, who hardly misses an opportunity to rant and rave. The president, it seems, has decided to crown Anyidoho with a title to salve his bruised ego. This is not the way to create a lean government.

There are all those ‘ministers at the presidency’. I wonder what they would all be doing at the Castle. Frying the presidential pancake? Add the two deputy chiefs of staff and you will wonder whether the president has really found (or charted) “a new way”. Kufuor did the same and so what’s new here?

The whole thing is simply beginning to smell like another case of “job for the boys”, which is also not exactly new. Trimming the size of government takes more than a little skimming. Reducing the number of ministers 88 to 75 is not is bad but it’s not good enough. It amounts to mere tokenism and, truly, it’s not what I expected from a leader who has promised his followers “a new way”. I am quite disappointed.

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E-mail: ato@atokd.com