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Opinions of Saturday, 3 November 2007

Columnist: Asomaning, George

The Case For A Citizens Charter

President John Agyekum Kufuor on Wednesday 23rd October launched in Accra, a new Charter whose goal is to make the country's public service more responsive and accountable. His answer to the perennial problems of public service corruption and inefficiency is to set up of a Special Office to measure performance of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) against set standards to reward those who excel and sanction defaulting ones is very commendable. This Charter according to the President is a major reform challenge he wanted to bequeath to the nation, his lasting legacy.

The only problem is that this body to police the public office is made up of the Chief Advisor to the President, Minister of National Security, Minister of Information and National Orientation and the Minister of Public Sector Reform.

If this Charter is to penetrate the veil of anonymity in the public service, a Charter Unit with high profile officers managing it won?t solve the problem. Mr Francis Poku, Minister of National Security?s challenge for all to ensure a collective resolve to salvage the nation from the stigma of inefficiency and create a benign bureaucratic environment that would enable businesses to flourish won?t come to pass via this model. Neither will the Minister of Public Sector Reform, Mr Samuel Owusu-Agyei?s wish for equal access to public services and the Government's ability to be responsive to citizens' demands be realised.

This approach won't work because the President is relying on "high profile officers" to police their fellow high profile officers. How can that possibly work? These guys belong to the same club: they travel together, they drink together, they party together, in a word, they socialize together. They can't turn on each other.

The president should rather make the ordinary people on the street the champions of this noble strategy. Let him set up a system whereby anybody applying for anything from a government office gets a receipt that sets the clock ticking. If the official does not give a response within a set time, he/she processing the request gets charged Ghc 5 per day of delay beyond the designated response time. After 20 days the "big man" will owe this poor mama on the street Ghc100. Multiply that by 5 mamas waiting on this officer and you get the effect! That should bite deep in their take-home pay cheque.

They will wake up to work diligently to make sure that they clear their in-boxes to avoid those penalties. That is the way to get performance - by disincentives, not by another toothless committee.

We therefore need a legislation to tackle this beast ? A Citizens Charter ? and a Citizens Charter Unit independent of the President but appointed by Parliament to monitor government organisations. This law will very well capture the imagination of the Ghanaian people. Even if they lower the penalty amount to Ghc1 per day of delay, or even 50 pesewas, still, that is a drastic step forward. Without the law empowering the masses to press the issue for themselves, the President?s plan has no chance of success.

Imagine what a "Citizens Rights Center" would do, suing these negligent government officers and collecting on behalf of the neglected folks struggling to feed their families? Will the President go for the jugular? What will really work? Let?s hope so and wish him and Ghana well. We have to destroy this beast that is destroying our beautiful country.

George Asomaning, Esq.
For and on behalf of The Ghana Leadership Union


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