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Opinions of Thursday, 26 April 2018

Columnist: James Kofi Annan

When communication fails, 998 becomes an issue

President Akufo-Addo has presented to Parliament, a list of 998 staffers at the Jubilee House President Akufo-Addo has presented to Parliament, a list of 998 staffers at the Jubilee House

Today too, we are whining, again and again, and we will go to bed still whining, over things that we are so accustomed to, whining! This week the headline figure, 998, has gotten all of us whining. How dare you keep 998 employees at the Golden Jubilee House?

You see why Simpa Panyin gets angry so quickly? The perennial forgetfulness of the Ghanaian will always embolden those who think we are all fools.

And as usual, the NPP, the NDC, and their children, have jumped into their orbits, tearing the scores apart and contesting on who could yell the loudest – one Abronye here, the other Ablakwa there – all in the race of throwing dust into our eyes as we keep applauding them in our sabbatical corners, with our hypnotical colors, the umbrellas and the elephants, all jostling to lose power.

The greatest winners in these contests are those who, to begin with, created the dancing floor – the same parties of pain whose filth we cannot fail to endure. They are the masters of the game, eight years shared in-between, with each assured of a sizable loot – just get the citizens dozing, while the contracts are issued – sole sourcing, selective tender, extremist sourcing, aggravated sourcing, intuitive 11 magical in-law contracts, and many other such procurement selection processes that come with no vetting.

By the time we start thinking deep, they would have been done looting and they would have been gone with their loots. Poverty would have continued to be our portion. And they would have used the looted money to buy our votes and they would have gotten us all lined up again, casting our votes in queues, one for Zu, the other for Za, as the Elephant takes its turn in collecting the votes – all of us, turned into perpetual tools for harnessing automated political victories for our enemies – those who created the poverty for us.

So as we keep fighting over 998, which is basically much ado about nothing, agencies under the Energy Ministry are issuing contracts to themselves. Agencies under Ministry of Health, Education, Finance, Ministries of Inter-personal Relations, and Ministries of Love, are all issuing buoyant contracts to toddlers and to dead individuals and we would have no time to check them – because we are busy looking at the list of employees instead.

In this country, we turn very little issues into very loud conversations, drowning real survival issues, draining our energies in the process, turning ourselves into entertainers of blue psychology, keeping up with life as it comes and turning ourselves into celebrities of nothing – all of us – and in the process we fail to interrogate the very important details that define our future – corruption, the environment, quality of health, food security, fake contracts, substandard contract implementation, importation of fake drugs, injustice, and brutalities which are becoming part of our subcultures, are all being ignored, because we are all, taflatse, making noise.

Otherwise what is wrong with a 998 staff under such a heavy-laden Presidency, when you have so many agencies placed under it? What exactly is the issue, if you cannot raise issues of wrongdoing during the processes of their recruitment?

I have looked at the list of those working at the Presidency. But for the laziness and the unproductive attitude of some of our public servants, I see nothing wrong with a Presidency that keeps 2,000 staff, especially since there is an operational definition of Presidency – incorporating all the agencies and initiatives placed under it.

We have 216 districts (now more) in this country, and each District keeps at least one National Security/BNI Officer. Now, count the rest of the Presidential agencies that might have representatives at the District, and the Regional levels, and let’s ask ourselves if 998 is enough?

I don’t support the idea of putting special initiatives under the Presidency. But it has been done, that is why we have the one this, one that, at the presidency. You have the Free something something, which should have reasonably been placed under the Ministry of Education, also resting at the Presidency, and the Zongo something something is also collecting dust at the Presidency, as well as development authorities who will soon be adding to the numbers.

The CDD has issued a statement that finds “the trend towards locating or attaching a large number of workers and staffers to the presidency deeply worrying”, and says they are particularly “disappointed at the President’s decision to continue this trend of overstaffing at the Presidency, given the public concerns raised over his appointment last year of 110 Ministers and Deputy Ministers”.

But that is exactly the point. If we did not wish for an oversized government, then we should have stopped the oversized ministers when they were being appointed. The argument has been that the highest ministers so appointed in the past has been 78, and the highest number of Presidential Staffers, including Presidency public and civil servants, have been 800. I therefore conclude, proportionally, and ‘commonsensically’, that the current government has far fewer employees at the Presidency.

I heard Franklin Cudjoe of IMANI and the same was reported as having said that the Employees at the Presidency are Facebookers. I guess Franklin was trying to create a sound-byte to make the headlines. Otherwise this comment is most unfair and insulting to Franklin Cudjoe himself and all those of us who are very qualified, but sit a lot on Facebook to surf the world.

Every available smart person, except the unaccustomed generations, in this country sits on one social media or the other. Social Media has become a tool for development, for business, and for creativity. We are all heavy users of most of the social media platforms. I am a follower of IMANI, just as others follow Challenging Heights on Facebook. This means IMANI sees value in sitting on Facebook. There is therefore no point in trying to describe Presidency Employees as Facebookers just to paint trivial pictures about them, for it is possible that some of those individuals are more qualified than those of us who are criticizing their recruitment.

Of course communication is obviously failing the NPP government. Communication, especially political communication, is not only the provision of timely information. It is also the sequential ‘strategic-ness’ of the events of the communication. You may be doing the right thing but what is it that is going into the communication of that right thing, bearing in mind that, the right thing you are doing is about to face an opposition politician who is planning the wrongness of that right thing?

I have watched the government in the last few months as it churned out communication failures, one after the other, and as a communications practitioner, sometimes I don’t know why the failure does not become obvious, in advance, to my colleagues who were practitioners before becoming who they are now. Or are they too busy taking on their shares of the contracts?

So the 998 employees at the Jubilee House should not have been a problem. But the very people who make up the 998 are failing to defend the Presidency. Perhaps that justifies the criticisms of them being employed in the first place, for their incompetency seem to be showing in the way they have failed to communicate the justification for their presence at the seat of government.

The fact that the issue has escalated out of control and the President seems to have been rendered naked, is a loud subtle admission that those for whom we are where we are, are themselves undeserving of the jobs given them.