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Opinions of Friday, 6 March 2009

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Why Mumuni has my sympathies

Asare Otchere-Darko

Mumuni is not the first in facing accusations for allegedly misapplying state funds not “ as is more typically the case in such cases the world over “ for personal gain but instead on orders from above and with the apparent beneficiary a political administration or party.

Two cases in our recent history show that Mumuniâ's case is far from novel in Ghana.

In the Quality Grain case, the judge famously held that the convicted men might not have personally benefited from the $23 million or so which the state readily gave to a Ms Cotton of USA to grow rice in Ghana. Though Justice Afreh did not doubt Prof John Atta-Mills’ witness statement that 'We were so desperate for rice that I was willing to lie down for the [rude] woman to walk over me', he went ahead to hold that the beautiful American woman, who had no history in growing anything (rice and cotton included), got free millions from the Ghana government because “Somebody up there liked her.” The judge was clearly referring to President Jerry Rawlings.

Also in the Tsikata case (that now never was), Jim Wilson, whose Valley Farm received the controversial loan from GNPC, was a very, very close friend of President Rawlings.

In the case of Muhammed Mumuni, when the scandal of the ¢19.6 billion (about $3 billion dollars in 2000) first hit the headlines, the story, again, was that the “siphoned” funds were not for his personal benefit, but to fund the National Democratic Congress’ 2000 election campaign.

Five years ago, a forensic audit conducted by the firm of Messrs Baffuor Awuah and Associates under contract from the Auditor-General, found that the National Vocational and Training Institute was used “as a conduit for siphoning an amount of over ¢19.6 billion [Gh¢1.96m] of government funds to known and unknown persons, through huge and fraudulent payments to companies and enterprises as well as a number of individuals,” and that was “tantamount to ‘money laundering’ in some cases.” Â

Alhaji Mumuni was at the time the Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, and the report made specific findings against the Minister for writing letters demanding billions of cedis for the “fraudulent” purchase of equipment, and concluded that his conduct and that of others including the late Victor Selormey (then Deputy Minister of Finance) and the then Controller and Accountant-General, R K Tuffuor, undertook actions that “did not only result in a financial loss to the state of over ¢15 billion, being total amount fraudulently paid out of the sum of ¢19 billion to private companies and individuals for goods not supplied or services not rendered, but also constitutes misconduct and gross negligence under the provisions of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana.”

This is not come to the full light of public attention at the time because it is said that so sympathetic was the Kufuor administration to the plight of the former NDC Minister at the time, that Messrs Francis Poku (National Security Coordinator) and Edward Agyemang Dua (Auditor-General) allegedly decided in 2004 not to cause a stir with the report, paving the way for the then MP to contest as Prof Mills’ running mate in that year’s presidential election.

What is of interest now, however, is that when viewed in conjunction, the common aspects of these three cases suggest that under the NDC, many of the detected cases of corruption were allegedly committed on behalf of the presidency or the party as an entity.

Why I have sympathies for Alhaji Mumuni is twofold: the first is for similar reasons as to why I had some sympathy for Kwame Peprah and co in the Quality Grain case. Their fundamental ‘crime’ was one that is, unfortunately, common in party politics: foregoing basic principles (of national interest) in favour of unquestionable loyalty to party or leadership. The sympathies are not for their foregoing those vital principles, but for doing things for party or leader and having to take the can.

Secondly, Alhaji Mumuni is certainly one of the finest politicians in Ghana today. A fine gentleman, who, in search of greater political relevance, left the Heritage Party to join the NDC.

If he survives this resignation scare, he would definitely be the one to watch in the succession contest after President Mills. In fact, he is seen by many political analysts as possessing more political substance and gravitas than Vice President John Mahama: deeper in intellect and probably a greater unifying force within the NDC than Betty Mould, John Mahama or Spio-Garbrah.

I’m even of the view that Alhaji Mumuni is Prof Mills’ preferred successor, secretly. At the least, the President does not want a situation where it would appear his Vice is the heir presumptive. That would put more pressure on the President who may, health and T B Joshua permitting, certainly wish to go for a second term. Knowing he is not likely to do a lot of travelling apart from covering the distance between his living quarters and office at the Castle, President Mills may not wish to offer his deputy a sole advantage on the global stage. This is what makes the choice of Mumuni as Foreign Minister most interesting.

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MILLS’ FLEDGLINGS AND COST-CUTTING GOVERNMENT

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Five years ago, I questioned what seemed to me like a gerontocracy – rule by the elderly. The average age of NPP ministers at the time was, I think, 52. I believed then that there was a much younger pool of talent that the NPP could draw from than the choice of ministerial appointments showed. We can say what we don’t like about the Mills’ government, but what is readily remarkable is the courage of the President to empower more women and the younger generation in his appointment of Ministers and their deputies. With women, he was always going to struggle to meet that campaign goal of at least 40%. Yet, he has started pretty well in meeting this target, and even better with regards to the younger generation.

The likes of Harruna Idrisu, Fiifi Kwettey, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, James Agyenim-Boateng, Hannah Bissiw, Edward Omane Boamah, Elvis, Baba, Kobby, Koku and Zita, give the impression that the NDC is readier to realise the empowerment the ‘youth’. But what it also shows is that Prof Mills has rewarded those who were loud on the airwaves in pushing his message. The appointment of Tony Aidoo, when it comes, will further confirm that the more acerbic your tongue the higher the reward.

But in terms of the size of his government, Ghanaians should not be fooled. In terms of number of ministers, the Mills government is bigger than the Kufuor government was in 2001. It would become a mere populist move if he does not follow it up by reducing the size of the state bureaucracy.

He, however, runs the risk of equating small size with efficiency.

Reducing ministries and ministers may save you some change, but the calculation is only complete if the efficiency of the new set-up measured against the efficiency, value and contribution made by what you are taking away.

Experts say a body of evidence has been developing which offers us guidance on what is the ‘right’ or ‘optimal’ size of government. It posits that when government at all levels in a nation exceeds about 20% of GDP, the people as a whole are harmed because economic growth is stunted, and the rate of wealth creation is the casualty.

Our government may be patently obese but a mere trimming of the fat, as we are seeing now, is likely to be little more than cosmetic.Â

Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush had little success in their efforts to reduce the size of the American government. Their success was only in making Americans feel good, however falsely, by their stated efforts.

The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute, a liberal conservative think tank

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

Executive Director

Danquah Institute

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