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Opinions of Monday, 13 January 2003

Columnist: Mahama, John

Will He Reshuffle?

In the latter part of last year, speculation was rife about an impending cabinet reshuffle. A direct question posed to the President at his last press conference about whether he intended to carry out a reshuffle was quite adroitly avoided. The President claimed the prerogative to hire and fire and said the decision to reshuffle or not to re-shuffle is his and his alone.

Indeed it provoked amusement when the Editor of the Palaver newspaper asked whether rumours of a possible reshuffle were not being deliberately generated from the presidency to act as a deterrent to any of the ministers who may wish to contest President Kufour for the flagbearership of the NPP.

Political office can be stressful and occasionally Presidents will reshuffle their cabinets in order to bring in fresh pair of legs and retire tired ministers to a well-deserved rest. These reshuffles could be limited or extensive depending on what purpose the President intends to achieve.

Ministers may be shifted around in order to present them with new challenges of other sectors, where they may perform at a higher work rate than in their previous sector responsibilities.

The only reshuffle carried out under the Kufour Presidency was more of a game of musical chairs than a reshuffle. Several ministers were moved around without any real casualties. The only minister relieved of their portfolios were ‘good old’ C.O. Nyanor and Ben Salifu. “C.O.” was removed from Private Sector Development and named Minister of State on the National Economic Management Team (NEMT), whatever that means. His removal from this important sector is definitely down to old age and health. Age has definitely slowed “Uncle C.O.” down in the last two years. He shambles slowly into Parliament and could walk past you in the lobby without noticing you.

Ben Salifu lost the Northern Region, but was retained as a minister with the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). He may have been irked by his removal at the time, but considering the minefield his successor walked into – the Dagbon Crisis; it may have been more a stroke of good fortune than ill luck. He must be thanking his stars for having avoided the explosive events surrounding the Ya-Na’s murder and the subsequent Wuaku quagmire.

Most significant in this reshuffle was the clipping of the wings of Leader of Government Business J.H. Mensah, who was designated Senior Minister and Head of the National Economic Management Team. “J.H.” rules the roost and with his very strong and bullying personality, there was the danger of his encumbering the key ministries of Finance, Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration, and the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC). Indeed Dr. Ndoum was most grateful for a helping hand, when the Minority in 2001 shot down an ingenious budgeting plan, which would have put the budgets of the NDPC and the Ministry of Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration under “J.H.’s” control.

There is still activity in the rumour mill about an impending reshuffle, although it will appear the media is more willing now to leave the issue to the President to determine when he wishes to effect it. Reshuffles are newsworthy and generate a lot of public interest. A fall from grace by the high and mighty never fails to excite the public imagination.

The principal reason for carrying out a reshuffle must be to inject efficiency in government. Reshuffles if they must be carried out must be done swiftly and not held like a “Sword of Damocles” over the heads of appointees. Continued speculation about reshuffles can affect the confidence and output of office holders.

Halfway through a 4-year term is long overdue for a major cabinet reshuffle. It is enough time to determine whether a minister can significantly make an impact on the sector he/she controls. This is even more critical for this government, which faces such a tall social and economic agenda. There are obviously many ministers who are just going through the motions and have ran out of fresh initiatives to move their sectors forward.

It is also quite strange that almost a year after the resignations of the Interior Minister and the Northern Regional Minister, the President has not appointed substantive ministers to occupy these positions. The Tourism Ministry is also without a substantive minister since the resignation of Hawa Yakubu (MP).

While such replacements are necessary to maintain a full time watch on these sectors, it is also necessary to restore regional balance to government. The exit of Malik Alhassan Yakubu, Hawa Yakubu and Prince Imoro Andani has reduced the representation of the three northern regions on the executive. It has created a situation where there is not a single minister of cabinet status from the north.

As the President procrastinates in effecting a reshuffle, it becomes less and less necessary to do so. It takes anything between 4 to six months for a minister appointed to a new sector to get on top of his brief. The third year of a 4-year term is critical. 2004 is essentially an election year and so 2003 is the make or break year for making any meaningful impact in terms of delivering on electoral promises.

What accounts for the President’s difficulty in reshuffling his cabinet? There is speculation that the President’s cold feet is attributable to the fact that many of the ministers are friends or cronies, and that many of them were generous and supportive during his years in the political wilderness. He may therefore owe political favours and therefore has difficulty relieving them of their positions even in the face of non-performance. But two years in high political office is more than enough compensation for any favours owed.

More plausible though, for delay in the reshuffle is the fact that the majority of ministers are drawn from Parliament. Of the almost 77 ministers, more than 50 are from Parliament. Any lack of care in reshuffling them could create rebels on the majority benches of Parliament. With government’s slim majority in the house, this would be a dire prospect.

It is the President’s prerogative to reshuffle his cabinet when he deems fit. But like a coach on a football field with almost no goals in the bag from the first half, the second half is critical to winning the match. The coach will either have to make some changes to lift up his game, or gamble on his original eleven to somehow strike it lucky. If changes will be made, it is probably better to do so earlier than later. “Coach kufour” has everyone guessing what his game plan would be. Whatever happens, it is the number of goals in the bag at the end of the match that will determine the fate of the coach, not a sentimental attachment to any of his players.