You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2018 01 15Article 617656

Opinions of Monday, 15 January 2018

Columnist: Eric Nii Odartey Lamptey

Who represents our best foot forward - NDC’s launch pad for victory 2020

This year promises to be a very busy one for the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The reason is quite simple. After the earlier failed attempt to kick-start the much-awaited branch re-registration and elections of party executives at all levels, the national executives and indeed all members of the party know that the stakes are higher now than ever and cannot afford any further delays.

The party knows that any further delay beyond December 7, 2018, could plunge the party into a constitutional crisis as well as endanger the party's chances of recapturing power in 2020, a prospect that is best avoided.

Indeed, party executive elections would generate a considerable level of enthusiasm, anxiety, tension and fever, but by far the primaries for the selection of the flagbearer promises to attract greater attention and media headlines.

So far, the likes of Hon. Sylvester Adinam Mensah, former Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Dr. Ekow Spio Garbrah - the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Professor Joshua Alabi, the former Board Chairman of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Hon. Alban Sumani Bagbin, Member of Parliament and Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Hon. Member of Parliament Rickette Hagan who is also the former Central Regional Minister, have all declared their readiness to throw in their candidature should nominations be opened later this year, most likely in the third or fourth quarter of the year.

Though President Mahama, who is the immediate past President has not made any official declaration to lead the party, pronouncements of his supporters and a section of his loyalists, mostly those who became members of the NDC by virtue of their appointment into public office as well as President Mahama's own demeanour, actions and body language are clear indications that his declaration to contest is only, but a matter of time.
All together about six candidates are likely to contest.

While President Mahama, by virtue of being the former leader/President may command significant internal party votes at a delegates conference, it is unclear what his chances could be in the 2020 general elections and what a negative outcome that would mean for the NDC.

In terms of experience, political clout, maturity and intellectual capacity, none of the names above can be said to be in short supply.

At this stage, however, it may be more useful for the party to rally around a new candidate to reduce patronage fatigue and the disaffection that naturally characterizes a defeat of an incumbent.
The party must identify a new set of skills and talent within an appropriate age bracket to lead the party. Besides, the ethnicity of the leader in the light of emerging internal dynamics as well as what constitutes a strategic ticket would be critical.

Take it or leave it, Sylvester Adinam Mensah, may seem an underdog and perhaps not yet a household name outside the domain of the NDC, but he certainly comes to the table with more than just the aforementioned attributes. I share the growing view that the NDC stands to gain more from any investment made in him.

The rise to political fame assumes several dynamics. Subjective as it may be, the relatively younger hopeful who just turned 54, is a colourful personality by all measure and possesses great courage, capacity and insights.

Many have risen to political fame without necessarily being known outside their movements or the very political parties they represent. Like the celebrated Nkrumah, the champion of Pan Africanism, the iconic Jerry John Rawlings, Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter, Barack Obama, the first black American President, among others, all rose to fame under unbelievable circumstances. I see Hon. Sylvester Mensah emerging to prominence in like manner.

I have the confidence and belief that it will be Sylvester Mensah, the launch pad, that the NDC needs and would elect, despite coming into the flagbearership race as an underdog.

I have heard, read about and seen Sylvester Mensah on several NDC platforms. But my personal encounter with him was in late 2015 at the Ordogonno Secondary School. The occasion was the meeting of the Greater Accra Regional Outreach Taskforce which he led to my constituency, Anyaa Sowutuom. I was informed that, in the wisdom of the party leadership in the Greater Accra Region, this meeting was necessary as a result of perceived disunity, dissatisfaction and apathy borne out of perceived or real manipulation of the biometric register to favour some parliamentary aspirants.

The meeting was to bring healing and unity to get the base of the party ready for election campaign.

The participants were ready to attack the party and ‘fire’, including my good self. Sylvester, the leader of the team, first allowed all present who wished to make statements to do so. It was obvious the meeting had lost steam with the frustration and anger from all speakers from the constituency. When Sylvester mounted the podium, calm was restored. He spoke wisdom and his submission left people praying for our success in the pending elections.

Among others, he told us what the alternative would be to go into opposition. He was the cold water needed to calm down the heated and charged atmosphere.

Since then, I have observed him closely and I can equate his person to a fine gentleman, both smooth and rough, a true party person, deep in thoughts, loyal, an excellent speaker, a man with deep political understanding and organisational prowess.

Arguably, Mr. Sylvester Mensah represents a unique generation in the NDC, he is neither too old nor too young, rooted in the foundation of the party like no other hopeful yet trendy with the demands of the time. He is a grassroots man, a party elite who operated many years as a foot soldier and a cadre from the outset of the party in 1992, until his first formal government appointment as Chief Executive of the NHIA in 2009.

An example of patience, loyalty and true commitment. This is the mould and talent NDC needs at this crucial moment to survive the turbulent times ahead. He is the type the grassroots and ordinary Ghanaian will easily identify with. One who inspires hope and gives meaning to why people must continue to trek the villages, hamlets, towns, communities, constituencies, districts and indeed the rest of the country. One who believes in Ghana and believes in rewarding loyalty for the party.

I was not surprised when he personally spoke eloquently on rewarding loyalty on a number of radio stations including Radio Gold and Starr FM late last year after sharing his motivation leadership and vision to focused groups of the party across some regions.

Sylvester Mensah (Sly): A party man with deep political understanding*

Sly is a true member of the NDC. A foundation member with his roots from the revolution days. Indeed one of the few selected to study Political Economy and Party Organization in 1989 at the Cottbus Political College in Germany. Unlike many who get agitated and switch camps after little scuffles, Sylvester Mensah has known no turning back since he got involved from day one. He has endured all orchestrations from his peers and seniors from within.

As part of those who were involved in the establishment of the first set of NDC constituencies in the Greater Accra Region it was not until 2009 that he was officially assigned as the Chief Executive of the NHIA.

No one has cause to question his loyalty to the NDC. He has combined self-development with dedicated service throughout the times and has never on any occasion shirked his obligation and responsibility to the party.

In the process, the fine gentleman with his mother from Greater Accra, La to be precise, where he was the Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2001 and his father from Keta (Dzelukope) in the Volta region, rose through the ranks and became the first regional youth organiser of the party in the Greater Accra Region in 1992 and subsequently Regional Secretary from 1994 through to 2001. Available records has it that he has been strategically involved in all party activities from 1992 to date.

He currently chairs the Greater Accra Region's finance committee and also serves as a member of the region's Council of Elders.

Age and Experience

Indeed if the highest office of the land, the Presidency, demands maturity and capacity in terms of age and talent then we are spot on with Sylvester at a time when many leading countries are showing preference for youthful leaders.

At 54 and with over 25 years experience as a foot soldier; grassroots operative; social worker; polling agent; party executive; Hon Member of Parliament; a lecturer; a banker; a party elder; a party financier; a Chief Executive of a public institution and a Presidential Staffer, among others, it is indisputable fact that he is well baked and has arrived, ready to lead the NDC.

So far he compares more favourably to all other aspirants as far his party credentials are concerned and no less than any other in academic qualifications.

His greatest strength lies in his vision, potential, strategic management expertise and interpersonal and people management skills. His relationship with party elders is exceptional. He is calm but decisive, soft but firm, unassuming but deep in thought and capacity, humble but forthright, smart, eloquent and a likeable personality. Should Hon. Sylvester Mensah emerge as the standard bearer of the party, the NDC stands to gain more even beyond 2020, as he would have the energy to trot past a second term into January 2029.

All things being equal, given the opportunity, Sylvester leaves office after two terms at a healthy age of about 65, giving the party and the country an opportunity to tap from the rich experience gathered over the years for good governance and mentorship, a thing most African countries do not consider in the selection of leaders.

Understanding the political dynamics of the party

Mr. Sylvester Mensah is among the few individuals within the party who can boast of understanding the NDC beyond just political organisation. I call it the spirit, body and soul of a party. Sylvester Mensah is among the few who have worked closely with all leaders of the party and currently has no issue/issues with any group or faction. He understands where the potholes are, where to step, what to avoid, who to speak to and what to ask of who and when. He has been deeply involved from day one and understands the language of the party far better than any of his peers.

Many will ask why he remains relatively unknown and that brings you to his extremely selfless leadership style and desire to always give others an opportunity.

Sly is a definition of humility and believes in the individual capacities of all those he comes across. He also has a superb personal relationship with people, extremely forgiving and a team player. He is indeed, the launch-pad on whose back the party can ride back to power come 2020.

Probity, Accountability, Transparency and Social Justice

Sylvester Mensah remains the only former appointee who experienced public investigation (in late 2015) over his stewardship of the NHIA with no adverse finding against him. Ironically, this investigation was conducted on the heels of being a recipient of many local and international awards for innovation, efficiency and leadership.

One significant award was given in 2014,by a local think tank, a relentless critic of the then NDC government - Imani Ghana -- where Sylvester was the proud recipient of the best Public Sector Chief Executive in Ghana award, while the NHIA also received the leading public institution award. It remains doubtful the purpose or intent of the supposed investigations but that is a matter for another discussion.

Like all human beings, Sylvester may have his shortcomings but the jury is out there and posterity will judge him fairly.

His contributions, achievements and successes at the NHIA would be a subject for another discussion. He has been a resource person and key speaker on health insurance globally. In particular he honoured invitations as a key Speaker in conferences sponsored by the UN, the African Development Bank, the USAID, The South African Medical Schemes, the Nigerian Health Ministry, among others.
We shall also discuss the innovations he led in Ghana's NHIA and his technical presentations in the USA, UK, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Tunisia, Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa, among others

Under his watch as Chief Executive of the NHIA, many countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and the USA engaged in knowledge and experience sharing with Ghana's NHIA which continue to be considered a leading global model.

Sylvester Mensah is passionate about the continuous growth and success of the NHIA and has expressed his willingness to offer free consultancy if need be, a statement he made in a radio interview sometime last year.

It remains to be seen how his handlers will capitalise on his rich experience and international network to ride on to victory in the most competitive primaries ever to be witnessed by the largest opposition party, the NDC, since its formation in 1992.

Should the party and for that matter congress settle on Sylvester Mensah, affectionately referred to by his peers and party members as Sly, the party could just be on its way back to regaining its lost grounds as the party for the masses and crusaders of probity, accountability and social justice; the ideals, values and principles on which the party was formed.