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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Woyomegate, Has Ghana’s Civil Service led Ghana Down?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge

I have in the past posted articles on incompetency in Ghana, especially within the three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. However, though I have had the suspicion that the Civil Service may also as be corrupt and incompetent the three, it has escaped my analysis. The ongoing “Woyomegate” and the revelations in the Economic and Organised Crime Office’s (EOCO) Interim report on the judgement debt payments to Mr Woyome has buttressed my long held view that Ghana’s Civil Service has not escaped ravages of corruption and incompetency and in this article I intend to analyse the role played by the two senior civil servants at the Attorney General Department and Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in the Woyomegate.

What is the role of a civil service? From my own experience as a former civil servant in the UK, civil service supports government of the day in the development and delivery of policies and programmes. The UK Civil Service describes its role as “The Civil Service supports the Government in developing and implementing its policies and in delivering public services”. There are different systems of civil service in both the developed and developing countries. Some are independent of government, non partisan neutral and impartial. They serve whatever government is in power or elected by the people such as in the UK. Others such as the US are heavily politicized, where most, if not all top civil servants are political appointees and are not neutral and are ideologically biased. As a result, they come and go with new governments according to whether it is the Democrats or Republicans who are in power. In countries such as China the civil service is almost an extension of the ruling party and one cannot be a top civil servant if s/he is not a card bearing member of the Community Party. Whichever country and or whatever system of civil service is in operation, all civil services have the similar roles as described above.

Ghana being a former of colony of Britain inherited her civil service from Britain and therefore is expected to be independent non-political and neutral and impartial. The reality is that, that independence, non party political and neutrality are a mirage and remains only on paper. Historically, the socialist development programme initiated by Ghana’s independent leader, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was incompatible with the colonial civil service arrangements so his government interfered with the civil service to appoint senior civil servants that his government could trust and work with in order to deliver his ideological programme. Political instability led to constant interference with the higher echelons of Ghana Civil Service government after government (from the National Liberation Council, Progress Party, National Redemption Council/Supreme Military Council I&II, Peoples National Party, PNDC/NDC and the National Patriotic Party). The only exception was the short period of the AFRC reign though it was plausible some top civil servants might have abandoned their post and left the country into exile for fear of their lives. It is therefore an understatement to say that Ghana’s civil service is anything but non-partisan, independent, neutral and impartial.

According to sources, President Mills’s government did not interfere with the civil service that was left by the Kufuor government by way of internal senior civil service appointments. That was part of the bone of contention between the government and the party, especially the foot/fool soldiers who demanded that since the NPP administration sacked most of the senior civil servants they met on assumption of office (in the first ever transfer of one constitutionally elected government to another), the same fate should have befallen on those appointed under the NPP regime. President Mills deserves credit for not following the trend, though he might now be paying an expensive price for allowing the civil servants to manage his government, instead of the other way round. It must be noted that even under Mills, a few heads of public bodies were removed, such as my former classmate Prof Ken Atafuah.

For any government to be effective and successful in developing and implementing its policies and programmes that will lead to improved socioeconomic development of the nation, the effectiveness and commitment of the civil service especially, at senior level are absolutely critical. This is because the civil service should be made up of prudent administrators and managers and experts in varied field of endeavours. They are often very well educated from top educational institutions or have risen through the ranks with huge amour of knowledge and experience in their respective areas. Here in the UK most top civil servants are either Oxbridge or Russell Group educated (Oxford and Cambridge or the top twenty universities in the UK). The same is true in Ghana because most of them attended top secondary schools in Ghana and first class universities abroad. They are therefore advisers to government and ministers. Because of the true independent and neutrality of the British Civil Service, it has been very effective in supporting governments after governments. However this has not been the case in Ghana due to the instability and interference mentioned earlier.

In Ghana senior civil servants tend to protect their positions and therefore lack that independence, neutrality and objectivity to provide effective and offer impartial advice to government and ministers. They are also strongly aligned with political parties, especially the two leading parties (NDC and NPP). As a result, they could even work against the government of the day if it’s not the party s/he supports. That is probably why different governments in the past have interfered with top positions within civil service to avoid sabotage by their opponents occupying such sensitive positions.

It is in the light of the above that the roles played by the two senior civil servants at the Attroney Genaral Department and Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP) should be contextualized. According to the EOCO report Mr Paul Asimenu, Director of Legal at MOFEP did not only advise the Attorney General to pay Woyome’s claim but also recommended that in his view, it was international best practice. Only he knew where this international best practice descended from. Again, though he accepted that the 2 percent compensation should have been paid on the amount of loan secured by Waterville for the Ghana projects (€764,117,646), he recommended that it should be based on the total of loans arranged (€1,106,470,587) a difference of €342,352,941. What motivated a civil servant to make such evil recommendations is yet to be unearthed. He is also reported to have allegedly written and sign a letter on behalf of the Minster to the AG without the knowledge of and authorization from the minister.

Mr Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh, the Chief State Attorney’s motivation for producing misleading legal opinion that the state had no case and advised the AG not defend the claim has been exposed by the payment of GHc 400, 000 into his wife’s bank accounts by Mr Woyome. I am of the strong view that he was not motivated by corruption alone but above all the possibility that he intended to sabotage the government. His actions were deliberate. I expected a Chief State Attorney to be clever but by asking Woyome to pay him through his wife was a betrayal of his stupidity and intelligence or both. I am sure Mr Asimenu has been a bit clever and asked Woyome to pay his commison into either a foreign bank account or into the accounts of a non traceable individual.

I looked at the website of the UK Civil Service and the values are outlined as follows: 1. Integrity – putting the obligations of public service above personal interests; 2. Honesty – being truthful and open; 3. Objectivity – basing advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence 4. Impartiality – acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving governments of different political parties equally well.

The Ghana Civil Service Code of Practice also include: Selflessness, that is, “Civil Servants should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or friends”. Integrity, Justice and Fairness, Accountability and Transparency are the other values. These are not different from the values of the UK Civil Service. I am sure readers will agree with me that the above should not be too much for Ghanaians to expect their civil servants to uphold. If Messrs Asimenu and Nerquaye-Tetteh had observed their own professional code of practice, Ghana would have been GHc 58 million richer today. The two are a disgrace to their respective professional bodies and they should be put through professional misconduct and stripped off their membership if found guilty.

Could the civil servants be held solely for the lapses in the two ministries? The answer is, equivocally, no. This happened because of lack of control and effective management by politicians who abrogated their ministerial responsibilities. The then AG and Minister for Finance and Economic Planning failed to exercise proper supervisory roles over the two civil servants under them. They also failed to recognise that not all civil servants are neutral, impartial and objective. Even here in the UK, despite the independence, non partisan, neutrality and impartiality of civil servants, politicians do not give them free range to roam around and rampage in their respective ministries. They exercise effective control over their work and in some cases political adviser are appointed in addition to work with them.

That reminds of me of a past experience in Ghana in the 1980s. The organization I worked in was reorganised and as part of the reorganization, the PNDC Secretary (minister) in-charged asked for a senior civil servants to head the administration section. He sought the assistance of the Civil Service Workers’ Defence Committee to recommend a civil servant he could trust. A month after the arrival of this top civil servant, the PNDC Secretary (who is still in government), without consultation with me appointed me his Special Administrative Assistant and instructed me privately to have oversight of the civil servant, who could have been my father. I found my new role a bit awkward to say the least. He later confided in me that though the civil servant was very efficient, he did not trust his political judgments on some matters and that where he expected me to play a role in that direction. As expected, the old man did not take my instructions kindly and often insisted on me putting my instructions in writing. He later also confided in me that he did not trust us because we were politicians, who would not be around forever. That was why he sometimes demanded documentary evidence of my instructions as his future defense.

Interestingly, the current crop of NDC politicians has forgotten that politicians and civil servants distrust each other because of the political instability in Ghana, which is still in existence despite nearly twenty years of democratic dispensation and political stability.

Some of the loan agreements entered into by the Mills’s government contained very serious weakness such as the abortive STX housing project and the $3 billion Chinese Loan. The terms and condition were one-sided against Ghana. In a previous article, I wrote that either the Ghanaian officials who negotiated the deal with the Chinese fell asleep during the negotiation, had too much to drink or the negotiations were done in Chinese and so they could not understand what the Chinese were saying. I am now tempted to believe that the civil servants who normally do most of the paper work and advise ministers might have behaved similar to Messrs Asimenu and Nerquaye-Tetteh. That is they put their personal interests above nation. Again, the politicians failed to have oversight over the civil servants.

So where is Ghana going with corrupt politicians, incompetent and unreliable judiciary, partisan and greedy civil service with a police force that is at the apex of the corruption league table and a press that is in the pockets of corrupt politicians and practice stomach journalism to score cheap political points and political propaganda through NDC and NPP rented press?

Ghana is a fanny place to be at this time. Mr Osafo Marfo who went to court to seek injunction against EOCO from interviewing him is now pleading with the police to invite him for an interview. He said on Joy News that the reason why he refused to appear before EOCO was on the basis of rule of law and separation of powers. What a lot of rubbish? Is the police not under the same Minister for Interior as EOCO? NPP should also be prosecuted for knowingly breaking the Public Procurement Act and deliberately abrogating a contract that resulted in financial loss to the state.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that Ghana’s Civil Service has also let Ghana down, particularly, in the Woyomegate. The government must without delay review all judgment payments since January 2009, particularly but not exclusively, those that Messrs Asimenu and Nerquaye-Tetteh were involved without any further. As part of the Ghana Civil Service Reform, the concept of independence, non partisan, neutrality and impartiality of the civil service must be instilled in civil servants and must be made an integral part of their performance appraisals. Both politicians and civil servants should develop systems and mechanisms to ensure their effectiveness and to build trust amongst them because they are complimentary. Politicians should take responsibility and manage the work of civil servants because the ultimate responsibility and accountability rest with them and not civil servants. Last but certainly not the least, Ghanaian civil servant should adhere to their Code of Practice and work to put Ghana’s interests above party or personal gain.

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK