Feature Article of Monday, 7 January 2013

Columnist: Tsuo, Cedric

My Pennyworth Advice to President Mahama

Today, 7 January 2013, Mr. John Mahama will be sworn in as president of the Republic of Ghana his own right. What follows here are some random reflections cobbled together on the eve of another milestone in our democracy. But celebration of this important event must be tempered with a dose of realism. The eagle of Ghana’s democracy is flying but not soaring yet. It still has a very long distance to climb before it reaches that pinnacle. It sounds almost platitudinous to say that democracy means much more than periodic successful elections. We still have a long way to go. Our institutions are weak and subject to too much political interference and manipulation. Our politicians fight using all manner of means to get elected to parliament, not to serve the nation but to better their life. The vast majority of Ghanaians have yet to inculcate that politics are a market place for ideas and discourse to be conducted with due decorum and civility, not a battleground for tribal warfare. Our press and other media systematically undermine our democracy instead of being its guardian.

The tally of votes, as announced by the Electoral Commissioner, once again shows that the country is more or less evenly divided between our two main political parties, namely, the NDC and the NPP. Now, the critical question is what should we, as a nation, expect from the Mahama administration?

No doubt the President has no shortage of politically-wise or seasoned advisers. But that does not prevent me, an ordinary citizen concerned about lack of tangible social and economic progress of my country after 55 years of independence, from throwing in my pennyworth advice. Of course, it goes without saying that the President is his own best counsel. He can listen but in the end he makes his own decisions.

The question I posed at the end of the second paragraph above has two sides. The first side concerns measures the President needs to take to reunite behind him divided, but not fractured, Ghana. I believe that the President struck just the right note in his victory speech. He came across as a national leader, making a sincere and genuine appeal to Ghanaians of all political persuasions and ethnic origins to join hands with him in a common endeavour to move the country forward for the benefit of all its citizens. As he rightly underlined, building or developing a nation is just not one man’s (one President’s) job. It is the job of each and every Ghanaian to make his or her contribution through whatever we do, however small, towards building a descent and peaceful life for ourselves, our children and generations to come. On the strength of that speech alone, the President needs no advice from anyone as regards the measures he must take to demonstrate his commitment to uniting the country for the common good. Nonetheless, one or two specific advice would not be out of place. First and foremost, the President should be open to tapping the very best talents from among Ghanaians, irrespective of their party affiliation or ethnic origin. For example, Mr. Kofi Wayo may be flamboyant in every sense of the word but that guy has a sharp problem-solving practical mind. He would make a successful oil and energy minister. Second, the President should also ensure that all Ghanaians and regions are treated fairly in the distribution of development projects and the award of public contracts. Last but not least, the President would go down in history as a unifier, if his administration could make a real difference in the standard of living of all Ghanaians, especially the poor.

That leads me to the second side of my question, which covers broadly: (a) government’s social and economic development plan for the next four years; (b) forming government, i.e., ministerial and other appointments; and (c) credible institutional frame-work for fighting corruption (this latter issue will be the subject of a separate write-up). Regarding government’s programmes, the President in his New Year message to the nation raises the hopes of Ghanaians, and by the term “Ghanaians” I mean the man in the street, of better social and economic times ahead. I have no reason to doubt his commitment to giving all Ghanaians a better life than they had under the last NDC government. But will he be able to deliver on that promise? At the end of the day, it is not the President who will decide whether we are better off or not. He cannot be a judge in his own cause. That judgement is for the electorate to make. So, it would serve the President well always to remember that he and his NDC government are on probation. Ghanaians will be watching and scrutinizing every step of his government. Unless we see a real difference in our standard of living in the next four years, I cannot imagine the President and his party surviving in 2016. The President in his address to the nation mentioned, inter alia, that Ghana’s economy had been resilient and robust. That may be so. But I am not so sure he can also assert that that favourable economic situation trickled down to make some difference in the lives of ordinary Ghanaians. The President and his team need to correct this. That is one of the big challenges facing his administration.

In this connection, the NDC’s Better Ghana Agenda, as outlined in the Party’s manifesto, is just too broad to deliver the better life Ghanaians rightly expect. The new administration would need to do much more than the last government. For a start, it should translate its manifesto into an integrated and impact-oriented national development plan, with specific programmatic actions and a time-frame for delivery. Such a plan should also contain a non-bureaucratic mechanism for continuous assessment of achievements and improvements. Individual programmes however sound they may be will not in themselves make any appreciable impact unless they reinforce each other and targeted. I am here dreaming of a type of Kwame Nkrumah four-year development plan. Otherwise, come 2016 the NDC would still be crowing about Better Ghana Agenda, and no one would listen. The new administration should be bold, imaginative and innovative, if it was to make an impact. For instance, I would like to see a ministry called Ministry of Labour and Employment. Such ministry would not only concern itself with organized labour and disputes, labour laws or attending ILO meetings in Geneva. More importantly, it would work aggressively with the private sector, including financial institutions, and partner them in job-creating schemes and investments. In addition, it would encourage private sector representatives to visit schools periodically, especially tertiary institutions, interact with students and lecturers about job opportunities and the skills that they needed. They could also identify self-employment possibilities and how to go about them.

The ability of young Ghanaians to get paid jobs or go into business of their own depends in large degree on the quality and type of their formal education. The last presidential campaign was probably the most single issue-based campaign ever in the history of Ghana. Nana Akufo-Addo’s “free” SHS agenda hugged the centre-stage of the campaign, and the reason for this is not too difficult to discern. Much of it had to do with Ghanaian psyche or mentality of scrambling for anything described as “free”. Whilst accepting the principle of “free” SHS eventually, Mr. John Mahama argued for a need first to prepare adequately by improving existing facilities and building new ones, as well as increasing and enhancing teaching capacity. In my view, “free” SHS education itself is the least important issue in Ghana’s education right now. The more important issue is what kind of educational system best serves Ghana in the 21st century? That is what we should be debating.

As a country, we now have a great opportunity to undertake an in-depth review of our educational system from kindergarten to tertiary level to assess its relevance to Ghana’s social and economic transformation in a highly technological and globalized 21st century. Our educational system has suffered over the years from too much political or ideological tinkering by successive governments to the detriment of rational reform. So, from where should we start? My suggestion would be that the President should as soon as feasible establish a commission to review our educational system in light of 21st century. Such commission should reflect as many shades of opinion as possible: academics, teachers, all political parties, religious institutions, businesses, parents, students, and even, experts from outside Ghana, e.g., Europe and America. It should not take forever to report back but should not be rushed either. Its recommendations should form the basis of a new system which present and future governments must accept and implement.

The importance of quality government or cabinet cannot for be overemphasised. Government is the engine that drives growth and development. President Mahama knows the task ahead of him but he must also have the right team to propel his development plan forward, both at the conceptual and implementation levels. This is where the quality of his team-cabinet-assumes special importance. There have been reports of NDC party functionaries, existing ministers, etc., lobbying hard for posts in the new government. The late president Atta Mills commendably tried to introduce younger blood into his government. Unfortunately, some of those young deputy ministers were a great disappointment, too full of their own self-importance. The President should avoid making the same mistake. There is no room for sentimentalism or mediocrity. That means only the very best, the most outstanding and practical talents, irrespective of age, of course, should be offered ministerial posts. No less important, the President must not only be seen to be in control of his cabinet but must also be seen as prepared to sack non-performing ministers and other functionaries.

Size of ministerial appointments is a moot point. Over-bloated ministerial appointments in the past, some of which clearly look like job for the boys, have aroused justified public anger. For instance, in the last administration the Ministry of Information had two deputy ministers!! Ministers and deputy ministers do not come cheap. Their salaries, allowances, free residence, cars, telephone, water, etc., etc., are a heavy drain on the nation’s scarce resources. The President should, therefore, be sensitive to the feelings of Ghanaians on this issue, although Article 76(1), Article 78(2) and Article 79(1) of our Constitution give him considerable discretion in the matter of making ministerial and deputy ministerial appointments.

Good luck, Mr. President!

Cedric Tsuo