Ghana: As PV Obeng re-surfaces…
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Good friends, more developments keep cropping up for us to engage in our conversation. President Mahama has moved steadily to establish the pillars of his administration. He has just released the names of 15 new appointees of Ministerial status, and one for the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre.
As he continues to form his government, appointing personalities to Ministries and the Presidency, he gives us to know what he is capable of doing. He has almost completed filling the Ministries. The vetting of his appointees by Parliament will begin soon.
The latest batch of appointees reveals much to surprise us. Not only are the appointees from diverse constituencies and regions but their choice also portrays some peculiarities. We analyze this batch to see what it tells us about the man making the appointments, the appointees themselves, and the kind of government that is being moulded.
The Haruna Iddrissu Factor
The President’s inclusion of Hon. Haruna Iddrissu (for the Ministry of Trade and Industry) may be regarded as timely in view of the tension in Tamale and the hooliganism displayed by his followers who were aggrieved at his not being appointed earlier.
Although one may read a deeper meaning into this appointment to suggest that the President might have been coerced by the impact of the Tamale demonstrators’ threats, we can also see it as a politically motivated act to prove that he is listening to the people and making decisions therefrom. One problem area tackled by this appointment, even though it may also be seen as setting a very bad precedent or portraying the President as not strong enough to resist pressure; or that he is likely to be moved by rabble-rousing to act thereupon.
The PV Obeng Factor
Another issue is the resurgence of P.V. Obeng, whose new post is Senior Presidential Adviser at the Presidency. He is no stranger to government business, having served for many years in the Rawlings PNDC as Coordinating Secretary and Advisor on Governmental Affairs ( a virtual Prime Minister or Second-in-Command), among many others that exposed him to the inner workings of government.
PV Obeng served in diverse capacities, even when he fell out with Rawlings and left the seat of government. We remember him as heading the National Development Planning Commission under Kufuor, and being a high-ranking member of the Transitional Team that worked to install the late President Mills in office.
Of course, PV Obeng is no mean politician. He is a political heavy weight who easily awes. I remember Rawlings’ taunting of the opposition NPP leaders that PV Obeng was worth more than 10 of them rolled into one!
But including PV Obeng in the inner circle of the President has its own dire implications that we cannot miss. He has had problems verging on corruption (e.g., the controversy over the mansion he claimed to have acquired legally), which went before the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative justice (CHRAJ) and which, I believe is still at court. He is, therefore, entering the team with a baggage that must not be lost sight of.
Many other allegations against him verging on impropriety have come to notice; but once he hasn’t been found guilty and punished by any court, we assume that he is clean enough to return to the corridors of power; hence, his appointment to this new position.
Probably, President Mahama may be using him to appease the older generation of P/NDC corps. For one thing, PV Obeng is an efficient, competent, and hard-working person whose administrative acumen is par excellence. If he can do the job, why not appoint him? Burt he has to be watched closely.
“Old” Ministers Re-cycled
The President’s retention of the Ministers who served under the previous government may be regarded as his having much confidence in them. Obviously, there’s been some shifting around of portfolios. I have no qualms about the retention of these personalities who, apparently might have performed well enough to gain the President’s trust and confidence.
However, the appointment of Hon. Mark Woyongo (former Upper East Regional Minister) to the Ministry of Defence raises eyebrows. I don’t know his background to warrant any scathing analysis of his acumen; but inferring from his role in the Bawku crisis—and the fact that is tenure in office didn’t bring anything new to solve that problem, I wonder what really recommends him to President Mahama for this sensitive position. Probably, he is being put there for what only the appointing authority can tell.
The appointment of Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi to the Ministry of the Interior may be seen by some as reflecting the strong influence that the Ahwoi has, especially when the happenings in the Mills government come to mind as some critics would have us believe that the Ahwois virtually had a stranglehold on the ex-President. In other words, it was alleged that the Ahwois were, indeed, ruling Ghana through the ex-President. No one could substantiate such allegations, but the presence of Kwesi Ahwoi is likely to re-ignite such perceptions.
Ministers of State at the Presidency
I am more than alarmed at the number of Ministers-without-Portfolio who have been appointed and clothed as “Minister of State at the Presidency.” So far, there are 6 of them (two women and four males). Of course, the President needs able hands to support him at the seat of government, but we are concerned that this “job-for-the-boys” syndrome could lead to the bloating of government just for its own sake.
In most cases, these appointees turn out to worsen the red-tapeism that characterizes officialdom and end up being “glorified messengers” who do nothing to boost national development efforts but enjoy the perks of office.
We will caution President Mahama to put in place a lean government so that bureaucracy doesn’t encumber governance. If these appointees will not have anything specific to do (because we already have the requisite Ministries to handle tasks likely to be assigned them), then, they are redundant and shouldn’t be sheltered in the corridors of power just to appease certain faceless lobbyists seeking to place stooges near the President to exploit for personal gains.
They will definitely run errands; but such errands must not be for serving personal interests. Eyes are watching.
Appointments for Special Functions
Also surprising is the President’s appointment of E. T. Mensah, Hon. Alban Bagbin, and Hon. Cletus Avoka “to co-ordinate the implementation of presidential priority projects relating to the construction of 200 Senior High Schools, 10 Teacher Training Colleges and 1 Public University in the Eastern Region; the Development of ultra-modern Regional and Specialist Hospitals; and the development of new International and Regional Airports.”
We don’t know whether they are of Ministerial status or just being designated as “political foremen” to oversee such projects. Apart from Hon. Avoka, the rest were Ministers in the previous administration. By this assignment, are they being demoted (for them to take umbrage as such)?
Their designation itself is intriguing. What they are designated to do involves the provision of development projects in three categories (even though we don’t know which of them is responsible for what).
We may see their purview as a novelty. This is the first time in this 4th Republic that the President has designated sectors as “presidential priority projects” although Kufuor also coined his “President’s Special Initiative” (on cassava/starch, cotton, grasscutter, etc.), which didn’t accomplish much to add anything substantial to the national economy.
By designating these portfolios as such, President Mahama seems to be giving Ghanaians some hope that his administration is focused and will accomplish set objectives. It is noteworthy that the President’s emphasis is on projects that are relevant to national life.
Hindsight, however cautions us not to repose too much trust and confidence in such grand designs in rhetoric. With the botched STX Housing Project in mind, one needn’t look far afield to be quizzical about these initiatives. We hope the President’s good intentions will materialize.
Particularly, the President’s interest in the development of ultra-modern Regional and Specialist Hospitals and new international and regional airports is heart-warming for now. At least it tells us what the President has up his sleeves. We will only hope that his good intentions don’t evaporate as pipe dreams only to re-surface as promises when Election 2016 draws close.
The fundamental questions one will ask about the designation of those personalities for these projects is: What happens to them when the projects are either abandoned or completed? Can’t the existing Ministries take care of those projects? What is so urgent about them as to warrant the creation of new positions for them? Still, we advise the President to be careful about the size of his government.
Re-designation of Ministries
The President’s appointments reflect the re-designation of existing Ministries. We have two in this current list: Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts; Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development; and Ministry of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs. I don’t think that all these re-designations are necessary. It seems every new government comes up with new names for the Ministries as if by merely re-designating the Ministries and making their names much mouthful and jaw-breaking. Can we not have one name and stick to it even if the responsibilities increase? Continuity in nomenclature matters.
So far, what has happened indicates that President Mahama is swiftly putting his house in order to begin implementing his “Better Ghana Phase Two” agenda. We encourage him to look for competence, patriotism, and dedication to service as the motivation for selecting members of his team.
Then, he should put in place mechanisms to check corruption and recklessness in public office. It mustn’t be difficult for him to establish the parameters and ensure effective monitoring of these appointees for them to do what he has chosen them for. Ghanaians will retain their goodwill for him and his government only if these appointees perform competently and without blemish. That is the only way to look forward to the future with hope.
I shall return…
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