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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Competence or loyalty debate; my view

Author, Mustapha Hamid
Author, Mustapha Hamid
The third Ferdinand Ayim Memorial Lectures has rekindled the debate about competence, loyalty and sycophancy within the body politic of our nation. I therefore feel compelled to contribute to the debate, so that hopefully we can all learn lessons that will serve our nation in the near future.

From all the discussions that have taken place so far after the lecture, one thing is clear. Every body agrees that there is the need for appointing authorities to appoint people to positions, based primarily on their competence or ability to do the job. When I talk about appointing authorities, I do not just have governments in mind. I am here referring to any appointing authority at all, be he or she road side business or big industry player. Often times in Ghana, we concentrate too much on the state, forgetting that it is not just governments’ actions that constitute a danger to our progress, but that the collective actions and inactions of all the individual citizens will either make or unmake a nation.

Today almost every person who applies for a job anywhere, whether in the governmental sector or in the private sector, is looking for some body of influence to talk to. The reason every body is looking for some body of influence to talk to is so they can plead their case for them. Nobody seems to have absolute confidence in the internal arrangements of organizations to select the most suitable candidate(s) for a job. Today, the saying “it is who you know and not what you know” has become almost the accepted norm. This is dangerous for development and nation building.

But the question must also be asked, “how do we determine competence? Through out the debate that has been raging I realize that every body has taken the definition of competence for granted. In other words every body believes or thinks that the right paper qualification is synonymous with competence. I disagree.

Last two weeks I was in a friend’s office. He is the chief executive of an important state institution so I will not mention the name of the institution. He told me of a sad case a few weeks ago when he had to dismiss one of his administrative officers because she had written a letter to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and addressed it to “The Managing Director”. Unfortunately, he was not made to see the letter before the lady dispatched it to the AMA. When he noticed it, he was livid. He said he had no alternative than to dismiss the lady outright.

This lady in question is a holder of Bsc, Administration from the University of Ghana Business School. For all her education this lady has never heard the “Mayor” or “Chief Executive” of district, municipal or metropolitan assemblies. Just as we were discussing this matter, another lady entered, apparently to seek his permission to do her national service in his organization. He explained to her that he had no vacancy but that he would give her a note to go and see Kofi Portuphy at NADMO.

This lady for all her life has not heard NADMO. She simply had no idea what NADMO meant. I am talking about another graduate from the University of Ghana. I don’t mean by these examples to denigrate the products of the University of Ghana. These are the examples that I encountered recently of people who every Chief Executive Officer might employ based on the fact that they are graduates and therefore competent to do a job meant for graduates.

My argument in all of this is that, we should not assume that merely because people have a paper qualification, and the requirement for a given position states “graduate”, then they automatically qualify to do the job. In other words, my argument is that paper qualification is not synonymous with competence. Through out my work as editor of Highstreet Journal, Statesman and also Choice FM, the best writer I encountered was a Senior High School Graduate. This young man was simply phenomenal. I never had to edit any story in wrote. He was always on point. I kept encouraging him to upgrade himself. He still works in one of the media houses and I hope he has since upgraded himself.

I am not saying that paper qualifications are not important. Indeed it is the first and most credible basis for starting any recruitment process. My argument is that we should look beyond the paper qualification, especially with government appointments which are mostly done at the whim of the President. Our Presidents should cultivate the habit of interviewing people before he offers them appointment.

Let me go back to the story about the lady who will soon start her national service who had never heard NADMO. My friend asked her if she knows me. She answered in the negative. He asked her if she listens to news or watches television. She again responded in the negative. I was amazed that a University graduate does not listen to the news. In effect she couldn’t be bothered what happens. I had to take time to explain to her that seventy-percent of every thing she will have to learn in this world will be learnt outside the class room. My chief executive friend is her uncle. He then told her that he was giving her an assignment to listen to the 6:00pm news on Joy FM everyday and report to him what she had heard.

So while I agree with Osafo Maafo that competence should be the first criteria for appointing people to positions, we should be careful about equating paper qualification with competence.

I will now turn to the issue of loyalty. Former President Kufuor was there and seemed to disagree with Osafo Maafo. In his view, loyalty counts as much as competence. He then went ahead to say that people could be loyal to nation and not loyal to their party or leader. According to the former President, loyalty to nation, party and leader are all crucial to determining the appointment of a person. Again, I want to dissect the meaning of loyal. To be loyal means to be devoted or faithful to a person or course.

Often times, we confuse loyalty with sycophancy. And that is why Osafo Maafo also dilated on the concept of sycophancy. Sycophancy in my view is akin to what we call boot licking. Sycophants do not see anything wrong with the object or subject to which they are loyal. They shower praise and adulation on their master even if their master is wrong. Most leaders and chief executives like people who behave this way and would keep them in their positions even if they know that they are incapable of the job. Otherwise, loyalty is not wrong in any way. Indeed in my view, it is important that we are all loyal to the objects that we believe in. But in this debate I want to side with Osafo Maafo one hundred percent. I think that we should emphasise one’s loyalty to the nation as the first and foremost type of loyalty. Any other type of loyalty should be considered secondary.

That is not to say that the NDC government can for example appoint card carrying members of the NPP as ministers. Certainly not! We should be able to distinguish between jobs that require just loyalty to nation, and jobs that require loyalty to party. If we are able to make this distinction, then there will be no periodic noise making about who has been asked to proceed on leave and who has not been asked.

I think that Ghanaians have come to realize the inevitable nature of this truth and therefore there has been relatively less noise this time around about why people are being asked to proceed on leave. There now seems to be a clear understanding and an unwritten rule that all political appointees will have to go with the political authority that appointed them.

My beef with President Kufuor’s position is his insistence that people ought to be loyal to the President or the leader of their party in addition to their loyalty to nation and party. That position is a sure recipe for sycophancy and bootlicking. Parties are organized around ideologies and philosophies. I think that it is sufficient if a person is loyal to the party’s philosophy which is what guides the conduct of the President any way. I don’t see the two as separate phenomena.

I think that appointing authorities should just set about looking for the right caliber of people to do the job. Once we can vouch for the capability of a person to do the job, and once we can vouch for the fellow’s commitment to country, I believe that such a fellow should be given the opportunity to do the job.

Credit: Mustapha Hamid

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