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Friday, July 13, 2012

What Do Ghanaian Ministers Do?

By K. B. Asante
The various political parties are working hard to convince us that if we elect them to power, life will be much better for all of us. They are persuading us to focus on their manifesto, and past achievements.

But experience suggests that much will depend in the next four years upon the leadership and those put in key positions. It is difficult to anticipate the behaviour in office of key personalities of the various parties. Much will depend upon the leadership and party discipline. But we the people can also help by demanding that the political parties tell us now what their Ministers and key officials will do when in office.

We know that they talk and attend functions. But they can only solve the major problems and help develop the country if they spend long hours thinking, discussing matters with experts and advisers and taking decisions.

We can simplify matters by asking simply “What will your Ministers do?” The question is not as trivial as it may appear. In colonial days departments produced reports of what they had done during the year. Ministries did the same during the few years after independence.

Then the talking session set in. The minister or personality who could talk convincingly was the man or woman of the day. There were reasons for this. The African personality and other ideas and concepts had to be firmly implanted. Persuasion and glib tongues were then important.

Today, however, we have to engage in the very difficult task of development which requires a wide knowledge, readiness to learn and multi-disciplinary approach. Various institutions, including ministries, have yet to work together to achieve the common goal.

Squabbles are not uncommon. Many ministries are not on top of their work. Ministers complain about problems they should solve. And strange enough we the people think they are good when they capture our frustrations in their statements and speeches. Thus for years those who should solve problems complain about them.

For over twenty years we have heard variations of the same old theme. For more than twenty years many authorities ran around their aides, experts and collaborators in circles and issues remain unsolved. Many examples over the years can be quoted. We give one for illustration.

“The Minister has ordered the three electricity providers to set up a technical committee to investigate the circumstances that have led to a string of nationwide blackouts in recent times”. The three providers, the Volta River Authority, the Ghana Grid Company and the Electricity Company of Ghana were requested to then report to the minister within 24 hours. We were happy when we learnt of this. But has it changed anything?

Electricity cuts are today the most annoying encounters by the citizen and industry. When the minister makes such a statement we feel good. The minister is doing well. He understands. But should he talk or act? Now, the three providers are competent organisations. If sufficient electricity is generated, it should be distributed to the satisfaction of consumers.

If the power generated is not sufficient the public should be told. We should know what is being done to increase capacity. If consumers should pay more so that the generating capacity is increased, we should be informed and be made to pay more.

If enough power is generated but consumers do not get electricity then something is wrong with the distribution. If the necessary facilities are there and yet blackouts persist then some heads should roll.

This is what happens in most of the so-called developed countries. Often the head of the organisation or that of the Minister himself rolls. But here we know that it is not the Minister’s fault. Neither is it that of the technician or administrator.

We know what should be done but we do not do it for ridiculous reasons. Often, it is felt wrongly that votes will be lost if the right thing is done. In this particular case of electricity I have reason to believe that the minister and the staff of the energy providers are competent. At least they have the capacity to perform satisfactorily.

What we the public should do is to demand that what is wrong be put right so that our competent ministers are saved fatuous statements. Putting things right is a difficulty with us. Thus when the government wants to speed up the building of houses and finds that “building permits take so long” the minister does not deal with those responsible but directs statutory planning committees to meet at least once a month to hasten the approval process. (You find this and similar news items in the papers regularly).

Again, for example, when the Legal Instrument 1468 which established the TDC is found to hinder the bridging of the housing gap in Tema the Minister publicly asks for a review of the Instrument. But the Minister is a member of the Government. Why should he complain to us instead of doing his duty in Cabinet and through the established institutions? The examples are many. The Minister responsible asks the MTTU to enforce the traffic rules while the security agencies are charged to deal with the threats to the nation’s electoral process.

All these comments and directives are appreciated. But the Minister and those in authority are to put things right, not to talk to show that they understand the problems. They were put in their positions because they were believed to be capable of putting things right.

And so we should ask this question of those who seek our votes: “Would those you select as Ministers talk to make us realise that they understand the problems they were elected to solve?”; or “Would they migrate their ‘single spines’ to the erect group for a few hours a day so that they can put things right through the maze of consultations and procedures?”. We should consider the track record of Ministers for the past 16 years before we vote.

We should vote for parties who promise that their Ministers will work to solve the problems of the people and not only talk beautifully and make themselves singularly visible at public functions.

We should vote for those who will take bold decisions to move the country forward and not for the spineless who will keep us in filth and poverty so that we many vote for them at the next election.

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