Politics Is Not Enough For The Nod

By Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, former Chairman of National Media Commission (NMC), Ghana

Accra, Ghana//-One of the main prerogatives of the President of Ghana is to select cabinet and other ministers to form the government.

Parliament has a role to play in that process because the President has to submit the list of appointees to Parliament whose job it is to evaluate the President’s selection and give it its approval.

Parliament does this job primarily through its Appointments Committee. The Appointments Committee reports to the full House which almost without exception accepts the Committee’s recommendations.

The Appointments Committee hearings, which are live on TV, are a mix of celebrity showbiz, a school quiz and loyalty test. While the inquisitors go about their duty with all the seriousness they can muster, one cannot avoid feeling that they, and we, know that it is more of a formality than a serious examination of any sort.

The reason for this is not because the committee takes its work lightly but because, in reality, it is difficult to define and measure the standard they look for in the candidates presented to them?

The only qualification or standard required of prospective ministers and deputy ministers is that they must be quaslified to be elected as members of parliament. The Constitution pegs the strength of the Cabinet between ten and 19 but there is no no limit to the number of ministers a president may appoint.

The Constitution mandates the President to select the “majority” of ministers from Parliament. This is a constitutional oddity but which has been misclassified as a hybrid form of government.

A hybrid system is often transitional and temporary and may mix elements of democracy and autocracy during a transition. In all other respects, the 1992 Constitution proffers a presidential system of government. Indeed, if there is such a term, one would describe it as “super-presidential”.

The Constitution says clearly that ministers report to the President, which is a key feature of the presidential system of government.

The framers of the Constitution may have had a good reason for choosing this system of selecting ministers but I cannot find any particular virtue in it. It has placed an unnecessary burden on the President and caused split attention for MPs serving as ministers thus weakening Parliament.

But its most insidious effect is that it forces the President to appoint people who may not be the best available material for certain ministerial slots.

When people offer themselves as parliamentary candidates, they often campaign on local issues without the need to parade their suitability as ministers. That is why and how they are elected and they should serve their constituents in that capacity.

Once they become ministers, their allegiance switches from their constituents and Parliament to the President to whom they owe their position and its power and perks.

In the next few days and weeks, the word “nod” will come into its own as ministerial candidates and their parliamentary inquisitors frequently use the word when referring to parliamentary approval. So, when “given the nod”, ministers-desinate will become substantive office holders, and then what?

In the scheme of things, people designated as ministers need not have any experience of the sectors they are going to head. This has been the pattern in the 4th Republic and much of our history. Only a few people appointed as ministers assume office with more than a cursory knowledge or experience of their sector ministry.

People argue that ministers do not require specific knowledge and experience of their sectors because they are only political appointees. In other words, the ministers go as the President’s representatives but not necessarily as thought leaders in the sectors under their care.

In the case of cabinet government in which the Cabinet act collectively and report to Parliament, this may not matter much. In a presidential type of government where ministers are responsible to the President and not Parliament, ministers must be the President’s principal advisors in the sectors and areas in their care.

How can they advise the President when they have little or no experience of the sector? Of course, one may argue that civil servants and technical officials will advise the minister, but without the requisite knowledge and experience, how would she or he evaluate the advice. In any case, why do we need a ministerial intermediary when the technical advisors can speak directly to the presidency?

It is entirely possible that ministers are able to master their briefs in a short period of time, but it is also possible that some will never get on top of issues in the ministries they are supposed to be heading. It is therefore a gamble to send people with no or little experience to head ministries and departments of government under our system.

Unfortunately, because of the requirement to appoint most ministers from Parliament, the pool of expertise available to our presidents narrows considerably, which is not good for the country.

It appears that political considerations usually account for ministerial selection instead of technical ability.

We all agree that ultimately, the buck stops on the desk of the President so he can do what he likes. However, we are a developing country with too many poor people. We cannot afford to spend the nation’s money on wasteful experiments and square pegs struggling to snuggle in round holes.

One would wish that the Appointments Committee would widen its remit to challenge the technical competence of ministerial appointees.

Unfortunately, the Constitution does not provide any quality guidelines on what they should look for. They are therefore going to look for general ethical and administrative competences, which may be good for the country but not the best.

As ministerial candidates receive the nod this time around, it is not clear whether the nation can look forward with more hope in the future than we have done for the past sixty-three years of independence.

Nothing much has changed in the way ministers are appointed. It is politics first, second and last. How can we expect a different taste when we have not changed the ingredients?