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Ignatius Baffour Awuah-Minister for Employment and Labour Relations
Ignatius Baffour Awuah-Minister for Employment and Labour Relations

Woes of the Public sector

Sometime in July this year, news filtered out on social media that the Minister of Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, had appointed his sister, Alice Ofori-Atta, as the new Managing Director of the Tema Development Corporation (TDC).

According to the information, just at the same time of Alice Ofori-Atta’s appointment, someone, definitely not the President of Ghana, had constituted a new Board of Directors with one Elizabeth Mansa Banson, as the new Chairperson.

The news report was not denied, and it appears that the changes have taken effect on the quiet. However, this appears, to me, to be a coup. Firstly, under the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, Article 70 (1) (d) it is the President, not the Minister, who appoints the Chairmen and other members of the governing bodies of public corporations, in consultation with the Council of State.

Is that what happened in the TDC? No! And the opposition parties are sitting there, saying nothing. If it were the NPP in opposition, by now, they would have hauled the government to the Supreme Court for an interpretation. But the opposition prefers to only whine about whether the President’s clothes are over-sized or whether he conducts an rchestra. No action! And the poor substantive Managing Director, Mr. Joe Abbey, has been asked to go home, probably after being paid all his entitlements, including his contractual pay up till 2018. And all such avoidable payments are coming from the coffers of the TDC. Yet these are the same politicians who, if the state companies face financial difficulties, turn round and glibly sermonize that state companies do not work.

How will they work when appointments to state companies are not made on the basis of proven competence and through competitive interviewing, but solely on the basis of political party or family affiliation?

Take the case of a state company such as a bank which is supposed to trade commercially and make profits. In order to achieve its objective, the bank is supposed to make both medium-term and long-term plans. But how can any Managing Director or Board of a Bank make long-term plans when at every change of government, the new President appoints a new person without consideration of performance standards for the appointee, no relevant proven achievements in that sector, and even sometimes no relevant qualifications?

As an aside, this reminds me of a statement made by “Prime Minister” Hacker in one of the “Yes Prime Minister” series about MPs. He said: “Being an MP is a vast, subsidised ego trip. You need no qualifications, no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards; a warm room and subsidised meals for a bunch of self-opinionated windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve got ”MP” after their names!” That’s only an aside; but it could be likened to the issue under discussion.

How can state companies make profits when they are considered just as part of the spoils of war, as rewards for party-faithfuls so they can also “go and chop some”? Then we turn round and say we abhor corruption? What do we expect the politically appointed Managing Director or CEO to achieve for the growth of the company when he is put there to fatten him/herself in order to make up for the hunger period in opposition?

State companies have become cash-cows for the ruling party. No wonder some of the Managing Directors would deliberately spoil or degrade assets of the company and then sell them at rock-bottom prices to themselves or their friends.

Then we turn round and say that state companies do not work? As Shakespeare’s Cassius stated in “Julius Caesar”, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars; but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The problem of state companies is not that when God created the world, he decreed that state companies would not work. It is we, who cause the problems for those companies.

Ever since the Kwame Nkrumah government was overthrown in 1966, our right-wing politicians of the all the political parties, (particularly the NPP and NDC) have been crooning that “the private sector is the engine of growth”. For more than 50 good years after Nkrumah, (apart from the first three years under General Acheampong), no one has not been in their way. So why have they not fostered the environment that will make this engine of the private sector move? Who has been in their way? And yet every day, they keep boring us about the private sector being the “engine of growth” when they do not provide fuel to the engine. No! They rather starve the engine of fuel. Who has been holding them back?

The funniest thing is that whenever their party wins political power, you would suddenly find all these private sector adherents abandoning their private sector jobs in droves to chase after public sector appointments! Strange, isn’t it? So they appoint their cousins and extended family members into public sector jobs; and when they finally ruin them, they blame the public sector.

Look at almost all the Chinese companies that our private sector priests have been running after, that they should come and invest in Ghana: they are almost all Chinese state companies. The difference between the Chinese model and the Ghanaian model is that, whereas the Chinese government allows the state companies to run along “private sector” lines, our state companies are run along partisan or kinship lines, where the only qualification for being appointed is that the appointee should be a party person or a kinsman.

This partisan culture has been taken to such ridiculous lengths that even the President thinks he should be the one to appoint PROs for public companies. No wonder that such PROs, instead of projecting the images of the new companies, deviate to attack other political parties and personalities unrelated to their jobs. To top it all, these days, it is politicians who appoint people or do promotions in the civil service, not the Head of the Civil Service.

So next time they blame the public sector, ask them “na who cause am”?

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