I wish to commend Hon. Samuel Okudjeto Ablakwa for having the courage to join the debate about the size of government and its cost implications for the state.
Most government appointees have shied away from this topic as any attempt at honesty is likely to cast them as criticizing the very government they belong to. Even more commendable are the recommendations that Okudjeto highlighted as additional areas that deserve our attention in our bid to reduce the huge cost of running the government of Ghana. At least, he did not just rehash the problems that we’re all aware of.
As much as I agree with Okudjeto’s proposals, I am sorry to say that he only skirted the issue. His article in so many respects amounts to an attempt to divert our attention from the size of government. If anything at all, his arguments reinforce the belief of the majority of us who feel that the size of the government in terms of numbers is too big and is a major drain on the economy.
First of all, I disagree with Hon. Ablakwah’s assertion that the numbers alone should not be a cause of concern because it is not an indication of the amount of expenditure on ministers. All things being equal, the higher the number of ministers, the higher the cost of government expenditure on those ministers. By his own analogy, if we have 40 ministers and each of them appoints a special assistant at the expense of the state, we will end up with 40 special assistants. Whereas if we have 86 ministers we will end up with more than 40 special assistants if not close to 86. The same holds true for fuel, vehicles, airline tickets etc.
It is important to note that, the current Mahama administration is as guilty of all the issues Okudjeto elucidated in his piece as the Rawlings, Kufuor and Mills government, even if not more. It is not as if, due to the large size of Mahama’s government we will now have fewer ministerial vehicles, less fuel consumption, fewer trips to conferences, phone usage etc. Indeed it’s a fact that this cost is not likely to reduce. That is the reason why we are even more concerned about the large size of the government. With the current number of 86 ministers and deputies, if each of them is to attend one conference a year, that is 86 trips right there. But we also know some will make more than 3 or even 5 foreign trips a year. You do the math.
Another point that is lost on Okudjeto is the fact that his alternative cost saving measures are not mutually exclusive of the reduction in the number of ministers. It’s the considered view of the majority of us that all things being equal, by reducing the number of ministers some of the cost will by natural consequences lower. We have never been oblivious of the other issues like the number of vehicles, type of vehicles, fuel consumption, vehicle usage, phone usage, trips abroad etc. Indeed a combination of these is what will likely yield the most cost savings for the country.
It is also worthy to note, that our displeasure is not just about the number, but the caliber and the quality of the appointees. For some of us we could have taken solace in the fact that we will be having value for money if the quality of ministers and deputies were to be high. If Okudjeto were to take off his political garb for a minute, I’m very positive he will agree with me that there are quite a number of appointees who leave much to be desired.
It’s interesting Okudjeto referred to the president’s ‘tremendous and exemplary experience and conduct in public office’. As much as I do not disagree with Okudjeto’s assertion, I have to point out that unfortunately this has not shown in the president’s appointments and performance thus far. The president has been disappointingly ambivalent and inconsistent in so many respects. Some of us don’t know who John Mahama is anymore. With all the challenges facing the nation, the president’s experience in politics and public life has not come in handy. He appears flummoxed and out of ideas.
Ministers and their deputies don’t do the real work in the ministries. They drive policy. The real work is done by the chief directors and the other civil servants in the ministries. Really, if you have a minister who knows what he’s about and is ready to focus on his mandate, you don’t need a deputy or deputies at the ministries. Okudjeto, do you think we need two deputies at the ministries of Gender and Social protection, Information, Energy and Local Government? In my candid view the answer is a big no.
In conclusion, I don’t disagree with any of the six points that Okudjeto laid out in his article. But I totally disagree with his attempt to play down on the importance of the number of ministers in the debate about how to reduce the cost of government. It was a clever attempt at diverting our attention to the other issues which in my view will be a halfhearted effort on our part. As far as some of us are concerned, the number of ministers is the single biggest challenge in our effort to reduce the cost of government.
This debate should continue and should be properly focused.