No matter what any constitutional expert says, I remain convinced that our inability to make any meaningful economic progress is a result of the counter-development clauses in our 1992 Constitution. One of these clauses is the seeming limitless appointing authority given to the presidency. This is as economic as it is political.
The Ministry of Finance recently disclosed the colossal loss of GHC 5 billion that state-owned enterprises posted from their operations in 2021. You may probably not link the struggling economy to the activities of these organizations, but why not? If these institutions were being managed by competently selected individuals from a field of qualified applicants, their performances wouldn’t be this abysmal.
The very process that leads to the appointment of people to head public institutions is problematic, to put it mildly. How is it the case that we would have private sector businesses in the same line of business as the public sector organizations and yet the former will post huge profits and revenues whilst the latter stays perpetually in losses and debt?
One leg of the argument is that employees of such state organizations are the cause of the woeful performances and not the heads. But the fact also remains that the same Ghanaians with similar traits work in the private sector. So why do we have such disparities?
One of the cardinal reasons for this is the mode of appointment to the leadership of these state-owned organizations. We are not only placing inexperienced and unqualified people in very important positions which could be cash cows for the state, but we also appoint individuals who are either party-affiliated, family related or traditional council foisted on the seat of power, Jubilee House, to these organizations.
In a situation where our constitution places the appointment of both supervising or governing boards and Chief Executive Officers of state institutions in the hands of the president, the result could never be different from what we have witnessed from day one when we promulgated the current constitution.
The reason is that our presidents have mostly made political appointments based, not on any business management capacity evaluation of the candidates before them but on loyalty, curriculum vitae and political financing. What would have been the story, for instance, if these numerous SOEs had consistently posted profits and created space for expansion? The current political headache in finding jobs for the teeming youth in the country, including the NABCO trainees, unposted Nurses and Lab Technicians, Teachers and even Doctors would have been easily ameliorated.
Appointing individuals with no known business acumen to head very critical state institutions that could generate financial revenue for the state is wrong. Unfortunately, the source of this error is our constitution which gives the president the power to do so. When the lobby machinery is oiled by cronies, chiefs and foot soldiers the President’s hands will always be tied.
To the extent that it becomes near impossible for a sitting President to reshuffle his appointees or even dismiss non-performing ones should all be traced to the source document. In the end, institutions and organizations that should truly be income-generating vehicles, remain exactly what they’ve become… a drain on the public purse.
Article 70 (clauses 1d and e) which gives the President the powers to appoint both chief executives and boards is inherently flawed and must be corrected. The lines of accountability that this practice creates, make it difficult for proper and effective management of human and financial resources. It is time to speak some home truths to ourselves as a people and cut off the clauses and stipulations that we have enshrined in our constitution to our collective detriment.
At best, the President can make appointments to the boards of corporations and institutions of state and leave the selection of Chief Executives to the boards to carefully select, with the help of strategic institutions whose membership must not be dominated by ruling party sympathisers and members. That way, we can keep CEOs on their toes and properly accountable not to the Jubilee House, but the people.
The current practice where political party chairmen and financiers get appointed to very important corporations of state has proven to be inimical to our economic growth. What would have happened, for example, if retired and serving CEOs of Financial institutions in the public and private sectors are placed on boards to instill best practices in our state corporations?
A simple transparent audit of how recruitment is done in public institutions and corporations would throw up shocking revelations that will put all our arguments over economic misfortunes to rest. Currently, some corporations are bursting beyond their capacities because roles have been artificially created to absorb people who contribute insignificantly to their economic health.
This is not an article to bastardize party members and supporters who get appointed into roles in government. The point of this article is to seek our collective resolve to amend provisions in our constitution that give absolute powers to the President to make appointments to corporations of state whose operations impact greatly on our Consolidated Fund.
At least, as citizens, we must have a say by insisting on competence rather than leave things the way they are in our statute books and continue to be taxed to support unprofitable schemes. The worst part of this whole arrangement is the unreasonable train of allowances that are given to appointees who superintend over retrogressive SOEs but still walk away with ex-gratia.
These payments should be tied to performance, just as bonuses are.
Our resources, both human and natural, do not support the rapidity with which we run to the Bretton Woods institutions. How can we, for instance, allow oil marketing companies to hold back hundreds of millions in taxes but religiously take planned steps to raise funds from the bonds market at ridiculous costs to the state and pile up our debt stock? It doesn’t make economic or street sense.
To think that over 1,000 trained medical doctors who have completed their housemanship have had to walk away from our public hospitals because the Ministry of Finance has not been able to give financial clearance for their absorption unto the government’s payroll is mind-boggling. And yet billions of public funds are allowed by the same Ministry to go unaccounted for, year after year. If the Minister of Finance decides that until officials of public institutions cited to have embezzled funds allocated to their institutions refund same, nobody in that ministry, organization or agency will receive their salaries, I can wager, we will all become protectors of the public purse.
It is imperative, at this crucial time in our economic strangulation to convene a public debate on the amendment to our constitution because several portions of it are not serving the interest of the majority. What is happening now does not favour the youth of this country and if care is not taken, we shall begin to witness the height of despondency in this country. People in economically gainful activities would refuse to pay their taxes and dare the state to jail them and the cyclical failure to raise enough revenue for state activities will live with us for years.
The fact that there are no remedial avenues for the state to retrieve funds that have been deliberately misapplied and embezzled makes it imperative for us to take another critical look at our constitution and let it serve us better. If we have an Auditor-General, for example, with a laid-back attitude, chances are that we will have people looting public coffers and getting away with it.
In our current Constitution, even the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament cannot get back stolen monies. The best the Committee has done to date is to issue directives that have remained as news items and nothing more. Nobody gets punished because recommendations are not followed through and the cycle of misappropriation continues unabated.
Let me restate in conclusion, that the time is up for us to amend the 1992 Constitution to ensure proper levels of accountability in appointments and reporting lines through a national referendum. If we fail in this task, the youth of Ghana may arise and demand more and more accountability through picketing and demonstrations for the removal of inefficient boards, chief executives and even ministers of state in the coming years.