(December 7th 2011)
As IMANI Ghana has had many occasions to say in the past, the gravest duty of a civil society organization is to objectively and constructively criticize the government of the day. Democracy itself cannot survive without this premise.
A well-governed country is one in which the government fears the people and not vice versa.
Those IMANI observers who ask why the same level scrutiny is not extended to opposition parties fail to understand the basic premise of “checks and balances”. The parties in parliamentary minority do not control the levers of state power, the public purse, the distribution of privileges and other largesse, nor are they, in fact, actually enjoined by the constitution to “really do” anything. This is the blatant truth. Ours is a centralized system of government in which the government of the day retains vast powers of appointment, finance, preventive, assignment and allocation. It must therefore also accept the overwhelming burden of responsibility and obligation.
Though we revel in criticism and wholeheartedly believe that thoughtful, careful, analytical and comprehensive critiques of government policy are the most effective approach to contributing to the growth of governance through the sharpening of institutions of state and the improvement of decision-making, we nevertheless started an experiment last year to use “measured praise” as one of the tools available to us to encourage good behavior on the part of public sector leadership.
We have debated internally for several weeks now whether we should continue this approach, i.e. of using recognition as a, minor, complement to our main, full-time, activity of criticizing government institutions to force improvement in delivery.
The optimists won, so IMANI is back again with the second edition of the:
Top 5 Most Inspirational Public Sector Leaders in Ghana
Once again, we are not abandoning the core approach of criticism. But it occurs to us that sometimes “praise” can be used as a means of highlighting contrast, of spotlighting deviation from the very norm one seeks to criticize, and as a unique advocacy tool to raise the profile of certain neglected subjects.
Let us first tell you how we selected our Public Sector Heroes.
IMANI works throughout the year examining a vast amount of material related to government activity in order to guide our advocacy for change in certain policies and activities of the government.
Those who follow our work are already aware that we are not an academic research body or a forum of subject matter specialists. We are through and through an activist and advocacy organization that proactively seeks to influence government behavior, and which, in order to do that, aspires to shape public opinion.
We maintain credibility and legitimacy by carefully sifting through large amounts of published expert commentary and analysis to determine where the “balance of authority” lie in any given matter likely to exert systemic impact on major areas of national life.
Put another way: individual experts differ and may oppose each other in their views, so there is a strong need for a public interest organization that has the capacity to retain the services of various multidisciplinary teams and to task them to find out the extent to which the majority of the most relevant, credible, and articulate experts converge in the views they hold on a particular subject. Sometimes such a convergence may not be obvious, since it is not always the product of purposive collaboration. It takes time, effort, and considerable objectivity to detect these convergences, incorporate them in clear analysis, and communicate them forcefully without fear of any single authority.
Where we believe that the weight of the best evidence and the stronger tilt of expert opinion define a “commonsensical” path forward, we never relent to push for such common sense to prevail, regardless of the political or intellectual sensitivities of those in power.
We rate public sector institutions using these same time-tested principles, principles we have been honing for more than half a decade now in Ghana and beyond.
We look at published and pre-published commentary by organizations that interact with these public institutions; we speak regularly with leaders and middle-management of state agencies; we monitor news coverage involving the public sector with the keenest interest; and we write directly to these institutions seeking explanations for odd conduct whenever we come across any we don’t understand.
And we painstakingly and meticulously record our impressions. Some of these impressions find their way into various articles and monographs, but the majority merely goes to update our expanding databases of official conduct in Ghana.
Drawing on these considerable reservoirs of information, we design qualitative tools to extract further opinions from academics, consultants, development workers, journalists, activists, pundits and freelance researchers. We do not seek to validate data we have already procured with these items of feedback from such external stakeholders. Instead, such opinions open wholly new frameworks for evaluating the content we have gathered.
So, while these rankings remain the work solely of IMANI Center for Policy & Education, they have been greatly enriched by the observations, expertise and perceptions of a wide range of stakeholders.
To ensure consistency and coherence across the massively different contexts within which public sector leaders of different agencies and institutions work, we developed a tri-factor based criterion for rating more than 120 of the most vital public sector institutions in Ghana.
The initial sample was selected based on a number of indicators selected to bias our sample towards institutions whose actions impact most systemically on Ghana’s GDP and Human Development numbers. That is to say those organizations whose performance are critical to sustaining growth in average household income and to the delivery of services required to guarantee basic dignity and human comfort for the majority of Ghanaians.
Even so, it was not always a pretty exercise.
Take for instance the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission. It is nominally responsible for the performance of the state utilities. By every measure, utilities are the most deplored public service delivery organizations in Ghana. Experts and members of the general public alike cringe just at the mere mention of ECG, for instance.
But is PURC really to blame for this mess?
The challenge is equally evident in the reverse. Does the fact that reference to Ghana internationally continue to be positive provide a justification for the continued existence of the so-called “Brand Ghana Office”? How do you prove causality?
Also, it is not prudent to assign blame or credit where the powers available to a certain institution to do its job are wholly misaligned with the expectations of change expected in its industry or sector of operation. Insofar as PURC is not responsible for formulating investment strategy to capitalize the dilapidated utilities to what extent can it really transform that sector? It has near no-existent capacity to influence choice of management either, and while it may impose fines and penalties, the truth is that with state-owned enterprises such actions merely represent a transfer of funds from one part of the government to another.
In the same way, we doubt we would surprise anyone if we said we are not sure about the extent to which the National Council for Tertiary Education should be credited for the exploding popularity of Ghana’s universities with international students.
In essence, gauging the performance of public sector leaders and their institutions against specific outcomes needs to be done on very cautious footing. One must be further vigilant to what the development consulting industry has come to call “additionality”, a funny term with a simple meaning: “could these outcomes have occurred regardless of the clear-sighted leadership of the person being recognized?”
Last year we dealt with the problem of “additionality” by deciding in the case of one organization, NADMO, that we will honour the workers but not the leadership. This year we have looked at the issue at even greater depth and been convinced to go exactly the opposite way with respect to certain institutions, where on the surface it appears that the leadership is merely holding the place together by going through the routines. A more careful look has revealed in certain instances what amounts in actual fact to near-heroic leadership, without which the whole institutional edifice would have tumbled down long ago.
Having tempered the central tri-factor criterion in these many, interesting, ways, it is time to list the three key factors employed in the filtration that reduced 120 contenders to 5 heroes of public sector performance.
I. Top of the list is: capacity to maintain the course of a major change process, reform or transformation necessary to uplift the organisation’s capacity to deliver its most critical mandate. Detailed analysis revealed to us that this factor was by far the most effective way to measure performance improvement attributable to leadership. In some important ways, it is also a proxy for innovation and creative thinking.
II. A demonstrable commitment to the ethics and norms of public service, which bind civil and public servants to strict professionalism in the conduct of their duties. At our current stage of institutional development, these norms are most rigorously tested during relations with the partisan spirit of every government of the day. A public servant distinguishes herself by the importance he attaches to independence from the whims and caprices of the party in party. Loyalty to the government of the day only refers to the loyalty shown to the constitutional powers accorded governments in the discharge of duties required to improve the lives of the citizenry and not loyalty to the narrow, sectarian, interests of the ruling party.
III. And lastly: respect for the right of the public to be duly informed of important developments within the public or civil servant’s sphere of duty likely to affect the way in which citizens receive the services they are entitled to receive. Such “respect” obviously implies showing “seriousness” in undertaking the information dissemination and communication components of that institution’s work under the leader in question. To be serious about public communications is to refrain from the churning out of poor; shoddy; false; deliberately distorted, vague or confusing; and self-serving material for the consumption of the general public. It also means to recognize the need to share credible, timely, factual, comprehensive and clear information with a view to actively “informing and educating” the citizens about those important developments in the public servant’s sphere of duty that may impact the lives of citizens.
So who made the cut after this tri-factor lens was used to examine dozens of major public sector institutions and their leadership in Ghana throughout 2011?
1. Mrs. Doreen Owusu Fianko
– Managing Director, Ghana Airports Company Limited
Yes, like the rest of the travelling public we know our major airports and the airline services available to Ghanaians could be much improved, but one has to appreciate where we have come from. It is also important to point out an easy misconception: GCAA is not responsible for every single element of the Airport experience of travelers; neither is GACL. The GCAA and the GACL together work to ensure smooth operations of airport activity. The GACL was decoupled from the GCAA and since 2007 both entities have worked seamlessly together.
If you are still uncomfortable about the security arrangements at the airport or corruption on the part of some officers, bear in mind that several independent security agencies, such as the National Security Secretariat, Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), operate at the airport but do not report to the GCAA or the GACL in the ordinary course of things.
With that in mind, now consider those things that ARE indeed within the authority of the Managing Director of the GACL and the Director General of the GCAA. Consider for instance the steady improvement in safety record management, including air-worthy certification management; streamlining of systems workflow (measurable through aggregating “on-time departure” counts); and critical systems uptime (i.e. how often backup electrical power fails, whether there are persistent air-conditioning failures, and how quick operators recover from system-level IT crashes etc.)
In terms of contractor and/or third-party performance management, we take note of two major ongoing weaknesses: the unresolved perception within the industry that advertising contracts are being unduly interfered with and the completely unacceptable attempt to create a cartel for ground transportation, thus preventing legally registered taxi drivers in the Greater Accra area from operating within the airport, with no other purpose other than to enable this cartel to extort ridiculous fees from passengers and other users of the airport. We hope these issues will be addressed with speed.
Still, Mrs. Doreen Owusu Fianko and Air Cdre Kwame Mamphey have both excelled in managing a complex renovation exercise during which capacity utilization had to be maintained and actually expanded throughout the transformation cycle, still ongoing. For this technical and managerial feat alone, they would have been strong contenders. Having performed reasonably well in the other areas of examination, we had little difficulty deciding unanimously to name them our Public Sector Hero and Heroine of the Year.
2. Martin Eson-Benjamin
-Chief Executive, Millennium Development Authority (MIDA)
In one respect at least, Mr. Eson-Benjamin belongs to a rare, pampered, breed of public servants in Ghana. Resources are hardly a problem when you are the Boss of MIDA. In fact some may argue that your real problem is just how to spend the money. You have something quite close to security of tenure, since we have yet to see an administration in Ghana quite willing to attract the wrath of the United States over a matter such as how to spend the United States’ own money. You have your pick of consultants, local and international. How can a public sector leader in the shoes of an Eson-Benjamin fail to shine?
Look closely at the matter again. Many public sector organizations are “sitting” on money they can’t access because of weak management systems. A recent report from the World Bank once again brought into the open the super-slow disbursement rate of millions and millions of dollars sitting in various accounts that cannot be put to good use because the public service lacks strong management to follow through with pre-agreed programs and meet important milestones in a timely manner.
You may argue that MIDA as a new organization does not have the same legacy issues that some major agencies have, or that it is donor-sponsored. Well NHIS is new too, and Ghana School Feeding Program is, or was in its heydays, donor-sponsored.
There isn’t that much unique about MIDA. Its formation stages were fraught with the same level of dysfunction that afflicts many state institutions in Ghana. If today, it is seen as a highly well-run entity, it is clearly because its leadership has performed well above average.
If effective disbursement untainted by corruption has become the single most prominent yardstick used in judging performance in the public service, then MIDA is more than exemplary. For it achieved an 80% disbursement rate just within 3 years of its 5-year mandate.
One may have challenges about some of the conceptual assumptions that underpinned MIDA, but the CEO’s job was to execute the compact as designed. From the progress reports we have studied, execution has been close to flawless, so much so that more than a year before the first program run out Ghana was already negotiating a successor compact.
Insofar as the CEO’s job was to implement the agreed compact, Martin Eson-Benjamin has performed his duties with remarkable dedication and deserves this commendation
3. The Honourable Members of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee
An enduring cliché in Ghanaian political commentary circles is the supposed “weakness of Parliament”. Many reasons have been adduced to explain the seeming inability of Ghana’s parliament to acquire the heft of other parliaments, even some of those in our own region of the world, such as Nigeria and Kenya.
There is one particular often-cited cause for this weakness though that stands out most irritatingly: the inability of honourable members to adopt a bipartisan posture when national interest demands accountability from the ruling Executive.
Thanks God for the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, which, its tardiness notwithstanding, has often managed to achieve just such bipartisanship in pursuit of public accountability. The Committee has also been very effective in placing the spotlight on corruption in the public and civil service, highlighting the undue overconcentration of attention on politicians to the neglect of other, sometimes even more pernicious, perpetrators.
We hope that the Committee will in the course of time develop the administrative muscle or machinery to be able to call the institutions of state to account when evidence of malfeasance uncovered during its sittings fail to receive prosecutorial attention.
4. Lieutenant-General Peter Augustine Blay
-Chief of Defense Staff, Ghana Armed Forces
For maintaining the overall esprit de corps and sense of professionalism within the Armed Forces, especially against the backdrop of weakening confidence in the general security establishment, increasingly perceived to be wracked by factionalism, more committed to the survival of the government of the day than to the security of the state, and unable to stay out of cheap scandal.
True, every now and then the occasional military brutality in the North, or a confrontation between forces personnel and police officers, mar the front-page of our newspapers, but such incidents have generally declined under the watch of this Chief of Defense Staff.
Communication flow, never the best in the public service, has nevertheless improved.
We at IMANI were dead-set against the “Defence Industrial Holding Corporation” concept and the jury is still out on its feasibility, much less impact. But we acknowledge that even this flawed project is a sign of a military seeking to entrench its increasingly sturdy “political non-interference” character by finding “more productive” things to do.
We have also not been happy about the lack of progress in the reform of the peacekeeping compensation system, and the perennial whiff of mild scandal that seem to follow the remuneration of soldiers on peacekeeping duty. We accept that in some of these things, civilian oversight of the military renders the CDS something of a figurehead, but we believe more creative thinking can go into improving the lives of our service personnel, through effective deployment of the talents and energies that abound in the armed forces. Effective partnerships, other than flawed industrial projects, with the private sector would be key.
Still, compared to some of our security agencies, such as the BNI and certain units within the Police Service, we can confidently say that the military establishment under the leadership of Lieutenant –General Blay has painted a smarter picture of professionalism.
5. Dr. Regina Adutwum
- Director-General, National Development Planning Commission (NDPC)
With the support of the Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Adutwum has worked consistently to enhance the relevance of the NDPC to the search for answers to Ghana’s most intractable problems. It has not been easy. At all.
Saddled by the constitution with onerous responsibilities as a lead agency in the development of broad but articulate frameworks for development, the NDPC has been consistently, throughout our history, starved of the necessary funds, manpower, and clout to perform the work expected of it.
Nonetheless, it soldiers on.
Through a creative engagement with stakeholders from across the political and intellectual spectrum, it is patiently succeeding in building a community and a network of advocates to push the patriotic agenda forward.
Surely in this cacophony of partisan drivel, the road will be hard, but we wish Dr. Adutwum very well.
So that’s that: IMANI’s Top 5 most Inspirational Public Sector Leaders (our heroes and heroines) for 2011.
Some of you would surely be disappointed. But the one thing we can certainly not apologise for is our inability to please every reader of this report. We are also certainly aware of a feworganizations that have been working hard according to internally developed benchmarks, some of which accord with our own framework, to improve service delivery. The Ghana Investment Promotion Council comes to mind. Their improved communication efforts are slowly being matched by reform of the core investor support function itself. We have in the similar fashion been awed by some of the results being chalked by the Ghana Cocoa Board, and the organisation’s inspiring embrace of inclusive technologies to enhance outreach to its key stakeholders, the farmers. We urge them to continue along the path of reform. Surely, when they begin to show results the blips on our radar screen would grow stronger.
We deliberately don’t publish a Worst 5 Public Leaders or Institutions List. We feel we do enough though our general activities to criticize the public sector and in our own small way to contribute to deterrence of egregious misconduct.
Still, if we were to go down that route, just for the sake of emphasis, to “rub it in” as they say, we would have chosen the following five organizations as the ones that least inspired us in 2011.
- Ghana Education Service – Despite its reputation for managerial weaknesses in transparency, accountability, governance, employee oversight, and planning, the organisation’s disastrous handling of the computerized school selection and placement fiasco shocked even jaded observers of this rickety institution in need of total overhaul at the administrative level.
- National Lottery Authority - for killing off the private lottery industry in Ghana, thereby reducing total jobs in the sector and depressing innovation, and creating undue panic in the advertising market by confusing its mandate with the Gaming Commission of Ghana.
- The Fair Wages & Salary Commission – It may sound unfair, given how much work the valiant employees of this organization have done in the past few years to achieve the impossible task of harmonizing labour relations in this country through scorecards and what some have cynically called: “snake and ladders”. The truth though is that much of that work has been scuttled by ineffective management of the stakeholder relations part of things, to disastrous effect. We also worry that the Commission’s bosses are refusing to tell government the biggest truth of all: there is nothing within the so-called “single spine” framework that can manufacture harmony on the labour front.
- The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions – the so-called “prosecutions division” of the Ministry of Justice seems to be tethering on the brink. If you try to count the number of times high-profile cases (politically related prosecutions are just a tip of the iceberg) have been bungled or severely delayed because state attorneys failed to turn up, you would give up less than half-way in frustration. Not surprisingly the situation is even worse with low-profile cases. This bureaucracy is a significant part of the justice delivery problem in this country.
- National Youth Council – A highly publicized launch of a new National Youth Policy and its rather public and humiliating dismissal of a supposedly underperforming chief executive were both supposed to herald a new era of progress in defining a winning blueprint for youth development in Ghana. Alas, very little is on ground to show.
So folks, we appreciate your time and patience in going through this report. Over the course of next year we shall be monitoring the performance of both our 2010 and 2011 laureates in order to glean insights into the growth and maturity of public sector institutions. We shall watch keenly how leadership dynamics are affecting the development journey of this country as intermediated by these bureaucracies and agencies.
Organisations we shall be keeping a keen eye on include the Petroleum Commission. Hopefully, it shall show a wholesale departure from the aloof ways of the Ghana National Petroleum Commission which had nominal charge of its functions prior to its formation. Others are the Social Security & National Investment Trust and the Public Procurement Board.
Hope we can count on your continuing interest and support.
Published by IMANI Center for Policy & Education & syndicated on www.AfricanLiberty.org