In the Fourth Republic, one of the most engaging times in our political calendar has been the bi-partisan vetting of ministerial nominees by Parliament’s Appointments Committee.
In 1993, the vetting was a one-sided affair as the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had boycotted the 1992 parliamentary election and, therefore, was not represented in Parliament.
In 2013, the NPP, miffed at the declaration that President Mahama had won the 2012 election, boycotted the process as an election petition against that declaration was pending before the Supreme Court.
The ministerial nominees ,therefore, had a relatively easy and gentle ride from their side on both occasions.
Our 1957 and 1969 Constitutions did not require the Prime Minister, as leader of government, to subject his ministerial appointees to parliamentary scrutiny because we operated a parliamentary system of government along the lines of the UK’s Westminster model.
However, the 1979 and 1992 Constitutions, under presidential systems of government, placed those requirements on the President.
In the case of the 1992 Constitution, it incorporates aspects of the Westminster system by requiring that more than 50 per cent of the President’s ministerial nominees should be appointed from Parliament.
This televised process, essentially a job interview, has procured many theatrical moments over the years from nominees who were clueless about aspects of their new brief, to emotional outbursts, atrocious English and apologies for past comments made on political platforms. But hardly have nominees been rejected, if ever.
As Nana Gyan Apenteng, a former Chairman of the National Media Commission and communication consultant, puts it, the hearings are ‘a mix of celebrity showbiz, a school quiz and loyalty test.’
Last Thursday, all of these factors and more came to a head when the fiery Minister designate for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mrs Mavis Hawa Koomson, the Member of Parliament for Awutu Senya East, took her turn before the Appointments Committee.
There had been particular public interest in her vetting on the basis of her alleged involvement in a shooting incident in her constituency in July 2020, during the first term of the Akufo-Addo administration, when she held the position of Minister of Special Development Initiatives.
Many expected fireworks and got more than they expected, with the shooting incident ending up only as a footnote in the scheme of things.
She was mocked endlessly on social media and beyond for her grasp of both the English Language and of the sector, with people wondering why the President would appoint her, and urging Parliament to reject her.
Question of English
I disagree with those who say that because English is not our native language, it does not matter to not speak or write it properly.
While some latitude may be granted in respect of some lapses, I think it is terribly important that one puts in the effort to communicate properly and correctly in our official language.
This is particularly so if one’s position requires these important skills, given the need to read and understand important documents and in many cases represent the country internationally, if need be.
But one’s ability to speak flawless English should not be the yardstick for holding public office.
After all, on both sides of Parliament, we have all heard some fairly atrocious English, which made us all break out in loud guffaws and ridicule the offenders, but the skies have not fallen through yet.
I also think it is important for a ministerial nominee to acquaint himself or herself with the sector ahead of the vetting hearing, even though I do not expect that questions during vetting would include such ‘BECE-like’ questions such as the advantages of fish farming.
Preparation is always key to job interviews, which effectively is what vetting is, and I believe the relevant sector players, including ministry staff, are always at hand to brief such ministerial nominees as part of the preparation.
One does not, in my view need to have detailed technical knowledge of the sector to become an effective minister.
A broad appreciation of the government’s policy direction and issues in the sector, together with the correct political leadership and management skills should suffice. The technocrats are always at hand to provide advice and support on the nitty-gritty.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that under Article 78 (1) of our Constitution, the qualifications for being appointed minister are the same as being able to stand election for a Member of Parliament, and certainly do not include expert sector knowledge.
I think that as an MP of eight years’ standing, a former head teacher who has also held ministerial appointment for four years and in my view did deliver and who holds postgraduate qualifications in public administration from GIMPA, Ms Koomson has some considerable experience of leadership and management skills, and I am confident she will quickly settle into her new role if approved and subsequently prove herself worthy. She certainly comes across as a very gutsy and determined lady.
After all, a number of people do not shine at job interviews or in examinations and yet when thrust on the field, they deliver.
Integrity, public life
My late paternal grandmother once remarked that Ghana’s problems can be traced to the doors of the educated classes (‘akrakyefuor’, as she put it in Twi).
I do not think she meant they were not fluent enough in English and/or lacked expertise in their roles.
Au contraire, she meant that they tended to use these very skills to plunder the public purse and mismanage our affairs.
The evidence of this sad spectacle throughout our history is overwhelming.
A public servant who lacks integrity and values is particularly dangerous to our collective good.
If I were conducting an interview for a high-profile job, I would look beyond the certificates, track record and flowery English, however, important they are and dig into the character of the interviewee to see if there is evidence of malfeasance in a previous position he or she held.
Therein lies the rub.
I think Hawa had a bad day and that she will pick herself up and deliver if given the nod by Parliament.