Voice from Afar: What will presidential staffers do?

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

By Presidential Staffers I mean the Executive Secretary to the President, the Secretary to the Cabinet, the Spokesperson, the Chief of Staff, the Policy Coordinator and other high-powered, highly-qualified officials who work in the President’s office or directly under the President.  Some of them have been appointed already and they are good material.  Others are yet to be appointed.  I am sure the experts have carefully elaborated the job-description of each of them.  But do we need so many officials interposed between the President and his constitutional advisers and collaborators?

How do these strong personalities relate to Ministers, high party officials and other collaborators of the President? Naturally, I draw on my experience in the early years of independence.  But things have changed.  The world has grown smaller but problems have multiplied.  Things cannot be as they were in my time.  But human beings do not change that much and we have to ask whether the present set-up suits the Ghanaian character and experience and facilitates the smooth functioning of the administration.

President Nkrumah found working through the establishment irksome and time-consuming.  When Ministers were consulted they got in touch with other Ministers concerned if necessary and there are inter-ministerial meetings which tend to be dominated by Principal Secretaries, now Chief Directors.  Dr. Nkrumah found this colonial or British practice time-consuming and often unnecessary.  He therefore duplicated many of the administrative institutions at Flagstaff House, the seat of the Presidency.  Many Ministers and senior officials consequently missed much of the experience of helping to formulate and execute policy.  The practice continued and since then Prime Ministers and Heads of Government have often taken important decisions without consulting their colleagues in government.

In the early days however, the experience and stature of A.L. Ada and Enoch Okoh helped to contain the strains.  The President’s orders were modified when necessary after quick consultations with Ministers and the administrative machine.  The experience therefore suggests that it would be advisable to have a Policy Coordinator of stature at the Presidency.  A good appointment has been made by President Mahama.  But the post is designated “Senior Policy Coordinator”.  This suggests other policy coordinators.  It would not help to have a whole establishment of policy coordinators in the President’s office.  Even one policy coordinator can lead to friction with Ministers and the Cabinet.  But the calibre of the person appointed will minimise irritations.

Friction and administrative strains will be reduced if discipline is maintained.  The President should be easily accessible to his Ministers and other collaborators.  This means Chief Directors and Private Secretaries should know the movements of their Ministers.  In Nkrumah’s time there were no inputs from some Ministers because not even their secretaries knew where they were at crucial times.  The common belief was that these Ministers were ignored.  But the truth was that they could not be found to be consulted.

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For government to run smoothly the President must be accessible or available to his Ministers and other official collaborators.  This means that he should have the time for them.  He should not be occupied with foreign visitors at the pressure of businessmen, party members and high and low ambassadors.  Ambassadors have a right to see the President to present their credentials and to say good-bye when they leave.  Their port of call during their stay however is the Foreign Ministry which will decide when they see others including the President.  Ask any of our ambassadors when they call on the Head of State, Prime Minister or a Minister during their sojourn. 

We should not make ourselves cheap by allowing any visitor to see our Head of State.  We should insulate our President from rash commitments.  In these days of multilateral diplomacy, the Foreign Ministry alone cannot deal with all external collaborators.  Other ministries and institutions should play useful roles.  But they should work closely with the Foreign Ministry which should not be used as a dumping ground for political and other failures.

The work of the President is onerous.  He needs all the 24 hours in the day.  I hope President Mahama will soon move to Flagstaff House where he will be insulated from unnecessary calls by politicians, relatives and post-seekers.  President Nkrumah was able to work from 7.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. on national and African issues because his residence and office at Flagstaff House were not easy to enter.  Also, he was disciplined.  We want a full-time President.  We should help him to achieve his aims by not taking his time with frivolous issues and funeral announcements.

The President as party leader should have time for party matters. Meetings should be properly arranged with the party chairman and other important personalities in attendance.  Party issues should not be mixed with the duties of the Chief of Staff (whose functions I must confess I do not fully understand) and the Secretaries in the President’s office.

These Secretaries should consult as appropriate before they issue statements, even when asked by the President, to relay information to the public.  For example, a statement issued by the “spokesperson” at the Presidency, which appeared in the press on January 9 stated that “all non-career ambassadors and High Commissioners appointed by the former administration were also directed to act in care-taker positions”.  Such ignorant statements can be avoided if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is consulted.  An ambassador is an ambassador with all the powers and duties which Ghana asked the receiving State to confer on him or her.  An ambassador cannot act in “care-taker position”.  Officials in the Presidency should consult and work in tandem with their counterparts in the Ministries.

Any spokesperson at the Presidency should know that there is a Minister and Ministry of Information.  He or she should work closely with them.  Confusion and gaffes should be avoided at the helm of the administration.  It is to be hoped all the Presidential staffers are necessary and that they will work in harmony with the agencies of government to promote good administration, good governance and visible social and economic development.

Article by K.B. Asante