Sir Commander Joseph Henry Mensah (JH), the eldest son of the Secretary to the British District Commissioner to Ashanti, entered the prestigious Achimota School, the Prince of Wales College, in 1944 and finished with Grade One in 1947.
In October 1948, he enrolled at the University of Gold Coast (now University of Ghana) for both the intermediate and final Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) in Economics, which he completed with a first in June 1953.
For about a year, he worked as an Assistant Inspector of Taxes in the colonial administration.
He proceeded to the University of London in October 1954 to take a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics.
He was there from 1954 to 1956.
He went to Stanford University in the United States of America (USA) for further postgraduate studies which lasted from 1956 to 1957 where he specialised in Economic Theory and Development.
He returned to Ghana in 1957 to take up a position as a lecturer in Economics at the University College of the Gold Coast.
In 1958, JH, as he was affectionately called, left Ghana for New York, USA, where he had been offered a job as an Economic Affairs Officer at the Centre for Development Planning, Projections and Policies, at the United Nations.
He was there until 1961 when he was hand-picked to head the secretariat of the newly established Economic Planning Commission in Ghana which produced Ghana’s Seven Year Development Plan (1962-1969).
Commissioner of Finance
He was granted leave by the ECA in 1966 so he could take up the position of Commissioner of Finance that the National Liberation Council, which overthrew the Nkrumah, had created.
Prior to the general election in August 1969, he resigned as Director of the Division of Trade and Economic Corporation of the ECA to contest the election.
He won one of the two seats in Sunyani and was appointed the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning by the Busia Government.
On January 13, 1972, the Busia government was also overthrown by the National Redemption Council, which proceeded to arrest and to detain a number of ministers, including JH.
JH served as a member of the African Advisory Council of the African Development Bank between 1993 and 1997.
By this time, he had begun to swing between state capitalism and private capitalism. He had in fact begun to swing towards the position of Dr K. Y.
Amoako, former head of ECA. KY had observed that Africa was about the only area in the world where its development paradigms were foreign dominated.
Briefly, these formulations did not take account of African traditions, norms or values.
It, therefore, did not come as a surprise to me when, on being nominated by President J.A. Kufuor as the Chairman of the Ghana National Development Planning Commission, J H Mensah stated that now, Africa’s history, norms, values and experiences should be factored in the documents.
At long last, he moved to the centre of Nkrumah and Danquah traditions. Ghana may need to take a lesson out of this.
The man J.H. Mensah
I have known J H Mensah, for such a long time, and he and I have shared so many experiences that I do not really know how or where to begin in speaking about him on any occasion.
One thing I know I do not have to do, I do not need to chronicle the history of our relationship.
JH, despite himself, had always been a political animal par excellence in the sense that there had not been one major act of his since I got to know him intimately which did not arouse fiery political controversy.
Many a time, and sometimes he might not be aware that what he was doing or saying might be regarded by the sleepy majorities that were the backbone of our modern democracies as being “politically incorrect”.
One of the reasons why I always retained a particular affection for him was that, like him, I have always held a peculiar contempt for this expression: “politically incorrect”.
The historical figures I have most admired have always been those who have very ostentatiously done or said the “politically incorrect” things at some point in their lives and have been proved right down the years after the public opprobrium has died away.
My list includes Socrates for “corrupting the youth”, Galileo for telling the people that they had really not understood God’s architecture; and Dr Ephraim Amu for obstinately serving guests with calabash bowls instead of crystal glasses which he could easily afford. There are many others.
For Christians, the paradigm of such characters is our Lord Himself — remember the Sermon of the Mount and the rout of the moneychangers in the Temple Court? Need I say more?
At this stage, I can imagine some of my readers asking: But does JH not have any faults? Is he a saint? My answer is “Yes he had faults and No, he is not a saint”.
Like all human beings, JH has his faults. Sometimes I, as well as his friends and members of his family, wish he did not have them.
But, we also know that what some people may consider as faults in JH are in fact the converse sides of the very qualities that endear him to us.
At all events, whatever these faults may be, those who know him really well soon learn to live comfortably with them.
So I can on this occasion say in all sincerity, both for myself, and I am sure on behalf of all his family, friends and colleagues: JH, you might sometimes have been difficult, but we love you.
Now and again, you might have appeared to be hard on us, but we recognise that you were equally hard on yourself, and we appreciate that you acted the way you did because you honestly believed you were doing what was right.
Contributions to Ghana’s democracy
But there is one lesson that he has taught us as a people, and we must swallow it wholly as memorial to him. J H Mensah, as the Minority Leader, made an important contribution towards consolidating the rule of law and Parliamentary democracy in Ghana.
In a letter dated January 14, 1997, J H Mensah, asserted that the President was obliged to respect the constitutional provision which stated that appointment of ministers must be approved by Parliament.
He pointed out that the Minority Group did not see any constitutional basis for an exemption. He also questioned why the ministers who had been re-nominated were unwilling to appear before Parliament to be examined for approval and reappointment since they should be aware of their sacred and moral responsibility to uphold the principles of probity and accountability.
The Majority Leader of the House, the late Mr J.H. Owusu-Acheampong, challenged the contention of Mr J. H. Mensah. He argued that the decision not to submit the retained ministers for vetting was in accordance with the Constitution.
According to him, he personally retained his position as Parliamentary Affairs Minister because his appointment, which had been approved by Parliament, had not been revoked.
Until that was done, his view was that he and the other retained ministers of state, would continue to remain ministers of state.
He added that the best advice he could give to the opposition was that they should go to the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution.
In the end, the controversy was submitted for resolution to the Supreme Court.
On May 19, 1997, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that every nominee of the President for ministerial appointment, whether retained or newly nominated, required prior approval of Parliament.
At a press conference, Mr. J H Mensah explained that though the Parliament of Ghana was sovereign over its own procedures, it was nonetheless subject to the constitution of the land.
Hence, Parliament had no choice but to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Ghana that were applicable to Parliament.
JH added, by the adoption of the ruling of the Supreme Court, the House was making an important contribution towards consolidating the rule of law and the new democratic order in Ghana.
JH was called to his maker at the age of 90. I attribute this to his straightforwardness, his Christian convictions, principled character, honesty and integrity, patriotism, fatherliness, spirit of compassion, self-respect, and love of God.
Sir Commander JH toiled and overreached himself to help build Ghana rather than himself.
May the Almighty Father be kind to him and grant him eternal rest.
JH Da Yie.
Abiw Nyame Mfa Wo Nsie.