Competence should be demanded of civil servants and public officers. Those who fail to perform should be removed in accordance with the rules.
Competence should be demanded of civil servants and public officers. Those who fail to perform should be removed in accordance with the rules.

Inception of the unsavoury relations between civil servants and politicians

People expected life to change significantly for the better for all after independence.  But what they saw were a few Ghanaians discharging the administration and high-profile functions of the colonial regime while the Prime Minister and a few ministers were supposed to determine policies and give direction for economic, social and cultural progress.


The few Ghanaians who became administrators and high functionaries were on the whole better educated than their superiors the ministers and acted with confidence to fashion the Ghana of their dream. Even before independence, some of them, including Robert Gardner, Casely Mate and Chinebuah, were high-profile personalities. Problems, therefore, developed when these personalities became heads of state departments under ministers who were not so highly educated and whose horizon of knowledge and understanding was generally limited.

Tension between ministers and their subordinate heads of ministries was palpable.  The administrative heads were known as permanent secretaries and it was said that because these officials felt that they were permanent, they became arrogant.  After all, ministers could be removed by the Prime Minister without assigning any reason, but the permanent secretaries were the solid bastions of the ministries.  The designation ‘Permanent Secretary’ was, therefore, changed to ‘Principal Secretary’.  But it was generally believed that the arrogance of official heads of ministries still persisted.

Principal secretaries acted for ministers who were out of the country while permanent secretaries did their work.  It was believed that principal secretaries would be brought down to earth when deputy ministers were appointed.  They were supposed to act for the minister when he was away.  But this did not happen.  Generally when the minister was away, another minister acted for him.  Some substantive ministers were happy with what happened because they felt the deputies were angling for their job.

Eventually, under the avuncular but stern leadership of Enoch Okoh, the Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, competent ministers and principal secretaries were made to work together to promote government policy.  The collaboration and indeed working together between ministers and principal secretaries improved a lot when Kwame Nkrumah embarked vigorously on his development policies.  Ministries which did not deliver the goods had their ministers in trouble.  Ministers, therefore, sought and worked with principal secretaries who would help them discharge their functions.

A Minister, Krobo Edusei, who did not have much reputation for serious work, was posted to the Ministry of Agriculture and had a defined assignment.  Krobo scouted the list of principal secretaries and landed on one who could assist him achieve Osagyefo’s objectives.  I had come to admire his talents and forthright manner and he approached me to help him get a good officer he had identified posted to the Ministry of Agriculture.  And so it was that Quist-Arcton was posted as Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.  The Ministry of Agriculture achieved the assigned objectives early with distinction and Kwame Nkrumah commended Krobo Edusei.  I believe that absence of clear policies and appropriate demands of ministries were partly responsible for the bad working relationship between ministers and their principal secretaries.

With the President demanding performance from ministers, many of them worked effectively with their principal secretaries to achieve the prescribed objectives.

But the tension between ministers of the party on one hand and civil servants who owed no allegiance to any party on the other hand remained. Meanwhile, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) realised that they had not enough party members in the administration to fully rely upon to properly interpret and promote government policies. The party, therefore, approached some senior officials to join the party and thereby get quick promotion. I was approached together with some of my colleagues. Those who agreed to join the party got on rapidly in the diplomatic service and elsewhere. This did not help. It sowed the seeds of reliance on party allegiance rather than competence and delivery.

The suspicion of officials without party credentials continued. Eventually, Kwame Nkrumah had to personally sanction promotions to Principal Assistant Secretary

(next to Principal Secretary). Deep down however, he believed that it was the ideological orientation and commitment to policies which mattered. He wanted all senior officials to have a session at the Ideological School in Winneba. I was amused when one of my protégés, instead of being a student, lectured at the Ideological Institute.

The problem which confronted the CPP still persists. How does the incoming government know that the incumbent officials share their views and beliefs and would, therefore, loyally promote their policies?

The suspicion of civil servants led to unwarranted removals. Kwame Nkrumah sacked the Chief Medical Officer and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr Eustace Akwei. He was reported by the minister and a senior minister as being arrogant and insolent. When Gardner and some colleagues approached Nkrumah, he called the minister concerned.

 He learnt to his surprise that Akwei was requested to order all drugs the ministry needed from one organisation. Akwei refused. He insisted that he would be guided by quality and price. Kwame Nkrumah agreed with Akwei and recalled him but he had then gone to the World Health Organisation in Brazzaville.

The second major and well-known removal or sacking of officials was by Dr Busia. The matter had to go to court and became known as the Apollo 568 case.

The administration should try to understand policy and implement it. The policy has been sanctioned by the sovereign will of the people.

It is not the work of the minister and incoming politicians to identify who is for and against the government. Competence should be demanded of civil servants and public officers. Those who fail to perform should be removed in accordance with the rules. Ministers, civil servants and public officers should work together to implement policies and promote the interests of the nation.

The bickering should stop. They impedes progress. Competent civil servants and public officials are needed for the promotion and implementation of policies. They should work together for the public good.

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