IEA Debate • Curse or blessing?

BY: Abigail Bonsu

Mrs Jean Mensa - Executive Director of the IEAWhen renowned economist, Dr Charles Mensa, founded the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Ghana) in 1989, it sought, among other things, to broaden the debate on public policy, engender private-sector-led economic growth, and strengthen the pillars of democracy.

It also sought to promote good governance, democracy, and a free and fair market economy in Ghana and in Africa as a whole.

There is no doubt that the institute has chalked up some remarkable successes over the years in its quest to meet and even exceed the targets that it set for itself more than two decades ago.

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However, the IEA’s commitment to one of its key goals – “strengthening the pillars of democracy” – has come under harsh criticisms in recent times, following the institute’s decision to exclude political parties that do not have representation in Parliament from its popular presidential debate, which undoubtedly has become one of the highlights on the Ghanaian “elections calendar.”

Indeed, Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, a relatively strong force in Ghanaian politics and the flag-bearer of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) for the 2012 presidential elections, has blasted the IEA for its decision to exclude political parties that have no representation in Parliament from participating in the debate, thus calling the institute’s commitment to strengthen the country's multiparty democracy into question.

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There have also been several complaints from some aggrieved minority political parties in the country as well as members of the public, some of whom have argued that all political parties approved by the Electoral Commission (EC) to contest elections in a given (election) year should be given equal opportunities by the IEA in line with its objective to strengthen the pillars of democracy.

But the IEA has maintained its decision to engage only the presidential candidates of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) and the People National Convention (PNC) in the 2012 pre-election debate series, since they are the only parties represented in Ghana’s 230-member national assembly.

For this reason, some have described the civil society group’s work as ‘lazy’ and discriminatory. In fact, the PNC candidate, Mr Hassan Ayariga, who has participated in the IEA debates on three occasions, was recently reported to have bastardised the platform, asking whether the debates promoted the values and qualities that they were intended to represent.

So, now the question needs to be asked: Has the IEA debate become the cause of continual trouble and unhappiness for political parties that do not have representation in Parliament and a blessing for those represented?

The Mirror’s attempt to put the question to the Executive Director of The Institute of Economic Affairs, Mrs Jean Mensah, was unsuccessful as she was busy organising the third and final presidential debate, which came off on Wednesday, November 21, at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Accra.

But who “at all is this” Mrs Jean Mensa, who is superintending over what appears to be controversial presidential debates hosted by the IEA?

Her profile on the IEA website (www.ieagh.org) describes her as a Barrister at Law who received her professional Bar Certificate at the Ghana School of Law in 1996. And indeed, she is a smart lawyer. She won the E. D. Kom prize for the best student in Civil Procedure in October 1996.

Mrs Mensa (nee Brooke-Allotey) has worked in reputable law firms such as the B. J. da Rocha Chambers and the Amarteifio Chambers. She was the Programmes Coordinator for the IEA between 2000 and 2002 and became the Administrator that same year. Seven years later, 2009, she assumed the position of Executive Director of the think-tank.

The pretty, brainy lawyer-cum-administrator is a product of the Ridge Church School in Accra, where she began showing signs of solid leadership.

She was also a student of the Accra Girls High School and the University of Ghana, Legon. Mrs Mensa is the wife of the IEA founder, Dr Charles Mensa, with whom she has three children – two females and a male. 

The reason for her successful hosting of the presidential debates over the years is simple - she enjoys reading, networking and debating.

The IEA is one of 51 policy research organisations in 23 developing countries that receive multi-year funding from the Think Tank Initiative. In a statement posted on http://www.idrc.ca and attributed to Mrs Mensa, she said, “When the IEA was founded in 1989, using research to provoke national discussion and influence policy was fairly new in Ghana. That’s what attracted me to it. I wanted to be at an organisation that used its research to bring about policy reform.”

She added that Ghana was rich in natural resources, yet remained poor. “Our funding from the Think Tank Initiative coincided with the discovery of oil and gas. We felt this was an opportunity for us, as a country, to ensure that the oil revenues are used to promote economic growth and development, and reduce poverty substantially.”

The institute conducted a study that proposed ways of managing the resource, and then engaged in extensive advocacy. Most of its recommendations were included in a new law that commits 70 per cent of oil revenues to developing Ghana’s physical and social infrastructure. The balance is to be set aside to cushion the economy from shocks and benefit future generations.

In the past, the IEA relied mostly on programme funding and couldn’t afford to retain senior researchers once a project ended. The institute now has predictable core funding, which has allowed it to recruit full-time researchers, and develop and mentor a pool of younger researchers.

It is hoped that as the IEA’s sources of funding increases, it will give all parties and independent candidates that receive the nod of the EC to contest in general elections the opportunity to participate in all of its programmes, including the ever-popular presidential debates.

Story by William A. Asiedu