IMANI’s List of 2010’s Most Inspirational Public Sector Leaders in Ghana

Monday, December 20, 2010

sometimes, praise can be utilised for critical purposes. By highlighting good behaviour on the part of specific institutions and individual actors, the spotlight necessarily turns afterwards to the failing conduct of other institutions and actors. That is to say, it is possible to highlight in order to contrast.

In the finest tradition of civil society activism, the right philosophy is to be critical of government, in all its forms.

In liberal democracies, like Ghana has gradually become, the government pays enough people to sing its praises that civil groups who spend their time flattering the incumbent administration would very quickly become redundant.

Evidence-based criticism is a niche that groups like us have been rushing to fill ever since our democracy matured in the late 90s. Even where government has been manifestly successful, we rarely see the need to offer praise, since it is the moral duty of a government to do right by its citizens. In a democracy, the government does not conduct itself creditably because of its magnanimity. It does so to survive, which by definition cannot be considered praiseworthy.

When they fall short of the glory of the constitution, however, it is important that we are loud in our reproach. For, it amounts to a breach of great oaths, which they have voluntarily taken. Our culture, at least, frowns on breakers of oath.

All the above notwithstanding, sometimes, praise can be utilised for critical purposes. By highlighting good behaviour on the part of specific institutions and individual actors, the spotlight necessarily turns afterwards to the failing conduct of other institutions and actors. That is to say, it is possible to highlight in order to contrast.

That is why for the first time IMANI-Ghana has decided to release a list of the top 5 most inspirational public sector leaders in Ghana for the year 2010.

In the finest tradition of rating lists, the assessments implied by the rankings reflect the opinions of those keen observers of the public sphere who were approached. They reflect a review of media accounts, policy statements, public records and documented outcomes from the perspective of independent researchers who nonetheless would have their personal biases as to what constitutes “accomplishment”.

The methodology undergirding this ranking is quite straightforward, actually. We graded a vast number of public sector institutions according to our three-prong criteria:

Independence. Has the institution demonstrated significant independence from the central government to the extent that the resulting autonomy has shielded it, to a reasonable extent, from the arbitrary will of partisan-minded politicians?  

Public Engagement. Has this institution avoided easy and convenient propaganda and focussed on providing information to the general public that is reliable, accurate, thoughtful and useful for the purposes of assessing the institution’s challenges, performance and objectives? Have they told the citizenry the hard facts of policy choices and kept away from gratuitous controversy?

Promise of Transformation. The challenges that confront all facets of our national life are many, deep and complex. Even great leadership would not succeed in delivering instant results. However, has the institution under consideration articulated by dint of hard work and persuasive argument an end in sight that is uplifting and empowering such that its followers and the general public can dare to hope that transformation may be imminent?

But this is a list of leadership, to wit: inspirational leadership. Thus, once the institutions had been agreed upon, the rake that was used to winnow the list down even further was that of clear and unambiguous evidence that leadership is at play here. Our bias was to look for evidence of exemplary leadership by the Chief Executive though we were also quite ready to concede that in some instances leadership appeared to emerge with collective features. But that is where the quibbling over leadership theory ended.

We all know leadership when we see it. Has this public sector leader demonstrated resolve in leading her institution to pursue a clearly articulated vision even in the face of limited resources and the pressures of conformity in an environment of cheap politics?

When all was said and done, our team and external consultants settled on the following inspirational leaders of 5 promising state institutions.

Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, Governor of the Bank of Ghana
The Governor impressed us with his conduct of the affairs of the Monetary Policy Committee in particular, though there is evidence that other aspects of the Bank’s work, such as banking inspection, have also improved. Despite pressure from political forces to go beyond moral suasion in compelling the banks to reduce interest rates, the Governor has been unwavering in going where the evidence leads. Diplomatically, he has rebuked the government to pay the contractors and stop dithering, since this has an effect on non-performing loans in the system, and by extension lending rates. In the words of Friedman, “inflation everywhere is a monetary phenomenon”. What this quip means in this context is that the Governor’s conduct of monetary policy has more than contributed to the era of stable inflation and the stable national currency. His attitude to his duties has helped stem the loss of investor confidence that marked the early months of 2009. He may be dour, but only in a manner quite becoming of a guy who has his fingers on the nation’s purse strings.

Alfred Oko Vanderpuije, Chief Executive of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly
After a number of false starts, the Mayor quickly settled into the hot seat of managing the affairs of the country’s most politically sensitive city. We were unimpressed in the early months of his administration, especially during the botched decongestion exercise, and we still have a few unresolved policy differences with him about the right approach to urban “planning”. The jury is also still out on his sanitation policy, which some have interpreted as a “get Zoomlion” strategy, and also on his outdoor advertising directives. But the Mayor is fast learning to focus the energies of the assembly on the big picture. His symbolic raids on government agencies in pursuit of property rates arrears and his optimistic courting of Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium City initiative are all testimony to a determination to “transform” how city management is done in Ghana. He has refrained from involving himself in petty partisan squabbles and maintained a balanced posture with respect to Accra’s many chieftaincy and other sectarian faultlines. He wants greater devolution of power from the central government to the towns and regions, and he has even begun developing investment plans for some of the most challenging sectors under his jurisdiction. The results are yet to change the fortunes of the city, but we were inspired by his energy and commitment.

Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist, Accra Psychiatric Hospital
For many years, the Chief Psychiatrist was almost a lone crusader for mental health policy reforms in this country. Today, he has been joined by a number of non-governmental organisations and won the attention of the President. Some have faulted his professional diplomacy skills, following persistent falling outs with the sector Minister. But what the Chief Psychiatrist lacks in negotiation skills, he more than makes up for it with relentless focus, determination and dedication. His knowledge of psychiatric issues and the policy environment is encyclopaedic, even daunting. He has also shown that he has a streak of positive opportunism in him. Seizing on the Anas Aremeyaw exposes, rather than feel indicted by it, he has forced mental health issues up the media’s priority list for the health sector, bringing into sharp focus such matters as alcohol regulation, substance abuse, and community-based care. And by reminding all of us that there is one psychiatrist for every 2 million Ghanaians, Akwasi Osei has changed the terms of the debate. He isn’t bringing a neglected issue to our attention; he is exposing the hollowness of our Ghanaian civilisation.

The Commissioners of the Commission for Human Rights & Administrative Justice
CHRAJ’s managers never hide from the fact that there is a host of human rights issues across the breadth and depth of this country that their limited resources and personnel prevent them from even remotely addressing. But there has never been a doubt about the organisation’s direction. This year, they have navigated political controversy and militant cynicism, and come out with their reputation intact. They have been vocal in urging greater speed in prisons reforms, and even louder in their denunciation of the mob mentality that still dogs nominally liberal-democratic Ghana. They have firmly planted the issue of disability rights in the labour reform agenda of Ghana. When “decongestion” became a lazy excuse for haphazard demolition activities, CHRAJ descended upon municipal authorities, giving much impetus to public interest activists who took to the Law Courts to redress the excesses of these so-called “urban planning” programs. CHRAJ has never missed an opportunity this year to paint for all of us what a “decent and humane society” looks like.

The Frontline Staff of the National Disaster Management Organisation
NADMO failed to take major steps towards achieving the organisation’s own objective of transforming into a comprehensive risk preventive system for the country from its current status as a disaster response agency. But the organisation’s field staff need to be commended for their valiant efforts this year in responding to multiple incidents, predominantly flooding-related, across the country. Lack of policy robustness notwithstanding, these underpaid personnel responded quite creditably to tragedies across the length and breadth of our nation, from the marshy banks of the Volta to the arid grasslands of the Savannah. Many risked their lives, as they wrestled against the elements, working without the right equipment and protective gear. Their actions are the stuff of which genuine patriotism is made, and not the bombastic rhetoric of the Accra elite.

So there you have it.

As we said at the very beginning, this is a list of the most inspirational public sector leaders 2010 gave us. And that indeed is the focus of this report, but we couldn’t help taking a jab at some of the public sector institutions that have been most egregious in flouting the list of 3 “virtues” we outlined earlier on. If we were compelled to produce a list of the 5 least inspirational institutions, according to that measure, we would have gone for the following:

Ghana Statistical Service: for mucking up a vital national exercise as the Census (none of the authors of this report was “counted”), and generally larking about with essential public communications of crucial policy relevance, such as the rebasing fiasco.
Brand Ghana Office: for raising our hopes of a new era of strategic national image transformation, and promptly dashing all of them. True, several public sector institutions seem dormant too. Forestry and Wildlife Commission; Water Resources Commission; Chieftaincy Secretariat etc., are just a few examples of dozens of lazing bureaucracies maintained out of public funds to what purpose only God knows. But Brand Ghana takes the can because of the fun fair which surrounded its launch and the audacity of the PR fraud that was perpetrated on us, the poor citizenry of Ghana. No doubt its managers shall blame their abysmal performance on resource constraints, but there are many civil society and private sector organisations labouring under similar challenges that nevertheless “makes an effort” to be relevant. At any rate, we feel that this phantom state body is a good placeholder for the many state institutions that hide behind the “no money” slogan to waste our time and limited resources in this country.
Public Utilities Regulatory Commission: not that we have any disrespect for the very capable professionals who are in charge of this body. But the truth is that we have seen little in the way of clear regulatory decision-making about how to improve on the quality of the service delivery of the vital utilities. Next year, we hope they up their game.
National Communications Authority: for the creeping signs of regulatory interference in market phenomenon best left alone. Compulsory SIM card registration, for instance, was an unnecessary burden on the system. There appears to be renewed political domination of the regulatory process, and an alienation of the private sector in the telecoms space. We all know that many things could be changed for the better in this critical industry, but the quality of the change is important too.
Ghana Police Service: the reformist instincts of the Inspector General of Police notwithstanding, this security establishment got itself involved in too many controversies for its own good, in some instances actually damaging its credibility in the public’s perception.

There are certainly a number of organisations that came to our attention that we decided to somewhat “ignore” in this report. We have always respected the National Development Planning Commission’s senior staffers, for instance, but we also felt that the organisation is very much in flux at this time and it would be best to give it a bit of time to settle. The GNPC puts us off by their secrecy and aloofness and undemocratic attitude to public accountability. First oil, notwithstanding, we decided that they do not merit our ink, positively or negatively. Perhaps, who knows, 2011 may be different.

Courtesy and IMANI, Foreign Policy Magazine’s fifth most influential think tank in Africa in 2009