Put a sock in it: It’s only a number

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size—Ronald Reagan.

Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening—Bill Clinton.


A year-and-a-half on, I have not been able to put together anything that comes close to a verdict or a sincere opinion on the performance of the Akufo-Addo government.  I have a few drafts in my archives but I have not felt that innate compulsion and the native urge to publish them.  Two reasons account for this. To begin with, the government is quite young.  It is still a baby that has only started taking those wobbly steps.  There would be a few trips and falls.  And often when babies fall over, we pick them up with love.  Before it performs, a government needs to form, norm and storm.

The second reason is that I have too many friends at all levels in this government, just as I had close family members in the Mahama administration.  I couldn’t be very neutral in any commentary on the performance of the two administrations, but I can afford to be fair, at least as far as objectivity and clean journalism goes.  Neutrality is not a virtue anyway; a man of conviction must have a stand on the things he believes in and be able to say what he thinks, lest he falls for everything.  So here is what I think.


#998 and #377

Like one of the brilliant folks at IMANI, I woke up to see #998 splashed across every corner of my social media page and I didn’t immediately know what the craze was all about.  I don’t play the lottery so numbers do not communicate anything beyond their numerical properties.  Has Angel Bishop Obinim done it again?  I thought it was Patapaa of One Corner fame lamenting over the number of votes he had in the VGMA.

Also on social media was a snapshot depicting the agency overview of the White House.  Formed in 1857, the Executive Office of the President of the United States has 377 employees.  This may include Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.  There were also posts comparing figures in nearby Nigeria and countries with bigger populations.  The general mood of people was that 998 political staffers was too much for a small country such as ours.  The previous John Mahama administration had worked with 778, most of whom have been retained by the present government.


A friend described the 998 number as the mark of a man in a hurry, and asked: “What the hell is going on? Nearly 1,000 staffers? Was there an interview or just tossing idle hands life support?”  From the archives, another friend scooped the following comments on the previous NDC government’s staff numbers: “There have been public complaints of overstaffing at the Presidency with some civil society members as well as some members of the NPP saying the over 670 member staff at Mahama’s office is too large for a country having serious challenges with its finances.”     


Amorphous receptacle 

We have the simple duty of deducting 670 from 998 to build our arguments, but we have a bigger matter to contend with beyond the numbers.  Of the same deed, the inveterate critic becomes the intemperate defender.  This is the business of politics and politicians play it better.  For the masses who become unwilling victims of political decisions, we want to see our kids and nieces in good employment, our gutters emptied of dirt from yesteryears and our living conditions improving by the day.  If it will take a 1,000 people to do that, then let’s have a little less for greater impact.


How many people does a government machinery need to function?  From a distance, government looks like an amorphous receptacle that needs to be populated willy-nilly by apparatchiks and praise singers.  To the cynical, the people who work for the government are like contorted spaghetti wasting space and drawing salary for nothing.  To the naysayers, the government machinery is an expensive architecture blind to the reality of the difficulties of the suffering masses.  Government does not care as far as it governs.

Often, a party in power behaves like a woman in love or a man with money; they don’t need advice from those who know not how to govern. An angry president of a West African country asked his opponent: “Do you know what it means to be President?; have you been president before?”  In East Africa, President Pierre Nkurunziza was made ‘Eternal Supreme Guide,’ putting him above human counsel.


Arithmetical conundrum

When the vision is big, big ideas are required to prosecute big agendas.  Ronald Reagan buried wise words in the sands of time: never expect a government to reduce the numbers they need to govern.  There would be a few additions to the 998 figure as the government grows in size and years.  There would be bigger tasks that require more hands.  If it would take 1,000 people to transform our lives, then let’s have a 1,000 more.


Instead, let’s ask the question Prof Stephen Adei asked the other day: What are the 998 appointees going to do in their various capacities?  Is there a job for all of them to do?  What is the exact job description of a Technical Advisor to a Minister while the Special Assistant is at post and drawing salary?  There are usually several assistants to these assistants.  In the end, there is a lot of talk about what needs to be done and what should have been done but nothing gets done.  Yet the government always wins the argument.


And while at it, let them solve the little problems that afflict our people, like malaria from anopheles mosquitoes.  The poor mother, who lost three (3) kids to mosquito repelling insecticide, would be wondering why 998 fine and men and women could not save her kids by proving a system that ensures that our gutters are clean. The unemployed university graduate who has not found a job after many years, would be asking why 998 men and women in suits have been too busy to create jobs.  This is the arithmetical conundrum that confronts us. 998 is only a number.


Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin (bigfrontiers@gmail.com)

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