Policy Elites, Professionalism and Public Sector Leadership in Ghana

A child takes care of a child in Old Fadama, an “illegal” but thriving urban slum in the commercial center of Accra nicknamed “Sodom and Gomorrah”

Another of the passionate public exchange, commentary and debate in the print and electronic media that have regularly characterized Ghana’s multi-party democracy has been ragingin recent days.  The celebration parties are over and President Akuffo Addo’s government that won the December 2016 elections with almost 54% as against 44% by the then ruling NDC has taken over and is settling down to the serious business of government.  At least some of the many elections promises on which they rode to power need to be fulfilled and development in Ghana moved forward.  Education, health, employment, housing, taxes…the list of crying and unmet social and economic needs in Ghana as it turns sixty is long.

It would also appear thepost-electionhoneymoon is ending, as a storm of critique blows back and forth over the president’s appointment of an unprecedented 110 Ministers and Deputy Ministers.  By all reports it is the largest size of Government in Ghana’s history of multi-party democracy in the fourth republic.

Civil society e.g. CDD [[i]], ImaniGhana [[ii]], media houses, and the publichave all weighed in to critique or defend what with characteristic Ghanaian humor and play on words has been labelled in some quarters as an “Elephant sized government” [[iii]]; the symbol of the governing NPP is an elephant.  As to be expected in the continuing highly partisan political context of Ghanacontributions from the ruling government have been vociferously defensive.   Contributions from the opposition on the other hand, vociferously critical.  Clearly each side iseager to score as many political points as possible with the electorate.

I however do not concern myself in this blogwith whether the size of government is too big or too small.  The arguments on both sides abound in the print and electronic media for allwho wish to critical evaluate and come to their own conclusions.  Time, I think will provide the final judgement.  Indeed time, which when we have the patience to wait for it, is a great provider of answers.  I will therefore do as the president has requested and wait and see whether from an economic and administrative efficiency perspective; 110 ministers are too many, just right, or (with tongue in cheek) even perhaps too few to attain the vision on which he rode to power and bring about much needed transformation and development.

My focus and reflections in this blog are related to one of the comments made by the information minister, in his efforts to justify the unprecedented 110 ministers to the people of Ghana; and the resulting anger and rebuttal of Civil Service and Local Government Service Association of Ghana (CLOSAG) [[iv]].  Mustafa Hamid’s statements may have provoked a storm of controversy, and has caused him some embarrassment.  I do not wish to embarrass him further.  However, I think he has publicly opened a box we should perhaps have opened well before this.  I would not want to hurriedly close it, but rather look behind the storm to ask some questions which I think we are currently neglecting open discussion of at our own peril as a nation.

Sixty years after independence, Ghana has achieved much.  However, alongside the achievements are myriad challenges.   Policies to make a difference have repeatedly fallen short of expectation in implementation or never even moved beyond agenda setting and formulation into implementation.  Health is a function of the social conditions in which people live.  Ghana’s myriad problems with education, employment, housing, rural urban drift, environmental degradation etc. etc. all affect in one way or the other the health of its people.


[ii] http://citifmonline.com/2017/03/16/franklin-cudjoe-slams-akufo-addos-appointment-of-110-ministers/

[iii] http://citifmonline.com/2017/03/18/elephant-sized-govt-will-worsen-corruption-occupy-ghana/


Children of kayaaye (female porters) crowd into single room day care facilities run by community members at Old Fadama while their mothers try to earn their daily keep in the market

Have politicians, the Civil service or both failed us?  Are civil servants not under pressure to perform whereas politicians are?  Why or why not?I think in the heat of thecontroversy we may be losing sight of a critical opportunity to publicly and critically examine Public sector leadership in recent decades by a specific group of policy elites namely politicians in the executive and themost senior public / civil servants with whom they closely work.

Conflict is a difference in opinion.  Constructive conflict, well handled, can stimulate innovation and problem solving. Often it is the political leadership who are critiqued for having failed us.  The shoe is on the other foot this time and the Civil /Public service leadership is being interrogated as well.  It is not comfortable, but perhaps it is important.

I freely admit to a special interest in this subject.  Though trained as a clinician, apart from the first two and a half years of my working life where I worked exclusively in clinical care as a ‘frontline health worker’ I have spent much of my working life as aPublic Health Physician in the Public /Civil Service.  Starting in mid-level operational management as district medical officer and then as district director of health services; and finally moving to senior level strategic management as regional director of health services, my experiences and observations fuel my reflections.

Civil servants and Politicians as policy elites in leading development

Grindle and Thomas [[i]] in their landmark work on “public choices and policy change, the political economy of reform in developing countries”use the term policy elites to refer to “those who have official positions in government and whose responsibilities include making or participating in making and implementing authoritative decisions for society.”In Ghana, policy elites include politicians such as heads of state and ministers as well as national level bureaucrats and technocrats such as Chief Directors, National and Regional level directors in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA).  As in almost all other countries in the world, these two groups are highly inter-dependent, for several very practical reasons.  For a nation to be effectively governed, there must be a balance between stability and continuity in governance and leadership at all levels despite the inevitable change that is a part of life.

Even in one party stateswith life presidents, of which Africa has known a few; there are transitions when death the leveler comes along.  To borrow the words of James Shirley: “The glories of our blood and state are shadows not substantial things; There is no armor against fate, death lays his icy hands on kings: scepter and crown must tumble down and in the dust, be equal made, with the poor crooked scythe and spade”. In the same breath that it is declared “The King is dead” it also must be declared ‘Long live the King”.

In multi-party democracy, these transitions of the top political leadership of the stateoccur regularlynot because of death the leveler, but by constitutional choice at regular agreed periods of time.  In Ghana, every four years we go to the polls.  I term these four year periods the macro national political leadership transitions.  Within each four-year period between macro political leadership transitions, there are also the constantly occurring micro political leadership transitions within Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) of ministers and deputy ministers.  Change is ever present.  Tenures of ministers can be as short as six months with averages of one to two years.  Ministers who stay in the same ministry throughout the four-year term of the president are overall the exception rather than the rule.

Ministers are selected and placed to lead and oversee the conversion of the political vision and ideology of the government into policies, accompanying programs and implementation as the immediate representatives of the President.   They do not necessarily hold – indeed it is impossible at the strategic level of leadership for any one person to hold – all the needed technical and administrative expertise, access to information and understanding of context including organizational, technical and program history needed to succeed.  Success of necessity depends on effective team work.  Political leaders rely on an army of technocrats, bureaucrats and advisors and national level and middle levels and implementers at the frontline to get things done.  This situation is not unique to multi-party democracy.    Even autocratic kings, emperors and supreme rulers for life, ancient and modern, needed and continue to need armies of experts, advisors and counsellors to be able to govern well.   Through the ages, rulers have sought to be surrounded by the best quality advisors and experts they can find in their kingdoms, to help them govern.  King Nebuchadnezzar’s selection of competent men from the kingdoms he conquered to be trained to join his “Civil service” in the book of Daniel is a good example.

The Civil service of Ghana was created to play a technical and bureaucratic support role tothe political leadership in national governance.  The Civil Service Act (PNDCL 327) of 1993 [[ii][1]] states in Section 2 underObject of the service: “The object of the service is to assist the Government in the formulation and implementation of government policies for the development of the country”.  Section 3 further states that “for the purpose of achieving its object, the Service shall (a) initiate and formulate policy options for the consideration of government, (b) initiate and advice on government plans (c) undertake the necessary research for the effective implementation of government policies (d) implement government policies (e) review government policies and plans (f) monitor, co-ordinate and evaluate government policies and plans (g) perform such other functions that the Civil Service Council may direct.

Trust involves a confidence that another is working for your good and your interest, and will not knowingly and deliberately plot and execute your harm.  The guiding principles of the code of conduct of the Civil Service [[iii]] are lofty (see box 1).


They are principles to which if the civil service adheres, there would really be no reasonable cause for the political executive to be nervous and wary about the trustworthiness and competency of the civil service.  The question is does the Civil /Public service as we know it now live and work by these principles?  Why or why not?


Selflessness: Civil Servants should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest.  They should not do so to gain financial or other material benefit for themselves, their family or their friends

Integrity: Civil Servants should not place themselves under any financial or other obligations to any individuals or organizations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties, including awarding of contracts etc.

Justice and Fairness: in carrying out public business including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or, recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, Civil Servants should make choices based solely on merit.

Accountability: Civil Servants shall be responsible to both the Government (employer) and the public (customer) for their decisions and actions, and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office

Transparency: Civil Servants should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.  They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict access to information only when the wider public interest clearly demands that the information should not be released

Leadership: Civil Servants should strive to excel in all their endeavors; be an example to others and encourage others to follow their footsteps.

  Guiding Principles of the Code of Conduct for the Ghana Civil Service


How have we as a nation managed to arrive at a place where government, whom the Civil /Public Service was created to support and advice appears to no longer completely trusts that it will get professional,committed, disinterested and high quality service?

The Civil /Public Service and Politics in Ghana

Public policy is about technical and program choices, but like politics is also very much about processes and power.  Process refers to how things get done, and power refers to the ability to get what you want to get done, done.  Power enables its holder to get others to do (or not do) what they might otherwise not have done (or done).  Power can be exercised by people acting as individuals, with, through and over people.  The public policy process and its leadership is inherently political as well as technical.  Resources that confer power are numerous and varied; and depending on a given situation can include availability and control of finances, position, networks, knowledge, loyalty and mutual obligationsetc.etc.

Since early 1989 when I moved from working at hospital level to working at district level in public health and effectively became a Public /Civil Servant in a mid-level management role, Ghana has transitioned from the Military role of the PNDC to the multi-party democratic rule of the 4th Republic.

One of the things that has struck me over this multi-democratic rule period has been the extreme partisanship of our politics and the slow gathering of momentum of the tendency to manipulate and politicize along partisan lines, appointments into the leadership of the Public /Civil Service.

To my observation, the professionalism of the top of the public /civil service of Ghana has been weakened and compromised over time by politicization.  And it is a malady that threatens to continue to move down the ranks if we do not stop it as a nation. Politicians as well as Civil /Public servants (not necessarily all, but some) have worked and continue to work together to create and maintain this situation of political patronage that is steadily eroding the professionalism of the Public /Civil Service.There is an Akan proverb about accountability and responsibility that is apt to our current situation.  It translates as: “If the elders of the village watch the children of the village eat the poisonous snake, Nanka, when the list of those who eat poisonous snakes is being compiled the names of the elders will be on that list.”

So, long as the situation appears to be benefiting groups and individual policy elites – whether they are politicians or public /civil servants; they are quiet about it, or defend it vigorously.  Once it stops benefiting them – e.g. they and their sponsors are now in opposition, they complain loudly.  But to draw upon another Akan proverb, “The Stick that is used to beat Takyi will be used to beat Baah” or to use its English equivalent: “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”.Manipulating a system to suit personal and partisan ends is not the exclusive prerogative of any one group.

We set up excellent systems, structures and principles and agree on and document official values.  We then observe values in use and practice that are contrary to these official values, systems and structures, and then turn around and cry “foul” when things do not work as they should.  People are generally very smart to intuitively and implicitly even if not explicitly adopt coping behaviors that respond to the incentives created by the systems and values in use rather than the official systems and values.  The results we finally get are naturally the results of the applied values in use that drive behavior rather than the official theorized values that do not drive any behavior.  It will always be values in use (whether explicit or implicit), rather than official values that drive the processes and outputs of any system.    It is well recognized that there can be a disconnect between what a company says its stands for and values in theory and the message that its actions give as to what it stands for and values in practice. [ [iv],[v]]

For example, the stated values of the civil /public service of Ghana include professionalism and excellence.  If selection and placement processes of senior public /civil servants are manipulated and cookedso that their selection is based on ethnic, partisan political and other self-interestcriteria; the value being clearly conveyed are that tribalism, nepotism and political patronage are the rewarded values in use.  It is not professionalism and excellence.  All involved in this process whether politicians, senior technocrats and bureaucrats in the public /civil service or their families, friends and relatives who work together to support and manipulate the processes; as well as those who are silent when they should speak up, for fear of their positions are party to the destruction of the system of official values.  We reap what we sow.  The chickens will eventually come home to roost.Indeed, they have started coming home to roost big time.

Civil /Public servants who benefit from political patronage systems and nepotism to get desired positions and perks, regardless of their fit for the position; and remain silent about the erosion of the values and professionalism of the service until government changes and their “politically earned” positions and privileges are threatened will find speaking up then is irrelevant.  They will still be moved aside when the opportunity presents; and a new cycle of political patronage in the Public /Civil service will start.  Each new government will regard with suspicion the senior public and civil servants that it comes to meet in MDA knowing the system of values in use as against the official stated values.

Manipulation and politicization of the top leadership of the Public /Civil service is slowing creeping downwards carrying with it a destruction of professionalism, ethics and competence further down the chain.  Public/ Civil servants who have been allotted technical advisory and expert leadership roles based predominantly on political connections, ethnicity and perceived loyalty rather than a reasonable level of independent assessment of their competence and fit for a given position; in their turn manipulate who gets the positions below them that their position enables them to dispense.

The Public Services Commission is entrusted by law to advice Government on the criteria for appointment to Public offices as well as persons to hold or act in Public Offices. [[vi]]  Even its processes have been increasingly manipulated for political reasons.

What should we do?

If we want to politicize the top leadership of the civil /public service, then we need to have a large army of skilled, expert and competent bureaucrats and technocrats on both sides of the political divide.  We also need to set up arrangements such that the politized top leadership of the public /Civil service in Ministries, Departments and Agencies comes in and goes out of power with their political masters.  Under that scenario, we will have to put in place new structures, systems and mechanisms to protect institutional memory and ensure continuity in the public sector despite political transitions.  The professional civil /public service layer will have to become the layer immediately below the very top.  I am not convinced that at this stage in our development we can afford such an expensive (in terms of human resources skills and numbers) model of strategic level public sector governance.   Moreover, without a change in our values and attitudes, over time we will simply politicize this layer also.

We therefore need to think again about the continuing attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the leadership of the public /civil service and the official values of the service.  The leadership of the Public /Civil service as well as the political leadership need to realize that we are on a downward spiral in which the both groups of policy elite as well as the people of Ghana will ultimately be the biggest losers.  We should open a serious national policy think tank and public debate process about where and how to draw a strict line that separates professionalism in public service and politicking.  Civil /Public Servants who want to fly partisan political colors should openly join a political party and leave the civil /public service.  Evidence of political partisanship in the conduct of their duties should be a matter that can make a civil /public servant liable to dismissal.

Personally, I do not think it is in the interest of any politician to have chief directors and headquarters technical directors and advisors who are partisan political actors who owe their positions to ethnicity, nepotism and political patronage.  There will be constant conflict between their self-interest and the interest of the state.  Yes, we all have political viewpoints and we all vote one way or the other.  However, once an election is over, the primary concern if professionalism is a value in practice rather than a value in theory, should be how to move Ghana forward and lead positively transformational change.  It should not be about how to advance a partisan political interest at the expense of the development of the country and the success of public social and economic policies that need to work well for the transformation of this nation.  Neither should we create situations that allow the unscrupulous to settle personal and self-interest scores by labelling those who have a different opinion on issues for genuine reasons rather than self-interest as “dangerous political opponents to be eliminated”.

Prof. Ayee [[vii]] in his book “Saints, Wizards, Demons and systems” puts forward a theory that public policy fails in Ghana because the Saints (right combination of committed politicians and bureaucrats) are few, the wizards (policy analysts with available and reliable information) inappropriate, the demons (hostile and apathetic groups whose interest’s the policy threatens) many and the systems complex and organizations weak.  It is particularly illuminating, that in his theory demons can be people who outwardly vigorously expresssupport the for the very policies their actions are consistently and quietly undermining because it conflicts with their self-interest.

[1] Civil Service Act 1993.  https://s3.amazonaws.com/ndpc-static/pubication/Civil+Service+Act+1993.pdf  Downloaded 18/3/17

[i] Grindle M.S & Thomas J.W. (1991)  Public Choices and Policy Change.  The Political Economy of Reform in Developing Countries.  The John Hopkins University Press.  Baltimore and London.  Pg 59

[ii] Civil Service Act 1993.  https://s3.amazonaws.com/ndpc-static/pubication/Civil+Service+Act+1993.pdf  Downloaded 18/3/17

[iii] Code of Conduct for the Ghana Civil Service (undated).  Issued by the Office of the head of Civil Service  http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan011074.pdf (part 1) and http://workspace.unpan.org/sites/internet/Documents/UNPAN011075.pdf (part 2).  Downloaded 18/3/17

[iv]Argyris C. and Schon D.A. (1974) Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

[v] Aitkin J.M. (1994)  Voices from the inside: Managing district health service in Nepal.  International Journal of Health Planning and Management, Vol 9, 309 – 340

[vi] Public Services Commission Act 1994 https://www.psc.gov.gh/images/stories/PSC_ACT.pdf  Downloaded 18/3/17

[vii] Joseph R.A. Ayee (2000) Saints, Wizards, Demons and Systems:  Explaining the success or failure of public policies and programs.  Ghana Universities Press.  Accra.