Yesterday, sounding rather frail, the absentee Minister of Health, gave interviews to say that no, he had not gone on leave to campaign in his constituency. He was only there to ‘interact’ as part of his medical leave.
Joseph Yieleh Chireh was reacting to a report in the Chronicle that while patients were suffering under the doctors’ strike, the minister responsible was campaigning in his Wa West Constituency, Upper West Region.
The Chronicle said “Mr Yieleh Chireh was at the Dabu Electoral Area in the Upper West Region on Tuesday, holding meetings with NDC executives in the constituency, in a bid to retain him to contest the [parliamentary] elections” next year.
Dishing out a pathetic slice of explanation to Ghanaians, the Minister told Joy FM that his medical leave allowed him to take active exercise and did not require him to rest in bed.
Indeed, his doctors (I’m not so sure if those on strike included) have recommended he undertake physical training and it was what had brought him to his constituency.
I asked myself, as I drove past Big Ben (the famous clock at the Westminster Parliament, London) yesterday, listening (thanks to the e-volution) to this Kwaku Ananse news from Accra, via an ipad, broadcasting through the car speakers: how has governance been brought all so low; whatever happened to that important doctrine of ministerial responsibility?
One of the greatest gifts that the Westminster model has given to democracies across the world is the principle that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of his ministry or department. At the heart of this principle is the greater principle of democratic accountability. It serves to guarantee that a political officeholder is answerable for every single government decision under his boundaries of supervision. A minister takes the glory for his ministry’s achievements (not civil servants) and he takes the blame when things go wrong. If this does not serve to motivate ministers to ensure that the right things are done under their watch, then the entire government risks piling it all on for the electorate to punish him eventually on polling day.
The concept has been watered down in recent years. For example, in July 1954, Sir Thomas Dugdale saw it as his duty to resign as UK minister for agriculture after an inquiry criticised civil servants in his ministry over a compulsory purchase of farmland in Dorset even though there was no hint of his personal involvement. Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Sir Thomas’ resignation in the mildest of insults he could find at the time when he called the act “chivalrous in the extreme.”
In the words of political journalist Andy McSmith, “This willingness by a minister to take responsibility perhaps belongs to a past when politics was the preserve of people with private means who believed in an ideal of public service.”
In Ghana, Malik Yakubu Alhassan sought to re-introduce this endangered extremity of principled public service to Ghana when he handed over his resignation letter to President J A Kufuor after the May 9, 2001, stadium disaster. President Kufuor refused to accept the minister’s resignation and for very good reasons. After the killing of the Ya Na barely a year later, the same minister of the Interior was the first person to hand over his resignation letter to the President, who accepted it for obvious reasons at the time.
McSmith, writing in 2002, had no spare change for ministerial charity when he described the modern minister as “usually a career-driven professional whose lifestyle depends on his ministerial salary [substitute salary for position in Ghana] and who is reluctant to resign, even over something which is his fault let alone something which is not.”
Ironically, it is this smallness of private means that tempts the hands and appetite of some ministers for the public to make greater demands these days for resignations. In Brazil, since President Dilma Rouseff took office this year, five ministers have resigned, four of them over corruption allegations. Thus, individual ministers are still being held to account elsewhere, especially in situations where their own personal conduct may be in or around the centre of the issue.
In Ghana, however, the administration of President Mills seems to be rewriting the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, applying unchilvarous buga-buga to hold on to their appointed positions. When a deputy minister for tourism described a presidential candidate as a fruitcake he was rewarded with a larger responsibility as deputy minister of the Interior. When a minister of education lost his job shortly after overseeing the disastrous intake of new students to secondary schools last year, the President was adamant that the minister’s dismissal and that of another minister who decided to ‘kill two stones with one bird’ by going to New York to have a baby with the government paying for both her ticket and accommodation, were not for any wrongdoing.
When a murder suspect was allegedly found hiding in the Accra residence of a regional minister, who also heads the regional security council, it was treated as if the kids of a sports minister had kicked a ball to bounce off the wall of the house of a deputy minister next door.
Romania cannot claim to have a longer democratic culture than Ghana. Yet, in September last year, Romania’s minister of the Interior, Vasile Blaga, resigned a week after 5,000 police officers went on a one-day strike in protest over a 25% pay cut. Blaga, who had earlier called the strike illegal, called his own resignation “a gesture of honour.”
Just last month, in India, two political leaders, including the Infrastructure Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Komati Reddy Venkat Reddy, resigned after nearly two weeks of strike action by coal miners and health workers.
Last month, Egypt’s one million teachers and their students began the new academic year with a nationwide strike, saying, “We won’t back down until at least the education minister resigns and there is a timetable in place for our other demands,” including better pay, of course.
Here in the UK, defence minister Liam Fox had to resign a few days ago after admitting that he had “mistakenly” allowed the distinction between his personal interest and government activities to become “blurred”.
But in Ghana, our Minister of Health does not even want to risk blurring the distinction between his personal interest and his governmental responsibility of resolving the doctors’ strike so he has played it ‘safe’ by opting to go on leave in favour of his personal interest.
My issue is not so much about his decision to take his leave at this time but that the President chose to allow him to do so. There could be a perfectly good reason for this most despicable shedding of responsibility move but in their usual show of gross disregard for the people, no explanation has been deemed necessary to let Ghanaians know why it was necessary to let the health minister go on leave to relax in his constituency where he has had time to “interact” with his constituents – note, he insists he is not campaigning; he is only interacting.
The statement from Government that “the President granted the Health Minister his request for leave on the 11th of October, 2011 purely on medical grounds,” is very sheep-cowesque kind of story. You can’t even use it to wipe windscreens at the traffic light. It lacks detergent.
If the leave is on medical grounds, then his health must be so critical as to prompt this vacation at such a crucial time with doctors even refusing to attend to emergency cases at public hospitals. He has denied the health sector even the semblance of a symbolic head at this crisis period to undertake interactive exercise with his constituents. Clearly, whatever ails the minister he is not critically unwell.
Thank God, his situation does not appear to require the services of a striking doctor, perhaps. Again, his situation does not appear to require his admission into a private health facility, where doctors are on demand or being flown abroad to seek treatment? Why not? After all, one of the reasons which make resignations so difficult for ministers and a second term so attractive to some presidents is that the bill for first class medical care for themselves and immediate family members would readily be taken up by the taxpayer.
Government must tell us the truth. Has the health minister been pushed aside for another equally ranking minister to act because the sector minister has been found to be incompetent in resolving the crisis? If so, then why should the taxpayer persist maintaining him and the president insist containing him?
I would be very surprised to see Yieleh Chireh returning to occupy his ward at the Health Ministry. That would only add more fire to the smoke that governance has indeed gone to the dogs, a phrase Aseidu Nketia may find only mildly offensive in this regard.
Source: [email protected]danquahinstitute.org
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