opinionBy Dr. Michael Ofori-Mensah
The political space in Ghana is often described as polarized. However, a recent piece of legislation provides strong evidence of our political leaders' capability to rise above partisan lines to work towards sound democratic governance in our country.
The Presidential (Transition) Act, 2012 (Act 845), which was unanimously approved by Parliament in March this year, bears the hallmarks of cross-party efforts to enhance our system of public administration.
Work on the Presidential (Transition) legislation began in 2007 as an initiative of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Ghana Political Parties Programme (GPPP), an inter-party group comprising representatives of the four political parties in Parliament.
Primarily, the Transition law provides a framework for the political transfer of power from one democratically elected President to another. But its benefits transcend regime change. In fact a transition occurs even when an incumbent is re-elected and section 1 (3) of Act 845 takes this into account.
As an example, executive level transition may take place as a result of post-election ministerial reshuffles. On the whole, the law's strong attributes in the area of accountability is a valuable mechanism whether or not regime change occurs.
This post election period presents a unique opportunity to test key aspects of the new law. This article focuses only on the processes which can be swiftly implemented in order to deepen democratic governance over the course of the 2013 transition.
The implementation of the Presidential (Transition) Law will herald a new era of accountability and institutional clarity in many aspect of public administration. This is particularly so with the new body to be established under the legislation - the Presidential Estates Unit (PEU). The PEU is charged with maintaining and keeping an inventory of executive assets.
The Unit is to be headed by an independent who is appointed by the President in consultation with the Council of State. It is worth noting that the Administrator-General is granted security of tenure with the terms and conditions of service as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
On 9 November 2012, it was reported that President John Dramani Mahama had appointed Mr. Joseph Donkor Issachar as the Administrator-General of the PEU. The new Administrator-General's background in Public Service, which culminated in his role as Head of Ghana's Civil Service, will come in handy.
The IEA welcomes Mr. Issachar to his new role and takes this opportunity to highlight three key areas where immediate action is required.
First, the Transition law stipulates that handing-over notes covering a wide range of public offices (including the Presidency, government Ministries, Departments and Agencies) are to be submitted to the Administrator-General not later than 30 days before a presidential election. Writing this requirement into law, and charging the Administrator-General with ensuring compliance, may guarantee that new leadership in government agencies will have the essential background knowledge to undertake their functions.
This will improve the operation of government business. Although Mr. Issachar's appointment was announced less than 30 days before the presidential election, it is important that he still ensures an immediate compliance with this requirement of the law.
The second area requiring action relates to accountability. In fact accountability remains the centrepiece of the Presidential (Transition) law, with the requirement made for an inventory/periodic stocktaking of executive assets. Government assets in both the official and private residence of the President, Vice President as well as Ministers are covered by the requirement.
The inventory system could engender effective stewardship of government property. Given the late appointment of the Administrator-General, conducting a comprehensive initial inventory will be a challenge. Nonetheless, as a starting point, it is essential that a provisional inventory is conducted before prospective senior officials take up their appointments in 2013.
The third issue relates to the swearing-in of Parliament and the Presidential inauguration. Over the course of the Fourth Republic, Parliament has been sworn in on the same day as the President and this has led to delays, logistical challenges and lapses in protocol. Section 11 of the Act 845 attempts to address this issue.
The new law requires that the Speaker and Members of Parliament be sworn in two days before the dissolution of Parliament but take office on 7th January. Thus 7th January will be solely for the Presidential inauguration.
The Clerk to Parliament will play a key role in ensuring compliance with this section of the Transition law. Indeed this underscores the fact that other institutions will play a key part in the implementation of the Presidential (Transition) Act.
Overall, the Administrator-General has an unenviable job description of facilitating the transition process. In addition he has to establish the PEU and map out an administrative manifesto which will spell out detailed procedures to cover the transitional duties conferred on his office.
Some of these tasks can be catered for after the Presidential inauguration. Of immediate concern are the three areas outlined above: handing-over notes, an inventory of executive assets and the swearing-in of Parliament and the President.
The Presidential (Transition) law remains integral to good governance in Ghana. When fully implemented, the law will overhaul public administration and improve the functioning of government machinery.
The post 2012 election period provides a window of opportunity for the Administrator-General to deploy his duties to great effect. This will provide the Ghanaian public with a reassuring sense of accountability and a smooth transition. So, Mr. Administrator-General, it's time to take action.
*The writer is a policy analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)