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THE HUMAN FACTOR – WHY POOR LEADERSHIP IS DESTROYING OUR FORTUNES.

There is a general consensus that Ghana as a country is either heading in the wrong direction or getting just plain messed up.  Power crises and the persistent power outages that we thought belonged to decades gone are back, blatant corruption now are back with new schemes of supposed debt judgments, and the leaders we have are neither able to articulate a path forward nor deliver solutions that inspire confidence. Unfortunately, these perceptions have not just been with the current government but also with previous ones.

My advice to the President of Ghana, if I had an opportunity to advise him today, will be to have the courage to reshuffle the cabinet and bring in Ghanaians, regardless of political affiliation, with substantial, relevant experience that will benefit him and his government. “Magnanimity does indeed accrue greatness to leadership"- our history of entrusting decision-making responsibilities to folks without relevant experience is destroying the country.  This is not a funeral event where we make people with most recognizable names chief mourners. This is our country, and our very way of a life as a people is at stake.

Why do I think we need ministers and deputy ministers with substantial, relevant experience to lead?

When we look at the underlying structural issues that make it difficult to hold elected politicians accountable, it becomes obvious that current and previous governments have never been bold in moving the country to such a place. It was quite perplexing to hear of Mr. Hackman Owusu-Agyeman's dismissive response to a recommendation to allow the president to choose majority of its ministers from outside of parliament.  MPs, the pool from which ministers have traditionally been appointed, are elected to serve their constituencies and that is the job they qualify for. The President has to be required by constitution to establish and uphold the independence of the executive branch by appointing ministers outside of the legislature. That is just common sense, even forgetting the fact that there are more qualified Ghanaians with executive and relevant experience outside of the parliament.

Mr. Hackman Owusu-Agyeman's response reminds me of one of the key underlying problems in our politics - the lack of appreciation for the difference that highly experienced, high performing individuals make in developing a country.  This is what I call the Human Factor.

The World Cup’s timely analogy is probably the most blatant reminder of this Human Factor.  The world has about 193 countries that seek qualification to the World Cup and yet only 32 are judged to be qualified to compete in this top sports contest.  It is clear that if a country does not come ready to compete, they lose right out of the gate.  For the countries that make it to the top, it is clear which drivers get them there: the countries that dominate the World Cup have a substantial number of players with experience in very competitive leagues outside their home country. That experience not only comes with a deep sense of duty to the teams they play with, but also a level of discipline and professionalism that underlie the accountability to the roles they hold. The best players are sought after regardless of race or beliefs, but judged by skill and experience.  The coach however is held to a higher standard because he decides who plays in what position and who sits on the bench. Hence every decision made by the coach regarding who plays or not risks destroying the hopes of an entire nation in winning the World Cup.  Similarly, that soccer competition analogy illustrates what happens among countries as they compete globally from industry to industry. In fact, the World Economic Forum currently has a running comparison of World Cup country parings and the corresponding competitiveness.  It is quite fascinating how much human capital drives a lot of the observed differences in how each country does against each other economically.

Experienced, well-qualified, people respected by their peers make a difference in solving major problems for countries.  That is why when the Bank of England was looking for its new chief it recruited a Canadian, the Governor of Bank of Canada, who not only had capital markets experience and relationships from Goldman Sachs but also had successfully managed Canada's economy through the 2008 financial crises.   Also, when the US was looking for the deputy head for its central bank, it turned to Stanley Fisher, governor of Bank of Israel.  The same Stanley Fisher whose time at the IMF saw incredible development in Latin American countries where his numerous students happened to have been Finance or Economic ministers. Many other countries do way better job seeking out qualified, experienced people to put in decision-making positions than we do in Ghana. 

According to the thinking of Mr. Hackman Agyeman, a rationale shared by most parliamentarians and those who see being an MP as a way to usurp ministerial power, the Deputy Minister of Education is more qualified to implement the policies of the party than a non-MP with relevant work experience.  That would be true if what is needed to implement educational policies is an ability to rally party members and handshake at events.  An individual was appointed with no experience in managing an organization - a recent graduate that no company would ever hire and put in a managerial position, and someone with no relevant experience in a sector with major challenges that threaten the future of our children's education.

Even more disappointing and destructive of our destiny is how we have handled our energy crises at a time when we risk squandering an opportunity to become a significant world oil producer.  After seeing years and years of power blackouts in Ghana, one has to wonder why the problem became so intractable? To use the previous football analogy, the country has had a series of coaches who have made poor decisions with respect to the quality of people who have been entrusted with leadership responsibility in our energy industry. At a time when multiple, multimillion-dollar projects are being run simultaneously, the government decides to appoint as minister of energy an individual whose most recent significant work experience is as a postmaster in a US county. This person was chosen because he is also an MP in parliament, instead of choosing another individual, who had worked for previous NDC government, with experience managing a power company in the US.  Another individual passed over for the position has a PhD in engineering from MIT, management degree from Harvard, and an extensive relationship with other energy executives like Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric.  Indeed, the MP would have been much better suited to helping restructure the Ghana post office system than to serving as a minister for an industry the future of country may be hinged on.  So how can anyone be shocked when the country's energy crisis keeps worsening?

I do not fault the individuals appointed to decision making positions that they are not fully equipped for; rather I blame the poor judgment of those who appoint them. The executive branch has to be completely separated and independent from the legislature to allow more qualified individuals to lead.  Ghana can do better than this.

On the other extreme is this false perception that once we set up an institution or a committee, problems get solved.  That has led to our ministers and politicians always in a perpetual mode of calling for this or that instead of actually laying out their visions for the responsibility to hold and getting things done.  Indeed every necessary institution one can think of, Ghana probably has. Even more basic fundamental stuff like a functioning government email system seems to elude our governments to such a point that our politicians are allowed to put their personal emails such as kotobabisaka@yahoo.com on government-issued business cards.  Not only is that unprofessional and shameful, but for it to persist especially among MPs from past governments through the current is a testament to the lack of professionalism with which they bring to the responsibilities at hand.  Institutions are not animate actors that self-deliver. If there is any one lesson my time on the boards of the New York City's Economic Development taught me, it’s this: people, their experience and the relationships they bring to an institution make all the difference in the world.  With such leadership, others do indeed make all the resources available to help.

We are a leading exporter of gold, yet we have no market in high-tech electronics where gold fetches high margins.  We are a leading exporter of cocoa, but we do not dominate markets in chocolate products fetching high margins.  We have exported timber like hell, but we don't even have a global presence in wood products.  When a company like Triton Logging was willing to harvest high quality wood from the Volta at their own expense, we let local vandalism drive them out.  Because of our collective lack of appreciation for the Human Factor, we have missed great opportunities and will continue to miss great opportunities unless the psyche of the nation changes. During the past NDC government under Rawlings, several very bright young Ghanaians cracked the key to an internet business model to profitably roll out voice-over-calling.  They were persecuted and accused of causing loss to the state by taking away revenue from Ghana Telecom - a total lack of understanding of how IP calling worked. They were denied a first mover advantage that could have created jobs and brought wealth to many Ghanaians.  Years later we now use Chat, Whatsapp, Vonage, Magic Jack, and many similar voice-over-ip protocols that were allowed to thrive in places like Israel, South Korea, and Eastern Europe.  So why wouldn't these countries develop much better than Ghana?

Instead of successive governments putting in laws and incentives to help individuals build businesses that create opportunities for all, our politicians now go into politics to become business men instead.  Along with them comes the most dangerous threat to our development - the tendency to take punitive actions and make decisions based on sheer jealousy and desire to see others not do better.  When is this going to stop?  We may indeed have to wait for a leadership that loves the people enough to ban politicians and their close relatives from pursuing external business interests as long as they hold positions of influence.

Now, others may suggest that folks at the top do know the right thing to do, but refuse to do so because they are corrupt. I am not sure that is quite true. If you have a Deputy Minister of Education who has never managed an organization before in the midst of an education system needing serious restructuring, no matter how hard they try, they are not going to be able to fake performance any more than they can fake an orgasm.

When Portugal lost to Germany in the ‘Group of Death’, there was a general consensus among the commentators that the results favored the US over Ghana. Why such a view? It is what I call "the Perception of Success". Because the US has a very successful coach and the US as a country is known for excellence, it is easy for others to put more resources on them and bet on them. Perception of success will help our country if we were to get serious about seeking out the best qualified Ghanaians worldwide to ensure their participation in building our future.  The best, most capable Ghanaians who have demonstrated leadership qualities with substantial experience outside the country can make a difference in solving our biggest problems just as Ghanaian professional players in foreign leagues have helped bring is to the big leagues on world cup soccer.  There is too much at stake for our nation and too many Ghanaians working hard daily to risk their lives for a future for all our kids. 

So, here are 3 key recommendations I will make to our government to help garner a bit more confidence in those who claim to represent our best interests;

1) Do not screw up the constitutional reforms. Show integrity and demand absolute separation of the executive branch from the legislature by prohibiting any elected official from holding a ministerial position.

2) All executive branch appointments, especially at the ministerial level, should go through a defined CID background due diligence. When I joined the New York Economic Development Corporation as a senior vice president, one of the first requirements of me, since I had become an officer of New York City, was to complete a background check with Internal Affairs that not only included full disclosure of my assets, but also validation of every background details even including my claim of having attended Prempeh College.  As a country, we can do better than New York City, by establishing similar background validation and qualification assessment for those appointed.

3) Have the courage to cross the party politics line and appoint outstanding, experienced and capable individuals, regardless of political persuasion, into key posts where they might have substantial impact.   

4) If you want to check if you have appointed the right people in decision-making positions, then ask them to go find jobs in the other countries you either compete with or do biggest share of your trade with. If the only positions your ministers could ever find in those countries are security guards and taxi drivers, then the country has got a major problem.

The country does not belong to a few. It belongs to each of one of us and all 25million strong. What it is not, again, is a funeral event where we make people with most recognizable names chief mourners. For it to work for each person, each of us is going to have to adopt a bit more activism, insist on our right to a workable future, and get involved. That is our only hope of advancing the ball for Oman Ghana. Ghana is our destiny.

**The author, Ohene Aku Kwapong, is a banker with Royal Bank of Scotland in London. Personal website is www.ohene.com or facebook.com/ohene

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