President Mahama of Ghana announced a series of ministerial appointments over a period of weeks from late May into June. Most of the new nominations and reassignments focused on deputy ministers, although regional ministers were also affected as were a few key sector ministers, such as the Ministers of Health, Defence, and Lands and Natural Resources, among others.
Echoing the government’s own statements, supportive commentators affirm, “It is obvious these changes are meant to accelerate development and give the administration momentum,” adding that, “People must understand that President Mahama, as he himself puts it, ‘is the coach of the team’ and has the prerogative to determine which player comes in when and where.”
This positive assessment stands at odds with the more widespread criticism brought on by the President’s announcements. Observers question whether this latest reshuffle, the third of its kind this year, will ensure a more capable cabinet. As argued by the editor of the Informer newspaper, “Governance is not about experimenting where you try ministers to see where they can perform while others are already hard at work. […] When one is asked to head a particular ministry, it takes time to learn the rudiments of that place, but whenever the new ministers gain the experience to kick-start a project, then the President changes them again.”
Mahama’s decisions are also being challenged by supporters of his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), who decry the alleged imbalance in the representation of different regions within Cabinet. NDC cadres have condemned protests held by party faithful in the Upper West and East regions. Dissatisfaction is also spreading in the Volta region, popularly referred to as the NDC’s “World Bank” due to its high levels of electoral support for the party. Criticism in the Volta has prompted speculation about the NDC’s prospects in the 2016 elections, which is expected to be a close contest between the NDC and Ghana’s main opposition party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP).
In a particularly unusual development, Mahama’s latest reshuffle has led to criticism from both the government and opposition side in Parliament. The controversy arose when two front benchers disagreed over who should stand in as Minister of Roads and Highways to answer questions on the floor of parliament. This episode prompted NPP legislators to decry the government’s confused “game of musical chairs.” The Minority leader followed with a statement criticizing the Executive’s failure to present a list of appointees to Parliament, arguing, “This House must critically look at bringing new appointees and reshuffled ministers to the appropriate committee of Parliament for questioning.” The Speaker of Parliament backed the statement of the Minority Leader, averring that all ministers, whether freshly appointed or re-assigned to a new post, should be referred to Parliament for endorsement.
This criticism of the Executive’s unilateral action and the calls for a more robust vetting process go against the grain in Ghana, where despite democratic advances in other areas, the Parliament remains relatively weak by regional standards. Ghana’s highly competitive two-party system has led to a pattern of entrenched partisan politics in the legislature with ruling party MPs generally opting to support the Executive rather than join in bi-partisan efforts to ensure more parliamentary independence.
It is unclear as yet what the result of this latest wave of criticism directed at the Mahama administration will be. Political tensions in Ghana are running high, notably due to fears over government spending and the rapid accumulation of debt. Frustration over the reshuffle is in part a reflection of these broader concerns. Still, this dissatisfaction may lead to some substantive change if Parliament continues to push, as suggested by the Speaker, to more fully assume its constitutional oversight powers.