President Mills’ first reshuffle of his governing team took too long in coming. Now it has come and it’s left many people scratching their heads – or other parts of the anatomy below the waistline. What is the president thinking?

Having been criticized for fielding a second-string team, the president must been feeling some pressure to bring in some more brainy and experienced heavy-weights. And who does he bring in?

E. T. Mensah – reputed to be a former barber of Jerry John Rawlings – is being moved from parliament, where he is majority chief whip, to the ministry of employment. Mr. Mensah is a loyal party man and his appointment is a shrewd political move – not a pragmatic, well-thought out decision to create jobs and ensure contentment on the labour front.

First, E. T. Mensah is a Rawlings-loyalist (what do you expect, he used to cut his hair) and so his appointment will satisfy Rawlings who has been breathing down the neck of the President, demanding the appointment of some of his men.

Secondly, E. T. Mensah will have to come up with creative ways to create the illusion that jobs are being created – especially for disillusioned party supporters who have been complaining that they’ve been neglected. His abrasive character will also come in quite handy whenever there is labour unrest – and there could be a lot of that in the coming months as government tries to get the ‘single spine’ pay structure in shape.

The appointment of majority leader, Alban Bagbin, as Works and Housing Minister is also a shrewd move to placate Rawlings and silence Bagbin who has also been quite strident in his criticism of the Mills style of leadership. It’s very unfortunate (ahem!) that Bagbin will accept this job when he’s built so much clout and garnered a lot of experience as a lawmaker. It’s even hypocritical for someone who has been speaking over the years about the need to ensure the independence of the legislative assembly, suddenly make a u-turn to take up a job in the executive. But it’s understandable hypocrisy.

Bagbin wanted a ministerial job and he was unhappy with the decision to scrap the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. Now the president has given him more than he desired and that should make him happy. President Mills can now sleep with both eyes closed, without the fear of a majority leader scuttling his legislative agenda.

There is also a lot of money at the Works and Housing ministry and since Bagbin knows (and cares) so much about how the party is run, he will be tasked with the responsibility of making sure there is a steady stream of funds from the ministry to the party’s coffers. I hear the kickback percentage has increased recently from 10 to about 15 percent. Make no mistake about it. Bagbin has not been appointed to ensure an efficient delivery of water to Ghanaian home. He’s just coming in to serve the interests of his party.

The most striking part of the ministerial shuffle for me, though, is the decision to move Zita Okaikoi from information to the tourism ministry. Zita didn’t do much at information. She’s the most reticent information minister I’ve seen in my short life. The first time she tried to defend government policy, it was a disaster and immediately thereafter she was instructed never to open her mouth to speak publicly without authorization and coaching.

She will go down in history as the only information who could never hold her own to defend any serious government policy. Of course, she could explain the agenda of Obama’s visit and take pictures of the visit of the superstar president for her journal (which we are yet to see) but she never was able to stand up to explain economic policy or something as banal as why the president is reluctant to move into the presidential palace.

She should never have been information minister. In fact, she shouldn’t have been a minister at all. But the president must know more about her than most Ghanaians do. That should explain why she’s still a member of government.

I am guessing that Zita’s background as a bar owner influenced the decision to send her to the tourism ministry. She must know a thing or two about tourist establishments and maybe, by the time she’s moved out of government (hopefully) or moved to another ministry (more likely), she would have found creative ways to stop people from defecating around the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles. Plus, Zita is so damn pretty. Her good looks on any poster will help boost tourist numbers to the Buebeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. But don’t expect her to come up with any serious policies to make tourism our number one export earner.

The man replacing Zita at the information ministry, John Tia, will surely do a much better job than she did – even with half of his brain switched off. That would mean less work for the likes of Okudzeto-Ablakwa and Agyenim Boateng, giving them more time to focus on their schooling. Ain’t that swell?

If Zita’s relocation to tourism doesn’t make sense, the president’s decision to shut down the office of the presidential spokesman should. It means that the information minister will be the president’s principal spokesman. That’s good. It should mark the end of the era of the duplicity in the functions of the information minister and the erstwhile presidential spokesman. Hopefully, we’d be spared the embarrassment and confusion of governmental doublespeak.

The decision to move Cletus Avoka from the Interior Ministry is also a very wise one. Avoka, no doubt, is ‘Team A’ material. He’s got a fine brain, he works hard and he means well. But his appointment as Interior Minister was a mistake, especially with one faction in the Bawku dispute accusing him of siding with the other. Yet the president stubbornly stuck with him, wasting a precious year that could have been used to take vital steps towards ending the conflict in Bawku and saving a few precious lives.

With Avoka’s reassignment to another ministry, the new interior minister, Martin Hamidu – who would have been vice president if Mills had won the election in 2000 – should be able to take Bawku towards peace. Martin Hamidu is also an experienced man and he must bring some ‘Team A’ qualities to President Mills’ squad.

Akua Sena Dansua is going to be our first female sports minister and it’s impressive that the president will want to take a risk with her in such a high profile position. She’s a smart woman and she will not need two deputies to help her do the job. She’s been sent there to halt the ‘chop-chop’ at that ministry. Women ‘chop’ less, you know and I am very certain that Auntie Akua will not spend our monies on ‘chinchinga’. She will definitely not travel abroad with a male companion, confusing the president and making it difficult for him to know the difference between “corruption” and “indiscretion”. If, she however decides to travel to South Africa, for example, with a male companion, I hope I will be that companion.

All in all, President Mills’ first reshuffle seems like a capitulation to me. It’s all aimed at pleasing a few individuals and serving the interests of the NDC. I see very little national interest in this reshuffle because it’s not far-reaching enough. Zita must have been kicked out of government – along with the likes of Juliana Azumah-Mensah, who is now moving to Women’s and Children’s Affairs. That Ashanti Regional minister should also be kicked out of office.

The president could also have done more to reduce the size of the government, which is still too big for a developing country. Do we need all those deputy ministers? I don’t think so. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and at the end of it all, we’d have a stronger team which will take us places.

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