2012 PFIG Recipient Lolan Sagoe-Moses
College of Arts & Sciences
Political & Social Thought Major
2013 Graduation Year
Internship: Parliament of Ghana
Notes on the first week
Reflection on internship:
The first week of my internship has been very exciting. I returned to Ghana's Parliament where I interned last year. Due to my familiarity and friendships with most of the key staff, my transition back into the workplace was seamless. My first task was to catch up on the action so to speak. I had been following the work of parliament and the activities of my boss Hon. Joseph Osei-Owusu during the semester however to find out what the priorities are during each sitting of parliament, you need to speak to insiders. So I spent my first day speaking with the Minority Leader's Assistant and secretary. As Hon. Osei-Owusu is a member of the minority caucus, the work of other members of the minority and the priorities of the Minority leader inform some of his positions on debates in the house.
Keeping abreast with the New Patriotic Party minority's agenda is particularly important for Hon. Osei-Owusu this year because though he is currently an independent member of parliament he intends to contest on the party's ticket in the upcoming general elections.
From my conversations with the minority leader's assistant I gleaned that being an election year, legislative work in the House was proceeding at a snail's pace. Most Parliamentarians are warming up for the election season by fundraising and holding their first campaign rallies. As an arm of government however, Parliament has not been left out of the public debate surrounding the payment of judgment debts by the government- the Public Accounts Committee has opened hearings into several cases and most media coverage of the legislature focuses on these hearings
As a member of the Legislative affairs and Roads and Transportation sub-committees however Honorable Osei-Owusu shall be busy working on the Right to Information bill and the Marine Pollution bill. He'll also be working hard to deliver a number of developmental projects to his constituents. Project Finance for a Member of Parliament is a major challenge as MP's have access to small percentages of national development funds which are released. A vegetable cold storage project I initiated on his behalf last year can only get off the drawing board this year because money due him for the past two financial years has just been released.
My primary responsibilities during the internship shall now centre on financing and executing this project. Though its been a sudden change of plans, I'm looking forward to the challenge.
- Develop Project Finance and Grant writing skills and experience
- Build a network of Government Relations and public policy professionals based in Ghana or working in Ghana and other parts of the African continent.
- Map out a path to a career in politics. There is often no clear-cut career path in politics. A wide range of degrees and experience can precede a political career. This is especially true in Ghana where there are very few internships and volunteer opportunities in Parliamentary offices or campaign offices. Unlike in the United States where vacancies in congressional offices are open to campaign volunteers and interns, the Parliamentary service staffs the offices of Members of Parliament and remuneration and career prospects from such positions doesn't seem high.
- Gain insight into campaign strategies used on the Ghanaian political terrain
My internship experience this year has been similar to my experience last year. This is so especially because I’ve been working on the same major project for the past few months. Upon the instruction of my internship advisor, I initiated a project to construct a cold storage facility for vegetables last year. Needless to say that, given the project’s relatively small scale, progress has been slow and often frustrating. The major bottlenecks have been delays in the release of funds, insufficient funds relative to the estimated cost of the project, incompetent companies and challenges with the procurement process. The challenges I have faced in dealing with companies, despite my position as assistant to a Member of Parliament have opened my eyes to the weaknesses of Ghana’s governance structure. Members of Parliament, as the elected representatives of their people are expected to be the champions of development and de-facto fathers of the communities they represent, providing everything from allowances to pay the school fees of children to roads and hospitals for the constituency. Quixotically, MP’s are provided with very few resources with which to execute these development projects; 10% of this National fund, 5% of that fund, to be shared amongst all 230 MP’s. They are prevented from initiating amendments and bills which have financial implications , and their power is under constant threat from District Chief Executives appointed by the President to administer the same communities which MP’s represent. This means MP’s must ultimately by political entrepreneurs, wheeling and dealing to marshal funds for development projects and building political support at the grassroots, activities which detract from their legislative work. Unless they are appointed to some government position , the national power base of MP’s are very weak, a worrying situation in the Parliamentary democracy that Ghana is supposed to be.
A vibrant civil society
In spite of these challenges, I see a bright future for Ghana’s democracy. My position has given me the opportunity to interact with civil society groups and other organizations working to strengthen our democracy. GhanaDecides, and VOTO are two examples of such organizations. GhanaDecides is a project which aims at fostering a better informed electorate for free, fair and safe 2012 Elections using online social media tools. VOTO has developed mobile polling and opinion gathering technology. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with the leaders of these and other projects and their involvement in the governance space as " ordinary" non-politically motivated Ghanaians gives me much to smile about.
Ghana can walk, now we must learn to run!
The biggest political news out of Ghana is the death last Tuesday of our late former President Prof. John Evans Atta Mills. I can refer to him as our former President because his Vice President John Mahama was sworn in to complete his (Mills’) unexpired term 6 hours after President Mills died. Ghana has been praised by the international community for the smooth transition however there’s still work to be done. The new President has not yet named his Vice-President a situation which has led to much uncertainty and speculation from within his own party and throughout the country. The latest twist in this tale is that Parliament which under our constitution must confirm the President’s vice-presidential nomination is in a conundrum over what procedure it should follow to make this confirmation. Like the challenges which MP’s face in law-making, this dilemma is the result of a flawed constitution which has weakened the legislature and imposed a de-facto Executive Presidency on the country. Though the international community may hail us for our stability and relative peace, discerning Ghanaians know that to take our country to the next level, we need to restructure the foundations of our government and society. I hope that the lessons I’m learning today will help me to become a good political leader for Ghana in the near future.
After 9 eventful weeks I had finally completed my latest stint as Assistant to Hon. Joseph Osei-Owusu. With the death of a sitting president, run-ins with incompetent entrepreneurs, and corruption hearings in Parliament, I was given the opportunity to be front and center during what may go down as the most historic 3 months in Ghana's fourth republic so far. Not bad, seeing as the current government has been described variously as "gargantuan" and "unprecedented." I was in Ghana during perhaps the most "unprecedented" period of their rule and of the entire fourth republic.
As a student of politics, although this was an exciting time I was generally disappointed by my lack of one on one mentorship opportunities with my direct supervisor. As an Independent candidate vying to run on the opposition party's ticket, Honourable Osei-Owusu was compelled to spend most of his time on the campaign trail.
That he trusted me to manage his parliamentary affairs is a mark of the confidence he had in my abilities. I consider it a great honor that I was entrusted with this duty. However politics is as much about people as it is about plans and programs. Without men of integrity and moral courage, nothing ever gets done. Hon. Osei-Owusu is one of such men and every opportunity to learn from him personally is invaluable.
The lessons I learnt and my specific reflections are outlined below through discussions of the personal goals I set before the internship. Overall I must say that though I grew frustrated with politics by the end of my summer, this frustration has only strengthened my resolve to right what is wrong with the infamous "system," to ensure that it one day truly functions as "a government of the people, for the people and by the people"
1) Map out a path to a career in politics. There is often no clear-cut career path in politics. A wide range of degrees and experience can precede a political career. This is especially true in Ghana where there are very few internships and volunteer opportunities in Parliamentary offices or campaign offices. Unlike in the United States where vacancies in congressional offices are open to campaign volunteers and interns, the Parliamentary service staffs the offices of members of Parliament and remuneration and career prospects from such positions doesn’t seem high.
From my understanding of Ghana’s current political system, most mid to high level political employees take two different paths to power . Most Mid-level politicians work “in the trenches” of their party’s machinery, serving as youth organizers or on the propaganda team for a number of years. When they’ve built enough popularity with party delegates and grassroots members and courted the patronage of party bigwigs, they will then run for a national party office such as Director of Communications or National Youth Organizer . When in opposition these positions provide ambitious up and comers with nation-wide visibility and are often parlayed into lower level ministerial positions. When a party is in government however, the path is different. The two main political parties have mostly relied on very established technocrats or party-affiliated businessmen to man the most important ministerial positions. These technocrats are often also major bankrollers. My personal observations have shown that it is extremely time consuming to take the former root to political office.
2) Gain insight into campaign strategies used on the Ghanaian political terrain. I made very little progress on this front. I was unable to join Hon. Osei-Owusu on the campaign trail as I was assigned to ‘hold down the fort’ for him in Accra. In many ways the work I did preparing tenders and managing his infrastructure projects will contribute directly to his re-election. In Ghana, politicians are judged by their ability to deliver large, attention grabbing infrastructure projects. Of the political class in the country, opposition Parliamentarians are the least financially equipped to do this hence the importance and difficulty attached to my role.
Though I could not go on the campaign trail with Hon. Osei-Owusu, I gained some insight into the nature of campaign fundraising from him.
3) Develop Project Finance and Grant writing skills and experience. Due to the eventual release of government funding for our main infrastructure project, I did not have to apply for any grant money. I however had the opportunity to explore Ghana's Public Procurement regime in some detail. I was responsible for designing the initial stages of a procurement process, drafting and issuing a request for proposals and working with public policy experts to set specific technical requirements for the project and ensure they were adhered to by bidding companies. After the bidding period closed I reviewed all the bids and made recommendations to Hon. Osei-Owusu. Working with various public-policy experts and corporate officials highlighted the necessity of excellent communication skills in politics. I had to adjust technical requirements to incorporate the range of design and construction capabilities of bidding companies, a process which required regular communication and negotiation with companies. This section of the project can be as time consuming and inefficient as working with government bureaucrats, a fact lost on many political commentators and "civilians" alike. Most members of the electorate blame politicians solely for failures to initiate development projects. In truth, the average member of Parliament has very limited access to political resources and consequently to any real power. Parliamentarians cannot initiate bills. The most they can do is question ministers. There are little if any political goods which members of Parliament can use as leverage over the executive branch. As a matter of fact, the executive branch and Parliament have a rent-seeking patron-agent relationship. This could of course change if Ghanaians voted "skirt and blouse," favoring one party in the presidency and the other in Parliament.
4) Build a network of Government Relations and public policy professionals based in Ghana or working in Ghana and other parts of the African continent. Due to my internship last year, I had already built relationships with some policy experts in Ghana. I used my time this summer to solidify those relationships and to reach out to a few others who had burst onto the scene in the intervening period. I believe the relationships I built will prove invaluable as I look for a job this year.