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24 July 2014

Interview: Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority - Ghana(NHIA) Sylvester Mensah shares thoughts with the world.

Health financing expert and Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Sylvester A. Mensah, says the “future is bright” for the younger generation of the country. According to him, “this is truly an exciting time to be growing up in Ghana.”

Mr Mensah, who was responding to questions in an interview with California-based International journalist Ambrose Ehirim on his best-selling memoirs, “In the Shadows of Politics – Reflections from my Mirror”, said the “pedigree of our country and its institutions among the nations of Africa and the world at large is respectable and therefore, worthy of building upon.”

We bring to our readers excerpts of the interview.
Question 1: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Answer: You may want to take a thorough journey into my book, “In the Shadows of Politics”, and the piece “about the author” on page 153 and at the back of the book. You may also glean more about me and my formative years and family life in various chapters of the book, especially chapters 3, 4 and 5. This, l believe, provides better insights than any further attempt l make to talk about myself now.
Question 2 : You have written a book. What inspired that?

Answer: As someone who loves words and the inherent power of words to communicate ideas, I have always cherished the hope of writing a book to share my innermost thoughts with the world. But as my schedule got busier it seemed for years that I might never get round to doing that, until the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama, published his first book, “My First Coup d'etat”, in 2012. Then I thought, if the President, who is exponentially busier than I am, could make time to write a book then I could do the same. That was when I began writing my book and had it published within six months of starting.

Question 3: When did you begin to realise "In the Shadows of Politics: Reflections from My Mirror" must be written?

Answer: The idea of writing a book had always engaged my thoughts based on reflections and the desire to share my experiences. The motivation was, however, triggered after reading the book of a gentleman l consider the busiest in Ghana, the President, John Dramani Mahama. It felt natural to begin scripting my experiences.
Question 4 : The book is very political. What compelled you to join politics when you could have done something different?

Answer: I decided that my maiden book should be one that told my story as truthfully as possible, and since my life after leaving school has centred on politics in the main, I had to tell it as it is. As to the choice of politics as a career, I did not choose it really; it chose me. You will find the circumstances leading up to that clearly explained in the opening chapters of my book.

Question 5 : Your father was a diplomat and all your siblings happened to have been born in different countries. As a child being shuttled from country to country, what would you say you learned growing up from those different environments?

Answer: Not a lot beyond listening to my parents, doing as I was told and playing with my brothers and the few friends that came my way through school. I was quite little for much of that period. The bulk of what I remembered therefore was what I have narrated in my book.

Question 6: You talked about your father's involvement in the rescue of Patrice Lumumba from his captors, which did fail. What had happened after and what other stories did you learn on your own which your father did not tell you about?

Answer: That whole saga about the arrest and incarceration of Lumumba was a plot by his political enemies to eliminate him as a force for shaping the destiny of the fledgling Democratic Republic of Congo. Sadly, they carried this through. After the Ghanaian attempt to rescue him [which was spearheaded by my dad] fell through, a group of local activists loyal to Lumumba also attempted to free him by smuggling him to another city, Stanleyville. Unfortunately, that was not successful either.

Fearing that their nefarious plot could fail, Lumumba's enemies moved him into the Katanga province in the Congo in January 1961 and shot him with two of his ministers. News of his death came out three weeks after the event. According to the conclusion of a committee set up to enquire into his death, the shooting was conducted under the supervision of President Moise Tsombe, representatives of his government from the Katanga province and Belgian military officers.

My dad said very little about what he did. In that regard he was very ‘old school’, believing that information must be given only to the deserving. As I explain in the first chapter of my book, I later discovered how closely he worked for Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the Republic of Ghana, on his emancipation project for Africa.

“My dad made himself available to [Dr Kwame Nkrumah] unreservedly, and what seems clear is that the great man invited my dad’s thoughts and opinions across a range of subjects during the time they spent together. Their encounters, which took different forms, occurred at different times and often in different locations. Sometimes they met in the President’s office or somewhere else chosen by the President. Sometimes it was over a meal or a drink and other times in a car driving back to the President’s home. Occasionally, it was a walk in a secluded part of the President’s office gardens; at other times, a stroll at the beach or a favourite retreat. Their exchanges were focused and purposeful, oftentimes resulting in my dad running errands which took him to some far-flung parts of the country or the continent for a specially targeted outcome.”

Question 7: Growing up, you had always wanted to follow in the footsteps of your accomplished kinsfolk-- Dr Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, Peter Ala Adjetey, etc. Do you see yourself in that category now?

Answer: No, not really; but it is very much work in progress.

Question 8: You said "My four years in Parliament were some of the most eventful and fruitful years of my life." How, and what made you say that?

Answer: I saw my time in Parliament as an opportunity to learn how the government really works. I was young and filled with deep respect for the institution of Parliament, so I immersed myself in the role of Member of Parliament– learning parliamentary ways and means, participating fully in all debates, taking up opportunities to serve on oversight committees and eagerly seeking to utilise whatever I learnt for the benefit of my constituents.

Question 9: Is Ghana's Fourth Republic working as had been projected?

Answer: By and large, the answer to this question is, yes! Democracy is challenging and expensive. This is true for all human societies that attempt to adopt it as their method of governance. To the extent that Ghanaians are determined to make the most of the opportunity to administer our affairs by means of plural representation and principled dialogue, despite the challenges it brings to social cohesion and our economy, we can say that Ghana’s 4th republic is working as well as could be expected.

Question 10 : What are the things not done and in what areas are these things required to effect change?

Answer: If by this you mean ‘how our constitutional governance is organised’ as a whole, then my answer would be that our democratic governance systems have in-built mechanisms that allow the body politic to chart its own direction based on its needs and expectations.

But if you mean ‘how programmes of the government’ are carried out for national development, then I would say that there is quite a gulf between where we are now and where we would wish to be. The strategic tension between what is and what ought to be is positive and progressive, given that there is commitment to drive to a desired destination.

In all such circumstances, the inherent challenges of inadequate funding, priority setting, programme efficiency, transparency, accountability, programme leadership, among others come into sharp focus.


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