The bespectacled 55-year-old only became a substantive Executive Secretary following eight years (the duration of two presidential terms) of serving in acting capacity. At a point in that period, the rate of pollution of water bodies romped alarmingly that he was perplexed.
Now, in almost 90 minutes of conversation with Weekend Sun, Mr. Ampomah, wearing his trade mark lowly cut heavily grayed hair, warns that Ghana is sitting on a time bomb. The country is losing so much water to pollution.
Away from that, the affable, father of three also tells Weekend Sun that staying in an acting position for the greater part of a decade required a lot of tact. Even now, he still needs those special skills to ensure he functions effectively as a technocrat in a public system that is under threat from, sometimes, the over-exuberance of politicians.
I see you every time – very calm and cool. Who do you say you are?
I am Ben Ampomah…laughter!
I mean, who do you think you are – what kind of person do you think you are?
It’s difficult for me to tell who I am. But, people tell me exactly the way you described me.
So, you think you are what people say you are?
Well, that is people’s perception. But my view is that I should serve humbly.
Perhaps, this posture was the reason you had to act as Executive Secretary for so long?
I acted for almost nine years. I am still who I am. So, it’s okay.
So it means you have been at the helm of this organization for 10 good years?
No. Let me correct it now. From October 2006 to May 2014 I was acting.
So, next year you should be 10 years in this organization?
Next year October, God willing!
What kind of skill does it take to be in an acting position for eight years, dealing with two different governments? And what skill does it take to lead an organization like this?
You only have to be accommodating; that is one. And then, assume that you are a technical person and that you are doing your technical job. You understand? I’m not a political person; so, I just do my technical work and ensure that what is supposed to be done is done. Once I have that, I’m sure I’m okay. That’s the way I have been behaving and doing my work all the time. I just act and do my job as a technical person.
When you first walked in here as the acting Executive Secretary, what crossed your mind?
Nothing! Nothing because I’ve been here since the beginning of the Commission.
So you were from within?
Yes, I was from within. I was part of the core staff that started the Commission. I worked under two heads – the first acting Executive Secretary from 1999 to 2004. I was more like his deputy, especially from 2002 to 2004. Then, the next person came from mid-2004 thereabouts to October 2006. When he was not there I used to act. So, when it (appointment) came up it was just like a surprise, though, but it wasn’t something that became, all of a sudden, new. So, that is what it is. And when they were there a lot of things were being given to me to act on.
What kind of leadership have you had to bring to bear on the Commission?
Well, togetherness. In fact, it all has to do with working as a team. That is the way I operate. I allow people to take their own initiative – if the person has the initiative, you encourage the person to move ahead and do it. Then, in terms of being open, you listen to them. If the problems are unsolved you can solve them. I solve. The ones I cannot, well, too bad but even there I wouldn’t tell you I can’t solve it. I will find a way of giving the person an encouragement to move on. So, that’s the way I have been doing my job – very open and with team work.
What is your most memorable day or moment at work?
(Heavy sigh) That is difficult. That’s really difficult to tell.
Why? Are there so many to choose from? Which one is on top of the list?
Well, I have said that the first day nothing crossed my mind. But it was memorable on that first day I was called by whomever that ‘you have been asked to step in and act’. The second one had to do with when I had to go for an interview at the Public Services Commission for the confirmation thing; quite memorable for very good reasons.
On that day in May 2014 when you were confirmed, what were the first words you spoke?
I just said ‘thank God for this long journey coming to an end’. I said it to the person who called to give me the news.
So, you really considered it a journey?
Of course, if you have been there for eight years, it’s a journey. It’s even more than a journey.
While in the acting position were there moments you feared you could be asked to leave any day?
Oh yes. Genuinely, there were times you are not sure of yourself because you are acting. You know you are doing your job but you are acting.
Even now, tomorrow somebody can say you are no longer here for one or two reasons.
But comparatively this is a more secured situation?
I agree. But it came to a time it didn’t really matter whether it (confirmation) would come on or not.
But I suppose that as substantive Executive Secretary you act more assuredly than you were doing before?
Yes. In fact, it is so for everybody that once you are acting you don’t have that kind of firmness to take very concrete decisions. As for that one, it goes for everybody, including me.
I am sure you had a personal vision in terms of how far you wanted to take the Commission. What was that vision?
Yes. Basically, I look at it with respect to the vision of the Commission and then the mission. Sometimes, it is depressing if you see that our water bodies are not as you wish it to be. Sometimes, it’s a bit demoralizing. But you still have to strive. So I see two things. First is the mission or the mandate of the Commission, i.e. management and regulation of the resource. The second is that the institution and the people within it, at the end of the day, have to be better off than they were at the beginning. So, those are the two things that I look at. So, you have to draw a balance between the welfare of the people you work with, the institution that you are building and then the mandate of the Commission.
What has been the most challenging decision you have had to take so far?
The toughest decisions – it’s not only one or two. It is because you are dealing with human beings. You understand? Sometimes, demands come that you have to look at them and weigh whether you have to go strictly by the rules or…
Bend the rules?
Not really bend but try to compromise and see how best you can really resolve the matter. Sometimes, yes, it’s all about rules but sometimes, it’s not the strict application of the rules that would solve the problem. So, you have to weigh and see how you can actually get it through.
That means you have to be very tactical?
You have to! You have to!!
What is your deepest regret?
Do I have any regrets? So far as I am concerned, for now I don’t really have. But as for regrets we are all human and there are some things that we wouldn’t have done.
You don’t remember any?
For instance, mind you I am not a science student neither am I an engineer. I didn’t do engineering. I didn’t do the strict science but I did economics. So, I ask myself: If I had done science would I be here? So then, I pass and I say no regrets because maybe the science wouldn’t have brought you where you are. So, I will look at it that way and I will say no regrets so far. I also look at it in terms of my colleagues and ask how many of them have had the opportunity to be where I am.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear relates to the quality of our waters – I hope it doesn’t get worse.
If it gets worse, what will happen?
Water is life. That’s what it is.
Let’s stay on the water issue. How secure are we, I mean Ghana, in terms of water resources?
Well, there are two things that you can look at. You can look at it in terms of the quantity and also the quality. In terms of the overall, absolute terms, the quantity is not a problem. It becomes an issue if I look at it in terms of distribution both in terms of time and space. Time is seasonality of it and then the space is where the water is. And obviously, if you look around, you will realise that in the Northern regions, especially during the dry season there is little water and then the wet season there is so much water. If you go to the Western Region where we have lots of water, the quantity is never an issue. I am talking about the raw water; not in terms of potable water for drinking purposes because water has so many uses, anyway. The issue, which is coming up now, has to do with the quality, especially if you look at the south-western parts of the country where the quality is deteriorating.
Which part of the country are you referring to as south-western?
The area cutting across the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central and Western regions. You can even include some sections of Eastern Region. That’s the area we are talking about.
What is the peculiar issue?
It’s a known fact that mining, especially illegal mining, has now taken up the lead role in terms of the cause of pollution in the country. Although up to 2010 it was a problem, it wasn’t really something that one needed to panic but now it’s quite worrying.
Culled from the Weekend Sun