Is the government bloated? Here’s how to tell

3 mins read

wraps up the apex executive at 31 Ministers & Secretaries.Why is it that many African countries are able to compose a ministerial team with less than three dozen people but Ghana always seem to need so many more? What's so different about Ghana?

I'm interested in the anthropological curiosity of needing to appoint more than one hundred ministers, many with mickey mouse portfolios. I think there is a harm you underestimate: “span of control”. Below are some thoughts I shared on Facebook a while back on April 1, 2017:

So yesterday, me and a few colleague entreprehustlers got together to see our how far.

Apparently, many Ghanaians actually take these controversies that explode every now and then more seriously than one might assume. I mean they actually care about this country!

We had met to talk business but eventually ended up spending half the time on public affairs.

Well, someone asked me pointedly whether there is any real yardstick to judge whether a government is bloated or not. Whether they were any benchmarks, for instance, to determine the appropriate size of a ministerial team.

I'm usually not fond of engaging with any subject that hasn't bubbled into my stream of consciousness. If I'm not curious about some specific element in something I feel bored by it.

But having been ambushed I had to share a perspective.

I responded that it isn't difficult to borrow principles of organisational design to address the question.

A ministerial team is at the apex of a particular organisation: the government bureaucracy. One rough and ready tool for assessing size is to measure for “top heaviness”.

Usually top-heavy organisations struggle to allocate resources more efficiently.

The Ghanaian government bureaucracy proper is made up of the civil service, which in turn superintends over the larger public service.

The job of a minister is primarily to direct the civil service to manage the public sector in order to deliver public goods and services.

It follows that a minister needs to manage a reasonable workforce to operate at the right scale and that ministers are largely redundant without an effectively sized team. There is no point having a minister if they lack the adequate manpower to achieve government objectives.

Thus to address the issue of whether the current government is too top heavy to execute some of its objectives we must first strike a ratio between the Ministerial team and the frontline government workers and compare with a few mature democracies and organisations.

Ghana has about 15,000 civil servants and about 500,000 public workers

That means that each of our Ministers has a core team, on average that is, of about 136 civil servants to deliver on a policy objective. On average there is a subsisting base of about 4,300 public sector workers that can be impacted from the top in our model.

In Britain on the other hand, there are about 80 ‘executive ministers' (the reason for this distinction is complicated and needs not detain us here) and roughly 430,000 civil servants. The average British minister is thus working with a team size of about 5,350 and, with a public service of nearly 5.9 million, the implied public sector base is about 74,000.

, which historically has small top political teams, has settled on about 32 ministers to manage nearly 1.7 million civil servants. However one must distinguish between the bureaucracy itself and others in the education and security services classified as civil servants by virtue of a historical quirk. The core bureaucrats in number about 400,000. Meaning a minister oversees about 13,000 professionals on average and the public sector base they superintend is about 170,000-person strong on average.

Closer to home home we have the case of , where each of the 73 Ministers man an average public sector base size of about 40,000.

Keep Ghana's 136 bureaucrats and 4,300 public workers per Minister in mind to retain perspective.

In the private sector, this kind of metric is fairly well established, and is known as the workforce – executive span of control. Benchmarking can be quite industry specific however. And span of control issues go far beyond optimal size considerations into reporting structures and hierarchy design, but invariably one comes to the issue of management efficiency on a more fundamental level. Many of the most successful companies in America, for instance, have a c-suite (top executive) size to workforce ratio of 5,000 or more.

So we come to the counter-intuituve conclusion that whilst the current Government of Ghana isn't bloated in respect of the bureaucracy as a whole, it is nevertheless very top-heavy, and may thus experience difficulties translating visions into practice.

But, unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to delve into all the facets of top-heaviness before dayjob (night version) beckoned. 😊

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