How I secured my internship with Ghana's Parliament

Between June and August 2011 and 2012 I interned as an Assistant to a Member of Parliament for Bekwai, Joseph Osei-Owusu . In a series of blogposts, I will examine the challenges facing Ghana’s Parliament from the lens of my personal experiences.

You probably can’t wait for the juicy stories of political intrigue from my time as an MP’s Assistant. However I think the short story of how I secured my internships in the first place could shed some interesting light on the challenge of attracting the best Ghanaians into public service.

I first tried to apply for an internship with Parliament through official channels. A perhaps naïve 19 year old me read a blurb on Parliament’s website which mentioned the possibility of internships and decided to apply. I mailed a letter to Ghana from the University of Virginia where I was studying. After two weeks without an acknowledgement or response, I decided to call Parliament’s public relations department.

The phone call went something like this:

ME: Hello, is this the Parliament of Ghana, Public Relations Department?

Parliamentary Staff: Yes.

ME: I wrote to apply for an internship in Parliament two weeks ago but I haven’t received a response.

Parliamentary Staff: Internship? We don’t do anything like that here

ME: But your website says …

Parliamentary Staff: Please, we don’t have anything like that.

With that door closed, I decided to apply to the Ghana Embassy in DC, but I also complained to my mum about Parliament’s. She resorted to the normal Ghanaian way of doing these things: connections. To cut a long story short, a family friend who is a judge called up an MP friend of his and convinced him that he should give a young man from UVa a chance.

If you’re Ghanaian you’re very familiar with this system of connections. If you want anything in Ghana done quickly, (read : in the normal time within which it should get done) and without hassle, you need either money or connections or both.

Ghanaians who want to be attached to an MP for their National Service go through a similar process. One uses “connections” to get the MP’s attention. He or she uses whatever leverage they may have to convince the National Service Secretariat to post you to his/ her office.

The effects of this archaic recruitment system are clear. Parliamentarians recognise the need for Research Assistants. However,they have complained that the lack of clear job descriptions and proper training programs make their assistants ineffective. The Member of Parliament I worked with always followed his introduction of me as his Research Assistant with the caveat, “ He is not like those other Research Assistants.”

The lack of well-structured recruitment and training programs for Parliamentary Research Assistants is representative of entry-level recruitment practices throughout the civil service. In many government departments entry-level positions are seen as “jobs for the boys,” and are quickly filled with political party foot soldiers.

If you’ve been looking for the source of our governmental inefficiency, look no further. Institutions are only as good as their people and with the current nature of entry level jobs in politics and the public sector we have very little chance of attracting our nation’s best and brightest to these crucial fields. The UK’s Civil Service Fast Stream Scheme could serve as a useful example to emulate.

  • The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Odekro or of the Office of Joseph Osei-Owusu ( MP, Bewkai).