Before our encounter, I could only sense that a person with such a mammoth socio-political responsibility will have but little time to entertain my presence. “You are welcome, how may I help you?” said the tall dark smiling figure with his hand stretched out for a hand shake.
There, the impression was that it must be a delight to work with such a thoughtful, enthusiastic and motivated personality; traits which he did not fail to uphold, but rather reinforced during my half hour long interaction with him.
Sylvester A. Mensah is the Chief Executive of Ghana’s National Health Insurance Authority with oversight responsibility over the Mutual Health Insurance Schemes nationwide, a position he has occupied for almost two years.
The son of the late Mr Lovelace P. C. Mensah – a career diplomat and Mrs Christiana P. E. Mensah, Sylvester was born into a family of 9. Among his resourceful siblings is Gayheart E. Mensah, formerly of Ghanaian Times Corporation, Graphic Communications Group, Barclays Bank – Ghana Limited, Unilever Ghana Limited and now Corporate Affairs Manager of Tullow Oil Ghana.
Mr. Sylvester Mensah believes life becomes fulfilling when one avails himself to the service of society by taking on challenging social, economic and political ventures, and delivering without losing focus on followership, companionship and family. His goal has been to leave a pleasantly indelible mark wherever he found himself.
His early ambition to become a medical doctor led him to read science at the GCE ‘O’level at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Boys Secondary School in Accra, before a change of heart led him into business studies at the GCE ‘A’ level at the Labone Secondary School in Accra.
After obtaining a Diploma in Political Economy at the Cottbus Political College in Germany, he returned to Ghana to successfully complete a Diploma in Public Administration and a BSc Degree in Administration at the University of Ghana Business School. He then served as a Member of Parliament for his local constituency before proceeding to the United Kingdom where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (Finance) from the University of Leicester. Mr. Mensah has also pursued a number of short certificate courses at the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Bank Institute in the USA.
Sylvester A. Mensah has made contributions to academia, lecturing at the Institute of Professional Studies and the Graduate School of the Central University, Ghana. He admits that it still gives him joy when former students call to express gratitude for his contribution into their lives, as well as seek professional advice and guidance for their occupations.
In banking, Mr Mensah found himself heading Public Sector Banking at the Intercontinental Bank – Ghana Limited. Prior to that, he was a pioneering member and played a key role in the National Mobilisation Programme, where he began as District Liaison Officer and rose to the Regional Director in the capital region – Accra. Sylvester’s active political career came to lime light when he became the first Regional Youth Organiser for the Greater Accra Region of his political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in 1992.
For over three terms, stretching seven years, he was the Greater Accra Regional Secretary for the NDC political party, until he resigned his position in September 2001 to pursue post graduate studies. Mr. Mensah’s political life assumed greater heights when he was voted Member of Parliament for the Dede-Kotopon Constituency from 1996 to 2001. Though he hasn’t been on the political front-line for a while as he leads the NHIA as a technocrat, he leaves the door open for future active and front-line political engagements.
Mr Mensah who predictably worked indefatigably for his Constituency, trusts that his contribution to the unity of the people he represented as well as the level of development during his time is unprecedented; “I’m sure that the Constituency today will count me as one of the successful MPs of the constituency.”
In all his political strive he hasn’t lost faith in his Maker. He worships at the Word Miracle Church International and functions as a Member of the Board of Trustees of this international church.
Under his watch, the National Health Insurance Scheme has seen massive improvement in its operations, leading to a relatively more efficient management and cordial relationship with its subscribers and many stakeholders, warranting international recognition. Personally, he has been credited for his innovation, creativity and leadership while the scheme has been adjudged one of the leading on the African continent and one of the most viable and promising social health service interventions within the South-South Region of the world at large.
“As the CEO of the NHIA, I believe together with my colleagues we have brought life into the health system of Ghana”, he said. “I consider this as a modest achievement which I don’t ascribe to myself but to the team with which I’ve been able to work to achieve this.”
The national health insurance is the most important social protection policy that any country can ever have, he eulogised. “Any social intervention policy that embraces more than 50 per cent of the population is significantly huge.” Ghana’s NHIS is estimated to cover over 65 per cent of the populace.
Sly as he is affectionately called, wants more than 90 per cent of the population to be beneficiaries of the NHIS, ten years from now, with improved quality care and relatively high subscriber satisfaction. “The one-time premium for subscribers of the NHIS is feasible, and the implementation plan is almost ready” he revealed.
“What keeps me going is the ability to develop new ideas, implement them and achieve the expected outcome. What really motivates me is the fear of failure; it drives me to perform because I never want to be associated with failure. What keeps me alive and maintains my sanity is my ability to make myself useful to others.”
A believer in destiny, who shares in the saying that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28). He maintains that “the whole concept of life is foundered on principled and informed competition and struggle that never ends” and enrols largely in the concept of destiny as defined by the choices and decisions that one makes, and adds that he also believes in divine influence in achieving a perceived future.
“I’ve not had major regrets in my life except that changes in direction and opinion have been inevitable as this comes with insight and maturity. When you are a child you behave like a child, as you grow insight, experience and incremental maturity informs your actions and utterances.”
Sylvester Mensah is poised to leave a legacy at the National Health Insurance Authority as he did for his former constituency. Reminiscent of the President’s dream big proclamation in his address to Parliament, he believes Ghana would achieve greater heights than it currently finds itself.
“We have always had what we bargain for as a people”, he said, explaining that the level of development of any country is a reflection of their collective input informed by the times and the manners, and available talents and capacities which drive policy options and decisions. We need to continue investing greater effort, time and thinking to all our endeavours to maintain the trust reposed on us.
Besides watching football, Mr Mensah is also a country and gospel music lover. He might make visits to his kitchen in all likelihood to prepare Banku and Okra Stew, his favourite.