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Opinions Sun, 18 Sep 2011

Ghana’s Poor Reap None of The New Riches:

From Poverty to Middle Income Status A Boulevard of Broken

Promises

Africa's long suffering people are

all too frequently caught in the crossfire of rampaging wars, millions

afflicted with diseases, preyed upon by greedy despots and prevented by corrupt

leaders and bureaucracies in a kleptocracy from obtaining basic schooling,

medical attention, and any semblance of economic opportunities.

A

look at the socio-political and economic environment in Ghana today reveals a

horrifying picture. There is massive corruption, staggering poverty,

unemployment, poor education, deteriorating infrastructure, and general degree

of hopelessness among the youth who feel very disappointed and let down by

their political leaders. According to the 2007 World Bank Human Development

Index, almost half of the national population live below the poverty line

surviving on less than a dollar per day. And as many as over 75% live on less

than $2.oo a day. The economic conditions felt by the ordinary Ghanaian are

poorer than ever.

However, Ghanaians are resilient. They have learned to survive. They look after

one another, too, and altruism flourishes amid surprising circumstances of

adversity. What does political independence mean to ordinary Ghanaians?

Independence was supposed to make life better but what do we see around us?

Half a century of independence has brought nothing in terms of real development

in the country.

In

many parts of the country, hundreds of kilometers of colonial roads have

disappeared, schools and clinics are in dilapidated state and social

infrastructure have been allowed to collapse. In 54 years not even a single

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kilometer of railway line has been constructed and the one the colonial rulers

left have been allowed to deteriorate and collapsed. Something is definitely

wrong and needs to be put right now.

The

country is in deep crisis and the biggest problems at hand now are corruption,

poverty, and unemployment. Several decades ago, may be you could live with an

economic growth rate of 3.5% per annum, meanwhile the labour force in the

country is growing at 5% per annum and creating unprecedented labour tensions

and the result is a huge unemployment problem among the youth. More than half

of the jobless rate in Ghana today is accounted for by people in their 20's and

30's. This is very alarming. Figures are hard to get by but it is abundantly

clear that about six out of ten University graduates this year are without jobs

not to count Secondary school and Technical School graduates.

There

is no system in place to absorb new graduates into the workforce as new

graduates are left on their own to fend for themselves. I was moved to tears

the other day as I listened to a forty something year old University graduate

giving a testimony at church for landing his first job. He was so happy and

thankful to God for giving him his first job. Obviously I was happy for him too

because he counts himself so lucky to have a job while many of his colleagues

were still searching. But at 40? In many places, at 40 you are already a senior

manager not starting your first job and there is no cause for celebration. Just

how far a young Ghanaian graduate would go to get a job? The answer is from

anywhere to everywhere. That explains the sad story of some Ghanaian stoways.

They assumed rightly or wrongly they can find jobs abroad if they can't get one

at home. And do you blame them? The need to create new opportunities is more

crucial than ever. The dilemma facing us now is not only that more than 200,000

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people join the job market every year, but that many of them are well educated

and naturally have higher expectations. Lack of job after the first degree

force some people back to school hoping that if they get a Masters degree

things would be better but they come out to meet even a tougher job market. How

can we take care of our youth as a nation if we don't care whether they are

getting the right experience at the right time? The fear of the unknown has

kept many Ghanaian graduates from foreign universities staying abroad. They are

scared they may not get a job if they come home. The jobless rate rose as

"positive change" and “better Ghana” failed to create jobs for new graduates

entering the job market but helped those in government to develop "pot

bellies". Since there is an absence of a viable private sector in Ghana,

the onus of creating jobs fall squarely on the shoulders of the government, and

government needs to create about 400,000 jobs annually if the unemployment rate

is to reduce. The government must take the lead in economic development and not

leave it to a non existent private sector.

I have written on this one before. The issue of corruption in government needs

to be tackled head on. Just paying lip service to the slogans of “probity and

accountability” and "zero

tolerance" fools no one. Many Ghanaians are of the believe that the

perception of corruption in government, and corruption that comes to the open

are just a tip of the ice berg.

Why hasn’t the government investigated and punish all the corruption in the

previous administration? Unless we tackle governance and accountability we are

not addressing the real issues, we are not tackling the bread and butter

issues. To tackle corruption adequately, I recommend the setting up of a

government accountability project, a private watch dog group to ensure

accountability on the part of the government. The current accountability office

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in the presidency is a mere window dressing designed to hide and protect

corrupt officials and their deeds. The Economic and Organized Crime Office and

CHRAJ, however well intentioned they may be, have been rendered powerless and

useless entities.

That is why a private watch dog group is preferred. The current maintenance of

law and order and prevention of corruption is systematically flawed. There is

also a need to install Inspector Generals in every ministry reporting to a

Public Integrity Commissioner (PIC)( a post created by Parliament) who will

have the power to refer corrupt officials for prosecution. The installation of

Inspector Generals, and the creation of a Public Integrity Commissioner are

important steps to fight corruption and cronyism which in turn will help

strengthen democratic institutions.

But before that we need to strengthen Parliament to make it perform its duty of

checking executive power and also controlling the national purse more

effectively. Our constitution is so flawed. It has concentrated all powers in

the hands of the executive branch of government seriously constraining the work

of Parliament. Our President under the 1992 constitution is just too powerful. He

has the power to hire and fire everyone in Ghana, and also to order or not to

order a probe into everything. If he doesn't do it nobody can do it. Parliament

must and can have the power to probe executive acts. And the judiciary must not

only be seen to be independent but must act so.

Again, government needs to downsize. The current size of the government is too

big and costly, in fact over bloated. Japan runs the World's second largest

economy with just 17 ministers. How come a country like Ghana has over 50

ministers and deputy ministers not counting the nephews and nieces who double

as special assistants, aides and spokespersons. What for? We need fiscal

discipline. The people are overburdened with taxes while government displays a

great deal of fiscal indiscipline. The government needs to create the right

business atmosphere for industries and businesses to thrive so that they can

compliment government efforts at creating jobs. Elsewhere taxes are cut to spur

growth, but in Ghana, an economic team that lacks fresh ideas always look up to

increased taxation as a way of generating revenue. Government needs to simplify

taxes, lower tariffs on imports, and clear away red tape to encourage

entrepreneurial skills. Too much taxes stifle growth. You don't need to be a

prize winning Nobel economist to know this.

The

priority should be to do everything possible to wage a battle against poverty,

raise living standards, and encourage businesses to thrive. Some 10 million

Ghanaians live on less than one dollar a day, this is unacceptable and a shame.

Ghana's poor are less inclined to vote than the middle class because they have

kind of resigned themselves to fate, that no politician nor political party can

make a difference in their lives, thus virtually guaranteeing that their discontent

would not prevail on the election day. Elections 2000 and 2008 were the turning

points and just as there was a yearning for change in 2000 and 2008 that drove

the people to the polls, I can sense the same yearning for a change now and

that will show in Election 2012. The Ghanaian electorate is growing impatient

with the incompetence and greed of our political leaders.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah.

Tokyo, Japan.

The author is a senior social and

political analyst and policy strategist who lives, writes, and plays in Tokyo,

Japan. Your views and comments are welcomed; do4luv27@yahoo.com

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben