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Opinions Sun, 6 Nov 2011

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The Tragedies of African Democracies - XV

The Tragedies of African democracies: why the best doesn’t mean good

Unemployment and National Data: NDC and NPP culpable? Once in government and under pressure to show results for promised jobs, an overzealous deputy minister of information, who might have slept on the wrong side of his bed and woke up hallucinating, told Ghanaians that his government had created 1.6 million jobs in 14 months. He must have overhead on the radio how Obama’s stimulus package in the United States had created and saved 1.6 million jobs. Therefore, on his ego trip, throwing out all graciousness and respect for principles and data, he decided to hoodwink the innocent Ghanaian into believing that his government was the best thing to have happened to Ghana with regard to job creation.

“Being an unemployed youth himself since leaving school, it would have made a lot of sense for him to take up one of such jobs to gain some experience,” an observer pointed out.

It is increasingly worrying how politicians are beginning to parade national statistics with utter disregard for veracity, making it very difficult for planners, social scientists, statisticians, and the general public to have confidence in what is churned out from certain circles as propagandist, misleading, and very misinforming (if you like, disinformation). Not too long ago, it was the accuracy of Ghana’s GDP that engendered a protracted debate in public circles with some interesting twists to it.

In a public pronouncement, the then President of the Republic, John Agyekum Kufour, asserted that Ghana’s GDP had inched upwards from US$400 to US$600. Whether this was by design to throw dust into the eyes of the good people of Ghana to score a political goal, cheap or otherwise, it is difficult to decipher. Today the statistical services department of Ghana has announced her middle-income status, a status that is being contested by institutions that think otherwise. Some even refer to it as voodoo economics. Everything including national data has to also suffer the fate of change of government, disregard for scientific methods, and political twist.

What could have provided the baseline information - a reliable data - for even the illiterates in the street to understand which government in the history of Ghana has creatively put more young people into jobs or has created the enabling environment for young people to create their own jobs, is non-existent. Figures are being continuously manipulated to serve the purpose of each ruling government by its appointees and officials.

Not long ago, the NPP government accused the NDC I government of doctoring figures to the World Bank in order to attract more loans, an accusation the latter strongly denied. When the NPP had eight years to stop the doctoring of data by creating a national identification data base for the country, it rather chose to misappropriate or embezzle the very resource meant for stopping the act it once accused its opponent of. The NPP diverted a €30 million French government grant for the implementation of the National Identification project – a project with the potential to serve as a foundation for generating data on the Ghanaian in all facets of life.

We have failed as a people to appreciate the importance of data, the very foundation for any meaningful planning and development. We, therefore, continue to build our society on very ad hoc measures and the instinct and intuition of our so-called leaders. Although it has not helped solve any problem, we have failed to appreciate our failures as a result of the failure to pay attention to the fundamentals of our development. In the words of the Nigerian noble laureate, “genuine development could not be founded on lies and falsifications.” “Truth,” he said, was crucial in the entire development equation and cautioned that Africa’s future cannot be sustained on lies.

The Ministry of (Un) employment used to have labor cards in the past. These are cards meant for individuals who are actively seeking job, and served as a basis for computing some data for those unemployed. Today, however, with improvements in technologies which would have even made these computations easier, the Ministry of (Un) Employment does not even have an idea what the unemployment situation is according to its ministers. What is the duty of this state institution then?

With apologies for the necessary digression, I return to the issue of unemployment with another disgusting practice that has gained currency. When Eugenia went to hand-deliver her job application at one of the leading banks on the High Street of Accra, Ghana’s Wall Street, little did she know that university of Ghana was not the end of the story that continues to haunt her. She met a young human resources officer who should be about ten years her senior. After a brief conversation and exchange of pleasantries, she dropped her application package and in return left with the young man’s business card. On the third day the young banker called to inquire if she could hang out with him. Eugenia knew exactly what the young human resources officer was up to. There has been one thing, and only one thing, that every man wanted from her. She has been a victim of male sexual harassment since her high school days. She had engaged in an illicit sexual relationship with one of her teachers in her high school for fear that he might fail her in the terminal examinations. She, therefore, gave in easily. It lasted as long as she was a student at the all girls’ School in Cape Coast. She knew it was wrong, but she did not have the guts to say no. She saw her educational progress hinging on it, not because she wasn’t brilliant but because some teachers would exact punishments where it hurt most – they will ensure you fail your exams.

She had a boyfriend before entering university, but just like in her high school, “the phenomenon was worse on the university campuses,” she said. You turn down an offer of the sort from a lecturer at your own risk. Therefore, by the time she was leaving the University of Ghana, she must have dated 3 different lecturers, all in secret.

This action of the young man would come under the quid pro quo form of sexual harassment – if you don’t go out with me, you won’t get the job you are looking for, or I will help you get the job you are looking for if you go out with me. At the time of compiling these essays, two important incidents caught my attention. In the first one, the Director-General of the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Ampem Darko, who was being accused by his erstwhile subordinate human resource manager, Kwadwo Kusi Boachie, as a man who “presided over evil acts,” compelled the latter to resign as he could not stand the situation. Boachie claimed his boss had persistently pressured him “to twist the rules to allow people who did not qualify to be employed,” an act he claimed to have resisted. Fascinatingly, more accusations were to come from the board chairman of the state institution in the days ahead, to corroborate the accusations of the human resource manager.

In the second instance, a female job-seeker with the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) accused the program coordinator of seeking sexual favors before he could recruit her, an act which she obliged to since she was desperately in search of a job. These anecdotes were on the heels of an accusation by the Member of Parliament for Asokwa in the Ashanti Region, Maxwell Kofi Jumah, known for his bluntness, who accused his opponent of offering sexual favors to people in influential positions within his own political party for political favors including an appointment as Mayor of the Kumasi Metropolis.

These cases provide some vital lessons to politicians, the clergy, the institutions mandated to stamp out these nefarious activities from the society, and the general public.

It would be worthwhile for every Ghanaian to take a moment to reflect on the unemployment situation in the country. A few questions will be relevant in this direction. How many factories have we been able to set up in the last two decades? How many institutions and businesses have we been able to establish over the last twenty years or so? How does our efforts at opening factories, industries, and businesses compare with our population growth? Have we been able to identify new areas of investment with multiplying effects, which will reflect in new job openings? Evidently, one would acknowledge that we have not been up to the task as a nation. As a result of our inability to create jobs and generate wealth, we are going round in a circle trying to ascribe all kinds of reasons to the systemic failures that now threaten our very survival. The high crime rates across the country, the political manipulations using job promises, attempts by young able-bodied men and women to risk their lives crossing the vast deserts to try their luck abroad are but a few of the system’s failures. I even heard the suggestion by a deputy information minister that the age for retirement should be reduced from 60 to 55 years, without considering what implications that has for social security and other welfare services in the country. We must be a confused country which listen to all these without raising questions. Indeed, I had heard about unemployment benefits long before my arrival in England. I used to listen to the songs of the legendary UB40 reggae band, a group I was introduced to by one of my friends. Their hits like “Red Red Wine” and “I Got You Babe” bring back some fond memories of high school and how a friend, whose parents lived in England, told us about how simple life was in England, and that even the unemployed received money from the government for not working! With my childhood eyes, I conjectured what a paradise that would be: receiving money from the government for not working; how cool? We have all passed judgment on programs and issues we, in one way or the other, didn’t have a full grasp of, and the unemployment benefit in the Western hemisphere is definitely one of such issues. The economic man, in his very simplistic approach - conscious of the capitalist and socialist divides - sees it in the light of these models. To him, capitalism at its maturation tends to have a socialist outlook at various societal levels. To him, Britain is a welfare state that spends millions of pounds, if not billions, on a wide range of welfare services that have socialist outlooks, but turn around to warn poor developing countries from spending on just a semblance of those programs for their citizens.

My colleagues and I were in agreement it is a program that encouraged slothfulness. “Look at the bastards, they won’t get off their ass and go find some job to do. For these people if they were born in some third world country where there are no dole outs, they would toast to death,” my housemate would say upon seeing the unemployed heading for their unemployment benefits.

Having lived in Britain and the United States, I have come to appreciate the relevance of these social interventions overtime and, will not, with the benefit of hindsight, make some of those ignorant and derogatory statements any longer. It is obvious it does serve its purpose. It is definitely a social safety net to cushion the unemployed from the vagaries of economic insecurity. It is a security for the rich and those in employment against the threat of crime from the unemployed.

One can imagine the threat the life of the unemployed poses to the employed and the finically stable in some of these countries if these safety nets were not there to cushion the former in economic hard times. If unemployment benefit protects the unemployed and the out of work from the vagaries of the economic weather, then it as well serves as a bulwark to protect the rich and the employed, a part from its humanitarian utility.

These systems are built on national identification, tax, and social security systems. It is how a government is able to determine at anytime who is in work and who is out of work. It is how the political performance of the labor party in Britain and the Democratic Party in the US can be benchmarked in terms of job creation. It is not by how loud the office holders try to trumpet their own achievements on the rooftops.

A semblance of the welfare dole-out, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), introduced in Ghana to support extremely poor households with a cash sum of between the equivalent of US$5 to US$8 dollars to enhance their incomes, is an example of how readily available data could have provided the necessary baseline information for determining who earns what and who doesn’t earn what, for the purposes of assessment and disbursement of the funds in a more equitable manner. The point is that with social security and other forms of tax returns, it is very easy to determine the earnings of each citizen in the developed countries for the purposes of similar disbursements.

But here again, these disbursements are at the whims and caprices of the leaders who, by intuition and some ad hoc data, rather than reliance on the time-tested values of reliable data, can determine which community benefits and which does not. So while obviously, Kofi Simpson in Cape Coast, by his financial circumstances, deserves to benefit from this dole out, he is effectively excluded because he comes from a community, which by the erratic selection criteria set by the leader, is not deprived. Amina in Nankpaduri whose earning far outweighs Kofi’s earnings becomes a beneficiary because he comes from a deprived community.

From the foregoing anecdotes, it could be summed up that there are bad actors in every social situation and the process of recruitment is not invulnerable. It is only by adopting or revising societal edicts in tandem with social conditions, and applying them strictly without respect for persons that society is able to thwart the egotistic tendencies of man from abusing societal processes to his own advantage. Ghanaians will, therefore, continue to run in circles until such a time that they realize that it is the regulations within society that determine how far a country can develop and not the lack of them. If the most qualified are employed into the right positions, they are more likely to engineer social reforms that will be to the benefit of society than the unqualified whose continuous tenure is dependent on manipulations. As political leadership has failed to engineer social reforms that will lead to job creation, the average Ghanaian is advised to raise to question where the country is being shepherd to. There is the need to call for laws that safeguard the recruitment processes to ensure that individuals with the right qualifications and the right attitudes are recruited into the scarce available positions. That can only be the beginning of a process that will inject sanity into the system toward a takeoff for wider social reforms.

Keep tuned in…

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, immigration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

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