Last week the Minister of Economic Planning and Economic Cooperation, Dr. Paa Kwesi Ndoum presented a statement on the floor of the house entitled “Consultations for building a consensus on a new national vision.”
This paper apprised Parliament of steps that have been taken so far towards crafting a new national vision and the role he expects parliament to play in the exercise. The crafting of this new national vision will seek to fulfil the provisions of article 36(5) of the 1992 constitution, which requires that “within two years after assuming office, the President shall present to Parliament a co-ordinated programme of economic and social development policies, including agricultural and industrial programmes at all levels and in all the regions of Ghana.”
It might in future be necessary to review article 36(5) if we are not to continue having a disjointed and chequered path to development. With the real possibility of a change in government every 4 years, there is the prospect that with every change we will have to fashion a new national vision to guide us. It is absolutely necessary to fashion and gain broad consensus across political and regional lines on what the way forward is for us as a nation. If we can gain such a broad consensus, it will be necessary only to review the tactics of the vision after any change of government to factor in the ideological perspective of the particular party in power.
Dr. Ndoum in presenting his case to Parliament was more charitable to past development programmes and national visions than some of his colleagues have been. He was surprisingly charitable even to “Vision 2020,” the development programme drawn up by the previous NDC administration. He said all past development plans since 1951 including the Vision 2020 were founded on good intention and aimed at reducing poverty, bringing full employment, agricultural and industrial improvement, and raising the standard of living of the people. Of course such kindness must have been necessitated by his need and desire to bring everyone on board behind this new exercise of drawing up a national vision. This stands in sharp contrast to the attitude of some of his colleagues in government, especially the Senior Minister J.H. Mensah, who as Minority Leader in the last Parliament, declared categorically, that his party the NPP is not bound by Ghana Vision 2020. He described it as a visionless document “suffering from cataract in one eye and glaucoma in the other.” Herein lies the real challenge of fashioning a true national vision. How do we bring everybody on board in the fashioning of such a vision to ensure continuity in economic and social development?
We could start by avoiding the temptation of disparaging the record of predecessor governments. There is always a temptation all over the world to disparage the achievements of the previous government from which we have just inherited power. All manner of accusations of mismanagement are attributed to such a government. Such an attitude alienates the loyal following of any such government or party and you usually have on your hands a percentage of the population that is not only apathetic to the new government, but in extreme cases may attempt to sabotage the efforts of the government.
We should celebrate the success of our predecessors and learn lessons from where they went wrong. Indeed when the NPP eventually leaves power and is succeeded by the PNC, CPP, NDC or GCPP, we must not get fixated by what the NPP government did wrong, but build on the positives and avoid the pitfalls of the negatives. This is not to say that wrongdoing, obvious blunders and mismanagement must be swept under the carpet, but they must not become the obvious ammunition of a propaganda campaign to deliberately disparage and impugn the record of that government. For instance it is not helpful for consensus building when the Senior Minister announces on a political platform, that by the time the government is through with prosecuting leading members of the previous administration, the NDC would have ceased to exist as a political party. By all means prosecute officials who have indulged in criminal conduct, but it must not be portrayed or conducted in such a way as to be construed as a political weapon for destroying or weakening ones political opponents. Indeed in drawing up this new vision, there must be a conscious effort to encourage the participation of all political parties in the process. Ideological difference must be acknowledged and incorporated into the document.
We may also achieve some success if we investigate and quickly nip in the bud any tendencies towards a policy of exclusion. All Ghanaians must share in opportunities opening up in the economy notwithstanding on which part of the political divide they stand. Poverty has no colour and persons of all political and ethnic orientation must share equally in programmes aimed at poverty eradication and wealth creation. Frequent complaints from the district and regional levels about discrimination against persons in awards of government contracts as a result of their political affiliation must be investigated and dealt with. Distribution of funds under the Poverty Alleviation Programme and the Emergency Social Relief Programme must be done strictly on the basis of need and qualification rather than political patronage. In this way everybody can be made to feel a part of the political process and therefore participate actively in programmes aimed at advancing the nation’s economic development.
It is necessary to also promote a sense of nationalism and integration. We must de-emphasize our sense of belonging to small ethnic groupings and place first and foremost our sense of nationality as Ghanaians. Renewal of a sense of national belonging can precipitate a better work attitude, discipline and promote consensus around a national development programme.
There are some bones the minority picked with Dr. Ndoum during his presentation to Parliament. It is a bit simplistic to just compare per capita income of Ghana with other countries such as Korea, Malaysia etc at the time of independence and based on that blame our presently comparatively low per capita income on internal factors. Several reasons account for the rise of the Asian Tigers including geographical location, the cold war and the need to hold back the “communist contagion,” and other socio-cultural factors. Ghana’s lack of rapid progress after independence can be located also in both the geographic and socio-cultural context in which we find ourselves. Of course other factors such as instability, poor national attitudes as enumerated by Dr. Ndoum played a role. In all the cases cited, the countries in question saw massive injection of cash in the form of foreign investment and direct overseas development assistance (ODA).
Presently countries like Egypt in Africa are advancing rapidly because as a result of her strategic location and role in Mid-Eastern affairs, the US is pumping about $3 billion annually into the Egyptian economy. Much of Sub-Saharan Africa does not generate such interest and therefore do not ‘merit’ such levels of ODA.
A new national vision must factor in what realistic levels of external assistance we are capable of leveraging and must ensure a true commitment by development partners to provide such assistance in a timely manner. Above all it is necessary to explore internally what mechanisms can be put in place not only to increase productivity, but also to raise revenue domestically for investment.
Targeting and objectives of the vision should be realistic. For instance I believe that the vision suggested by Dr. Ndoum in his statement of raising per capita income from $400 per annum to $1,000 per annum by the year 2010 is overly optimistic. Last year GDP growth amounted to a measly 3.7%. To attain the target of $1,000 per capita in the 8 years remaining till 2010, we would have to raise GDP growth to about between 12% and 13% per annum. Considering our present economic and socio-cultural circumstances it is difficult to envisage acceleration to such a high growth rate in the next several years. Targeting must be realistic in order not to engender a sense of frustration when they are not met.
All in all there is need for a national vision but much diplomacy and work needs to be done in order to forge a broad consensus behind such a vision. Any other way would just be an exercise in futility.