Ghana: My 10 Wishes for 2014

Sun, 5 Jan 2014 Source: Ohemeng, Yaw

2013 is gone and 2014 is here. Are things going to change in Ghana? According to the prophetic pronouncement of our President, who spent 2013 talking a lot at church events, 2014 is going to be a year of many good things to happen that Ghanaians should claim. I wish I can believe this optimistic message but I have been asking myself whether we are going to do things differently from 2013.

What is going to happen on the economic front in 2014 has already been pre-determined by the 2014 budget presented in November 2013. This offers the same Ghana where fiscal deficits have come to stay. We are projecting a budget deficit of GHC 9.0bn for 2014, same as it was in 2013 and same as the year before. We are proposing to finance the greater portion of this deficit from local sources, which implies continuous high interest rates and crowding out of the private sector. There is also a lack of credible plans to halt the slide in the value of the Cedi. On the job front, nothing much is going to happen because it was never addressed in the budget. We are still saddled with the non-sustainable youth employment modules under the tainted GYEEDA.

Against this backdrop, it is my utmost wish that we can do things differently in 2014. If we are capable of doing things differently, the following will be among my top ten wishes.

1. The government should acknowledge the structural problems in our economy rather than raising citizens’ expectations about prosperity that is not going to happen with how we have run our economy to date. For a long time, we have been spending more money annually than the revenues raised. I wish the government will present a credible plan to deal with this imbalance in our economy, which is thwarting any vibrant economic activity that can create jobs.

2. My wish again is for the government to be upfront with how it is tackling the fiscal deficit problem. It is pursuing a three-pronged approach - increasing taxes to get more revenue; removing subsidies on utilities; and replacing short-term, high-interest, domestic borrowings with long-term, low-interest, external loans. These are the reasons why we have seen a 2.5% VAT increase and utility prices are going up. The government is hoping to save money by drastically reducing subsidies from GHC1.3bn in 2013 to only GHC50m in 2014. It is therefore my wish that the government quits the excuse that the increases are as a result of PURC reviews. The PURC is only reacting to the removal of subsidies. The government should therefore be courageous to announce its intentions to allow the approach to be debated openly. It is necessary that we have this debate. Lastly the bid to change the maturity profile of public debt is to shift the debt burden to future governments and generations and this should also be acknowledged.

3. The government is the largest single purchaser of goods and services in our economy. It is my wish that in 2014, it will use its purchasing power to spread national wealth more equitably. Instead of awarding exorbitant contracts to the few to build local schools, which does not require much engineering expertise, central and local governments should rely on local masons, carpenters and other artisans. This will not only reduce the cost of such facilities, but will also ensure that those in the rural communities have their share of the national cake. My wish also is that the concentration of public contracts is diluted beyond the AGAMS and JOSPONG Group of companies so that many Ghanaians will feel a part of the formal economy. This will in fact give meaning to the call for all to join the government to achieve for Ghana.

4. The nation spends a lot on ministers and other political appointees, in terms of their salaries, allowances and perks. I do not begrudge them these for they are playing an important social role of adjudicating competing public interests. But if we are spending huge amounts on these appointees, we reserve the right to expect the President to engage the finest of minds that our country can offer to occupy these positions to deliver for us. It should be an incentive for any President who loves his country, willing to make a difference and wishing to leave an enduring legacy, to appoint competent persons to positions in his government. Even if the President is not so inclined the fact that the fate of over 24 million people rides on what ministers do should sway him into making the most effective of appointments. This is thus my fourth wish for 2014 – the appointment of competent ministers who can appreciate problems, identify their causes and find solutions to them.

5. My fifth wish for 2014 is for our President to stop using churches as an advocacy platform and to quit talking in the manner so far exhibited. Apart from inadvertently roping the church into politics, these are not appropriate foras deserving of the position he occupies. If he feels he must be heard on issues or wants to join raging debates, he should choose the appropriate forum. He can decide to hold monthly ‘meet the press’ events or deliver speeches before professional bodies or tertiary students or civil society groups where he can float policy ideas and solutions. As others join the debate this will engender, it will enrich the political discourse and lead to identification of alternative solutions to address our problems.

6. My next wish is for corruption to be tackled with seriousness instead of the ineffective directives. A greater part of the sermons delivered on New Year’s Eve up and down the country was about the number of corrupt deals that came to light in 2013. It is my wish that the President will clear the decks of the SUBAHs, the GYEEDAs, and the SADAs, which have tarnished his first year in office. The perception that his government is corrupt will not go away until the President takes action to resolve these ‘scandals’ in a very transparent way. Besides these, there should be legislation to prevent corruption in the first place. Even though the Freedom of Information Bill will help (if and when it is passed), I am advocating a transparency bill that will open up the workings of government to public scrutiny. Such a law should require that the public is informed about procedures for accessing public services and the fees charged. A lot of the corruption by public officials is facilitated by ignorance of the public about procedures and their rights.

7. About GHC5.8bn has been allocated to the Ministry of Education for 2014, representing about 15% of total expenditure. Of this GHC4.4bn will be spent on salaries. Despite this high level of spending, educational standards have continued to slip. In villages up and down the country, parents have all but given up on public primary schools. Now, even poor farmers are scraping to send their children to private schools, which have sprung up all over the place. This situation with public primary schooling is undesirable. My seventh wish for 2014 is that the government will quit rattling statistics on the number of schools under trees removed, number of exercise books and school uniforms supplied, as wells as the number of laptops supplied. It should start concerning itself about educational outcomes. The inputs are necessary but they must be seen as leading to certain desirable ends. The government must come out with policies to address curriculum vis-à-vis national goals; teaching methods; deployment, monitoring and supervision of teachers; and the building of stronger teaching and managerial links between schools in localities.

8. The creation of jobs will, to a large extent, depend on our ability to develop products that are uniquely Ghanaian and our ability to find external markets for such products. Such products include kente cloth, beads, the unique African fashion that is slowly catching up in European countries and North America, our textiles and tourism. It is my wish that the government will start to lead the way in improving and finding external markets for such indigenous products. Another wish of mine is for the government to realise how ineffective the youth employment schemes have been. They are not sustainable – they do not provide revenue for the country and they will not produce future taxpayers. For how long are we going to throw money after such fruitless ventures? The monies may be better spent in improving technical and vocational schools to produce future taxpayers. If the government feels that the unemployed youth should be helped, as part of its social duty, it must rather use its purchasing power to create markets in desired sectors for the unemployed to be naturally attracted to such sectors.

9. My ninth wish for 2014 is for the Ghanaian Media (i.e. print, online and broadcast) to take their role in our democracy seriously. Democracy requires that we have a constitution, participation and a rational electorate who can make informed choices. We cannot have a rational and informed electorate if the news they receive about governance and national life is trivial, irrelevant, massaged, contrived or even false. It is my wish that for 2014 media organisations will only give platforms to commentators who are knowledgeable, informed and are subject experts on issues rather than the teeming ranks of party sycophants. It is my wish that media organisations are able to invest in training and research such that news anchors, reporters and programme hosts are equipped to ask probing and searching questions of public officials they interview instead of the deferential posture oftentimes on display.

10. It is my final wish that Ghanaians will take their civic duty seriously to help the government of the day to achieve its programme for the nation (if and when presented or articulated). We should be truthful to ourselves in whatever capacity we find ourselves. We must strive to make our nation the best that it can be and we cannot do that without being dedicated, disciplined, law-abiding, honest and hardworking.

It is my hope that twelve months from now, we are able to evaluate our government, media and our own selves positively along the matrix above. Many things will no doubt happen in 2014 but it is only the superior actions of our government, media and us that will ensure that they are good. If we carry on as we have done for previous years, then I agree with the CPP that the New Year’s Eve ‘prophecy’ by the President will remain a mere rhetoric.

I wish all a prosperous 2014.

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw