Ghana Needs Inclusive Development Not Necessarily Inclusive Government
By Maxwell Oteng
It seems that in Ghana three things are certain about our electoral experiments: 1) neck-and-neck presidential elections results; 2) controversies and lamentations of presidential elections followed by a recourse to our ultimate survival mechanism of fatalistic resignation, and 3) the call for all-inclusive government. Interestingly but unsurprisingly, these three things are interconnected. By virtue of the fact that our presidential elections results tend to be dangerously close, controversies, oftentimes in the form of allegations of fraud, abuse and stealing of elections tend to rear their ugly heads, drowning the country up to its eyeballs in an ocean of tensions and anxieties (real, manufactured or imagined). For a an ethnically polychromatic country that has been touted as a model for other African countries in the art of peaceful coexistence among its ethnic gallimaufry, the default reaction to these political tensions and anxieties is to let sleeping dogs lie expressed in calls for “all-inclusive government”.
Expectedly, given the closeness and contentious nature of the recent presidential elections, the “wise men” in our society have been beating the drum louder, as a needless public service, entreating the President-elect to form an “inclusive government”. I suspect the calls for “inclusive government” is an implicit call for “party quota (or is it “ethnic quota”?) in the government. Maybe people who make these quadrennial calls for inclusive government sincerely believe that our best path towards progress and development can be found in inclusive government. But I think that such calls are misplaced because they are based on the misunderstanding of constitutional democracy based on party politics. Party politics is, in essence, a competitive enterprise in the marketplace of ideas, so the party that wins elections, having done so by convincing the electorate that it has better ideas to improve their lot, must be showered the spoils of victory. Clearly this is not to say that the winning party is the only party with people who are veritable geysers of good policy ideas to advance our country. But the showering of victory spoils on the winning party, more importantly, gives the people an unadulterated, clear-eye view of who to hold accountable for management of the affairs of the nation. Suppose we can agree that the NDC’s presidential candidate won the recent presidential election despite the pending legal petition by the NPP, and is constitutionally mandated to form the next government. Imagine a government made up of, say, sixty percent NDC appointees, thirty percent NPP appointees and the remaining ten percent allocated to the also-ran parties. Let’s assume that the NPP and the other parties’ appointees are honorable, well-intentioned, conscientious, and patriotic citizens who wouldn’t engage in ill-will, chicanery or unscrupulousness to sabotage the NDC. If this inclusive government does not satisfactorily perform in accordance with the expectations of the electorate, which party does the electorate hold to account in the next election cycle? So let’s place our calls on the proper perspectives and priorities by demanding of the new administration inclusive development rather than inclusive government.
It is understandable why some people are calling for an inclusive government because the nation seems divided as evidenced by the close election results and the concomitant state of anxiety the country is in by allegations of fraudulence by the NPP. In fact I am sympathetic to the idea. But an inclusive government, while important for its symbolism, is just a band-aid effort that may help massage our national ego in the interim without fundamentally addressing the fissures underneath the nation's economic development superstructure. The winning candidate and his/her party must be accorded the right and flexibility provided under the constitution to choose the talents they think would help them to deliver the development agenda sold to the people. Then in the next cycle the electorate will have a chance to make a judgment about the incumbent president’s (and his party’s) stewardship, and decide whether or not he deserves to be given the keys to the reins of power in the country for another four years. But it's imperative that the government in power makes sure that economic growth and economic development do not favor a few – economic development projects should not have a party bias. That is the constitutional charge of every administration and that what we must collectively demand and, that’s where the calls from those whose voices matter in the country should be directed at.
The question then is what is an inclusive development or what should its basic tenets be? Inclusive development can be narrowly referred to as the distribution of wellbeing along key dimensions of development including, but not limited to, education, health, income, shelter, and the pursuit of happiness and freedom. It takes a multi-pronged approach such mainstreaming the development process and capacity building at the grassroots-level that makes it easier for people at the periphery to advocate for their own inclusion in the development process. In other words, inclusive development ensures that the country focuses as a laser beam on removing barriers to inclusion (mainstreaming) and empowers people, especially at the grassroots, with the capacities that facilitate their inclusion in our development endeavor (advocacy).
In my judgment, inclusive development must be built on five pillars: accountability, transparency, non-discrimination (fairness) and results-orientation, participatory decision-making (devolution of power from the center to the periphery is very important). These pillars are not a set of independent variables but rather they are interconnected with one another at multiple levels. Let me say a word or two about each of the five pillars of inclusion:
Accountability: This word has been bandied around so much so that it has become perhaps the most meaningless word in the Ghanaian political lexicon. This is partly due to the fact that we have a political system with a high-rise penthouse of power – literally and metaphorically - from which uncreative elites and opportunists of the establishment look down on, and laugh at, the rest of citizenry. In other words, our top-down political system makes it easier for the political elite class to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and inactions. As a result, corruption has become the slow-motion car crash no one can stop craning his or her necks to watch, but no one dares to do something about. In addition, because the political elites don’t feel any obligation to be accountable for their actions, more often we are stuck with incompetent managers of our national affairs who get rewarded for their mediocrity even in circumstances where giving them the boot would have been the first-best option, and the morally right thing to do. The effects of the twin evils of corruption and mediocrity are that they shrink the size of the national cake and exclude a large segment of our population from the fruits of development. So it’s important that those with whom we have entrusted the management of our national resources and decisions of national development reciprocate the people’s trust by showing the level of integrity and scrupulousness of governance expected of them. It equally important that we put talented people in charge of our development affairs and show those who are not up to the challenge the door.
Transparency: it can be correctly argued that one of the reasons why accountability is lacking in our body polity is that we do not have transparency in our body polity. The lack of transparency makes it possible for elected officials to skirt around accountability, which in turn breeds mistrust in managers of our national affairs as well as in our national institutions. The results of all this is that the pursuit of inclusive development becomes a much more difficult proposition. Therefore, if there are any calls to be made to the new administration it must be one about transparency in the administration of development policies.
Non-discrimination/fairness: Inclusive development also enjoins us as a country to be committed to the principle of equal opportunity in our development endeavors, whether in education, employment and individuals’ pursuit of happiness and freedom. Thus the ruling party and its affiliates cannot and must not discriminate against individuals on the basis of ethnic identity, gender identity, party affiliation, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, genetic information in the administration of its development policies. Thus, for instance despite the cultural and religious biases against homosexuality, it’s imperative that the ruling party’s policies do not discriminate against them.
Participatory decision-making: While the electorate continues to have unflagging belief in our nascent democratic experimentation and infuse it with an enviable level of intensity of participation in national elections, the participation of the electorate in decision-making at the local level has been virtually nonexistent. Obviously this is the unfortunate by-product of our top-down, Accra-centered, elites-know-best political system. An inclusive development requires the encouragement of the people to be active participants in, and take responsibility for, decisions that affect their lives. In this connection, political power should be devolved from Accra to the regions and districts, by allowing the people to elect their own Regional Ministers, District Chief Executives, and city and town managers. Also, and to complement the process of devolution, capacity building at the regional and district levels must be expedited, and followed through to its logical conclusion. Power devolution not only can ensure inclusive development, but also it has the potential to make our governments responsive and accountable to the needs of the people. Furthermore, power devolution has the potential to lessen the spate of corruption in our country because if people have ownership over decisions that affect their immediate neighborhoods, government would not become some abstract construct to them, and they are more likely to hold their elected officials to account.
Results-oriented policies: Growing the size of the national pie, otherwise known as the gross domestic product, is as equally important for inclusive development as the distribution of the national pie. The expansion of the size of the national pie is contingent upon a government that is efficient and effective in its use of our scarce resources, creative and visionary in its policy goals, and is determined to pursue results-oriented policies with unyielding stoicism and expectation of a Sunday-school teacher. An efficient, effective and results-oriented government needs a big pool of talents to draw from. It makes sense for a government to avail itself of all of the country’s human capital wherever that capital may be and whatever its political persuasion. This is where our constitution does the country a big disservice by requiring the president to assign majority of key appointments to members of parliament. This unwise provision undoubtedly hamstrings the president by reducing the size of talent pool available to him to choose from for key decision-making positions, much to the detriment of our national development aspirations. Therefore if we aspire to be a country that pursues inclusive development, then we have to amend this constitutional provision to make it easier to bring our brightest, best and most skilful talents into the tent of our development endeavors to help design policies and strategies that provide ladders of opportunity for the unfortunate and less capable among us.
However, inclusive development will only be a mirage if as a country we cannot ensure that people have access to basic education, affordable healthcare, affordable housing and opportunity for good employment. This why it’s regrettable that the instead of giving the free senior high school (SHS) education and universal healthcare all the seriousness they deserved in recent presidential debates, the presidential candidates chose to do a grandstanding fandango on those issues. These are the very issues that can provide ladders of opportunities in our quest for inclusive development, and therefore we must hope that the new administration will revisit these issues with some sense of urgency. In similar vein, you need good social and economic infrastructure to facilitate inclusive development for the simple fact that infrastructural development makes collaboration, networking, and upward mobility possible in any society. So we should charge our new government to attach renewed priority to developing social and economic infrastructure throughout the country but particularly in the most neglected regions in the countryside.
In conclusion, while there are loud calls from “wise men” for inclusive government may be noble because such a government may well give the country some short-lived sense of calm after a period of anxiety, I think that such calls are misplaced. We should give the new administration the space and flexibility it needs to choose the talents it deems capable of fulfilling its promises to the country. Rather, we should call and charge the new administration to pursue policies and strategies that lead to inclusive development and provide ladders of opportunity for all and sundry, particularly the least able and most vulnerable among us.
Maxwell Oteng, PhD
Argyros School of Business and Economics
Orange, CA 92866, USA.