Opinions Thu, 26 Sep 2013

Ghana Where To?

Lost Decade And Missed Opportunities

During the past 12 years, Ghana has gone through exceptional, high economic growth. In spite of this, the decade can be seen as a “wasted decade” of missed opportunities for the resource-rich country. There is very little to be evidence of on the ground in terms of substantial development. Nearly all major towns of the country have faced dramatic fall and deterioration of public infrastructure and government services.

For example, Kumasi which was once affectionately called “Garden city” is now dirty and is witnessing a rise in criminal activity. One can only picture what the situation is like in the rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s population lives.

Public services and infrastructure are breaking up, and the rural population is being affected the most. Ghana's Human Development Index (HDI) continues to be languishing – it was positioned 135 out of 187 countries in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the UNDP. Corruption remains a titanic development stumbling block for Ghana and in 2012 Ghana was ranked 64 out of 174 by Transparency International.

The majority of us are from a very remote village deep in the Countryside of Ghana. In the last fifteen years, most health centers, the primary school which most us attended as children, the railway system that brings supplies to the village, and agricultural extension services, almost all have closed down.

At a point shrubs were said to be growing on the Accra-Kumasi road which was started during NPP administration to connect the National Capital to the next major capital and to rest of the middle and northern part. The more than half of the population in these parts of the country is literally struggling each day. That is the bleak situation of most parts of rural Ghana.

On the 56th year of our existence as a nation there is very little to be proud of, than to think about one aspect of Ghana's decade-long record economic growth and the opportunities the country has missed to improve the lives of the people – the gradual deterioration of the national health system on the whole, and the unspeakable state of maternal health and child mortality particularly in rural Ghana.

The key cause of this should be laid at the doorstep of the greedy and corrupt politicians; which stems from the lack of effective leadership and management at all levels of government – district, regional and national.

Ghana - Where to Now?

Most Ghanaians can recognize that political issues and governance is at its wit end, especially the struggle among political leaders and their cohorts for power in government have had a direct and negative impact on Ghana socio-economic conditions. This mismatch between Ghana's record economic growth and the fall in governance and basic public services are indicators of the so-called “resource curse” or the “paradox of plenty”.

Because people in rural areas see that they have been neglected by their elected leaders and that basic services do not reach them through the normal process, their attitude towards the government and its public service machinery have dramatically changed.

Whilst the Politicians see the National Kitty as a "Sacred Cow" to milk, the citizens also sees the government now a cash-cow to milk.

This could explain why people who live along the High Natural Resource areas continue to claim huge sums of compensation from the government before they allow the siting of Mines, for example. And it is also part of the reason why people continue to vote along their kinship ties rather than along political party lines.

This alteration in the mindset of the people is being compounded by the increase in resource projects in the country. As the government seems to have let down its own people in making available basic services, the people, in particular the landowners from the resource projects, see the resource projects, and the compensations and royalties they provide as a quick and easy way out of poverty and to catch up with the remainder of those milking the "sacred-cow.

On the other hand, without financial literacy and proper cash-management skills most go on a spending spree on goods such as flashy vehicles. Although there is now a long history of such improper use of resource funds by landowners (the illegal gold mine landowners are a case in point), the lesson has not been learned.

The government, especially at the regional and the national levels, seems to care little of such issues, as they are soaked up with the “competition” to be in government and have power over the huge resource rents (the excess mineral revenues, in particular) the country earns.

As a matter of fact, there has not been any major economic policy or reform enacted in the last ten years to turn the country’s fortunes into real development which could improve the country’s low HDI, poor governance and improve the lives of the common people in rural areas.

If history and what is currently happening in Ghana's politics is any indication of the future, I have reservations that this will change in the next twenty or thirty years.

Many people, including myself, were hoping the recent opportunity to change in government would at least start to turn things around.

However, observing the events which have unfolded since the change to the present government makes it apparently understandable that Ghana continues to go around in a political circle. It seems that the country will not break out of this circle until after the next election at the earliest, and perhaps not even in the next decade except there are major political reforms.

The resource rents will increase when the anticipated GAS project starts production, and it will continue to challenge effective governance as greedy politicians compete for power and control over the rents. Until a far-reaching change in the political landscape, things will not change at all for the better.

Ghana needs better laws - better than the Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates - which, for example, could keep a tight rein on the number of political parties. This will lead to stability in governance so that, the government of the day can feel confident that it will be in power for at least the estimated period until the next election, and concentrate on turning the proceeds of economic growth into real development. Even if it means rewriting or making provisions in the national constitution to achieve such radical reforms, let’s go for it.

Together with such political reforms, the existing checks and balances require to be further strengthened, and more importantly, there should be a bill to establish an “Independent Commission Against Corruption” it should be able to passed bi-partisan.

Infrastructural and Human Resource Development will also call for a radical shift in the mindset of the people.

Voter-education is of the essence, so that people start to vote along party lines instead of voting their village chiefs or their “in-laws”, who will return their favor when they are in parliament. These would be radical departures from the status quo, however ones that would have lasting positive effect on politics, governance and the socio-economic development of the country.

The reforms will not have teeth at all, including economic reforms, until the head or the leadership as a whole move in the right direction. Effective and incorruptible leadership has to be set in place first.

Another worrying issues we are confronted with, is the type of political system Ghana currently has, including the large number of parties (more than 20 political parties have been registered to go into a year’s election, for example), there is no way Ghana will have a stable government, in any foreseeable future with such fragmented front.

And with the vast resources rents up for grabs, the political jostling and tussle to be in power will not fade out, and the people will continue to be neglected.

Columnist: Akwah, Nana