Ghana’s Woes: The Negative Politics of Abandoned Projects

Thu, 19 May 2011 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part II

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

May 17, 2011

Apart from doing negative politics with the development projects, what justification is there for our governments to abandon what their predecessors had initiated? There is too much politics in everything that is done in our country. Truly, this state of affairs is unhealthy.

Some of our governments are also to blame for beginning politically motivated projects in a vain attempt to fulfill electioneering campaign promises. By and large, projects that end up being abandoned fall into such a category. The politics behind the development projects initiated by our governments must be clear by now:

(1) Some development projects are initiated for the sake of mere political jingoism or just for face-saving; (2) Some are initiated as a smokescreen behind which some unscrupulous people hide to fleece the economy; (3) Others are initiated to meet genuine needs of the people; (4) Some are begun upon pressure from powerful figures in the various communities; (5) Others are initiated to ward off blackmail or threats from the electorate (and are done on impulse because they are not supportable with funds from the national coffers or any other source)—usually the outcome of wild electioneering campaign promises which the disgruntled communities latch on to hold the government to ransom.

(6) Other projects are designed as an opportunity for theft of public funds, especially when the money is misappropriated and nobody accounts for it or is even held liable; (7) Some might come across as impositions (foreign donors dictating what should be done with the money they provide); (8) Some are awarded through inflated contract sums because of the kickbacks that are expected to be paid to government officials and the party’s coffers; and (9) Others are initiated as a “Thank You” gesture just to please the party’s followers in the beneficiary communities or to show appreciation to voters in areas regarded as “strongholds.” Thus, the uncompleted projects that are tainted with political capital are quickly abandoned when a new government takes over.

Of course, some projects are redundant but are constructed with impunity. For instance, the Jubilee House (re-named “Flagstaff House” as a political gimmick) is needless because we already have the Osu Castle and the Peduase Lodge to cater for the Presidency; but the Kufuor government went ahead to sink tens of millions of donor money into that project, which Kufuor rushed to commission even when it hadn’t been completed. He sought to gain political currency from it.

From the flanks, the NDC had condemned that project and vowed to turn it into a hospital if it did win the elections. For close to two years, the Jubilee House lay idle as President Mills refused to use it, probably in compliance with the NDC’s electioneering campaign pledge. When disaster struck the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jubilee House saved the situation. Then, President Mills turned full circle to indicate his willingness to use that facility. Political mischief turned sour, eh?

One can’t deny that some of the projects serve strategic political purposes. Much of the District Assemblies share of funds from the Common Fund Administrator goes into projects. But some politically motivated projects don’t see the light of day even in the tenure of the government that awarded the contracts.

Uncontrolled initiation of development projects as a political ploy has its negative consequences. Apart from creating the false impression that the government of the day is doing well (or is benevolent), it leads to misuse of funds and gives rise to corruption. The preponderance of contractors—briefcase businessmen roaming the corridors of power to look for contracts—is another worrisome effect.

It is no secret that there is discrimination in the siting of some projects. Some hostile communities are intentionally denied projects to “teach them a bitter lesson for not supporting the party in power.” Comments from some politicians that voters in communities hostile to the government of the day shouldn’t expect development projects from the government accentuate such concerns.

Other ongoing projects are abandoned as a form of punishment while others are sited where they are not needed. In effect, development projects have become potent political tools. They have become the golden bait that the political parties dangle in front of the electorate in the hope of snatching their mandate.

Some promises made by politicians to construct projects sound ridiculous enough to warrant disbelief and caution. For instance, in 1996, Odoi Sykes promised that an NPP government would extend the railway lines to the North. Many people laughed him to scorn because they knew that such a promise was meant for mere political gains and not based on economic reality or the pragmatic value inherent in the movement of human beings or goods from the north to the south to warrant such a project.

Other politicians opened their mouths too wide. As Central Regional Minister before being transferred to head the Ashanti Region, Kojo Yankah had announced that the NDC government was going to build an airport in the Mempeasem area, near Cape Coast. What became of that project after the land had been acquired and cleared is anybody’s guess. Money flushed down the drains?

When former President Kufuor cut the sod for construction works to begin on the Sports Stadium in Cape Coast, there was much fanfare and the expectation that the project would be completed within the period. No one has heard anything again. Today, we are being told that the project has been abandoned and the structures there turned into a brothel. How inconceivable!

The politicization of everything emanating from the public sector is a major cause of this problem. We have heard complaints from some NPP functionaries to suggest that most of the projects that President Mills recently commissioned in the Brong-Ahafo Region were initiated by the Kufuor government and that the NDC should not seek to gain any credit for them. This claim is absurd and is one of the instances of childishness that I deplore in those politicians. These noise-makers were behaving as if they didn’t want the Mills government to complete such projects, one may be tempted to conclude.

The politics behind development projects is deep-seated in Ghana, especially under this 4th Republic. It all started with the Rawlings administration. Despite much flogging of the Rawlings government by critics, there is one credit that no one can take away from it. The Rawlings government is on record for constructing numerous development projects in many parts of the country, which endeared it to the hearts of the beneficiaries; but at the 2000 general elections, that achievement didn’t win political power for the NDC’s Professor Mills. The situation was worsened by the NPP’s counter-arguments that a hungry people couldn’t live on development projects.

As Fate would later have it, the Kufuor government also prided itself on development projects but suffered a similar fate when the people repudiated its appeal for votes. Apparently, the people saw things from more than the perspective of development projects.

Now, President Mills is also fixated on the development project craze, touring the country and commissioning projects and giving assurances that his government will not let down those in the rural areas who need such projects to be part of the “Better Ghana Agenda.” Good for him for now; but at election time, we shall be in a better position to tell whether his government’s priorities concerning development projects will fetch public goodwill for it. Then, if his government is given the boot, we will live to see whether the successive government will continue the projects initiated by it.

The vicious cycle seems to be in full motion. This kind of negative politics of abandoning projects for political reasons (whether true or false) leaves me puzzled. If the government that initiates the projects doesn’t complete them before leaving office, why should its successor abandon them? Is it for a mere political expediency, economic propriety, or plain mischief and lack of vision?

I think that there is more to gain from completing such projects than abandoning them. If our leaders are really committed to enunciating and implementing good policies and programmes to ensure a consistent development of the country, they should stop doing this negative politics of abandoning projects. The people will appreciate more a government that puts aside petty political jealousy to do what has already been assessed as viable and put in motion. Such a government stands to gain public trust and confidence.

For far too long, this negative politics of abandoning development projects has harmed us. It is not too late to end it. Doing so will help us manage better our resources and put our collective interests far above narrow partisan political ambitions and selfish personal quests. Ghanaians deserve better.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.