...Ghana Economic Forum in Washington
In Ghana today, there are two distinct poverty lines--- the "upper" and the "extreme". Ghanaians on the "upper poverty line" live below $100 per year; those on the "extreme poverty line" survive on less than $75 (cedis 700,000) per annum. In short, "most Ghanaians are poor by world standards, as well as national", according to Hon. Paa Kwesi Nduom, Ghana's Minister of Regional Planning and Development.
Hon. Nduom delivered the seemingly shocking treatment to about 50 Ghanaians Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Ghana Embassy in Washington, DC, during a four-hour informal forum, with the minister, acting in his capacity as chairman of Ghana's National Development Planning Commission, NDPC.
According to Hon. Nduom, NDPC's formal exercise for collecting ideas and suggestions from Ghanaians for the preparation of a policy framework document for national development was completed with mass meetings in five regions of Ghana. Medium term implementation of the development agenda, focusing on "poverty reduction" has been ongoing since Pres. John Agyekum Kufuor's administration took office, Nduom indicated.
In his remarks to open the forum, H.E. Alan Kyerematen, Ghana's ambassador to the United States indicated that the meeting was convened to collect ideas, "from the bottom-up," towards fashioning a new roadmap for national development. He pointed out that the forum constitutes part of the current process for setting out the vision for charting the course for Ghana's development. Kyerematen noted, "It is not only the process that is important but also the content" of the blueprint for development.
Kyerematen implored Ghanaians to consider, "What is it that we really want to become - because if you don't plan where you are going you end up at the wrong place."
Nduom commended the infusion of money contribution of about US$400 million by Ghanaians living abroad into the national economy; hence, the relevance of listening to their voice in charting the course of national development of Ghana. London, Berlin and Johannesburg have been scheduled for similar economic meeting with Ghanaians, Nduom indicated. Because of the money contribution they make, concerns of Ghanaians living abroad, including dual citizenship and proxy voting, have received attention of the government for action, Nduom indicated.
Ghanaians at the meeting made their contributions to the search for national development agenda by raising issues and asking questions, primarily based on personal experiences of the negative variety. The core of issues raised by meeting attendees concerned the cordon of red tape within the corridors of Ghana's bureaucratic establishment at all levels and in every sector of government. Inhospitable and even antagonistic attitude of Ghanaians towards their fellow citizens living abroad who attempt to return home, was a subject raised repeatedly, especially by people in the medical profession.
Nduom lamented about the poverty-related economic conditions in Ghana; hence the need for a poverty reduction strategy. "We are not okay in Ghana and some of us would want to see aggressive things happen", Nduom said. He pointed out that poverty is higher in northern Ghana and lowest in the Accra region. "Sometimes, one wonders if Upper East is part of Ghana?", Nduom asked.
Nduom referred to NDPC's prepared documents on the process of development policy formulation which indicates that the goal of the poverty reduction strategy for 2002 - 2004 period is to "Ensure sustainable, equitable growth, accelerated poverty reduction and the protection of the vulnerable and excluded within a decentralized democratic environment,"
"Food crop growers have the highest incidence of poverty in Ghana," Nduom stated. Hence, the plan for government is to reduce poverty among food crop growers from 59% to 46%.
High maternal mortality as well as "medical brain drain", are among the factors behind Ghana's high poverty rate, Nduom explained.
According to Nduom, what the national economic development blueprint seeks to do, to bring about change, include modernization of the country's agricultural production practices; provision of road and transportation infrastructure to open up the country, consisting of linking all regions in Ghana and ECOWAS countries by road transportation network; and "a program to ensure that all Senior Secondary Schools, SSS, are linked by internet within three years," Nduom indicated.
In addition, the poverty reduction strategy targets "programs to remove energy constraints," according to Nduom. He talked about the accelerated pace for construction of dams to harness energy and the prospects for a West African undersea pipeline for the distribution of natural gas from Nigeria, throughout the sub-region. The education system in Ghana is to change, "with no break, up to age 17" for all students; every region will have one major high school, Nduom indicated. He said also that contracts are out for pre-schools to be built.
In response to a question from this reporter about the role of the private sector in Ghana's poverty reduction strategy, Nduom said, "whatever we do, government cannot create wealth, "there is a lot of emphasis on the private sector." He cited some projects in the areas of fishing and starch production aimed at small-scale participants. The Minister for Regional Planning and Development refused to expound directly on the question of contradiction associated with the idea of emphasis on the private sector as the engine for poverty reduction in a society where most people are poor.
While the medium-term implementation of poverty reduction strategy is ongoing, the searchlight for the direction towards economic development is beamed on finding and defining a vision. Thus, the theme for the exercise of collecting ideas from Ghanaians is: "From Poverty Reduction to Wealth Creation: Building Consensus on a Vision for Ghana".
Nduom, through the medium of a Powerpoint program, reviewed previous economic development plans for Ghana since 1951. There was a consensus by meeting attendees that the previous plans had laudable objectives and mission. Hence, according to Nduom, the relevant question to ask remains: "Why are we where we are after 45 years" of political independence and many development plans?
In general, per capita income in Ghana is below $400, according to Nduom who asked the question, "Can it be grown to $1,000, about 8 million cedis? "Are we prepared to do what it takes to get there?"
Before fielding his audience for their ideas and suggestions for fashioning the vision for Ghana's economic development, Nduom discussed pre-formulated positions by the NDPC existing in hardcopy format. For the Commission, the reasons previous plans had not materialized into concrete transformation of Ghana had been: Ineffective leadership - lack of enduring vision, misguided policies and weak implementation; political instability - coup d'etats; and Economic immaturity - reliance on primary products and low productivity.
"Poor work ethics, over-reliance on foreign goods, indiscipline and excessive dependency," are other factors cited by NDPC in its literature, as some of the factors that have tended to thwart successful implementation of previous development plans in Ghana.
To move away from the identified constraints that ditched previous development plans, NDPC has outlined some proposals which seek to see Ghana as an agro-based industrial country with concentration on the value-added production of a few crops - cocoa, cassava and oil-palm. NDPC proposals include also some of the ideals for sustainable development such as existence of the rule of law and good governance, among others. The Commission has posed several questions regarding what ought to be done to move forward with its proposals.
"What will make Ghanaians work harder?" is one question NDPC has asked in search of a vision for economic development.
In response to concerns raised about the poverty of formal education process in Ghana today, Nduom linked the problem with the absence of basic infrastructure, inferring that all people like to have access to the good things in life. Persistently, Ghanaian teachers refuse to take up postings to the rural areas because of deprivation of basic amenities that make life comfortable to live, Nduom indicated. He pointed out that what pertains in the educational sector is the same as in the medical service where doctors and nurses refuse to accept postings to places not of their choice.
Nduom stated that some incentives exist for teachers, doctors, nurses and midwives who accept postings to the rural areas, "but it is still not working."
When the suggestion was made that more second-tier medical practitioners need to be trained to stem rising maternal mortality, Nduom said, "We need both doctors and midwives." He indicated that 30% of the most recent graduating class from Ghana's medical schools had already left the country even before convocation exercise. Meanwhile, places like Sunyani and Cape Coast have first class hospital facilities without doctors, according to Nduom.
On the issues of bribery, patronage job appointments and corruption, Nduom said, "When it comes to corruption, Ghanaians are their own enemies."
Nduom informed the forum that there is a program in the works to reform the tax payment system whereby every Ghanaian will be issued with an identification number that does not change.
Ambassador Kyerematen lamented the late and lackluster attendance to the meeting. He said, "In this world, only a few people make the difference, it is the commitment that counts." However, a meeting attendee offered that given the relative importance of the agenda, the embassy ought to have sent out the information earlier than the three days notice.
In conclusion, Nduom said, "Many of us in government now are not happy with where we are as a nation. But we cannot do it all by ourselves. Ghanaians at home cannot do it all by themselves; we will need the help and support from everyone, including those abroad." He encouraged formation of a voluntary discussion group to track what had been discussed for follow-up and implementation.
Kyerematen pointed out that in the end, "The challenge is how to distill the ideas generated." He advised that to be a middle-income society, Ghana needed to follow good example. He invoked a concept of following a "big idea" such as how Japan made it a point to be a leading automobile manufacturing country and succeeded at it, with spillover economic effects.
Kyerematen announced a number of initiatives that the embassy has put in place towards aiding Ghana's economic development agenda. The initiatives include an interactive website, Ghana Skills Bank (www.ghanaskillsbank.org) where Ghanaians worldwide can post profile of their skills and profession, the establishment of Ghana Bank in the United States to facilitate money transfers as well as a program whereby Ghanaians living abroad may adopt the schools they attended for basic education, by making financial contributions.
H.E. Kyerematen announced that plans are underway to set up a community program in the United States to target Ghanaian young-adults for the transmission of cultural ideas and connection to their motherland. He cited the "British Council" approach as an example that can be followed.