Mr. President, can you see the abandoned development projects?

Sat, 2 Mar 2013 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, March 1, 2013

In his “State of the Nation Address,” President Mahama gave us to understand that his government would implement policies and programmes to grow the economy despite the pressure being imposed on it by such factors as high wage bill, crude oil imports, and others. The economy is not as vibrant as expected because expenditure has outstripped revenue.

We’ve heard all the counter arguments raised by the opposition, especially the NPP, which has also presented its version of the situation, calling it the “True State of the Nation Address” and blamed the government for as high budget deficit.

For instance, that

• the budget deficit recorded last year which is provisionally estimated at GHC 8.7 billion is the result of the government’s excessive spending (Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia);

• the government machinery over-spent its budgetary allocation by Gh¢ 600 million while the Ministry of Youth and Sports also over-spent its allocation by Gh¢ 300 million, a practice he described as “completely unacceptable” (Dr. Mark Assibey-Yeboah, an economist and Member of Parliament for New Juaben South constituency in the Eastern Region); and

• the economic deficit currently stands at 12.5% of the country’s GDP, according to Dr. Mark Assibey-Yeboah.

Fair enough. The government says it will cut down on expenditure while implementing measures to raise productivity. Unless it does so, the economy will slide into a depression that will stall national development.

In pursuance of cost-cutting, the government has taken the first step to raise the prices of petroleum products, which has imposed an additional burden on the citizens because of the removal of subsidies entailed by the price increment.

The President has also gone ahead to remove certain benefits for its functionaries in the hope of reducing cost. Cosmetic, one may say.

As we digest these issues, the Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, will add more to the food-for-thought and fire up public debates on the state of the economy when he presents the government’s 2013 Budget and financial policy statement to Parliament on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

We are being told that “the budget which will be read ahead of the Independence Day celebrations is expected to focus on massive infrastructural development, stabilizing the economy, and accelerating growth.”

The same old story that we’ve been hearing ever since independence? Nothing new to enthuse over at this point.

But I cringe at the aspect of “massive infrastructural development.” It is one area that imposes a heavy burden on the economy and an area that has been so politicized as to become the golden egg every government wants to lay for the enjoyment of the electorate in the hope that there will be pay-back time at election time.

In truth, development projects have constituted a major chunk of the promises that our politicians have made all these years, especially since the emergence of this 4th Republic. Rawlings used it and passed the baton on to Kufuor. The late Mills jumped on board, creating room for Mahama too to see development projects as the bait to attract political goodwill.

The truth, however, is that despite their economic viability, these development projects have an unfortunate aspect that must not be glossed over: the overarching presence of abandoned projects almost everywhere. These white elephants have become a terrible eyesore and a sad reflection on the wickedness of those in authority using the promise of development projects for political jingoism!!

Almost every town or city in the country has one or more abandoned development projects dotting its landscape and reminding the people of the recklessness of their leaders. This negative sequel of the development project craze must be addressed. That is why I want to focus attention on it to suggest that the government’s intention to undertake “massive infrastructural development” must be re-considered.

I want to tell President Mahama and his government to hasten slowly on this score. I don’t think that there is need for such a venture, especially at this time that the President himself is complaining that the economy isn’t strong. In his “State of the Nation Address,” he gave us to know that there is enormous pressure on the economy, meaning that it can’t immediately support any agenda of the sort.

Of course, the campaign promises have already been made and the people have sharpened their fangs, ready to pounce on the promise-makers if they don’t make good those promises. President Mahama may be forced to begin looking over his shoulders all too soon.

Already, the lack of electricity and water has angered the people. Add the recent increment in the prices of petroleum products to that problem and you can tell how frightening the situation may be for the government less than two months in office.

President Mahama can carve a niche for himself if he re-examines this “massive infrastructural development” agenda to be announced by the Finance Minister.

Ghanaians definitely want something new that will indicate to them that he wants to chart a new course to justify the trust reposed in him by the millions that voted to place him in office and expect him to act decisively to improve living standards. Forget about the noise being made by Akufo-Addo and his gang. They aren’t going anywhere.

President Mahama has been installed in office and has formed his team to manage the country’s affairs. That is why it behooves him to begin making a mark instead of just gearing up to follow the same worn-out, tired, dangerous, and unproductive paths that his predecessors chose to walk.

I want President Mahama to do something new. Instead of embarking on this “massive infrastructural development” (which indefinitely means beginning new projects all over the country), I want him to turn attention to all projects that have already been initiated but abandoned and take steps to complete. Investing in such projects will go a long way to save costs and prove to Ghanaians that he knows how to solve problems.

The problem is that paying contractors alone is a big perennial problem, not to mention the huge cost to the economy of all these projects. Of course, some may argue that those abandoned projects have deteriorated to such an extent that they have to be scrapped off and new ones initiated. Additional costs?

I repeat that the government should not initiate any development project anywhere in the country for the next four years, if possible. Allowance can be made for only projects that are direly needed, especially only those to solve the perennial electricity, water, housing, and transportation problems. Indeed, some projects are already ongoing or abandoned in these sectors and should be identified for completion.

I want President Mahama to mobilize the required political will and material resources to complete those abandoned projects. To begin with, he must authorize an immediate inventory of all those abandoned projects for them to be costed and earmarked for completion within the period.

I have in mind those projects that were initiated by previous governments but left to fate either for lack of funds or at the end of those governments’ tenure. Clearly, some of these projects were initiated as mere political gimmicks or at the instance of community leaders but couldn’t be completed. Even though enough had been spent on them, successive governments turned a blind eye to them either to punish the prospective beneficiaries on the basis of political ill-will or for lack of interest in them anymore.

Unfortunately, refusing to complete those projects and initiating new ones will continue to be a drain on the economy and reflect the reckless abandon with which our leaders handle national affairs.

I challenge President Mahama to take the bold step to revisit the development agenda which brought those projects into being only for them to be abandoned. If he is able to complete these projects, he will make a better name and endear himself to the hearts of the various communities than initiating “massive development projects” only for them to be abandoned after resources have been sunk into them.

I know he has made promises to construct 200 Senior High Schools, many airports, and a lot more that the economy cannot support at this stage. Let’s face the truth that such promises can’t be fulfilled unless the economy improves. Certainly, it won’t do so all too soon.

We don’t want the government to go borrowing more money to worsen the situation just in an attempt to make good those promises. What we already have in the various parts of the country must be completed first. Then, the government can fill the gap with new ones if necessary. No one should attempt to build Rome in a day!!

No grand design on paper will change the situation either. What needs to be done must be done through a conscientious and judicious use of resources. While taking steps to revive those abandoned projects, the government must implement austerity measures to prevent the economy from sliding further. It is only then that public trust and confidence in it will be retained. Then, it can consider launching its “massive infrastructural development” when there is enough in the kitty.

The truth is that apart from the astronomical wage bill (constituting about 60% of the GDP), infrastructural development is the next major area that drains the economy.

In a political climate where such projects are either initiated for political expediency and not necessarily on the basis of economic sanity, the President must tread cautiously to avert the doom that is caused by the reckless spending recorded for 2012 and previous years.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.