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RE: Ghana – Marching into Sustained and Progressive Development

Sun, 25 Jan 2009 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Dr. Ayisi’s Arguments about Ghana’s Underdevelopment Partially Flawed!

On January 5, 2009, Dr. Gabriel Ayisi published an article on ghanaweb.com, titled “Ghana – Marching into Sustained and Progressive Development,” in which he proffered his views about Ghana’s political environment and economy and also espoused various strategies to further ensconce and nurture the nation’s ever-stultified economy. While I agree with some of the issues Dr. Ayisi outlined in his piece, I wish to belabor a few other points that I summarily reject either because Dr. Ayisi’s analyses were not adequate or because those arguments were quite flawed. Because this article attempts to analyze economic policies and ideas, it is a bit long, but I will urge the reader to patiently read through the entire piece, so he/she can offer an informed opinion to move Ghana forward.

Election 2008 and Tranquility

Starting with the didactic exposition about events leading up to, during and after Election 2008, Dr. Ayisi would praise Ghanaians for the “magnanimity in our political conduct” (Ayisi, 2009) and also eulogize our fellow nationals, in view of the fact that “recent elections in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya were marred by violence and fraud” (Ayisi, 2009). While I agree somewhat with Dr. Ayisi’s eulogy, because Ghanaians truly deserve a pat on the back for their deportment and demureness during such a volatile period, I am also convinced that, not only is there “something dignifying about the Ghanaian spirit, an inexplicable propensity for tranquility that makes mockery of the parsimoniousness and lawlessness pervasive in some neighboring countries[, but that] Ghanaians are innately fearful of armed conflict and death, [which] is really a good thing, for this primordial disposition, if there really is one, has helped in the preservation of our society, even while other nations around us have not been so fortunate” (Pryce, 2008).

Politicians, Political Appointees and the Bureaucracy

Dr. Ayisi, in his article, blames Ghanaian politicians for the nation’s underdevelopment because of “the politics of envy and contempt among our political parties where exclusion is practiced through a policy of winner takes all” (Ayisi, 2009). Dr. Ayisi further contends that governments in power, in order to claim full credit for economic development, tend to jettison the programs and projects that were started by their predecessors, resulting in waste and economic retardation. I support the preceding postulation by Dr. Ayisi, which, like “the politics of envy and contempt” mentioned earlier in this paragraph, has been a bane of the nation’s development. In stronger democracies, new leaders tend to start from where previous leaders had ended their work; but not in most African economies, where the opposite is the case: new leaders in Africa imprudently jettison some very good programs started by their predecessors, in order to score shameful political points, to the detriment of their economies.

To add to the above, retaining careerists, technocrats and other bureaucrats is vital for the work of government to continue, since these career civil servants, due to their expertise, longevity and experience (Kingdon, 1995), understand the machinery of government more than political appointees, the latter the primary agents of government only as far as policy direction is concerned. Although political appointees serve as a link between the executive arm of government and the bureaucracy, the former tend to have a short stay in government ? these appointments usually end when there is a change of government. Thus, to embark on a “house-cleaning” exercise of the bureaucracy after a new leader takes over the reins of government is nothing more than foolhardiness and political myopia, resulting in the stultification of the role of government in state affairs, the latter akin to the proverbial one-step-forward-two-steps-backward phenomenon! Thus, we expect John Atta Mills to maintain the core of the bureaucracy that had been in place since 2001, if the new president is to not repeat the illogical undertakings of past leaders. In fact, careerists have been known to make even cynical political appointees change policy direction, once the latter take office, all for the betterment of the nation. As such, while careerists may be “invisible” to the public, their roles in complementing the work of elected officials, via political appointees, are extremely vital for government business to continue without discordance.

Oil Impact and Revenues

On the issue of Ghana’s recently discovered “black gold,” Dr. Ayisi argues that our discovery of oil many decades after oil finds had, for all intents and purposes, ended across the globe is a good thing, provided we are smart gleaners from the pages of history, so that we do not repeat the mistakes some of our neighbors had made, and continue to make. Yes, I agree that petroleum can greatly improve the Ghanaian economy, but only if we are willing to embrace selflessness, patriotism and hard work, so that those entrusted with managing this important resource do not enrich themselves, to the detriment of the larger society.

For example, nothing riles me more than the despicable attitude of Nigeria’s leaders towards the Ogoni people of Nigeria’s Delta region. Despite the environmental and health hazards that the Ogoni people have had to face over the years because of oil exploration in their “backyard,” that part of the country has never truly benefited from the nation’s oil revenues. No wonder Ogonis see their country’s “black gold” as nothing more than a curse! And it is for the rights of the Ogoni people that the renowned writer and activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, lost his life (along with eight others!) on the orders of the late General Sani Abacha. Today, Ken Saro Wiwa is hailed as a martyr by the Ogonis and many others around the world because he was willing to sacrifice his life for justice! In fact, the November 10, 1995, hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa was one of the biggest travesties of justice in the annals of humanity, and I pray that no other Nigerian leader will ever act so despicably! Unless Ghana’s leaders are serious about the equitable distribution of the would-be oil revenues, those onshore areas where drilling will take place could become an Achilles heel for any future Ghanaian government.

Expansion of Infrastructure

I agree unequivocally with the assertion, “For an improvement in the quality of life, we need to monitor and match the country’s natural growth by concurrently increasing infrastructure to keep pace with our population growth. We will need to build more schools and hospitals as our population grows” (Ayisi, 2009). For a country of 22 million people to have only 5 public universities is indeed the epitome of botched leadership, for how can we develop the nation’s young minds if we do not have the capacity to formally train them? Ghana needs at least 5 more public universities in the short term, and an overall number of about 30 in the long run. Will President John Atta Mills start building us new universities, something that Nana Akufo-Addo, with a vision for education, had promised to do if elected, a dream (this huge investment in education) that possibly may never be fulfilled?

As I said some time ago, Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s flagship health care facility, is in such state of decrepitude, I am surprised that Ghanaians do not continually hold demonstrations in Accra to demand additional structures; major repairs to the existing structures, and the luring of top talent to the various departments. It was reported last year that John Atta Mills, at the time a presidential aspirant, often traveled to South Africa for medical treatment. While there is nothing wrong with going overseas for health care, it will be ethically wrong for our new president to seek treatment overseas, even while his fellow citizens cannot afford the same. I truly hope that overhauling Ghana’s hospitals will be one of the president’s top priorities, so that he and other Ghanaians will have full confidence in the nation’s medical personnel and facilities.

Mosaic of Ideas on Decentralization

Conversely, I disagree with Dr. Ayisi’s views on decentralization. In a national government, such as the one practiced in Ghana, decentralization remains a buzzword only, for the “quasi-federation” that Dr. Ayisi is calling for is simply not feasible under the present circumstances. This lack of feasibility is heightened both by the preponderance of decision-making at the national level (something that those in power may be unwilling to relinquish) and the haphazard manner in which taxes are collected in Ghana. For a country that depends on foreign aid for about 30% of its annual budget, allowing the various regions to make their own policy decisions, coupled with the regions’ ability to borrow money from lenders directly, will create a plethora of administrative problems that our type of governance is not designed to assimilate.

So far, our system of governance calls for the central authority to “[delegate] some of its economic and political powers to the regions” (Ayisi, 2009), except that regional and district heads are not elected, but appointed. Because the top members of the executive branch cannot be everywhere at the same time, there is the need to appoint local leaders, who, hitherto, answer to the executive branch and follow the general policy direction of the latter. Instead of Dr. Ayisi calling for a form of federalism, all the regions will be content with the status quo, provided there is an equitable distribution of resources, with citizens able to “enforce” the latter by voting out parties that are parochial in their policy-making. As was evident in Election 2008, Ghanaian voters are beginning to demand fairness and accountability, and things will only get worse for bad leaders in the future. With corruption very widespread on the African continent, semi-federalism in Ghana will only make it easier for bullies to spring up all over the country ? local leaders who will not only create problems for the central authority in Accra, but will be hard to discipline by the central government should they break the law. We all know that to have an effective federal government, regional and local leaders would have to be elected. Is the preceding something Ghanaians are prepared to pump their meager and lender-supported resources into?

Furthermore, the issue of decentralization must also be tackled vis-à-vis that of economic disparity among the various regions of Ghana. In a fully decentralized nation, the individual regions would generate their own funds and resources, implying that the poorer areas of Ghana will not be able to keep pace with those areas with greater resources, creating an economic imbalance. Provided that we have astute leaders who are willing to distribute the nation’s resources equitably and also ensure that those appointed to lead in the various regions carry out their duties effectively, the economy will continue to grow, despite government powers being vested primarily in a central authority.

From 1974 to 1981, Ghanaians experienced a form of decentralization under military dictatorship (Ahwoi, 2007). Because the local council members chosen to run the “decentralized” areas were all appointed, there was little “accountability or responsibility to the electorate” (Ahwoi, 2007), the electorate being truly nonexistent at the time. Indeed, the entire exercise was an “example of decentralization without participation” (Ahwoi, 2007). Then from 1982 to 1988, there was participation without decentralization, as the so-called slogan of “power to the people” (Ahwoi, 2007) was simply nothing more than a proletariat-imbibed feel-good exhortation! Around this time, the People’s Defense Committees, the Workers Defense Committees and later the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution all sprang up, with many citizens believing erroneously that they now had power in their own hands, even while real power rested in the hands of Jerry Rawlings and his inner core of leaders (Ahwoi, 2007).

Even as Dr. Ayisi praised Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the latter’s projects during the First Republic, we are reminded that Nkrumah’s government was synonymous with “development without participation and governance” (Ahwoi, 2007). Many will recall that Kwame Nkrumah allowed very little dissent, and power was vested completely in the central authority. Even though Kwame Nkrumah appointed District Commissioners to supervise activities in the various localities, these officers of government “were neither accountable nor responsible to the people” (Ahwoi, 2007). In spite of the fact that power was vested heavily in a central authority, there was significant development under Kwame Nkrumah, Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi would argue. I agree with Mr. Ahwoi’s sentiments that “true participatory governance combines a system of representative government through forms of elections and direct accessibility to and inputting into the structures of government at the local level. The system must also allow for the citizens’ direct involvement in the decision-making process. Thus the legal and regulatory framework must be such as to involve the people in the decision-making process, the planning process, the programme and project design process and the execution process” (Ahwoi, 2007). Thus, this writer doubts if there could be true decentralization without elections at the local and regional levels.

Entrepreneurship and Production of Goods

Regarding Dr. Ayisi’s position on entrepreneurship, I hold a slightly different view: While Dr. Ayisi believes that whenever we “export our raw materials abroad to the Americas, Europe, China, etc. it is jobs that could be created in Ghana that are being exported” (Ayisi, 2009), leaving us with huge unemployment numbers, I do not believe that we can transform this situation easily, for it is the importers of our goods and the free market that determine, to a large extent, whether the items will be purchased raw, partially processed, or fully processed. Take cocoa, for example. Although Ghana’s foreign income-earning potential is greatly dependent on the ever-fluctuating price of this salient commodity on the world market, we are not helping matters by producing substandard chocolate and beverages, which means that most importers will continue to prefer cocoa in its raw form. When I recently had some Ghanaian chocolate sent to me from Accra, I was stunned by the dull taste and cement-like strength of the product! In fact, it took a lot of effort to simply bite into the chocolate, not to mention the poor taste, when compared to similar products made elsewhere. To create more manufacturing jobs in Ghana, we must take very seriously both the quality and marketability of our products, which means that they ought to surpass in quality “generic” products produced elsewhere around the globe, as alluded to earlier. Until we do so, we will remain primarily an exporter of raw materials, never maximizing our earning potential, unless some worldwide calamity pushes up prices in our favor.

Exodus of the Literati

As distressing as it is that Ghana continues to, grudgingly, “export” raw talent and “our intellectual capital for the development of other countries to the detriment of our economy” (Ayisi, 2009), Dr. Ayisi would not deny the fact that this issue is not only about equitable remuneration, but also includes such factors as opportunity and the potential for personal development. In fact, I am wondering why Dr. Ayisi is not based in Accra at this time (no pun intended), as his services will greatly be needed by our poor country, but I am sure Dr. Ayisi has chosen the United States as his domicile because there are simply greater and better opportunities for him in his adopted home. Does it surprise anyone that a typical graduate student at the University of Ghana may need a minimum of 3 to 5 years full-time to finish a master’s degree, even while his counterparts take between 1 to 2 years to do the same in the U.S.A., simply because some Ghanaian lecturers love to place “impediments” in the paths of their students? What about the story of one Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ghana who, due to the avalanche of aggravations he consistently faced from his lecturers, had to disgustingly spend 12 full years (it takes on average 3 to 6 years in the U.S.A.) before being awarded his degree, only to pass away shortly thereafter? Who wouldn’t leave Ghana for “greener pastures” when faced with such bottlenecks in academia? We can keep our intellectuals in Ghana only if we pay them well; provide an academic and challenging platform for them to improve their expertise; and provide them jobs, not on the basis of tribal or ethnic affiliation, but solely on those of competence and experience. These are the tacit cankers that are keeping our intellectuals out of Ghana!

Sound Regulatory Policies

While I agree with Dr. Ayisi that we ought to have “sound regulatory policies in place to monitor the activities of businesses to ensure compliance and the promotion of business social responsibility” (Ayisi, 2009), I am not sure that many people understand how industry is regulated. Do Ghana’s judiciary and legislature have the requisite oversight of rulemaking, regulations and enforcement meant to control the activities of industry, or do we have an executive that insists on getting its way all of the time? Do ordinary Ghanaians participate in rulemaking procedures, and are citizens invited to such hearings so their contributions are sought before rules are finalized by government agencies? Unless there is genuine separation of powers in the system ? in addition to an unwavering commitment to the proper interpretation of law ? any powerful business can, via improper channels, circumvent regulation meant to protect, say, workers and/or the environment.

Now, what types of social and economic regulations do we have in Ghana? Are these rules promoting of a culture of free enterprise, or are monopolies entrenched in our system, not because monopolies are better for the masses, but because some powerful people are able to have their way with members of the executive branch, who then influence the decisions of the regulatory agencies, the latter organs of government that are, by design, expected to be absolutely neutral in enforcing regulation? What about social regulation meant to look out for workers’ wellbeing and the quality of consumer goods? What about laws against discrimination based on ethnicity, age and gender, among other categories? If these laws even exist, how well are they enforced? Does the government intervene wherever externalities are involved, such as the dumping of toxic substances in our rivers and streams, in a deliberate attempt by businesses to curb expenses? For Dr. Ayisi’s ideas about economic growth to become fully functional, we must not only have “sound regulatory policies” in place, but such rules must be unimpededly enforceable, the lack of which promotes high incidences of corruption in African nations.

Mordancy of Corruption

Corruption on the African continent has been blamed on “tribal responsibilities that individuals carry with them when leaving the village for a job or schooling in the city. The enhanced stature of city life brings a responsibility of assisting one’s tribal family. This obligation often imposes a financial burden on the successful member far in excess of income. The worker is unlikely to resist the pressures of society, and is thus forced to augment income” (Harris & Moran, 2000). In fact, until the economic condition of the average Ghanaian improves, the call for the elimination of corruption in all sectors of the economy will go unheeded. So long as people can exploit some windows of opportunity, albeit illegal, to supplement their incomes, they are likely to succumb to temptation, but we should not be too quick to blame such behavioral anomalies on congenital physiological “defects,” as the reasons are simply too multifaceted to cover in this piece alone, survival and living the good life being just two of them. Individually, these “aberrations” may not amount to much, but collectively, they pose a major problem to maintaining a just and wholly functional Ghanaian society.

Conclusion

Indeed, Ghana’s economy can grow immensely, provided the right economic pillars are erected. Decentralization may be a good idea, but it must be done properly: by amending the constitution so that local and regional officials are directly elected, which will, in turn, foster greater responsibility to the local voters. Dr. Ayisi’s call for improved collaboration between the institutions of learning and the government is very appropriate, and branching out into a technological society will better serve the people than simply having an industrialized country, the latter a stage that the advanced nations of the world have already moved away from. Our only science and technology university ? together with the various polytechnics ? must receive adequate funding from both private industry and government, so it can develop cutting-edge technology, knowledge that will then be invested in the economy. In Ghana, most people who complete their university education tend to seek employment with the government, simply because the private sector, until recently, had been ignored or not given the right impetus to grow by very myopic leaders. To strengthen the local economy and boost the effectiveness of private industry, the latter the main engine of economic development, a good business environment must be created for all, and those business owners not aligned with the ideologies of the ruling party should not be discriminated against, a practice that is both far too well entrenched in our society and highly inimical to economic emancipation. Together, we can make Ghana an economically powerful nation, but it will require hard work, dedication and perseverance on the part of all stakeholders ? government, business and citizens!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.