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The Poverty Conundrum And The Millennium Challenge Account

Sat, 26 Aug 2006 Source: Mornah, Anbataayela Bernard

Last year I went to the village on my usual visits aimed at reconnecting with old friends and family members. So after a little rest, I decided to pay curtsy call on a long time friend at his house. I was told that his wife was in labour and that he had carried her on a bicycle to the nearest hospital which is five miles away through the ‘askaleh’ (rough road), going through the unfriendly road bumps with (we call them pot holes) her till she got to the hospital. Minutes after arrival, he was told he needed to provide five hundred thousand down payment before any treatment could start, so he had to race back to the village to appeal for some assistance in his distressed moment. I was on hand to assist him with the money and so we both left for the hospital, this time round in my wretched ‘tata’ pickup van. Just after we had followed the usual hospital formalities and payments, we were to be informed that the wife had passed away. For me, we lost a wife and baby due to poverty-hope you agree with me.

Another ugly case was that a remote relative of mine, who had heard that I had come to the village, paid a visit to me two days later when I was still trying to put up with the trauma I had gone through. His case was that the child had made aggregate 12 in the SSCE and gained admission to the university of Ghana, but could not honour the admission because he could not raise the fee as required coupled with the fact that his ward was not offered regular university residence. He added that even if they sold all the harvest they got from the farm he could still not afford the first fees let alone continue with subsequent payments. I am sure that, most people who live outside their villages are confronted with similar if not more agonizing scenarios as this. For me, this is poverty at work.

It for this reason that I heaved a sigh of relieve when in August 2006, the government of Ghana and the Millennium Challenge Cooperation [MCC] signed a pack that was witnessed by H.E President John Agyekum Kufour of nearly $550 million intended to reduce poverty in Ghana. It is even heart illuminating when President Kufour in thanking the US government said “this will revolutionize agriculture in the country”-to me, the industry for the poor. US secretary of state, Miss Condoleezza Rice is quoted to have said “more than just good intentions, President Bush (the US government) wants real results that transform the lives of the poor”

Clearly, the government and people of Ghana are said to achieve this feet on the US proclamation that Ghana has achieved great marks on its sore of Good governance, human rights and rule of law. This assessment was further stressed by the CEO of the MCC when he said “we are confident that Ghana will continue its commitment to good governance and building and strengthening the institutions that deliver results to the Ghanaian people”. With pride, I say that all Ghanaians are worthy of praise for our sense of good governance which encapsulates objective criticism of our rulers when they are going wrong.

The government of Ghana after submitting a proposal to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to access about $550 million from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Qualified to access the fund, according to official sources, the amount will benefit about 23 selected Districts in Ghana based on two main criteria: ? socio-economic needs and ? Growth potential in Agriculture. Some institutions have estimated that about 50,000 farmers and that about 250,000 households would benefit from the MCA. During the launch of the MCA, President Kufour is on record to have said that the MCA will generate over two million jobs for Ghanaians-what could be better tiding to the ear?

According to Hon. Paa Kwesi Ndoum, Minister responsible for Public Sectors Reforms and leader of MCA-Ghana delegation, the criteria for the selection of participating Districts is based on: ? Poverty profile ? Agricultural potential ? Private sector investments existing and ? Availability of water. ? It is instructive to recall that Hon Paa Kwesi Ndoum when he was Minister responsible for Economic Planning and Regional Cooperation, concluded the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) paper, a document that clearly spell out the poverty profile and growth potentials of the ten regions in Ghana.

It is this GPRS that ranks the Upper East, Upper West, Northern and Central Regions the most poverty endemic regions in the entire country with 9/10, people in Upper East Region as poor, 8/10 people in Upper West Region as poor, 7/10 people in Northern Region being poor and 6/10 people in the Central Region being poor. In this regard being “poor” refers to a situation where people live under one dollar per day or seven hundred thousand cedis [700,000] a year.

The POLITICS OF DEFINING POVERTY

Dear reader, as you are aware, of the 23 Districts earmarked to gain from the MCA, none of them come from the two poorest regions per the GPRS’ conclusions-what a bizarre twist of facts? What could possibly explain the sudden exclusion of the Upper East and Upper West Regions from the beneficiary list? Is it poverty profile, or agricultural potential, or availability of water?

Without doubt, none of the aforementioned yardsticks set by Ndoum disqualifies the Upper East and Upper West Regions. Indeed, the benchmarks, as spelt out rather re-enforces that fact that these regions should been selected as priority areas.

I am rocked to the marrow by this omission or commission on the part of government as reflected in the non equitable manner this poverty reductive MCA is to be applied. The non inclusion of Districts from these regions has generated a lot of concerns about the real motive of government with regards to beneficiary Districts.

Evidence abound that the Districts in these two regions are adorned with massive agricultural potentials that could not have missed the attention of the drafters of the Ghana MCA programme. For example the Upper West is a major producer of cotton for the local textile industries, Soya beans for the nutritional and food industries and for export while the Upper East region is the home of the Tono and Vea dams which are being under utilized due to insufficient investment in rehabilitation of their infrastructure. Note that these crops mentioned are but a few of the many that exists in the regions that have a gestation period of less than a year, and also that they are mainly cultivated by the private sector-not government

It is essential for government to take steps to include Districts from the two most poverty endemics regions to reflect the letter and spirit of governments own GPRS paper. This must be done speedily to avoid this naked contradiction of the MCA’s selection and the GPRS contents.

This is a sensitive and delicate issue that must be handled with absolute care by government especially so when it is now glaring to the people that government only parade negative statistics of poor regions only for gaining favour from the international community but not because it truly wants to arrest the bestial conditions of the people.

These developments in our country, coming especially after the President at his first “meet the press” stated that the Upper West Region was too far to merit his visit and that because there was no airport in the region. Just after the President made that statement, the Vice President alerted him that there was an airstrip in the Upper West Region. The remark by the President can prompt one to ask whether President Kufour indeed know the topography of our land and whether he can only visit places to ascertain life conditions of Ghanaians in a plane.

Such comments are distasteful and the fact that the region has no District selected for benefit under the MCA is devastating to the people. Government must act now to indicate sensitivity for the plight of the people in the two regions and to enlist confidence in governmental documents such as the GPRS.

It is important, in concluding this paper for me to acknowledge that there are 138 districts in Ghana and that not are included. But in each Region, a district could be selected based on the established criteria and further to make deliberate efforts at bridging the yawning income disparity in Ghana. More so, when we are told that the aim of the MCA is to reduce poverty.

To the people of the two regions it is crucial for us to realize that “no man or woman can arrive at the needed sense of responsibility, unless their living conditions allow them to become conscious of their dignity”

I fervently hope that government will revise its decision of excluding the poorest regions so as to coincide with US secretary of State, Miss Condoleezza Rice’s statement as quoted again “more than just good intentions, President Bush (the US government) wants real results that transform the lives of the poor”. Rightly so, the poor are in the two Upper regions

Authored by: Anbataayela Bernard. Mornah,
[ Wa, Upper West Region-Ghana, P.O.Box 562,]


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Mornah, Anbataayela Bernard