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The Short-Term Mentality Culture in Ghana

The Short-Term Mentality Culture in Ghana

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 Source: Danso, Kwaku A.

By: Kwaku A. Danso

There is a cultural mindset in Ghana, especially among those who openly profess their belief in God and spend lots of time in Church, that things will happen by themselves if they pray. Popular Radio preachers Mensah Otabil and Agyen Asare make it clear if you listen to them, that this is not their teaching, and neither is that of any of the religious teachers I know. The Bible teaches clearly that it takes hard work, it takes sowing, before one reaps. In Ghana despite our beliefs, this concept seems to be missing; we want to reap where we have not sowed, and this mindset seems to go all the way to the top of the nation’s leadership.

Was it surprising that when President Kufuor took office in 2001, the first thing he did was declare that Ghana did not have enough money and hence declared HIPC? Not soon after, his government ordered the most expensive vehicles, including $450,000 worth of bullet-proof Toyota Landcruiser 4x4 vehicles for the President and staff. This practice was never quelled and soon every Minister, Deputy, and Government official from Director and above was riding in $75,000 luxury vehicles. Despite the Western nation’s debt write-off or forgiveness of some of Ghana’s debts, the nations accumulated debts which had been reduced from $6.1 Billion to about $2.3 Billion ($3.8 Billion write-off), President Kufuor’s NPP government left the nation with a debt of about $8.1 Billion. Does this indicate any long term planning for the nation? Isn’t it an irony that the President, a noble-looking man like Kufuor, who never thought of libraries for the children in the capital city of Accra and the children of other towns, asked for or approved a grant by a committee he appointed, for $1 million in his ex-gratia emoluments package for him to set up a library. It appears former President Kufuor did not blink, nor did he ever think that some might consider this a public theft! Where is the long term thinking for the nation from our leaders?

As soon as President Mills took office in January 2009, it must be recalled that the World Bank in their infinite wisdom waited till after the election to present him with a report that Ghana’s economy was in shambles since 2006, leading to the cedi dropping in a few weeks from G1.1 to G1.4 to the dollar. The accumulated debt of the nation was reported to have jumped to $8.1 Billion! President Mills soon hid himself in some convent to pray, as some joked, and soon was in the hands of the World Bank again with a loan of $500 Million. Nobody knows what the moneys are to be used for! And the nation of Ghana is again in debt with no plan how to get out of the economic mess or pay the moneys back!

Questions are: Where are the brains in the nation? What is the long term planning? Ghana’s capital still does not have street names and house addresses! The writer’s electricity and water bill was listed as “Near the Lake side, East Legon”. Question: How the heck can educated Ghanaians, with Presidents as graduates of Oxford or Stanford University in America, manage a nation without knowing the number of houses and owners in any community or town? How do you plan for water, electricity and utility delivery services if you don’t even know this fundamental data and information!

There is a short term mentality that seems to flow in Ghana that defies logic. Poor people everywhere take risks that seem to indicate they may not care as much about their lives as people with something to look up to for the next day. However, in Ghana even rich people have no clue what tomorrow holds. Rich people live in neighborhoods where they have no police or fire service. East Legon community volunteered and built their own police. It was very nice in 2004, as I recall. President Kufuor was happy to open the station; but after two years, none of the front light bulbs around the building are working. They don’t even have vehicles or even a motor bicycle to use in case of emergency. One does not expect the poor policemen to use their own money to buy light bulbs! Questions: Who is responsible for these things in Ghana? The city and town councils of old have broken down and today nobody knows who is responsible when toilet roll in the Department of Vehicle License Office (VLO) runs out, or the Police stations need light bulbs! Government collects huge duties and taxes and fees on all vehicles entering Ghana, with a minimum of about $4,000. And yet nobody knows who is to design and build good quality roads in Ghana fir these vehicles! What are the moneys collected for, then? It will be an insult if anybody defined what we see in Ghana as roads, let alone highways! A few days ago in a heated conversation I pushed the Chief Director of the Minister of Roads, one Mr. Essilfie against the wall; he told me the government specifies what kind of road contractors are to build, and it all depends on the budget. Question: What the heck does the Government do with the moneys collected at the ports on cars and vehicles, usually ranging from 45% to150% of the actual value of purchase! There seems to be a national fraud perpetuated by government and her agencies, from the bottom to the top!

Fraud in Government –

People who think they can live on fraud have short term mentality. They don’t think beyond today. Most thieves end up being caught or dying with a conscience that only they and their maker can assess. The Fraud in government can be demonstrated and proven if any lawyers are ready to take the cases to court. To cite, at the end of the rule of Kwame Nkrumah, government was owning, in trust for the people of Ghana, Ghana Telecom, Electricity Corporation of Ghana, Ghana Water and Sewage, Ghana Airways, Ghana International, Black Star lines, Ghana produce Marketing, GIHOC group of industries including Akasonoma Electronics, a Chain of Ghana Hotels, Ghana Metalloplastica, Ghana Steel Works, Tema Oil Refinery, some State farms, Kumasi Jute factory, many factories and farms providing employment to our people.

Instead of the Ministers, civilian and military appointed, managing the Managing Directors to manage these for the nation, they rather squandered the funds and let the enterprise go broke, leading the World Bank to recommend their sale. No Manager was ever prosecuted and no reasons were ever given why such Hotels as Ambassador, Continental, Meridian, could not be managed by our managers, but foreigners who took over them are making them flourish with profits. Do any of our Presidents ponder over the financial losses? Instead of finding out why, and solving the problems, our selfish rulers, Chairmen and Presidents went borrowing, cutting deals for themselves, and rather started importing every single item in the world! Did the leaders after Nkrumah have any conscience or simply had short term mentality of greed and selfish interests?

Artisans and the Youth – The youth in every society look up to what adults do. Artisans and craftsmen, workers and laborers seem to want to take the short cut even in building houses in affluent areas. Experience employing people in Ghana helped make this observation concrete that the average worker may not be interested in long term pay plus bonus for performance, but only for today. Sales agents did not even see the long term effort and performance-based compensation, and rather preferred a slightly higher salary with no bonuses. A University graduate manager tried to find short term ways of securing his pay rather than an honest brokerage of a contract to secure advertisement. Roofing and Window contractors would do things the way they had been trained and not according to the specifications provided by the manufacturer. Painters would ignore the windows and tiles and simply dab their paint with spots left to destroy the other person’s work. It seems they could case less if you called them for a future job. Why do our people behave this way? Are they stupid or simply ignorant? Do our value systems vary from workers of other nations, or it’s simply training and discipline?

The irony is that since no government official has been tried and gone to jail for the acts of negligence of duty involved in the demise of the state owned enterprises, nor neglect of duties on building roads, nor in the poor delivery of water services, nor in the fraud perpetrated on Ghana in the telecom industry, it has created a culture where the artisans and craftsmen in Ghana, as well as the unemployed youth also think short term. They know they can get away with short cuts, and even thefts. A mechanic or plumber can simply short-circuit your car engine to get you going for today. When you see the fault next week and bring it back, they feel that gives them more work to do. This happened to me only last week. Sometimes it’s not intentionally done. It’s the culture.

Ghana has become a nation where even people driving vehicles can buy one gallon of petrol. It is the culture and nobody sees anything wrong until you come from outside. When the “check engine” light of my vehicle came on the mechanic told me “it’s common here” and not to worry about it. Huh! The day after I called the Chief Director and took him to task on the conditions of the East Legon and other roads such as the Suhum to Accra road, there was a small crew with a small truck filling potholes with sand. We wait till the next rainfall.

The Destiny –

The destiny of most Ghanaians seem to rely on somebody at some Castle telling somebody to supply water to their taps, to depend on some government bureaucrat who decides what kind of road they get in their neighborhood, what side of town gets water and when electricity is rationed and terminated or on. East Legon for ten years has not had road names and when it comes to Ghana, however, we find ourselves a proud people. However, almost everyone on getting into power, seem not to plan long term and unfortunately most want to steal from the public coffers! Why?

Ghana’s public service jobs seem to work along short-term lines of thinking. Administrators don’t seem to plan for the long term but only what they can be paid today and want benefits way beyond the nations budget. At the same time most civil service employees think they have a job forever and could care less about service or even the very building, facilities and equipment they use, be they in decay or rot! Most neighborhoods in our capital city Accra are in shambles. Our leaders do not require football (soccer) fields to have grass or lawn. Many houses and open areas are simply left with red clay to erode when it rains. A visit to the former estates called Redco in Accra last week made me feel like shedding tears. I still refuse to believe that a large wooden shed in the area was a public school built by the government of our once-proud nation of Ghana! Is it our destiny to build and live in houses and offices with dirt and dust and drive on roads with potholes nobody cares about? No! Where is government? Do we understand government?

What is the solution?

Yes there is a solution. That solution is still government, but an efficient and responsible government led by a caring leader. Government is what we all create and elect to serve us. The old days of Chieftaincy are no more responsible, but we still must manage our human societies. The government should be local first, before it goes to the nation. Government starts with the community, then the town, and then the district, and then the nation; not the other way around. The way Ghana has it is upside down! It is not the duty of President Mills, President Kufuor, or Chairman Rawlings to deliver water to Abetifi, but the people of Abetifi, through their local town government, to seek ways and means, design a budget, collect taxes, to build a water treatment and delivery system! Period!

Yes there is corruption, and it slows us down, no doubt; but humans were not created corrupt. Our people can be managed to do honest work as they do when they go overseas. Workers must feel they have a stake in the outcomes and success of the company or ministry. They should not work for peanuts while directors of government simply live on public funds beyond budget limits. Purchasing $90,000 vehicles with petrol paid for, and free housing, is nothing short of public theft from the standpoint of most employees. It was a colonial legacy that Kwame Nkrumah did not have time to tackle. We must do better than that today to have social equity. According to World Bank reports, 78.5% of all Ghanaians live under $2 per day (report 2003). This is not right and we must make workers feel whatever they do is for their country whiles being paid decently to live well, according to their level of education, qualifications and performance and contributions.

Water is not a luxury or to be achieved with individual effort. An interview in 2004 with the former Chief engineer of Ghana Water revealed that Ghana had not expanded the water treatment systems in our cities since 1965 under Kwame Nkrumah’s rule. Why has the population of Accra more than quadrupled but we have not increased the capacity of water and electricity? Why do the Ministers and Directors at the Ministries allow roads to be built that do not last more than one rainy season? Why spend money every year or two to build new residential roads and even main highways linking major towns? Isn’t it a waste of money?

There is a school of thought that suggests that the Ghanaian, having emerged from long generations of colonial rule, did not see the community they live in as their. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans take care of their immediate personal needs, then that of the family, before they graduate to think of the community and then the nation. Is it possible the Ghanaian in public office is so self-centered and has still not graduated from the self and family? Is the African who took over from the colonial masters so selfish and not thinking straight? In 2003 I found the neighborhood roads where I live, supposed to be an affluent area in Accra, was being surfaced. I found it was simply compacting of the soil and putting coal tar on it. Not even gravels or stones! After the rains in April, massive potholes developed and in Summer 2004 they needed repair. In 2005 again the roads were being repaired and it was tar on sand again! Again in 2006, and now again in 2009 the roads are torn apart and being repaired.

Common Sense –

Planning takes education and experience, but any common sense planning would have predicted the development as population grew around the Accra-Tema motorway and hence would have indicated that a 4 lane residential road would be needed; there would also be a need for access roads to and from the Motorway every few miles as done in Europe, America and any civilized modern nation. Anybody who does not know how these are done should simply observe as they travel through European or North American highways, especially California. California has the best developed highway system in America and the highest number of vehicles also. The US at one point had more registered vehicles than the rest of the world combined, and so when it comes to highway development, California sets the standards for the US and for the world. Most of these Ministers, including our current President Mills, have been to or lived in California and hence there is no excuse for Ghana to build highways without access roads, or roads that are not modern, be they residential or Highways. It is sad and a disgrace indeed that these leaders cannot envision an Accra or Kumasi with non-stop highways around the city! It is hard to imagine what these leaders and their Ministers and Administrators see and learn when they travel overseas, as they get paid their per diems and relax in luxury hotels! What is their mindset? That we Ghanaians cannot do it?


1. Ghana seems surely lost in this jungle called democracy! Nobody seems to know what to do after elections, and all the government does is order expensive vehicles for Ministers and Directors, $100,00 to $300,000 furniture and renovations for their free bungalows, irrespective of the amount in the coffers!

2. Begging others to balance our budget is a disgrace, and we of the post WW2 “modern” generation will not allow it anymore! We have allowed our leaders to make a disgrace out of Ghana and Africa!

3. The youth of Ghana should not give up and think corruption cannot be solved. It can! We just need the right type of management, and push our leaders to have the courage to fire or remove non-performing government officials or Ministers and do the right thing. We must aim to remove incompetent Ministers and officials or even the President before four years. Elections are not the only definition of how democracy works!

4. I challenge every one of you to make your voices heard. Pick up the phone and call your Ministers, call the Office of your MP or your District Chief executive, call the office of your Regional Minister, call the office of the President, and let’s put pressure on them!

5. Let me share a few numbers:

Ministry of Roads – Principal Secretary (Mr. Essilfie) -233-21-661-575;

Monitoring & Evaluation (Mr. Konadu) -233-21-673-674

Office of the President –Chief of Staff (Newman) -021-666-742

Electricity Corporation of Ghana -233-21-611-611

Ghana Water Company Ltd. -233-21-666-781/2/3/4/; Mng.Dir (S.K.O Lamptey) 662-037

Dr. Kwaku A. Danso (Email: k.danso@comcast.net),

East Legon, Accra, Ghana

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.