Why Pastor Otabil is wrong;

Fri, 19 Feb 2016 Source: Jajah, Mahmoud

And Why the State is not an Agent of Suffocation

Pastor (Dr) Mensah Otabil is arguably the most respected voice of reason in Ghana today. As a leading pastor in the country with a large following, Pastor Otabil has established himself not only as a respected cleric, but also as an influential businessman and entrepreneur. As a young man, I've benefitted tremendously from not only listening to his talks, and the reading of his books, I also received my Bachelors degree from a university he founded, the Central University.

At Central University, we were taught to think outside the box and to critically analyze issues before we accept or reject them. And that is exactly what I intend to do in this piece on what Pastor Otabil said concerning the role of the State in our lives.

First of all, the notion that Ghanaians should not be content with basic goods and services provided by government is absolutely wrong. What then is the role of government, if not to provide 'basic goods and services'? For someone who believes in private enterprise as the main panacea for our economic challenges, one would expect that Pastor Otabil will rather encourage the government to only stick to the provision of basic goods and services such as the provision of good roads, water, electricity, and security. If we don't demand and expect these basic goods and services from the government, what then should we expect the government to provide?

Secondly, it is absolutely wrong for Pastor Otabil to suggest that the State has hijacked and monopolized almost everything in the country. Let's analyze the details. We live in a free enterprise society where the private individual is free to establish whatever institution or organization he/she wishes to organize within the confines of our laws. And I believe it is within that framework that Pastor Otabil was able to put up his university, the Central University. Any Ghanaian who is ready and willing to put up an enterprise is allowed to do so. With the exception of some few natural monopolies such as the water and railway sectors, Ghanaians have absolutely unbridled freedom to establish whatever enterprise they're willing, ready and able to establish. So for the good pastor to suggest that the government has monopolized and hijacked everything from the citizens cannot be factual.

Thirdly, the State should not and cannot 'get out of hospitals, schools, and everything.' And to be frank, it is surprising and shocking to hear such a statement from no less a person than from a 'man of God.' A statement like that coming from Pastor Otabil is disturbing and unfortunate. Why must the State get out of everything? Apart from the fact that it is the responsibility of the State to provide basic goods and services, it is equally the responsibility of the State (or the government) to provide health, education, and other essential services to its citizens, especially for those who cannot afford what the private sector is providing. The State has not stopped any private person from going into hospitals. The State has not stopped any private person from going into schools. And the state has not stopped any private person from going into the other sectors of national strategic importance in this country. If anything at all, it is rather the private sector that is failing this country. And let me explain that.

When Ghana was plunged into a serious energy crisis for almost four years, what stopped the private sector in this country from taking advantage of the inefficiency and the incompetence of the government, to help solve the crisis? What stopped the entrepreneurs and the businessmen that Pastor Otabil is talking about, from putting together consortia and other deals to put up power plants and other energy infrastructures to help address the power crisis? Is it not the same "inefficient" and "incompetent" government that has to put deals together to resolve the crisis? And today Pastor Otabil is telling us that "we can’t just be happy that we didn’t have electricity now we have electricity"? Of course we should be happy we have electricity! Of course we should be happy we have tarred roads! These are the basics we expect from any functioning government. And these are the fundamentals of any economic development. We should be happy that our government is providing these basic essentials. No where in the world the private sector is providing road infrastructure. That is the work of the government. And if the government does that, of course we should be happy that our government is functioning. These are the "minimals" we should be happy with.

To develop this nation, we need both the private sector and the public sector to play their respective roles effectively and efficiently. The government has not stopped any private person from putting up a hospital that can compete with Korle Bu or the Ridge Hospital or the Okomfo Anokye Hospital. Our entrepreneurs and private business people either do not currently have the capacity to put up such structures, or are also guilty of lacking the vision and the foresight to put up those structures. No one should put that blame on the government. And until our entrepreneurs and business community puts up some of these basic infrastructures in place, we should never asked the government to "get out of hospitals, schools, and everything." We still need the government to run these facilities.

Sorry Pastor, you're absolutely wrong on this matter.

Mahmoud Jajah



Columnist: Jajah, Mahmoud