Feature Article of Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Is Ghana in Search of Excellence?

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

23rd November, 2014

When Tom Peters and Waterman published their book, In Search of Excellence, in the mid-80s, they had in mind best practices or high quality standards which made some corporate business entities outperform their rivals in the USA. Their research revealed the best practices of establishing internal controls and internal customers, external benchmarking, Critical Success Factors, Key Performance Indicators, Performance-related pay, among others as cardinal for measuring success.

Not more than 3 years ago, Ghana was touted as having the highest economic growth rate in the world, hovering around 14%. Why are we now in the doldrums? What went wrong after we became an oil producer? Have we contracted the Dutch disease of complacency, are we caught up in the throes of analysis paralysis? Why are we witnessing the Occupy Ghana Movement now? Why are we experiencing downtime with most of our essential services in the country such as bad roads, intermittent water and electricity supply?

Peters and Waterman concluded from their studies or survey of the best performing companies in the USA that those were the ones with the characteristics of keeping their internal processes simple and straightforward, being people-centered, having a hands-on practical approach, knowing their onions or being adept at what they did, sticking to the knitting or concentrating on their core business activities, among other findings.

Can we conclude that our current NDC-led government is people-centred and pro-poor, and they are delivering on their remit? Why do we have high levels of youth unemployment, poor quality roads leading to many accidents and deaths? How many of our politicians cut their teeth in previous governments or started from the local government level to learn the ropes before they got to where they are now? Imagine appointing an office orderly or clerk as the new CEO of your Multinational Corporation?

Where will he draw his experience from? How many mistakes will he make through trial and error before he gets it right? A friend just returned from Ghana, and remarked that Ghana has moved from the Ogyakrom epithet to that of Inferno, on account of the worsening economy and unbearable taxes slapped on workers, the type which led to the French Revolution in 1789 with the riot by the Parisian mob.

It reminded me of a highlife tune in the 60s which went by the lyrics, ‘Sasabomsam kurow mu na ma ba yi’ (I have landed in the city of the Devil). I think we need to be circumspect in appointing our political leaders. If indeed we are really in search of excellence, we should not trivialise, tribalise, and politicise appointments in high positions and offices in our dear country.
All political appointments should be subject to rigorous professional scrutiny, and appointees should have rich track records and CVs.

This is why we need seasoned politicians with wide exposure and solid educational backgrounds in Economics, Business Management, Political Science, Sociology, Engineering, Philosophy, Law, Science, IT, Classics, Public Administration, and Psychology, among others to lead us. In advanced countries like the UK, USA, and Germany, their institutions provide robust checks and balances to prevent fraud and incompetence. Their leaders go through the mill and they really prepare themselves for a long time before they ascend to leadership. This is why I believe in gerontocracy or government led by old and experienced people who should not be less than 60 years.

I think we need a complete overhaul of our defective 1992 Constitution, especially in the department of inter-governmental relationships, among the various arms of government. The structure of our current local government system is totally dysfunctional. So far as governance at the grassroots is weak, we are doomed. I have written on this subject of urgent need for local government reform several times on this forum, and my judgement is based on my insight from what I was exposed to while doing my master’s studies with UNISA in South Africa, and my knowledge from best practices elsewhere..

There is need to devolve, decentralise and create enough political space at the grassroots level for development to permeate and percolate to the grassroots, thus experiencing a bottom-up development paradigm or the principle of subsidiarity in Public Administration. If central government has failed us, let us empower ourselves at the grassroots and do it ourselves (DIY).

Our current District and Municipal Assemblies have become clueless structures which serve as dumping grounds for failed party cadres. The District Assembly apparatus lacks professionalism, as it is highly politicised and full of government appointees. How then do we expect quality performance and timely delivery of critical public services such as proper sanitation, water, and electricity, which must be coordinated by them? Or are we implementing Andrew Jackson’s Spoils System to boot, without regard for our peculiar local circumstances? When shall we embrace Meritocracy instead of this clueless Mobocracy, Mediocracy, Khakistocracy, Oligarchy, and Plutocracy?

We can also borrow a concept in Geography called the Growth Pole theory, whereby certain rural areas of the country can be earmarked for universities or polytechnics, which can trigger growth. This is what Dr Mahathir Muhammad did in Malaysia. Or we can borrow from the economic growth theories of Nicholas Kaldor, W.W. Rostow, Solow, Myrdal, Abrahamovic, among many others. Better still, we can map out strategies to review the inward-based and outward-based strategies of growth used by Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea, among others.

Hirschman proposed the unbalanced growth model based on identifying a leading sector such as agriculture or tourism, and focusing all resources on that leading sector so that if it blossoms and firms up, it can rub on, on the other sectors of the economy. Critics of this approach argue against putting all your eggs in one basket, and they would rather call for balanced growth or diversification. A poor country like Ghana cannot afford the high cost of the balanced growth vector or path.

Perhaps, we can learn from Botswana whose economy is driven by two main sectors of diamond mining and agriculture, which sectors have had spillover effects on education, tourism and other sectors. We need a long term national development plan which all succeeding governments should implement religiously to take Ghana forward.

The country of Botswana is politically stable because of less politicisation of issues, sane and transparent governance, excellent leadership styles of discipline and frugality, and high levels of accountability in government. Confucius once said that a group of bad people gets a bad leader. Perhaps, we in Ghana have to examine our ways for us to reform, by seeking quality education, being critical thinkers, avoiding thriving on gossip, exposing lying journalists and politicians, among others.

Maybe we need national prayers for repentance and redemption from our greedy and cheating ways. Can we be less materialistic and die a little for mother Ghana? Where is the cherished patriotism which our forefathers imbued us with, and bequeathed to us from the days of the Aggreys, Mensah Sarbahs, Tetteh Quarshies, Ekem Fergusons, Philip Gbehos, Ephraim Amus, Nii Bonne, Kwame Nkrumah, etc? What we are going through now as a nation is exactly what Nkrumah the Seer forecast in his writings about neocolonialism in his books such as Consciencism, Dark Days In Ghana, Neo-Colonialism-The last Stage of Colonialism and Imperialism, inter alia.

According to V. Palito (Macroeconomics, Study Guide, 2011, LSE), governments should borrow only for capital expenditure, and not for recurrent expenditure of shoring up things like SSSS (Single Spine Salary Structure) implementation payments. Currently, the unsustainable government borrowing is done for political expediency, which is totally unacceptable as it weakens our cedi, fuels inflation, and creates undue pressure in the economy.

Palito also emphasizes that the Total Government Borrowing Constraint should be guided by the fact that borrowing should not be more than 40% of GDP, though the borrowing can be supplemented by Seigniorage or money supply component through the central bank, with the proviso that it will not go against the inflation and interest rates targets set through fiscal and monetary policy guidelines. Inflation in Ghana is currently about 16.9%, and borrowed money constitutes 62% of GDP.

As is the case in Ghana, there seems to be caution thrown to the winds, and the policy makers have embarked on creating high-powered money which is causing overheating and unsustainable government expenditure, something which reduces our credit rating by institutions such as IMF, Moody, Fitsch, Standard and Poor, SGS, among others. It seems we are toeing so much the line of the expansionary Keynesian demand-side model, which should be used with discretion during recessions and slumps, instead of the market-driven, supply-side, contractionary, and conservative Friedman monetarist and neo-classical approach.

As it is, excessive borrowing by the government is crowding out private enterprise, and emasculating investment and savings because of unbearable tax burden. The policy makers should consider the Laffer curve effect of tax avoidance and tax evasion if the tax load is abnormally heavy. Workers need to have Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) automatically embedded in the system as automatic stabilizers and adjusters.

The fiscal policy makers should also consider Adam Smith’s canons of good tax systems. Proudhon once said that taxation is robbery. This is so when the tax revenue leads to the phenomenon of Arthur Okun’s leaking bucket analogy, whereby tax revenue is not properly applied for its intended purpose, and the beneficiaries are robbed of the benefits such as transfer payments, subsidies, enjoyment of quality infrastructure, among others

Our late President, Prof John Atta Mills, was famously quoted as saying, Dzi wo fie As3m’, which translates as ‘be mindful of keeping to your domestic agenda’. Well, in a globalized world of interdependence, we may not buy so much into this philosophy as it is applicable in a sense, in the short run, but not in the long run, because Ebola for example, can cross borders and pose a hazard or threat to a neighbouring country. The best foreign policy stance is having a balance among minding domestic, regional, and international issues. On that score, we can be proud of Kwame Nkrumah, Kufuor, and Mahama, but not of Kofi Busia or John Atta Mills, or Rawlings.

Good governance requires transparency, accountability, probity or integrity, and allowing for democratic processes of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, freedom from want, inter alia. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights made specific references to issues of universal adult suffrage, equal access to education, and freedom from want or deprivation.

It is this last bit that our current NDC government has failed us miserably as the mandate given to them has not been used to improve the lot of Ghanaians. How come the Central Region of Ghana is now the poorest region in Ghana, when most eminent personalities in Ghana either had their education there, or some of them hail from there? Is the national cake being fairly distributed in terms of appointments and job creation or allocation of national resources?

Can we say that we are experiencing excellence in governance in corporate Ghana now? Not when we are indebted to the tune of almost 22 billion dollars or 61% of our GDP (when the recommended norm is 40% of GDP), and yet our quality of life is so deplorable and detestable, so much so that at the least opportunity, every young man or woman will like to vote with their feet, and exit corporate Ghana for good, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, for greener pastures abroad.

Not when we are fed with lies upon lies, empty promises upon promises, wanton corruption and unfathomable judgement debts, a mass of uncompleted infrastructure projects like the Accra-Kumasi highway, or the fast deteriorating Kotoka International Airport, among many others.

What was the heavy amount of money borrowed used for? Can we guarantee that the petro-chemical/gas works consumed such colossal and gargantuan amounts? Why then are we having incessant power outages when such mammoth amounts have been borrowed to help provide quality public services? What is the public interest in such a matter of this massive debt contracted over a short period of the NDC rule?

Is it going to translate into a generational debt and curse? How is it affecting our attractiveness as an investment destination for Foreign Direct Investment or inward investment? Why are our railways in such deplorable state? What is the government doing? Are we experiencing executive capture, government failure, Peter’s principle of being promoted to the highest level of our incompetence?

When we return to Tom Peters and Waterman’s thesis, we conclude that corporate Ghana is not being run properly, hence essential services such as regular water supply, electricity supply, quality road networks, quality education, are all eluding us like a mirage on the desert.

Our internal processes are steeped in corruption and excessive bureaucracy. Every facet of life in Ghana, including awards of government contracts, recruitment into the civil or public services, dispensation of justice, acquisition of land, school placements, inter alia, have all been politicised and tainted with the cankerworm of corruption. These are not mere perceptions but real issues which we all experience on a daily basis.

In conclusion, let us look for excellence in all we do. Let us look for excellent leaders, and let us be the change we want (Gandhi). Let us put an end to having charlatan and quack pastors, quack MPs, quack journalists, quack leaders, among others. We demand a reformed Ghana now, a Ghana where ethics are upheld and where peace reigns..