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Feature Article of Friday, 18 May 2012

Columnist: Danquah Institute

This Election Is About Poverty, Cost Of Living, Unemployment And Corruption

Let no one attempt to fool you. Don't be distracted by the frustrations of the Rawlingses; nor talk about electoral violence. Don't be tricked by any attempt to revive the debased debate on drugs, God-fearism, morality, arrogance, character. While these topics may make the election 'exciting', since none of the main candidates is a stranger to us, we should protect the political space from being hijacked by the apostles of diversionism.

Election 2012 is all about how the Ghanaian economy has been competently mismanaged by Prof JEA Mills and his team and how the high ground of visionary and competent economic management can be seized again. Much of the problems afflicting the Ghanaian can be said to have flowed from the incompetent manner by which our economy has been handled by the Mills-Mahama-led team.

Yet, Ghanaians are being told everyday by Government that they had never had it so good. Presumably, the claimed elimination of schools-under-trees, provision of boreholes, free school uniforms and single spine salary structure have propagandally given voters a convincing reason to vote for four more years of a better Ghana.

As I said before, if propaganda could fly, the Castle would be an international airport – and a very busy one at that.

The description that best fits President Mills is that of an absentee president, leading a ruling party that has lost touch with the concerns of the ordinary people and has neither the desire nor the clue to reconnect with the real issues confronting the people.

The reaction of Government to Dr Mahamudu Bawumia's seminal work on the real state of the economy said it all. They focused not on the issues raised but on the man and on some academic debate over the integrity of the Ghana Statiscal Service. It was deliberate. They were not prepared to respond to the charges of corruption, high cost of living, high cost of business, unemployment and skyrocketing national debt.

Unless you are a worker or resident of the Castle and its affiliates, the findings of the recent survey by Research International would have come as no surprise to you. Like the speech by the vice presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party, Dr Bawumia, the RI poll only confirms what Ghanaians can feel in their pockets – coins of destitution.

For the 4,598 respondents sampled in every constituency across Ghana in March 2012, the unbearably rising cost of living was their number one concern. This is in spite of claims of 22-months of single digit inflation.

I ask a simple question. How come in every other country (I have lived in some four countries) the rate of inflation bears direct relevance to the cost or standard of living of the ordinary person. Except in Ghana, where we need experts to explain to us why there is a marked contradistinction between cost of living and consumer price index.

Again, for the 4,598 Ghanaians polled, 1,241 respondents picked unemployment as the most important issue. To them the claims of 1.7 million jobs being created might as well be in reference to the Chinese, South Africans, Koreans or any other foreign nationals who appear to be winning more favours under President Mills than the suffering Ghanaian masses.

Poverty came third on the list of issues. This adds to estimates from the World Bank that Ghanaians would get poorer as a result of the policy options preferred by President Mills from 2009.

The four top failures identified in the RI poll included judgment debts, corruption, and unemployment.

The cost of corruption is there for all to see. When a government opts to pay within one year, over $450 million in judgment debts, and allows the salaries of teachers and nurses to fall into two years of arrears, can such a government be said to have the interest of the people at heart?

When the same government, of professed social democrats, makes a choice to pay GHC364 million to three entities (Wayome, Waterville and CP) without any reasonable basis, and that same government can boast of contracting a loan of some 52 million euros (GHC126m) to fight maternal mortality, you begin to appreciate why we are where we are – poor and abused.

If there is any justice, whether social or otherwise, then there is absolutely no reason for Ghanaians to buy into the slogan, 'Still Better Ghana.'

The better Ghana agenda was, in fact, stillborn. It was conceived by propaganda, carried by propaganda, delivered on the table of propaganda and have been kept alive through the feeding bottle of propaganda. December 7, on its fourth birthday, Ghanaians must wean themselves off, what I will term as, propagandocracy – the rule of propaganda.

In September 2010, I wrote a piece, 'It's the Poverty, Stupid!'. I still stand by this. The greatest election issues this year revolve around poverty. All the political parties know that the suffering masses carry more votes than the smaller reserve army of benefiting party loyalists, who, by virtue of their proximity to power, may find the discerning space to understand the oft-trumpetted macro-economic achievements of Government.

Music to the ears of the blower but painful cacophony to those who have to bear it on top of the load they can't bear.

There is something that the ruling party simply doesn't get: Ghanaians are poor. Our people are very, very poor. There is very little that this government has done to change that mightily, when the basis of the people's adversity and misery - lack of education, lack of skills and lack of jobs has not been tackled with any radical vim.

However, some mothers understand that pretty much. They just want to know that their children are likely to have a better life. They are willing to accept their fate if only Government is willing to do something for the destiny of their child. Some fathers want to make sure that their human dignity - of being able to provide the basic necessities of life to their wards -- is not taken away by the inadequicies of their circumstances.

There is nothing that subtracts dignity from our humanity than not being able to care for the children you bear. Will he or she grow up in a society of opportunities? What with only 47% of JHS graduates earning a pass grade? What happens to the majority who didn't pass?

What investments have been made in vocational and technical educations, from where the majority of skills that make any nation develop are churned?

Why should Hope be hanged so high up beyond the reach of the many who only want it to inspire them, motivate them, serve as a pillow to their daydreams. Why all so high?

Politicians in our poor but vibrant democracy has no business doing anything else but to talk about and address the poverty of the mass of our people. Every policy must be viewed in the context of poverty. Whatever messages must be said through the medium of poverty. How does it touch on the poverty of our people? How would it impact on it; how would it be received by the poor?

The art of democracy is identifying with the concerns of the majority.

Ghanaians, frustrated by the economic situation and saddled with an absentee president, sleeping on the job on a bed of propaganda, is looking for leadership and this is what Akufo-Addo and Bawumia must provide – firmly, decisively, persuasively and compassionately.

The majority of Ghanains are poor - so that is where the battle is and that is where the NPP must pitch camp.

The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute, a centre-right policy think tank in Accra. email: gabby@danquahinstitute.org

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