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Feature Article of Saturday, 20 October 2012

Columnist: Cudjoe, Franklin

President Mahama Charmed Me too

*CUDJOE METER: President Mahama Charmed Me too. But I was not enchanted with the entire Substance*

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By Franklin Cudjoe

President Mahama did his admirers and certainly my very difficult-to-please self great good as he appeared presidential in his delivery. He could win unsuspecting and undecided hearts too. He did well to rehearse and pour out his 4--point vision. But yet again, the pieces, as in the mission to get there is too fraught with a picture of a centrist, centrally directed set of actions that will see little change capable of transforming lives and economies at the grassroots.- This is so, because he was heavily short on the sanctions and the accountability mechanisms to exact performance. It is becoming clear that DECENTRALISATION of power and resources will achieve many of the things the President has in mind.

AGAIN CRUCIALLY MISSING is RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. There is no way this country can go manufacturing, industrialise without a conscious effort at investing in R&D. R&D is not necessarily erecting school buildings, and not in setting up enterprise funds alone. You have to develop the meme of the private sector, say makers of the sleek looking iPhones and galaxy tabs. On Agriculture, I think the President gets it a bit wrong. We cannot force people to eat locally manufactured stuff when they are produced at exorbitant costs. Ordinary consumers will opt for cheaper foreign products. So, we must focus on reducing the cost of business domestically. On local content, yes, we must be seen to be doing more, but we cannot force foreign investors to spend money to educate their own workers as of right. Most companies spend money training their local staff anyway, but it may be too much of an ask to legislate this requirement when they pay taxes to the state.

Why do we have to continue paying higher wages to entice the movement of labour from the private sector to the largely unproductive public sector? There is nothing to rejoice over paying atrocious salaries without a demand for productivity. The earlier Ghana changed course from that unscientific and inward-looking single spine scheme, the better; otherwise the grim scenarios the President painted with persistent calls for more will drive us into an abyss.

The mantra that government is the biggest spender and will likely remain so does not sit well with the pledge to make the private sector the engine of growth and decentralize power and resources for local actions to be taken by local people. The government/state is simply too large and too powerful to spend in a manner that could trigger the growth needed and in an equitable manner even if uses its power to direct procurement practices to favour local entrepreneurs.

Sadly, I did not hear a word about the following:

The persistent calls by many that the new Pension Schemes should be licensed immediately for the licensed Trustees to take over the management of new contributions. That the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) should quickly publish a statement of affairs of the Temporary Fund established by the NPRA board to collect and invest 5% of workers pension contributions (TPF) contrary to the law, detailing, full facts on monies collected, investments made, and expenses incurred on a month on month basis as there is potential loss of Ghc 200m of poor workers money. That the Government should undertake a forensic audit into the financial management of the NPRA as regards the handling of the TPF. Any misdeeds should be severely punished. Monies unaccounted should be chargeable to the Board members.

GUMA, the hard-nosed conglomerate that was brought from South Africa to come and build social housing in Ghana after the self-inflicted STX debacle. This is despite the fact that GUMA itself was more interested in lucrative commercial opportunities in Ghana, and Government knew that! Or the new Nigerian company, SNECOU, a company indicted on multiple grounds for embezzlement and corruption called brought in to handle a $77m social housing project.

What about the Czech company with no fund-raising and manufacturing track record and capacity that was brought in to revive the Kumasi shoe factory? Despite evidence provided by IMANI that the whole project was non-viable, the Minister of Defence himself held a press conference to defend the project, dismissing IMANI's concerns in the process.

What about when IMANI showed with clear analysis that the gas plant will likely make less than $100m a year and so that current plans were leaky and likely to pose feasibility challenges? Didn’t government once again refused to listen? Aren’t there difficulties triggering flow of funds from the CDB loan?

What about when IMANI pointed to likely difficulties in triggering disbursements from the CDB facility this year and warned that the difficulties will persist well into 2013? What about how the government then went berserk, activating a vicious character assassination machine. What about when it became clear that their sluggishness was obstructing the flow of money from the CDB facility, didn’t the Information Ministry quickly start sponsoring misinformation in the international press, including at one point briefing Bloomberg that the first tranche of $1.5b came in February when the truth is THAT EVEN ONE CENT HASN'T TOUCHED GHANAIAN SHORES. The Chinese don't throw away money for nothing!

What about when the Free Zones Board partnered with a company with zero capacity to build an industrial estate and was told to find a more credible partner, they adamantly refused and its Head took to the airwaves to lambaste IMANI. Today, not even one 'trip' of sand has moved to site in Sekondi. $4bn project indeed! No comment?

What about when IMANI argued that the current national master railway strategy is simply unfundable? This time, the government didn't even bother to respond. After 6 years not a single meter of rail line has been laid.

Finally, the President failed abysmally on his EDUCATION plan. He danced, danced and berthed at Nana Addo's feet and without the slightest indicator of how much his alternative, well, no alternative plan would cost. How was he going to fund the 10 training colleges, the 200 SHS schools? Indeed how much would the modern airports, aerodromes, the eastern university and just about anything he dished out cost? Possibly from our 70bn GDP? Then, it may well be that the NPP, PPP and CPP could fun their lofty education projects too from the growing wealth? Non? Yes, the Constitution may have said education shall be progressively free, but it takes one's audacity to make it happen, even if the constitutional idea is stupid. Of course the constitution said no one shall help another ‘steal’ (or transfer is it) money, but his predecessor literally supervised the 'stealing' of our money and handed it over to one man. How about that, Sir?

All in all, with Nana Konadu out of the picture, the battle lines are drawn and the opposition NPP may need some extra charming to get closer to President Mahama's skills, but not his substance. May the best Candidate win.

Franklin Cudjoe is Founding President of IMANI.

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