Feature Article of Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina
After ploughing through the turgid pages of the NPP manifesto, which of course is well written and smartly designed, it felt like reading a masterpiece by a precocious child who has been asked to write an essay on what he will do if he becomes the president. I wouldn't waste my time on its litany of promises, which I am quite certain with no shred of a doubt, that half of it cannot be accomplished in four years. I wonder whether they factored into their plan the insanity of Ghanaian politics where projects of the previous government are notoriously abandoned in favour of fresh ones based on flimsy reasons and the fall out of the ubiquitous corruption in the award of contracts. It is a sad perennial problem that can only be likened to the way children behave on a playground. However, Ghanaians have come to accept it as part of the game. Obviously, all the parties are doing it, therefore it cancels out. But the reality is we are living a national life of false pretences. If politicians enter into an iron clad contract with the electorates in the form of a manifesto pledge, and they breach their part of the bargain - it is obviously a fraud. A young man growing up get used to the idea that it is alright to lie his way up and defraud others. So long as there is no blood on the carpet or hidden corpses.
The foregone is just by the way. The main thrust of this piece is about the iconic manifesto pledge of Akufo-Addo’s campaign. Based on my economic and political philosophy this time spent should have been a full throated support for Nana’s presidential bid, because his party’s ideology is what shares a tangent with my beliefs. The fundamental doctrine of NPP is basically pulling oneself by the bootstraps. Strangely, I don’t know when and how the Father Christmas mentality crept into their credo. Although, I have my reservation about his manifesto pledges, which is bursting at the seams that is not what bothers me. It is not a problem as far as the Ghanaian political culture is concerned. What has really set my political antennae buzzing is his free SHS education mantra. For electorates who want free handouts from politician it is wonderful, but it is economically suicidal in the long term, which I cannot with all honesty bring myself to support.
The furore surrounding the free education promise has taken a life of its own characterised by sound and fury. Many are those who believe it is a con. There are those who believe it is not possible. On the other hand, I am convinced that he will implement it if he wins, because of the centre stage it now occupies in his campaign. This is what I call gutter politics; if you can’t beat them you join them. Politicians are out promising each other without an incline as to how those promises will be financed. And it is not only in Ghana that this group of strange men from Mars out do one another. Such silly behaviour has saddled the British economy with £1.4 trillion debt, and I wouldn’t like to frighten you with the U.S. national debt. There is a saying that when you see your neighbour’s house on fire you take precaution. Perhaps, you don’t also engage in the same recklessness that lighted the fuse. The Greeks are being ordered about by their creditors like a wet poodle, because of the crushing debt they have accumulated over the years while living beyond their means.
The remit of any government is to provide law and order besides security. However, the nature of modern democracy has swollen the portfolio of government responsibility from these basic duties to taking care of the citizenry like an invalid from the cradle to the grave. I am racking my brain; since when did it become the duty of the government to feed the people? We can flirt with the idea during an emergency when you have to mortgage part of your future to keep body and soul together. It is sad that many have unwittingly jumped on the bandwagon of this free SHS education mantra without thinking it through the long term implication. We all love free things so long as someone is paying for it. And in this case we are paying with the future of our economy. Someone published a piece at this forum, which he cited the constitutional right of every Ghanaian child to have access to basic education. What he failed to point out is the fact that the constitution does not incorporate feeding, which is the bone of contention. The supporters of the scheme will have you believe that the Western countries like United Kingdom and United States spend 5.5% of GDP on education, but what they don’t tell you is that they don’t spend it on food, but computers, small class size, science laboratory and well paid teaching staff.
The argument has been muddled, shot through with unsubstantiated claims and partisan rhetoric to make their version of the discourse palatable, but they are outrageous. Somebody cited an example that lack of education is what breeds crime in the country. That assertion is an insult to people who have made it without any meaningful education. How do they explain those with education who sits in internet cafés, and steal from other people’s accounts? Crime has got nothing to do with education. People resort to crime when they have got nothing to do with their time; they turn to fill in the blanks. Those with education choose sophisticated options, and those without it adopt crude methods like armed robbery. They say the devil finds work for the idle hands. In Britain the level of crime has got a lot to do with the use of narcotics. Most criminals choose this antisocial way of life to feed their rapacious appetite for drugs. The drug feeds in on itself creating perpetual vicious cycle at a painful cost to the society.
The other side of the debate is crystal clear. Education is extremely important, but this is my question. Is this what the economy needs? It is Benjamin Disraeli, a late nineteenth century British Prime Minister, who said: ‘real statesmen think of the next generation where as politicians only think about the next election.’ Akufo-Addo is clearly thinking about his prospects in the December polls rather than the health of the national economy. The national economy needs massive modernisation. For that reason every dime that is generated should be reinvested to generate immediate dividends. When you come across a squelching life on a lonely desert you don’t interrogate him if you really care for his wellbeing. You first have to get him to gurgle down some refreshing water, followed by some food and then you can philosophise later. There is no way we can make any headway with about 60% of our population engaged in primary agriculture, and expect to move into middle income economy, and advance to a modern economy. Anybody who thinks that the oil industry is going to salvage us from our economic quagmire must be day dreaming. Any meaningful advancement will come via the modernisation of our agric sector through strategic investment that provides the conditions for the private sector to create jobs.
IMANI came up with an eye popping headline: ‘Ghanaian Parliamentarians earn 5 times more than British Parliamentarians. They came up with it based on the average wage of the two countries. In simple English the Ghanaian economy is under productive, this is the cause of that prodigious disparity. It needs massive stimulus to move the bulk of the workforce that engages in subsistence enterprise into mechanised productive ventures. Instead of investing our new found wealth judiciously into capital goods and infrastructure development we are going to waste it on food, tricking parents into swallowing this bait that they provide for their children anyway. The percentage of taxpayers in the country is very tiny. It is no where close to reaching the critical mass that will ensure sustained self reliant productive economy without resorting to foreign loans. The only way we can expand the tax base is to use the oil wealth to inch towards a cutting edge economy and leave this antiquated one behind.
School life expectancy is 16 yrs in the UK and 10 years in Ghana. Yet the difference between our expenditure on education is rather minuscule i.e. 0.1%. Proportionally, the UK expenditure should be a third more than Ghana based on the above statistics it is absolutely insignificant. In reality we spend more on education in terms of GDP than Britain. The mathematical analysis is similar in logic to the one used by IMANI to arrive at their headline mentioned above.
Education is not the ultimate silver bullet. You can have the best education money can buy, but when the economic opportunities are not favourable you are a toast. There is no way you can run a country devoid of economic principles. We all value university degree but it will be devalued if we have too many of it based on the law of demand and supply. In Britain there are people with university degree who work as cleaners. Doctors are one of the most valued products of our universities. Even their service can be devalued if we have too many of them. Not many go into that profession because of the rigorousness of the mental exertion, and to some lesser extent having to deal with cadavers during their studies. Nonetheless, our universities produce enough doctors for our needs; yet because of the weak economy a substantial chunk migrate to greener pastures creating the perennial artificial shortage. Currently, the level of unemployment in the country is reaching nightmarish proportion. The various private universities are churning out graduates like cookies. There is an organisation for unemployed graduates with even the mothers of these unfortunate lives in limbo forming their own organisation. Instead of addressing this burning issue head on they come with this cheap populist idea that does not bare scrutiny.
If it’s because of the free education in the northern region is the reason behind opting for a level playing field for all parents then I would say its high time he wills the strength and courage to withdraw it. The idea that free education is also investing into the future is a straw man’s take in this discourse. Anything that is offered entirely for free is devalued or abused. Besides, anything that is run by the government is always riddled with inefficiency and the usual suspect – corruption. Comprehensive free education has been implemented in the North since independence yet school enrolment in the north is the lowest in the country. Children who drop out of school do not opt out, because their parents cannot afford a pack lunch. The fact is their income, especially those whose livelihood is based on subsistence agriculture or a poor labourer, is not adequate. What such parents need is a better job not a handout.
The word fair is very difficult to define, and I am not a big fun, nevertheless, I will indulge myself. Can anybody objectively vouch for the fairness of such a proposal when pupils and student are thought in dilapidated structures, and perhaps some still being thought under trees? Can anybody convince me that it is the right course of action when a lot of Ghanaian children are thought by unqualified teachers? Can anybody with any modicum of honesty tell me that this free SHS being sold to the Ghanaian electorates is value for money or better still is it for the long term interest of the country or for the interest of someone’s presidential bid.
This is my second piece on this topic. The first article, expectedly, generated a fierce criticism. Someone scraped the economic barrel in search of theories to support the scheme. He said Nana is going to use education as an unbalanced growth vector to develop the economy referred to as the Hirchsman’s Model. Of course, I did point out that as much as that theory works it does not work in consumption or a finite sector of the economy like education. Most of the world economies that matter today developed around one core industry. Britain developed on a similar basis through the textile industry, so was the United States via the railways. Similarly, Denmark did it with dairy, and Sweden accomplished that with the lumber industry. So if we want to do it we can choose an industry like aluminium, because we have a lot of bauxite deposits. And with the gas that is going to be available very soon we can produce the requisite energy to compete favourably on the world market. For example, currently the British economy is hinged on the financial sector whereas the Ghanaian economy revolves around cocoa. We can fast forward the development of the economy by investing heavily into the main mover of the economy. Since the market for cocoa is ever expanding i.e. in a virgin market like China. I can understand if we have to invest into the tertiary institution, which is already raking in substantial revenue from abroad with the notion of affecting other sector of the economy, but not SHS. A better argument will do not this one.
The bible says that you develop your business before you build your house – literally meaning first things first. Let us not start on this slippery slope. The free handout mentality graduates into entitlement with time. The fall of the Roman Empire was preceded by financial collapse brought on by huge national debt based on such mindset. A real statesman makes decision with a mind of ice cold clarity. Decisions that will not be popular immediately, but will yield manifold benefits in the future.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr. London