Feature Article of Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

Ghana: One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards

It was the Chinese Philosopher, Lao-tzu, who, some 500 years BCE said: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Actually, the literal Chinese translation goes something like: The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet. Whatever translation you take, the Chinese said this with the conviction that they will cover the thousand miles when they take the first step. Today they have made the thousand miles and are still moving on. I doubt whether this can be said about Ghana.

The first President of Ghana took a step in building the needed infrastructure for the country. He worked hard towards achieving his motto: Forward Ever, Backwards Never. Nkrumah took the first step and he was determined to push Ghana towards a goal which would have brought us nearer where the Chinese took off. This laudable dream was not to be, as he was overthrown in a coup d'état. All the steps Nkrumah too towards maintaining the lead we had on the Asian countries were shattered. In the fifties, these countries were not better than Ghana. South Korea and Malaysia had lower per capita incomes than Ghana. But today they are far above us. Nkrumah took steps that would have made us as developed as the Asian tigers are today.

After his overthrow, the country began to take one step forward and two steps backwards as it became a playground for coup-makers. Developments undertaken by previous governments were abandoned. J.J Rawlings' "revolution, the mother of all coups" brought some political stability in the country. For more than twenty five years now, Ghana has seen no coups. Elections have been held peacefully in the last sixteen years and government has changed hands from one political party to the other.

Has the present Mills’ government taken a further step on the proverbial thousand mile journey? His predecessor, Mr. J. A. Kufuor took major steps towards health, security, education, infrastructural development and many more. His government added one year to the Senior High School Programme making it four years instead of the three years which was churning out half-baked students. It was a policy that was very much applauded. To the utter surprise of many Ghanaians, the Mills government reverted the number of years to three. One step forward, two steps backwards indeed! Whatever his reason, the number of Ghanaians I talked to were of the impression that it was not necessary.

Ghana's first president was obsessed with the industrialization of the new country. Moving from an agricultural based economy to an industrialised one was the preferred development ideology of the day. Towards this end, many industries were built. These included G.I.H.O.C which was an industrial holding company that managed factories like Nsawam Cannery, Asutsuare Sugar Factory, Bonsa Tyre Factory, Kumasi Jute Factory, Kumasi Shoe Factory and others across the country. Coups, mismanagement of funds, poor business management, corruption and misplaced priorities, brought these fine ambitions of Nkrumah to a halt. This pushed Ghana's industrial experience backwards. I am yet to see a government which will take action to revive these dead factories. Ghana would benefit if some of these factories were revived.

An issue that has rocked Ghana and exposed the weakness of the judiciary and lack of respect for the executive, is the walloping and "gargantuan" amount of GhC51m paid to Alfred Agbesi Woyome as judgement debt. Few Ghanaians knew that Ghana had such an amount in her coffers as major hospitals in the country lack the necessary equipment and drugs to cater for patients who need special medical care and operation. We live in a country where the President goes abroad to solicit for a mere 15 million dollars when an amount exceeding what the President asks for has been signed, and paid to, Woyome and Waterville as judgement debts. God save our dear nation, Ghana, the land of our birth!

The phenomenon of one step forwards and two backwards can be found also within the same government. For instance, the culture of non-maintenance of infrastructure can also be said to fall victim to that. If you build a good road, that is one step forward. If you refuse to maintain the road and keep it in shape at all times, it is two steps backwards. This goes for government buildings, bridges, etc.

Sometimes the one step forward and two backwards may be about petty things - like one government building a presidential palace and the next government refusing to use it or changing the name back to an older one. One step forward, two backwards...

Let me analyse in mathematical form, the adage, one step forward and two backwards. If we take one step forward and one backwards, we may be standing at the same place. It is better we take two steps forwards and only one backwards since this will push us forward somehow. But with the rapid rate at which some emerging nations are transforming themselves today, standing at one place is a sort of going backwards. We cannot afford to stay even at one place. The main goal should be that we should build upon things, upon any successes achieved in the past and never rest on our laurels.

The National Health Insurance, during its inception, was supposed to be national and many private hospitals joined in. One could visit any hospital in Ghana with the Health Insurance card. The present government insists that a card-holder must fill a form and select one hospital and two others to attend. An amount of 1.75 GhC is alloted to a patient per a visit to the hospital. When this capitation scheme was brought to Kumasi, there was spontaneous rage and disapproval among doctors and paramedical staff. As a result of this bogus capitation, many hospitals in Kumasi, including the private ones, have taken themselves out of the Health Insurance policy. We are gradually going back to the old ways of cash and carry policy.

It is necessary that we improve on the rule of law and a proper rights system is good for foreign investment. The judiciary also needs to be independent of government interference. We have been trying to do that but certain incidents take us backwards. The Woyome incident brings judicial progress to a halt or backwards.

Continuity must be the keyword for every government in power. We must take giant steps towards achieving the type of development and progress that we badly need in Ghana. We cannot afford to dissipate the good works of previous governments.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads
Email: stephen.owusu@email.com