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Opinions of Friday, 30 May 2014

Columnist: Asiedu-Young, Bellinia

A Practical Approach to Governance in Ghana

Whether we realize it or not, many Ghanaians devote a great deal of energy deliberating on governance and its effectiveness in public and private institutions in the nation. This is because governance involves actions that affect people in many aspects of their lives. To govern is to lead, to conduct affairs, to influence, to supervise and to manage. The key to governance is having the ability to recognise what needs to be done in order to make the appropriate decisions going forward. This write-up will focus mostly on governance in governmental institutions and will discuss the responsibilities and accountabilities of public office holders and all others who receive stipends from the public coffers. It is hoped that by engaging in this type of dialogue, readers in governing and leadership positions will go beyond the scope of what has been explored here and think of ways to improve society.

If you are a public office holder, either elected or appointed: What are your responsibilities? Who are you accountable to? What is your mission and how do you arrive at this mission? It will be good to know exactly what your job entails and what is expected of you. Your appointment offer undoubtedly came with a job description. However, if you acquired this position through an election, this will as well indicate a special mandate given to you by the people to work in their best interest. Once this becomes clear to you, you will quickly realize that governance is a 2 way street: of the one who governs (The Office Holder) and the one who is at the receiving end of governance (The People). For a country like Ghana still meandering upwards, with the aim to achieving a developed country status, it is the civic duty of all citizens to ensure that public institutions are managed responsibly. You, the Office Holder needs to be aware of the mandate given to you by the People, your parameters and limitations; while the People need to reasonably demand and expect a good performance and expect that you make decisions that are in their best interest at all times. To this end you must avoid actions that will bring untold hardships to the people.

We will begin with the President who is at the head of the governance pyramid, who has been given the ultimate mandate to govern. Any successful institution or country owes its success to the leader or head. The President’s good policies and examples trickle down the power hierarchy. Very important to note that the president, to a great extent, is bound to work within the confines of the country’s constitution. The Constitution is an embodiment of political principles and rules which are used as a guide to run the nation: it is an important handbook for governance. For a country like Ghana, what is your view of the various sets of laws under the Constitution? Have you ever consulted sections of Ghana’s Constitution? Please make it a habit to do so at the slightest hint of ambiguity; because it is your civic responsibility; and also because Ghana’s constitution was once overhauled by a military outfit, it goes without saying therefore that to this day most of what remain embedded in the laws are one-sided pre-impositions, that successive governments have not been bold enough to remove. In Ghana, do you think the President holds an absolute control and veto? Does he have too much power to choose all his Cabinet Ministers as well as Regional Ministers for the various regions and districts? What is the actual work of a Regional Minister? Should each region elect its own Regional Minister the same way Members of Parliament are elected so that we have 10 equally powerful ministers or governors working on behalf of citizens of 10 regions instead of 10 ministers doing propaganda for a president? Is it practical for 230 constituencies sending representatives directly to the head to scramble for bits from one pot to develop a 238.5 thousand square km radius, or better to send 10 ministers to scramble for bacon to allocate to 230 constituencies. How do we determine which areas need development? How is the national cake shared? Can you make an objective analysis of this type of situation? How this works and its implications is a whole topic worthy of discussion. By and large, it is expected the President of Ghana is seen as accountable, hardworking, dedicated to improving the lot of citizens, sympathetic, family oriented, honest, impartial, and a 21st century leader who is ready to go above and beyond the call of duty to meet challenges of the future.

For smooth running of any nation, various sectors are identified and labelled as departments or ministries: these sectors are then assigned leaders referred to as Ministers (in Ghana) who help to manage the affairs of the nation. To run these sectors efficiently, power is vested in the ministers of the various departments, such as Roads & Transportation; Security, Health; Education & Schools; Sports, Defence; Food & Agriculture; Foreign Affairs; Revenue & Taxes; Energy; Industries; International Trade; Immigration; Employment & Technology; Lands; Forestry & Mines; Interior, Science & Environments; Tourism; Information; Works & Housing and Local Government. What are the main duties of the Transport or Education Minister for instance? How do we identify those duties? Does the Minister centralize or decentralize in the course of performing those duties? Does he/she give the regions autonomy to complete some of the tasks under the ministry? Does he/she assign some of the responsibilities to others, how are the grey areas identified where the duties might sometimes overlap with other sectors. Should the various ministries decentralize in their duties instead of having all assignments coming directly from Accra? What are the pros and cons?

Have our Honourables earned the right to be called honourable? If you’re an honourable of a constituency somewhere in a godforsaken village, what have you achieved for that constituency? If you live in Accra so you can attend parliament during the week, is your constituency aware of when you visit or how you can be contacted? What are the issues of your constituency? How often do you visit, furnishing them with your progress in parliament? Are you able to garner the necessary funding to help move your constituency forward? Why not? Could it be as a result of being lost in the leadership shuffle? Let’s do an estimation of parliamentarian salaries and allowances and see if this is eating into Ghana’s pocket. What is the solution? As a Member of Parliament (MP), do you have a clear vision of the direction of the development in your area? Can you honestly answer these important questions? If you cannot, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time; you owe the people an explanation. Similarly, we can pose the same questions of the mayors of our cities: Accra and Kumasi for instance. How does a whole mayor walk around proudly when mounds of garbage are left for months by the side of the road along the beautiful shorelines and interior townscapes? How do you explain to the masses your inability to clean the streets and get rid of the litter and cover the open gutters or culverts? If you are the tourism minister, have you stopped to think that tourism starts right at your doorstep or you’re looking beyond the Americas? If you’re the Minister of Health, do you sit in Accra and expect to manage every single hospital from there, or do you assign various regional health directors to oversee each region’s health care needs. What can be done to ensure that the various ministries become more innovative in the performance of their duties?

What is Ghana’s revenue derived from? These questions are not just asked in isolation; they pertain to governance and good planning. Ghana’s revenue source at this time should be prominent in natural resources exports (oil, gold, diamond, bauxite, etc); agriculture and forestry (timber or lumber, cocoa, etc) and human resources; tourism; customs duties and domestic taxes. Is Ghana managing these resources profitably? Is Ghana making good use of its manpower and domestic tax base especially? Is it true that only government workers, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, bank managers, ministry workers, policemen, and a few others pay tax: that the rest of the people are unemployed and therefore cannot pay tax? To date, it is estimated that with Ghana’s population of roughly 24 million (2012 figures), only 1.4 million are paying taxes, out of 13.7 million citizens of reasonable working age who could pay taxes if they had gainful employment. The question is: Where is the action plan to correct these anomalies? Is Ghana prepared to foster a profitable and viable environment for the private sector to rake in the full benefits? If not, can we safely say, for lack of careful planning, this puts governance in a critical situation for years to come, whereby it will continue to be almost impossible for conscientious leaders to deliver? Consider this though, how does the government expect the citizens to create profitable jobs and pay taxes if the money is still in the hands of a few men. How do you circulate the wealth of the nation when government frowns on property owning. Ghana must restore dignity to its people by putting money in the hands of the people and helping them set up profitable ventures that will enable the citizenry to collectively and proudly manage their own communities. Government must ensure the main tax base is from within and not from windfall expectations of car shipments from Ghanaians in the Diaspora. Those in governance must realize that Ghana will not prosper if they run the country based on irrational shortcuts to making money. A shortcut will always remain a shortcut.

Lastly, to make a case for the Ghanaian in the Diaspora, can we honestly say Ghanaians in the Diaspora are the mainstay in the economic whirlpool of Ghana and therefore considered to be equal and important stakeholders? Are they therefore able to demand more responsibility and accountability of our leaders by reason of their remittance to Ghana of roughly 1.5 to 2 billion annually? So, why has the government placed a heavy load on the head of the Ghanaian in the Diaspora to pay hefty customs and excise duty and taxes at the ports? Why is no one being held accountable for impounds of imported cars at the ports due to excessively high custom duties upfront, about 5 times what you will pay if you were to ship via Togo or Ivory Coast? This is daylight robbery in the making. Is this the best way for the government to acquire revenue? What if those in the Diaspora decided it is not worth bringing goods in? Ghanaians in the Diaspora must not be intimidated by these obstacles placed on them by fellow compatriots back home: they should join forces to make the leaders see how unreasonable some of these laws are.

This article was written with the aim to keeping everyone thinking. The rest is up to you the reader. The views expressed here are non-partisan. Please make a fair minded analysis after reading without resorting to political innuendo. Thank you

Bellinia Asiedu-Young
Richmond Hill, Ontario Canada