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Opinions of Sunday, 16 November 2008

Columnist: Atta-Quayson, Alhassan

Akufo-Addo’s Utopian Campaign Promises in Perspective

Once again Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the flag bearer of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) for the December 7 2008 Presidential Election has firmly landed himself in the land of Utopia, making more impractical and unrealistic campaign promises. He made a number of promises during the second edition of this year’s IEA Presidential Debates in Tamale out of which two need to be critically scrutinized by voters. These two promises are considered below.

First Nana Akufo-Addo pledged in Tamale on the 12th of November 2008, that should Ghanaians elect him to the high office of the President of the Republic of Ghana, he would increase the Research and Development (R&D) Expenditure from 0.5 per cent of our current US$16 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to five per cent of GDP by the end of his four year term in January 2013. R&D expenditure is a key indicator of government and private sector efforts to obtain competitive advantage in science and technology.

But how feasible is this electoral promise in a developing country like Ghana where as per a recent study conducted by the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) in 2007, more than ten million people, nearly half of our population, live on less than GH¢1.00 a day (Gh¢1.00 is today less than US$1.00). This United Nations study also found that more than two and a half million children and families go to bed hungry.

Assuming that Nana Akufo-Addo is elected in December 2008 and he assumes office in January 2009, he is essentially promising that the country will be spending about US$1 billion each year on research and development by the end of 2012 (assuming a GDP size of US$20 billion in 2012) up from an estimated current US$80 million on research and development based on 0.5 per cent share of GDP. The five per cent share of GDP promised to be devoted to R&D will be the highest in the world substantially higher than the share spent by any member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group of very rich countries.

Ever since the ruling NPP assumed office in January 2001, the proportion of our GDP committed to R&D has remained around 0.5 per cent of our GDP and undoubtedly well below one per cent of GDP. However, Nana Akufo-Addo, a leading member of the ruling government, is now indicating that the country under his leadership would be spending five per cent of GDP on R&D. The question that must be asked is where this country is going to get all this money for R&D?

The amount Nana Akufo-Addo is talking about will be far greater than societal expenditures on primary and secondary education. It must be recalled that Nana Akufo-Addo has also promised totally free education from primary to senior secondary school in his first term in office, and free education up to university level possibly in his second term of office. He has also promised free universal health coverage under the National Health Insurance Scheme and free school feeding for all primary school children in the country within his first term of office.

The promise on R&D is probably not too strange to be coming from the very candidate who has also promised he would move our third world society to a first world status by the end of his two terms of office. Nana Akufo-Addo could have been misinterpreted if he meant that he would move a few of his friends from third world to first world status if he were elected into office within two terms of eight years. However, he is clearly and evidently wrong if he believes that he can move forward 23 million people from impoverished third world country status to first world country status in just eight years in office.

Nana Akufo-Addo should, nonetheless, be commended for highlighting the need for Ghana to increase resources devoted to research and development. But all too often in the campaign season, Nana Akufo-Addo have made promises which are not realistic given the financial constraints of the country and the numerous needs of the population. The lack of realism of Nana’s promise on R&D is further highlighted below.

As indicated earlier, there is no country in the world, including OECD member countries, which devotes five per cent of its GDP to R&D. In 2005, the proportion of GDP that OECD members as a whole spent on R&D was 2.3 per cent. In 2004 and 2005, Finland and Japan were the only two OECD member countries with R&D-to-GDP ratio exceeding three per cent. Even in china, with a fast developing economy, where R&D expenditure has been growing faster than its astronomical growth in GDP, the share of R&D as a proportion of GDP increased from 0.9 per cent in 2000 to 1.4 per cent in 2006, a period of six years. Nana Akufo-Addo wants Ghana to increase R&D’s share of GDP from 0.5 per cent to five per cent in just four years, though China’s growth rate is substantially higher than that of Ghana.

The second questionable promise made by the NPP flag bearer is that under his first four-year term of leadership, Ghana will become the cleanest country in West Africa in terms of improved environmental sanitation. Currently, based on the recently-released 2008 World Ranking of Environmental Sanitation for 149 countries, Ghana is ranked the second dirtiest nation in West Africa, fourth worst in Africa and among the bottom ten in the world. In order to fulfill his promise of making Ghana the cleanest country in West Africa, in a matter of four years, his government would have to spend considerable amount of money in constructing basic toilet facilities in rural and urban areas, improve collection of solid and liquid wastes, and above all change the attitude of a population concerning environmental sanitation.

This year, the NPP Presidential Candidate pioneered a campaign technique of traveling on tro-tro buses ostensibly to understand the practical problem of urban road congestion. He would have a better idea of the huge costs involved in creating environmental conditions to make Ghana the cleanest country in West Africa if he visits public toilet facilities in the numerous towns and villages that he has been visiting in his campaign tours to appreciate first hand the quality of these facilities. The reality is that most towns and villages in Ghana do not have basic decent public toilet facilities and these facilities where they exist are a major source of diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid. Typhoid currently accounts for about 3.5 per cent of all diseases in Ghana based on hospital admissions. Water-borne diseases such as typhoid are increasing. Ghana currently is ranked second in guinea worm infections.

Once again, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo needs to be commended for his determination to tackle vigorously some important problems in the country. But, all too often, in his determination to win votes in his campaign season, he, for all intents and purposes, throw dust into the eyes of the electorates by making unrealistic promises based on clearly unachievable time targets.

Alhassan Atta-Quayson

Graduate Student, Univ. of Ghana

+233 24 4986441