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Opinions of Thursday, 15 December 2005

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Fix Ghana From Within: The Surest Road To Sustained Development.

Christmas is here again but I am inured to the feeling that Santa will not make it to my neck of the woods. Since I am almost always bad, generously doling out fine billingsgate, at least so they say, I don?t expect much from Santa. A gadfly must never be liked, I am told!! Enough about me already! What is your/our Christmas wish for Ghana knowing that most of our folks will visit with economic despair and dejection as the yuletide unfurl? Oh, you don?t do Christmas huh? Okay, make a wish anyway! Here is my wish if you care to know: fix mother Ghana locally and all else will be graciously tacked on.

Economist Hernando de Soto, in the mystery of capital, maintains that, ?If the United States were to hike its foreign-aid budget to the level recommended by the United Nations---0.7 percent of national income-----it would take the richest country on earth more than 150 years to transfer to the world?s poor, resources equal to those they already possess.? De Soto also indicates that ingredients that go into the soup of development lie right before us in our own country, Ghana. What is lacking, he maintains, is our ability to profoundly bring the pieces together in a disciplined and organized way. To me, this is a profound revelation that ought not to be taken lightly. Here we are, a grizzled HPIC veteran of a country, face to face with the stark truth about what will get us out of the weeds but who is paying heed? In a nutshell, the blunt message is that sustainable development is primarily intrinsic. No amount of CIA style economic rendition can exorcise the economic terrorism that we face. Even if the world is willing to pave our road to development with huge petals of delicate roses, it will still take a disciplined, organized and sustained effort from within Ghana to make it work. Make no mistake; Ghanaians must fix Ghana from within. Like motivation, external factors are enablers but the real sustainable motivation come form within self (intrinsic). We have to morph that glow in our belly into a full-blown inferno if we want our country to head north.

Recently, the president and his thrill seeking ministers engaged in a whirlwind tour of a few major western countries. As their jaunt unfolded, we noticed that these assumed political leaders were spending our meager resources like drunken sailors. Noted among such largesse was their stay at the Willard hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in Washington D.C and the gaunt reasoning that sought to justify this licentiousness. When some yawped about their profligacy, they and their paid apologists, in an ornery and stealth way, informed us, their languid subjects, that, their efforts were aimed at promoting investment in Ghana and therefore a little foxtrot in the lap of luxury was well worth it. Our embassy, a supposedly non-partisan entity, was quick to justify the expenditure and debunk any signs of sensationalism or alleged fabrications designed to exposed Wofa per diem and his coterie to gleeful ridicule. Here is a government (NPP), according to Nana Yaw an avowed NPP supporter, that just provided a scrawny ten billion cedis for private sector development and they want us to believe that they are serious with private sector development? Will investment from overseas do the trick? For how long has the latter canard been in vogue? Has it worked? Some kind of Marshall plan for Africa? Forget it!

Notice also that the nebbish Kufour has been globetrotting ever since he was voted into power. The ugly fact is that, African leaders travel cup-in-hand, begging for handouts from their much-hated colonial masters as a way of spurring development. Begging by African leaders has become so fashionable and ingrained that, even the traditional chiefs are doing it internationally, and the competition for the who is who of begging is not going to abate anytime soon. Is it too much to ask then, what is it that we get in return for these monkey business travels?? I mean besides ?bonking? for the country and per diem? How many jobs, in God?s name, has the NPP government created as a result of such pyrrhic travel? Do they understand the job creation process? Does the NPP understand the basics of wealth and capital creation? Are they aware of what must be done fundamentally to lay the foundations of a sustainable local economy? Have they articulated this critical process to the restive Ghanaian lot? So let me ask again, what have we gained from these costly travels? Maybe a dead-in-west but risen-in-Africa Woolworth store? Maybe a mismanaged Ghana Telecom, huh? Maybe a 30 million-dollar contract to rebuild the presidential lodge huh? Maybe a multi-million dollar book production contract for a well established foreign company, while the local book industry continues to toss in the gale that relents not? A foreign management contract for Water and Sewage, maybe? Maybe importing contaminated and cholesterol doused dark chicken carcass? When will this gaffe-a-minute galore by the NPP seize and desist? Who needs jobs more than Ghana? Is this a case of cognitive niggardliness or political arthritis? When will we graduate from our menacingly thriving consumption economy? Oh these pigheaded politicians and their wistful followers!

What is wrong with a president, political party or group of men/women who believe that spending by a country that tends to create jobs in other countries is such a propitious thing for Ghana? Even countries known as the citadel, if not paragon, of capitalism do not show such cavernous economies! What is wrong with a president who thinks that our development is primarily hitched to foreign investment? What is wrong with a president who does not see the need to not only stay home but also fix it adequately to attract investments without begging and puffing up our impotent economic condition? What is wrong with a president who does not believe that Ghanaians are capable of building their country from within? What is wrong with a visionless government that either has no cogent system-aligned economic policies or cannot actualize the puny patchwork of rhetoric that they peddle as policy? Does this government believe that getting marks here and there from their colonial sponsors is a sign of development?

The notion that suit cladding African politicians can board a plane, trot in the halls of opulence, make phony claims about their sick economies and win investments must stop. Stop because these western businessmen see through the hazy puff. The assumption that, lack of preparedness for prime time economic activity can be wished away with economic rhetoric leading to the inheritance of mammoth investment, thus development is instigated, ought to be laid to rest now. The latter paradigm does not work and must be retired to a well lit museum. Even when these loans have been granted, they don?t work. There is a reason why they don?t work and now is the time to boldly unfold the reasons and address them adequately. How long have we been racing this motorbike? Has it won any races? Why can?t we stop for a blessed minute to evaluate and adjust accordingly? This dog cannot hunt and we had better realize that and go back to the drawing board. The intriguing yet true observation about our economic blight is that, we can create hundreds of jobs more than the NPP will ever fathom, by focusing on local opportunities and requirements for a sound capital driven economy. It may not be rocket science after all but it surely is hard work, effective leadership and immense political will, flexible enough to bend but not break!

These investors that our leaders keep lying to are no fools to start with. They understand business and its implications more than our duffer leaders, whose sole goal is to swindle them into investing in an apoplectic economic hell hole. Don?t forget that, word of mouth is the best form of advertisement and once bitten, twice shy indeed. Secondly, who will opt to eat mud if they have fufu or jollof rice in front of them? Wouldn?t it be absurd to opt for mud? So put yourself in the shoes of a western investor. Here are some basic choices that you face. Invest in your own stable economy, or go to the Asian tigers were the infrastructure works, political stability is game and skilled labor is not only abundant but also very cheap. The third option is to flirt with hell by going to a far away country where virtually nothing works for prime time economic production. The gutters are filthy, electricity is sporadic like machine gun fire, corruption is rife, water runs when Nii Adjei decides to show up for work, MPs doze in parliament and cannot understand the issues, telephone is not only expensive but also limited in capacity (does not work in certain parts of the country). The roads are death traps and the hospitals are the last step to the other world. Skilled labor is scarce and educational institutions have no umbilical cords to industry. Lawlessness reign supreme and the press, though free on paper, suffer from severe malnourishment and lack of professional skills. Press sensationalism and professional laziness passes for a new variation of press freedom. So the insouciant government romps free and the citizens writhe in economic pain and rampant political malversation. Where is the plan to put basics in place?

My friends, it is with great sadness that I announce that Ghana our beloved country is not ready for prime time business. This does not mean that we are not making any effort or have not tried. It just means that we are not there yet with the countries that continue to attract investment. Therefore, our primary and gathering concern should be the fixing of Ghana. The benefits accruing from doing the latter are richly immense. But why must such obvious and simple observation be worth mentioning? The simple truth is that we are focusing on all the wrong places when all we have to do is focus on Ghana and fix it in a sustainable way. No, not nine days wonders or band-aid gimmicks! We must address the basic issues that distress Ghana and fix them as a first step in a self sustaining way. When I say basic, I mean issues like, road and residential addresses, building numbers, legally registered businesses, constantly running waters, continuous flow of electricity, a phone system that works, a tax system that works and is progressive, a living and breathing environment, law enforcement that bites, tarred roads connecting all parts of the economy, a development relevant educational system, a strong and corruption free judiciary, an independent press, well run executive etc. Majority of these issues mentioned here can be dealt with without resorting to exoteric panhandling and political fawning. However, this will require selfless leadership with lucid benchmarks, a significant shift in mindset and results expectations. It is only after we get the basics together that the world will notice and take us seriously. We are so rich yet have chosen poverty as a way of life.

Let me illustrate with the clean environment situation. What we have now is used water plastic bags and all kinds of jetsam, flying carelessly across the landscape. The result is that we have health hazards and a dirty environment. The latter situation is not good for foreign investment. To solve this problem, why can?t we employ people on commission basis to issue tickets to those that dispose off these plastic bags recklessly? Remember the town council man with Khaki shorts and hat to match? If they don?t write tickets they don?t get paid. We back this up with public education and problem should be solved, right? At least some progress? Simple enough? For the plastic bags that fall through the cracks, use prison labor to clean it up. Take Ghana Telecom, it is owed so much money yet it has money pox, right? What does it take to employ SSS students over the holidays to go after these scofflaws? Again, they will be paid based on what monies they help collect. The idea here is that the government should not pay people without the desired results. Thirdly, why should a country like Ghana, with such rich soil, import chicken? What is wrong with having a hatchery in every region, providing the inputs for raising the birds and then buying the birds from the growers when they are ready in 4-6 weeks for processing and distribution? Will this not create jobs? Ghana alone can provide all the chicken needs for the whole of West Africa if we set that goal. It will not take more than 2 years to get this done. So could we have used the 30 million-dollar presidential lodge renovation money to provide seed money for hatcheries in all ten regions and then sell government shares once it is up and running? Can you fathom the economic benefits of this move vis-?-vis this lodge idea? What is really the bloody urgency in sprucing up a presidential lodge? Do you want me to go on and on? We have to create one job at a time and little drops of water will surely create a mighty ocean. Why is this so hard for our snug elite and the NPP bandits?

Unfortunately for mother Ghana, we have a cadre of politicians in office, ruling and opposition politicians alike, who are not willing to raise the key issues and deal with them drastically. They are not willing to demand that we all focus our attention on fixing Ghana locally. They would rather peddle a defective product overseas, instead of building a good local product that sells itself. Would you not buy Ghanaian jeans if it happens to be the best? Our executive is sick and an impotent legislature claps mindlessly in tandem, while we, the masses, plod precariously along. As for the judiciary, the least said about the corruption lockjaw and constipation that ails it the better. What we need now is serious internal focus based on a well laid out master plan that brings all the pieces together to create wealth, build capital and spur the much needed development. We must do the basic things that serve as the solid foundation of any viable economy. We can create several thousand jobs in the process. This in turn will nurse the sputtering economy into a salubrious one. There are more development relevant resources in Ghana that we care to know.

Folks, this placid write-up will not be complete without taking a swipe at our economist in particular and elite in general. Our economists are failing and continue to fail us big time. Their inability to layout an intrinsic approach to economic development is mind boggling. What is it about the African elite that makes him or her dysfunctional at home? What really is the use of education if it cannot be applied? We really have to demand that our economists define our current status and prescribe home grown solutions. It really does not make sense to adopt western solutions when the basic institutions, culture and mindset that rev up those institutions do not exist in our country. How can you for example create a credit society if we don?t have a defined address system? How many jobs can we create by actualization an addresses system? What about a simplified business registration system? Why should it take more than a couple months to buy and register land?

There is a much-hackneyed saying that reads thus, heaven helps those that help themselves. We are not going to make the progress that we want until we can help ourselves from within. For our own sanity and pride, we must begin to look within for our solution. Yes, we can use help from outside but don?t tell me that our redemption lies in western favors that ought to be paid back umpteen folds. Often times, such favors are so expensive that in the end they compromise the grave interest of our people. This is not the time to look to our self-centered lily-livered leaders. Instead, we must find ways to energize our folks at the grassroots level. There is an urgent need to energize our people so that they can take over their country and bring their well-established ingenuity to bear on our national development. Ghana must, is and will be fixed from within and opportunities abound if we will only get our act together and look within. What we have now is a small mercantile elite that rule Ghana in their interest over and above that of the broad majority. Those who care must find a way to bring the interest of the broad majority to bear and with one big voice force the rulers to fix Ghana locally or give way to those that really care. Enough of this outward slant! Let all external help be mere additions to the real internal drive and strife to truly build mother Ghana.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman
(MSc. ABS, BA Bus. Admin., Dip Pub Admin.)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.