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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Is Ghana Meeting the MDG Goals?

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 7th January 2013

Today, Monday 7th January 2013, is a red letter day in the annals of Ghana as Ghanaians await the inauguration and swearing in of our 4th President in the 4th Republic. John Dramani Mahama is also the 4th President who bears the name John, after John Jerry Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor and the late John Evans Atta Mills. Does it follow that if you are not called John, the probability of becoming a President in Ghana is very slim? This is why I think the Opposition leader, Nana Akufo Addo, should perhaps consider consoling himself with the accolade, ‘the best President Ghana never had’ (apologies to late Odumegwu Ojukwu of Nigeria). Welcome to office, our new 4th King John.

Being the 4th John and the 4th President in the 4th Republic is really foursome. Can the numerologists tell us the importance of this configuration? In September 2000, a historic number of world leaders met for the inauguration of the UN Millennium Declaration, which is popularly known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It was a laudable initiative, spearheaded by our own illustrious man, the former UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. These noble goals having been crafted and piloted by our own son, it behooves us as Ghanaians to adhere to its tenets, and to show the world that we have ownership of the programme.

The MDGs were time-bound, with quantitative and qualitative goals of core human values to be met over a 15 year period, from the year 2000 to 2015. We are 3 years before meeting the deadline, yet we are far behind in meeting many of the targets set by the UN. Basically, the goals are hinged on core human values, investment in human capital, emancipation of women, reversing despoliation of the fragile environment, improving living standards and the quality of life for the majority poor, engender regional cooperation and collaboration among nations, eradication of diseases, and the achievement of high levels of literacy. The 8 MDGs are 1. Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty 2. Achieve Universal Primary Education 3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women 4. Reduce Child Mortality 5. Improve Maternal Health 6. Combat HIV/AIDS Malaria and other diseases 7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability 8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Ghana has made considerable progress in certain areas of these goals under Kufuor, and later under the NDCs ‘Better Ghana Agenda.’ School enrolment in basic schools and JHS has increased dramatically, especially with the construction of hundreds of schools. Also the NDC has chalked successes in providing schools with laptops, meals, furniture, ebooks, and uniforms, among others. Yet, some schools in President Mahama’s own constituency, and other parts of the country are nothing to write home about, as some of the school buildings are dilapidated and are death traps or health hazards.

I think the School Feeding Programme started by President Kufuor and continued by the NDC administration is a commendable poverty intervention strategy which needs to be strengthened. However, our basic schools should put more emphasis on quality and not quantity because most of the pupils in many of these schools cannot manage the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic (3Rs). In fact, some of the pupils in JHS cannot compare with our pupils in grade 5 in the 50s and 60s. The quality of education has drastically fallen while the numbers of pupils in schools have grown exponentially.

It is to be expected. However, we need to train more quality teachers and make sure they are motivated, retained, maintained and developed. Recently, SSNIT increased the monthly stipend for retirees, to the extent that no retiree will receive less than 100 Ghana Cedis a month, which is in the right direction as a poverty mitigation and alleviation measure. The Single Spine Salary Scheme (SSSS) had a good motive of closing wide income gaps in the civil service and public service, but its administration has been bedeviled by many hiccups, anomalies and irregularities due to incompetence at the Accountant General’s Department in Accra. This scheme needs complete overhaul and review.

The government should consider paying a reasonable living minimum wage to its workers so that the private sector can borrow a leaf from it. It is important for organized labour in the private sector to enter into collective bargaining and productivity improvement wage negotiations with their employers so that they pay competitive wages. To alleviate the dire and abject poverty in Ghana, the private sector firms and the government parastatals in Ghana should draw up their social charters and increase their corporate social responsibility activities, to compensate their immediate communities who suffer much from negative externalities and social bads such as pollution, deforestation, noise, water and air pollution.

Our industries, especially mining, construction and manufacturing companies should be made to go green or adopt green policies by embarking on environmental impact assessment, reducing their carbon footprint, consider energy efficient sources and methods, proper disposal of effluents and waste management through recycling, reuse and reduction of natural resources, among other prudent and sustainable measures. To enhance the quality of life and living standards for our people, our government should consider introducing pro-poor policies such as paying allowances to the old people, the disabled and destitute people in Ghana. Schools and communities, through the PTAs, should set up bursary and scholarship schemes to support brilliant but impecunious and indigent students.

Old Students Associations (OSAs) and alumni should intervene in their alma maters by supporting them with some essentials such as providing computers and ICT facilities, motor vehicles, electricity generators, boreholes, school instructional materials such as books and white boards, among others. The government should consider building synergies through bi-partisan arrangements as well as forming partnership with the private sector through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) to reduce the burden of single handedly meeting the MDGs. We could do with a lot of foreign aid such as the USA’s Millenium Challenge Account (MCA) or the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC). Recently, our per capita income (PCI) is said to have reached middle income status, yet many Ghanaians are still struggling under the yoke of poverty. The story is very glossy at the macroeconomic level but not so rosy at the microeconomic level.

Dr Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh, owner of Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, has given the world the model of micro-finance or small loans which are targeted at women to help them grow their businesses. Such lowly leveraged loans can hugely transform lives and help overcome poverty. President Mahama should increase the constituency funds so that more women can access loans, not on partisan basis. It will increase human rights to life, property and liberty, as well as rights to shelter, food, education and decent jobs.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, Malaysia’s fourth PM, used the establishment of universities as a model for economic growth and development. I think in the pursuit of employment creation and poverty intervention, the NDC, led by President Mahama, should establish more colleges, polytechnics, vocational schools and universities throughout the country to serve as growth poles or catalysts of development. Dr Mohamad undertook great infrastructural works such as the north-south motorway during his 22 years reign. Muhmmad Ul Haq of the World Bank gave us the Human Development Index (HDI), which formed the basis of the MDGs, namely the 4 pillars of per capita income, adult literacy rate, life expectancy at birth, and access to basic needs of healthcare, potable water, electricity, among others.

In the USA, during the Great Depression of 1929 to 1933, Presidents Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt undertook massive infrastructural development such as the construction of the Hoover/Boulder Dam on the Colorado River, and the massive construction of railways. Our President, John Mahama, should borrow a leaf from that and come up with a sort of new deal to revamp the Better Ghana Agenda. Our economists at the Ministry of Finance and National Planning should constantly monitor poverty levels by using the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) model instead of the PCI to assess our worth. Perhaps, they will do well to compile statistics on the Human Suffering Index (HSI) in Ghana, or apply Shubin and Tobin’s Measure of Economic Welfare (MEW) model.

I am well informed that our maternal mortality record in Ghana is very poor, so we need more clinics and trained midwives; so also do we need better equipment and medical facilities in our district and regional hospitals for our mothers who go there to deliver. I think the government should come up with a revamped population policy to sensitise our women to have smaller families, to space children, and to settle for quality and not quantity. In 1978 at Legon, I wrote my Economics Long Essay /Dissertation on the topic, Investment in Human Capital – A factor for Economic Growth and Development – Time Series and Spatial Dimension.

In that exegesis, I collected data for 15 years on government expenditures on health and education, and regressed it with GDP data from 1960 to 1975. The result was highly significant. I concluded that investment in education and health are cardinal for real GDP growth. This corroborated empirical work done by earlier economists, whose works I reviewed such as Simon Kuznets, Peter Hinchcliffe, Psarchalopoulos, among others. I think the NDC needs to be commended here for the great strides they have made in building many schools and hospitals countrywide.

What is needed is to staff those institutions with well trained staff as well as the paraphernalia needed for service delivery. If possible, the government should outsource some of these costly projects through the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model by engaging external providers to build and operate such facilities for some years, and later transfer them to the government or local authorities or district assemblies. Alternatively, to grow our economy very fast, we need to subsidise our producers by providing them some training/skills interventions.

We could also scheme some expenditure switching methods such as making our markets and exports more attractive to foreigners, reducing some of our PAYE and VAT taxes, among others. To create more space for the private sector without crowding them out, government should outsource some services, or reduce some of its expenditures on wasteful protocol or foreign missions, allowances to government functionaries, as well as the money spent on government vehicles and accommodation/rent for government officials. Huge savings made could go towards meeting some of the MDG goals.

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