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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Columnist: Ofosu–Appiah, Ben

Ghana Fails The Governance and Accountability Test

Despite 20 Years of Democracy

Ghana is a relatively stable democracy but one with a bad governance record. Democracy does not just mean paper guarantee of abstract liberties and rights, and the holding of general elections once every 4 years. Democracy is supposed to improve the living standards of the people and the rulers must be held accountable by the ruled. One of the biggest abuses of human rights in the country is the government’s lack of allocation of resources to improve the lives of the poor in our society. We have become so insensitive to the plight of the poorest of the poor, the unemployed, the rural folks, the sick and the handicapped in society, we just do not care. The government is committing a huge human right abuse by ignoring the weak, the sick and the poor while grabbing everything in sight for themselves.

In advanced industrial societies, there are a lot of safety nets in the society to help protect the poor. The unemployed get unemployed allowance, there is Medicare and Medicaid for the poor and the aged. No child will be at home because his parents are unable to pay his school fees. And there is food stamps for the poor and public housing to reduce homelessness. In Ghana, there is no social welfare and absolutely nothing for the poorest of the poor who cannot afford food to eat. The very few social intervention policies and programs put in place by the last NPP government have been allowed to collapse under NDC watch. What happened to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the School Feeding Program (SFP)? Which political party claims to have its roots from social democracy? Not even a single social intervention and poverty reduction program stands in the name of NDC.

That is not democracy. It is a democracy with a weak link, fuelled by greed, and has the weakest governance structures in place. There is no accountability, no oversight responsibility is exercised by institutions and bodies whose role is to put political appointees in check, hold them accountable, and make sure that they do the right thing. There is no code of ethics in government and if there is it is not enforced. There are no checks and balances in government. Parliament has shirked its responsibility of acting as a check on Executive power and the controller of the national purse. How come government over spent its budget by close to a whopping 15 percent in the run up to the elections last year? Government appointees and those occupying state created positions are not held accountable. They do not have performance targets, many are just occupying positions in name and collect salaries without doing any real work.

Corruption in every facet of our national life is grinding this country to a halt. We are close to being bankrupt. This borrow and spend attitude will sink the nation. Assuming we are borrowing to spend on lasting capital development projects like infrastructure that will help the economy to grow, that won’t be a problem. However, owing to the uncontrollable growth in the public wage bill, a lot of the money we borrow go straight into paying wages, servicing old debts that are due and given that some of these loans were borrowed at commercial rates with higher interest rate, it is tantamount to using your credit card to pay off a lower interest loan. It is financial suicide if an individual household does that, and bad economics if a country chooses that path. We are on our way to financial insolvency, the next Greece waiting to happen.

We are currently begging the Chinese for a $3 billion loan. This amount is something we can easily raise just from our two ports of Tema and Takoradi if we had watertight prudent revenue management system in place. Import and Excise duties we collect from these ports alone is enough to generate this amount but because of corruption and the fact that we have failed as a nation to confront corruption and punish same severely, millions upon millions of dollars of revenue that should have gone into state coffers to build infrastructure, and put in place social intervention and poverty reduction programs and help develop the country find their way into private pockets day in and day out. This practice is unhealthy, unproductive and it poses real danger to our survival as a nation.

This is how a commentator recently put is “All sorts of taxes are going to be levied from import duties and excise, fees, charges etc. There does not seem to be any initiative to cut back spending, reduce the bloat on public expenditure and channel funds into the productive private sector. Even part of this Eurobond is going to be applied to maturing debt. Just like using your high interest credit card to pay down a loan with a comparatively low interest rate.

Instead of government taking the bull by the horn to reduce the over bloated public sector, streamline operations to merge Ministries and reduce public expenditure, we instead see new unproductive Public Institutions being created. These include the Ministry of Oil & Energy, Embassies being created such as the new Embassy in the Vatican and a continuing migration of the over bloated Public Sector wage bill unto the Single-Spine Scheme with its high wage bill.

The debt level being taken by the government year on year seems to far outweigh our earnings from all sources. I think the government mistakenly thinks it has some oil reserves similar to Nigeria’s so, it can borrow its way out of debt. The oil we produce is nothing to write home about and would not make a dint in your public finances. Chad produces similar barrels ofoil output per day (between 80,000-100,000 bpd) and this is nothing to build a country on in the 21st Century. The country is making a big stick for its back in the near future.”

The statement and analogy by Mr Terkper, the Finance Minister that Ghana is not broke does not make sense. If you continue to follow a trajectory of financial recklessness sooner than later you would be wallowing in bankruptcy and that it seems is the path that Ghana has now embarked. He further explained that if a family that earns 3,000 and spends 2,500 now has to spend 300 more, could that family be said to be broke? " Can that family be said to be broke?"

YES SIR !!! THAT FAMILY IS BROKE !!!! Living a purely subsistence, hand to mouth, from pay check to pay check existence.That family is one step away from being homeless and thrown out to the streets unable to their bills. This is the likely faith awaiting Ghana if we don't wise up. Now there is complete lack of faith and trust in state institutions in Ghana because the are not working, and nobody is holding anybody accountable and responsible for the lawlessness and the chaos in our society. If the laws of the state are not applied, and the custodians of justice decide to sell to the highest bidder, then you know where have sunk as a nation. When a cassava thief is sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labour and pen robbers who have taken the nation to cleaners by stealing millions from our national coffers are either given a slap on the wrist or allowed to walk free then you know are doomed as a nation. If cocaine exhibits in the custody of a high court can turn magically "konkonte" overnight, then you know we are a nation of jokers. And Dr. Abbey of Center of Policy Analysis want us to have blind faith in state institutions. Institutions that lack integrity, institutions that operate under no ethical standards, institutions that have sunk too deep in the gutter !!! Institutions of state do not deserve our blind faith and trust, they must work for it.

Leadership failures have brought Ghana to its knees. Mediocrity is becoming the norm and as a people we can do much better than we are doing now. We can’t keep going on like that. We can’t keep running the country the way we have done in the past 50 years. The level of corruption in government and around us is mind boggling. Equally mind blowing is what seems to be the level of tolerance for corruption in Ghana. Our democracy is shallow and in real danger of being truncated with this bad governance. As the president spoke of African renaissance at the 50th anniversary of the O/AU in South Africa, his people back home were without good drinking water, no electricity, no decent public places of convenience, open sewage gutters, and are still wallowing in filthy surroundings and abject poverty. Is that Ghanaian renaissance?

Ben Ofosu–Appiah,

Tokyo – JAPAN.

The writer is a senior socio-political and economics analyst based in Tokyo, Japan. He’s also a policy strategist and human resources expert who has written extensively on African political economy. He welcomes your comments;