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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Columnist: Appiah-Kubi, Kojo

Ghana needs GPRS II Successor

To Reap the Benefits of Continuity and Consistency in Planning


According to its manifesto “it is the objective of the … NDC government to lead Ghana into a status of a middle-income economy that registers in the lives, livelihoods of ordinary people by the year 2020”. The achievement of such an objective no doubt requires proper planning of policies and a strong political commitment towards implementation. Indeed the NDC manifesto identifies and articulates quite a number of well thought out policies, but these can be desired impact in the medium to long-term only if they are inter-linked in a coherent and comprehensive long-term development plan with monitorable and evaluable goals and targets to drive the annual budgets.

It is exactly for this reason that almost every government, since independence, has prepared and launched, at least, a development plan or development policy framework to guide Ghana’s socio-economic development planning process. Particularly, the past decade and half have witnessed the initiation of a series of development plans and development policy frameworks. This began with ‘Making People Matter: A Human Development Strategy for Ghana’ under the PNDC in 1991, and proceeded through to the ‘Vision 2020: the First step under the NDC in 1995 and to the GPRS I & II under the NPP in 2002 and 2006. There is no doubt that the performance of the economy of Ghana in the last decade has been distinctly different from that of the three decades before. The difference has been even more obvious since 2001, in which period economic and income growth have experienced successive increases and remained steady. Certainly continuity and consistency in planning and plan implementation could have played a major role.

Indeed the need for such continuity and consistency cannot be overemphasized. The experiences of the fast growing Asian economies show that pursuing structural transformation in a consistent manner with a development plan does pay in the long run. It is argued that the rapid growth and development of East Asian countries in the last decade is attributed to consistency in planning for development, which allowed them to make the necessary adjustments to their plans at the appropriate time, based on the socio-political and economic environment at any given time. Thailand, for instance, is currently implementing its tenth development plan. At the time of drawing their first Economic Development Plan in 1961 poverty incidence in Thailand was as high as 57% and probably higher than that of Ghana. It had successfully reduced it, since then, to below 10% as compared with Ghana’s 29%. Consistency in pursuing growth and redistribution has been the key. India began the process of planned development over fifty years ago with the launching of the first Five-Year Plan in April 1951. Since then continuity and consistency in planning and plan implementation has contributed to making India currently the second fastest growing economy in the world, with a GDP growth rate of 9.4% in 2007. Similarly Malaysia’s achievements have been attributed to the nation's comprehensive Outline Perspective Plans, which have included detailed Five-Year Plans and strategic policy initiatives. Currently Malaysia is implementing its ninth plan (2006-2010) that aims to achieve a developed status for the country by 2010.

The assessment of the development planning experience of Ghana, however, suggests that the country’s development up to the end of 2000 had been largely plagued with general inconsistencies in the country’s approach to development planning and lack of focus in implementation. The last eight years with the GPRS I & II have been an exception. These plans were consistently implemented, monitored annually and evaluated against set targets. The duration of the current development strategy (GPRS II) is expiring at the end of 2009. It is for this reason that the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) started, in 2006, to develop a long-term development plan, as successor to the GPRS II, that is supposed to transform the structure of the economy for accelerated shared economic growth and development. The NDPC is the only independent ‘Think Thank’ of the country constitutionally mandated to advise the president of Ghana on development planning policy and strategies. The framework of the development plan, which was completed in 2008, is considered to be the first step in a twenty year plan for structural transformation backed by a new vision of “a modern economy based on the development of science and technology, and many opportunities for individual and societal fulfilment”.

Six months after voting the NDC into power, its government is yet to give indications about its medium term plans and policy directions along which it intends to drive the economy. Even though the NDPC in fulfilling its planning and co-ordination mandate made its intension clear, in the 2009 budget outlook, to complete the preparation and costing of the National Long-Term Development Plan (NLTDP) and initiate the preparation of the National Medium-Term Development Plan (NMTDP) the NDC government is yet to give it the green light to proceed. This long-term plan was, however, prepared through a broad and extensive consultative participatory process involving all stakeholders including all political parties. These plans and policy directions are particularly vital to the private sector, investors and development partners for their future programming. The GPRS II, for instance, became the centrepiece around which all development partners formulated their programs in Ghana and thus ensured the alignment of development partner support to national priorities. It also provided the platform for improved government-donor partnership and a shift from activity-based to results-oriented approach to aid delivery and management, and thus contributed positively to changing the aid architecture in Ghana. In order to ensure continuity and consistency of purpose for the development partners the need for a successor plan is more crucial than ever. The district assemblies and the various ministries, departments and agencies also need these plans to harmonize district and sector priorities to the government’s Medium Term Priorities and also linked their priorities to the central government’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and annual budgets.

Yet six months into government, the NDC government has not given any clear indication as to whether it intends to adopt the completed draft long-term plan it pledged itself in 2008 to implement or prepare a new plan. The NDPC, which is supposed to advise the president on development plan policies, now finds itself on the sidelines. Its commission, i.e. the board of directors, which was dissolved earlier this year, has not even been reconstituted. This has indeed given rise to speculations that the NDC government is at it again to relegate the think thank-NDPC to the background as it did in the nineties when the NDPC was reduced to a “dumping ground for excess baggage of political cronies”. Conflicting signals available are that the government, under pressure from the World Bank and IMF, has agreed to a new stabilization programme and/or requested to extend the GPRS II by a couple of years. This indeed constitutes a return to the eighties and nineties when the country pursued only fiscal stabilization at the expense of economic growth and structural transformation. Undoubtedly the economy is currently facing fiscal challenges, amidst a global financial turmoil, but this certainly does not require turning back the development process after having progressed steadily through stabilization and poverty reduction to growth in the last two decades. The next stage of the country’s development efforts should therefore focus on the quest to bring about the needed structural transformation in the economy, whose absence has compromised sustainable growth and development in the past. This can, however, best be achieved with the help of a medium-long term blue print for development and a strong commitment to continuity and consistency in planning and implementation. The Mills’ government currently does not have any medium-long term blue print for pursuing its development agenda. Fortunately the NDPC from whom it is constitutionally obliged to solicit advice on development planning policy has already a full draft successor plan to the GPRS II in whose preparation the NDC actively participated and pledged to implement should it win the 2008 general elections. Given the widespread evidence that continuity and consistency in planning and implementation over time translate into accelerated growth and development, there exist sufficient compelling grounds for the Mills’ government to adopt the draft long-term development of the NDPC and implement it as successor to the GPRS II.

Kojo Appiah-Kubi (PHD)