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Opinions of Friday, 24 June 2011

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

2012 Is Not A Contest Of Broken Promises But Performance

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

Since Nana Akufo-Addo accused President Mills and his government of creating a poverty-owning democracy and limping from one broken promise to the other, the preferred response of the ruling party is to engage forest of trees photocopying the 2000 manifesto of the New Patriotic Party to make the belated point that the NPP also broke promises in their first term.

It is as if election 2012 will be fought on which party broke more of its promises. So low have the standards of governance fallen in Ghana today that the NDC want to make it no longer a positive contest of records of performance but rather a negative contest on broken promises.

By choosing to focus on some of the itemised promises given by the opposition party in 2000 (12 years ago) which they may not have delivered by 2004, the NDC is saying effectively that promises are made to be broken; they broke theirs so why not us? This is not change; this is neutral progression at best but with disastrous consequences for the quality of governance.

This is 2011, not 2003. It is the NDC’s third term in office since the 1992 Constitution came into force. What have the 2000 manifesto promises of a party in opposition today got to do with the current price of kenkey and fish? What has it got to do with your own live promise to care for Ghanaians, create jobs and bring economic relief and prosperity?

As I said Wednesday morning on Metro TV, the NDC has become like a quack doctor. You go to him to fix your leg which is broken in two places; he turns to you to say don’t go back to those two places. No, doctor, I did not say I went to two Kaneshie and Dansoman and got my leg broken. I’m saying my leg has been broken in two places so fix it!

Quoting from the 11-year-old manifesto of your opponent would not hide your own incompetence at delivering on your own promises to the Ghanaian people. Kufuor won the 2004 presidential race. The 2004 general elections were about how Ghanaians felt about President Kufuor and his government, as compared to what they thought about the alternative then, Prof Mills and his party. Of course, the NDC at the time made a lot of legitimate political capital on certain specific campaign promises that were not fulfilled, like reducing the size of government, banning government officials going abroad for medical treatment and putting in place the constitutional rearrangement process to have District Chief Executives elected.

But, Ghanaians used their own commonsense yardstick to measure President Kufuor’s assessment. They did a checklist of Kufuor’s achievements against their personal expectations and opted to re-elect him. They knew that candidate Kufuor did not promise to declare Ghana highly indebted poor country (HIPC) by taking them through HIPC and back in a record time, but he did and they knew that without debt cancellation Kufuor’s government would have been hopelessly stranded and positive change would have turned very negative indeed. HALVING POVERTY Just this week it was announced in Washington that Messsrs Kufuor of Ghana and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil won the $250,000 World Food Prize for cutting hunger in half while serving as president of their nations. Reuters reported that it was the first time the award, created 25 years ago by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Bourlag, recognized the seminal role of national leaders in fighting hunger. "President Kufuor and President Lula da Silva have set a powerful example for other political leaders in the world," said Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. The prize foundation said the proportion of hungry people in each nation had been cut in half under Kufuor and Lula. However, today, Kufuor’s achievement for making Ghana the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to cut hunger in half is in jeopardy. “In 2009 and 2010 income poverty could rise further, as per capita private consumption growth is expected to fall,” says a World Bank report on Ghana, which estimated that half a million more Ghanaians fell below the poverty line under the first two years of Mills. Explaining the cause of this trend-bucking rise to an increase in income poverty under Mills, the World Bank cited austere economic measures introduced by President Mills, including increased taxation, high utility prices, suppression of real income and a net freeze on public sector employment.

Yet, what Ghanaians have seen over the first 30 months of the Mills government is a reduction of the very measures that can be enhanced to tackle poverty. Every conceivable social intervention suffered real cuts this year. However, the President did not find it coy to say to his DCEs in Kumasi on Wednesday that his government was “grounded on social democratic principles and so it would keep to improving programmes such as the school feeding, the capitation grant and free uniforms and exercise books for schoolchildren.”

The Okudzeto Ablakwas have chosen to focus on a Gallup Poll that shows that while 20% Ghanaians said they were living comfortably in 2007, that figure had dropped to 11% in 2008, under Kufuor, a smaller fall than the 10% who said they were living comfortably in 2009 and the 4% who said same in 2010.

On the percentage of Ghanaians who were managing their income, Gallup put it 30% in 2007, dropped to 27% the following year and 15% in 2009 and further up to 20% in 2010. How could the Deputy Information Minister see these same figures as better under Mills?

The poll indicated that 31% of Ghanaians found it difficult to live on their income in 2007, 35% in 2008, shooting up by 9 percentage points to 44 percent in 2009 and a slight reduction to 41% in 2010.

Now, the most disturbing trend is on the percentage of Ghanaians that found it very difficult to live on their present income. The figures showed a comparatively mere 11% Ghanaians saying in 2007 that they were finding it extremely difficult to cope, going up to 18% in 2008, and further up to 29% in 2009 and a massive 34% in 2010, nearly double the number in 2008, ignoring 2007.

But at his propagandist best, Mr Ablakwa said President Mills was sworn into office on January 7, 2009, “So in actual fact, only one year of this poll refers to President Mills’ tenure that is from 2009 to 2010.” No, boss. The poll refers to the last two years of President Kufuor and the last two years of President Mills.

We should let our political leaders know that the focus is not really on the small privileged percentage of the population (whether 20% or 4%) who admit to living comfortably but those who say they cannot cope at all with the economic situation. The key issue is that Ghanaians, per that poll, have consistently gotten poorer since 2007.

But let’s shift from opinion polls and look at real figures. Knowing the negative impact of the global food crisis and record crude oil prices, President Kufuor introduced reliefs such as removing import duties on certain food items and introducing income benefit (LEAP) to the very poor. What has President Mills done to alleviate poverty?


Already, there are worrying signals that the Dutch Disease (the curse of oil) has already afflicted Ghana. The economy, according to the statistical service on June 22, has shrunk by 5 percentage points in the first quarter – the first full quarter of oil production of this year over the fourth quarter of 2010.

Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, suffered a 35.7% decline over the same period. All its sub-sectors endured negative growth in output. Fishing by -19.5%, crops by -36.5%, livestock -31.7%, forestry and logging by -41.3%.

The service sector grew by a sector-relatively modest 5.3%. While manufacturing is still in the doldrums, overall, the industrial sector enjoyed a 21.4% growth, driven mainly by the oil industry. We risk losing jobs and deepening poverty, fooled by extraordinary oil-pumped growth figures if we do not use this new found wealth to transform the economy and leave it to grow as an enclave industry.

Yes, we have record sales in cocoa and gold, plus oil and yet, the economy is struggling. Inflation per consumer price index may be in single digits but the producer price index, the data that focuses on productivity, shows that the increasing cost of production (PPI), at over 25% last month, is nearly three times that of CPI.

This wide gap between production inflation and consumption inflation tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong about the balance of our economy. It means that producers are not passing on the increasing cost of their production on to the consumers. Why so? Are they not doing it because consumers simply cannot afford to pay more or is it out of some perverse self-hurting generosity on the part of producers?

Here is the underlining folly: the NDC said in 2009 that Ghana was broke because President Kufuor had left a huge fiscal deficit and it required fiscal discipline to tackle. This led to an austere stabilization programme being agreed with the Breton Wood institutions with a $900m for the Government. So Government proceeded to tighten the economy, impoverish Ghanaians for the sake of stabilizing the cedi and reducing inflation.

Yet, as we speak, the fiscal discipline that has been achieved at such a huge cost to the suffering masses is unraveling because it stood on artificial stilts. The Government achieved ‘stability’ through creative accounting and Houdini statistics that hid the truth… but only for a while.

For example, at the end of last year, there were delayed payment vouchers of GH?409m, on top of GH?69m from the previous year. What this means is that even though Government issues payment vouchers to contractors it chooses to delay passing that payment through the government accounts of a fiscal year, giving the impression that all is well and balanced.

So we entered 2011 already burdened with carryover payment vouchers of GH?478m to be paid, pushing the total envelop of payment arrears to GH?2.4bn and other hidden outstanding arrears, including statutory funds transfer, wages, State-owned Enterprise liabilities, etc, totalling GH?4.2bn.

You add it to the ballooned public debt of GH?18.3bn, it means Ghana ended 2010 with a total public debt of GH?22.5bn, nearly twice what President Kufuor left in January 2009! Na, where dey de money?

You can achieve deflation (lower rising cost of goods and services) when consumers just don’t have the money to buy. You can have a larger import cover of your foreign reserves from 2.3 months in 2008 to 4 months in 2011 if you are using less money to import crude oil and you have chosen not to spend your reserves on pressing needs. You can cosmetically reduce your deficit if you don’t pay contractors for them to fund more projects and employ people to undertake such projects. But, at the end of the day it would all come back to hurt you because the economy would contract, more people would lose their jobs, the banks would suffer, businesses would collapse and poverty would increase.

In 2012, the verdict will be first and foremost on the performance of President Mills plus the substance of his broken promises, measured against the programmes and leadership offer from Candidate Akufo-Addo.

The first important issue before the Ghanaian voter will be whether or not his or her quality of life has improved under President Mills (January 2009 to December 2012); not under President Kufuor between January 2001 to December 2005.

The second issue for the voter is the alternative programme and posture that will be presented by the alternative candidate, Nana Addo, and his party, the NPP.

The third issue to consider is whether or not the performance of the Mills government gives sufficient indication that things are likely to better improve under a re-elected NDC government or under an NPP government.

These measurement criteria are assessed not by a comparative yardstick of broken promises but by the performance records of the respective parties and the confidence that the Ghanaian voter is willing to invest in the two candidates, their parties and their programmes for the future which begins on January 7, 2013.

If the NDC wants to compare records then Ghanaians would be asked to look at 12 years of NDC as against 8 years of NPP. Is this a battle the NDC will relish?

The NDC should banish any delusionary thoughts that every President is entitled to eight years. Well, my little reading of the Fourth Republican Constitution tells me we vote for a president for a four-year term. 8 years is not an entitlement. The fact that Rawlings and Kufuor got two terms does not mean that you can sit at the Castle doing very little and expect a second term. The fact that a sitting president is being challenged by a member of his own party should tell us something.

When it comes to elections, promises fulfilled or broken are as important as their impact on the prevailing situation of the electorate. Having said that, it is important that politicians are not allowed to get away with making promises they have no idea how to deliver on them. That is why Nana Addo’s promise (!) to fight the next election with ‘programmes, not promises’ is the clearest admission so far that in the past parties have been promising paradise when the road to it was not even under construction . Let us do things differently this time.

Even if the road to a better Ghana was once paved with good intentions it is pretty obvious now that its intended construction has been starved of the necessary funds, competence, direction and conviction. But, I guess the NPP can be blamed for that, too. They should have left office leaving itemised dedicated funds for the Better Ghana Agenda, like was expected of the Achimota-Ofankor Road project.

It is like when we were in school, imagining going to the classroom one morning and you are asked by the teacher why didn’t you do your homework and you respond: ‘Sir, it is because I couldn’t find anyone to copy it from.”

Government appointees and propagandists tell us that the Better Ghana Agenda is on; that 2011 is still Action Year; that Ghanaians never had it so good. Amen! The NDC guys appear content being in bed, looking up and seeing the beautiful blue sky with the twinkling stars and a full moon to boot and wondering, what a pretty sight! Shouldn’t that be telling them something else? That their roof has been blown off? What in Millsian calculation happened to the ceiling, guys?