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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Columnist: Ayisi, Gabriel A.

Government Must involve Private Industry

and Higher Education in Economic Policy Formulation

Noticeably, Ghana’s development has not kept pace with the country’s natural growth. For an improvement in the quality of life of the Ghanaian, we need to monitor and closely match the country's natural growth, by concurrently increasing infrastructure to keep pace with our population growth. We will need to build more schools and hospitals as our population grows, we will need to build more and better roads as the number of automobiles in the country increases. Our growth must not stagnate, become static, or truncated. The government must set the stage for an accelerated, meaningful, and sustained development, by making sure that all our developmental infrastructures are in place and of top quality, and futuristic in nature. Gone should be the days when we built shoddy or substandard roads, weak and insufficient energy structures, despicable health facilities, redundant educational system, unreliable, sporadic, and inferior communication networks, corrupt judiciary, and weak political infrastructures, just to mention a few. We need to build a new Ghana where a new born must feel that it has been born into a living environment, where children do not die before their fifth birthday.

Ghana's underdevelopment has been the fault of our political leadership and policy makers. The country's infancy in democratic dispensation has given birth to politics of envy and contempt among our political parties where exclusion is practiced: in the past, sitting governments have claimed sole ownership of economic policies and strategies, which, more often than not, results in successive governments wanting nothing to do with policies and projects started by previous governments. Cases in point in the history of the nation were what became of CPP's projects under Kwame Nkrumah. Most of them, including the construction of the Bui Dam, were halted or destroyed during the days of political upheavals and adventurisms of some young, restless, very hungry, and misguided military personnel. Another is when the NPP discarded “Vision 2020” because it saw it as an NDC program and the NPP also came up with its own development vision of making Ghana a middle-income economy by 2015.

For an improvement in the quality of life, we need to monitor and match the country's natural growth by concurrently increasing infrastructure to keep pace with our population growth. A new economic planning paradigm based on systems thinking synchronization needs to be researched and used in place of the current National Planning Commission. The new approach must rely on think-tank drawn from government, private industry, and Higher Education. “Systems Thinking” is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots… it is also a set of specific tools and techniques originating in two threads: in “feedback” concepts of cybernetics and in “servo-mechanism” engineering theory. Additionally, globalization is making the formulation of a country's development policies more and more complex. Formulating national economic policies means facing a never-ending procession of hard choices among conflicting objectives. Economic policy involves much more than finding the best path to a clear objective. Some of the many important objectives of policy may be full employment, stable prices, increase in national productivity, and greater equity in distribution of income. These diverse and equally important objectives are related to one another by a complicated system of trade-offs, in that, the advancement of one may lead to the sacrificing progress towards others. Given the complexity of economic policy formulation, and to ensure the efficient use of our material and human resources thus developed through the increased provision of tertiary education in the country, a systems thinking approach which leads to a shared vision to economic development must be initiated by the government. This approach will call for ongoing formal dialogue among the three constituencies (government, higher education, and private industry). It is only through such formal process of dialoguing that the constituencies will be able to complement each other's efforts. Dialogue is a way of helping people “see the representative and participatory nature of thought”. In dialogue, a group accesses a larger pool of common good. In this regard, government, private industry and higher education should meet at the policy-formulation level as well as the operational level and encourage more fixed dialogue rather than ad hoc good-will sessions. Officials who participate in dialogue must be trained in dialogue procedures for it to be effective. They should be encouraged to make their thinking explicit to be explored by each other through reciprocal enquiry, without personally attacking each other. The participants must view each other as colleagues. They must also avoid leaps of abstraction, which occur when people jump to hasty conclusions and generalizations without effective analysis. The 21st century will undoubtedly call for greater collaboration among government, private industry, and higher education for complex research and development projects in the fields of technology, agriculture, health, the sciences and engineering. This collaboration, however, must begin with formal networking among individuals in the universities/polytechnics, private industry, and the government, which may eventually create the necessary basis for cooperation between the industrial and academic worlds on specific projects and lead to formal, broader, and continuing collaboration once they are established. These formal initiatives, however, may require an environment, which encourages relations between the three sectors as well as high levels of institutional flexibility and openness to allow the pursuit of different approaches and modes of cooperation. By including higher education and private industry in the formulation and implementation of economic development policies, the nation will be able to forge a focused shared vision approach to economic development, sustained growth, and stability. An ongoing bilateral and reciprocal collaboration between government and higher education, between government and private industry, between higher education and private industry to find lasting solutions to Ghana's economic development and growth problems would enable the three constituencies to develop a common front/shared vision approach in tackling national development objectives. The universities must also take a more direct initiative through research and other means, to identify and anticipate national needs, and bring its influence to bear on government in setting goals and objectives. Through continued dialogue between the three constituents, higher education will be in a better position to respond to economic and market trends through timely changes in enrollment by field and discipline as well as adapt its curricula to current and projected business and national manpower needs. Most African countries lack the necessary national machineries to ensure that educational objectives, such as manpower training and development, as well as research, are adequately assessed and effectively coordinated and harmonized with overall national economic development objectives. This thinking together (systems thinking) may be the beginning of a formal recognition of higher education and private industry as partners in economic development planning. The government should, therefore, use the opportunity thus provided and replace the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) with a Permanent Tripartite National Planning Commission (PTNPC) made up of think-tank representatives from government, private industry, and higher education to advise the government on economic development policies and their implementation. Members from private industry and Higher education may serve a term of, say, ten years minimum, after which they may be replaced with new replacements from their respective departments. The author believes that the shared vision approach will foster commitment to the objectives of national development goals and eventually lead to sustained economic growth. The collaborative approach will ensure continuity of economic development policies and ongoing development projects regardless of changes in the country's political leadership. When a change in government occurs (through the ballot box), only the incumbent government representatives will be withdrawn and replaced by members of the incoming government. The new members will thus get a briefing as to the state of affairs from the permanent members. This approach to policy formulation will thus lead to multilateral acceptance of policies, hence commitment by successive governments to continue uncompleted prior economic development projects initiated by previous governments.. This approach of collaboration and inclusion must be extended to the regional and district levels as well. The various ministries and government agencies must also be encouraged to adopt the systems thinking approach to dialogue among themselves. We also need to take the decentralization process seriously and divide the country into manageable units under more focused regional and district level administrators, instead of continuing to rule the whole country from Accra. This means more delegation of authority, responsibility, and accountability as well as the availability of resources to the regions and districts. Currently, the Northern Region is too expansive to be managed from Tamale alone. The incumbent government should not feel shy of reaching out to think-thank members in the opposition party as well as the general populace at large to assign them on special projects.

We should plan beyond when Ghana's oil reserves run out. What type of economy would we want to be in place when the oil is gone? What would be the national economic mainstay when the oil is gone? Let us utilize the billions of oil revenue to revolutionalyze the economy and transform it to the highest possible standard comparable to the best anywhere in the world. Let's plan to make Ghana an OASIS OF DEVELOPMENT IN A DESERT OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT by replacing selfishness with selflessness in our governance and our attitude, by replacing apathy with patriotism, by replacing complacency with a can-do and willing attitude and by replacing a cycle of poverty with a cycle of investments, job creation, individual and national prosperity. Let's keep the peace and stability to further our onward development. Let's work hard to make Ghana the industrial hub of Africa

Dr. Gabriel A. Ayisi