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Opinions of Sunday, 7 November 2004

Columnist: Aborampah, Emmanuel

If I Were Elected President

Come December 7, 2004 the good people of Ghana will be taking a decision on their future. One cannot help but wonder, what are the expectations of the millions of well meaning citizens of the nation who will be trooping the poles at the end of the year?

I cannot say for certainty that I know what every Ghanaian wants and expects from this exercise and can only speak for the few thousands who have interacted with me and then assume that their expectations are reflected in many places in space and time around the nation.

I personally have talked to many people, and generally speaking most would like to see definite steps taken to improve the lot of every citizen. By this I mean any measures and policies that end up improving the quality of life of the people of this country. Many are of the opinion that the magnitude and enormity of the problems facing the nation require no ordinary measures to address and that the current way of doing things will never take us where we wish to be. I was surprised also to learn that many people are willing ? despite their current precarious living condition to sacrifice yet again provided it holds hope for a better future.

I don?t profess to know everything about the way our system of governance works, but if our experience at ?Multi-Party? democracy is anything to go by, then I am convinced that we as a nation are not ready yet for such a form of government. All our attempts at multi-party democracy ushered in sinister manoeuvrings and social discord, resulting in lack of consistency and continuity in developmental programs.

Secondly, most of the current breed of national leaders we have are not leaders at all, they are being rather led by circumstances and by others. They lack foresight and originality in thinking. They have been motivated more by the trappings of power than by true leadership drive. My conclusions have been based on the biblical saying that ?you shall know them by their fruits?. These career politicians have not delivered what the people desire ? to see appreciable improvement in the quality of life, if not for themselves then for their children. What I see is ?education for sale?, ?health for sale?, ?justice for sale? and ?survival of the fittest?. I see filth and squalor in our towns and cities, I see indiscipline in many aspects of our national life and I attribute these to lack of leadership.

In the light of the above factors, I think as a people we do need to pause and reflect for a while. We need to device a means to dispassionately tackle our problems, guided by our common experience in the past but not dragged back by it. I wish I were sworn in as the President of the Republic of Ghana on 7th January, 2005. I would propose the following major framework and recommend it to whoever wins the elections as the program for the next four years. Within the first 100 days -

  • Declare and get parliament to approve a state of Emergency in the whole nation. A broad based Union Government will be formed, composed of elected members of all political parties according to the percentage of votes won in the elections. There will be ten ministers forming cabinet and fifteen more non-cabinet ministers. For a while, the winner takes all mentality will be stopped. We need all hands on deck. Unity of purpose is urgently needed. The president, all ministers and heads of departments and District Chief Executives will declare and publish their assets within a week of their appointment. The BNI will vet and check the veracity of the declaration and publish results within two weeks.

  • There will be no deputy ministers and current heads at ministries, departments and district assemblies will assist with the running of their outfits. There will be a freeze on wages in the public sector. All ongoing projects will be continued but a freeze will be put on new developmental projects. An audit of all committees and boards of state institutions aimed at weeding out parasitic entities in the system. The goal is to achieve a lean government machinery. The $20,000 car loan will be reduced to $5,000, the balance will provide an ambulance for a district hospital in each constituency.

  • All district assemblies will be required to create planning committees for the governments main priority areas as spelt out below:
    • Agriculture
    • Education
    • Health
    • Employment Generation
    • Law enforcement
    All planning bodies will have 40 days to develop a comprehensive 4-year plan for each of the priority areas for the district.

  • A national planning committee will be constituted for each of the above areas from parliament to collate and consolidate the district level plans into a 15-year national development program. Utmost care will be taken to make sure this program takes on a national character and is not hijacked by any sectarian interest.

  • The Electoral Commission and the Centre of Democratic Development will be resourced to mount a massive education campaign during this planning process, which should be completed in the first 100 days of office. The whole nation will vote on this on the 100th day of my office and if accepted, the plan should become our national program no matter who is in power. A catchy slogan and symbol will be developed through competition by our youth to serve as a rallying point and unifying force for the whole nation.

  • Immediately following this, every district assembly will elect their district chief executive, who will subsequently be appointed by the president by the end of the fourth month. At the end of his term the whole assembly will vote to determine his ESB based on his performance.

  • During this period a bill will be placed in parliament seeking to amend the relevant laws to deepen decentralisation in the nation. I will seek 50% of all company and personal income taxes and royalty to be paid directly to the district within which the revenue was generated.

  • The GETFund, VAT and the NHI Scheme are great innovations. I will keep them and seek ways to make them more meaningful! This will be done largely by the district assemblies. Each community will have its destiny in its own hands! The monopoly of SNNIT will be broken. HIPC can be good, if the terms under which we will be forgiven our debts are reasonable. Ghanaians have to decide the reasonableness. I will renegotiate the terms with the IMF/World Bank.

  • The situation where 60% of our national budget is financed from outside the country is untenable. I will set a target to reduce this by 20-percentage points yearly till it is zero by the third year of my term in office. The resulting shortfall in revenue will have to be found internally. Many Ghanaians know of the thousands of loopholes at our revenue collection points- at the toll bridges, at GPRTU, with the MTU on our roads, at the hospitals, offices, market places etc. I intend to do something this time. Any person helping to save revenue will receive 5% of the value saved as reward. This will be implemented at the district level.

  • Law enforcement will constitute a major pillar of my government. The so called indiscipline we talk about so much is nothing but lack of enforcement, in effect lack of leadership. An all out assault on enforcement will be waged on our roads, in our streets, settlements and institutions. A key contributor to indiscipline is the lack of performance of certain public institutions. I am talking about the likes of town & country planning, the utilities, the judicial service etc. The assemblies will be tasked to take charge of enforcement.

    Now let us look at the five priority areas for some specific policy directions.

    Agriculture

    As mentioned earlier, the backbone of my administration will be the district assemblies. The ideas fashioned at the district level will be the cornerstone of development at that level. It is hoped that the national level planning will

  • Recommend arrangements to support local agriculture and agro-based industries. I will impose tariffs on any agric import that impedes progress on the local front, say imported rice, poultry for instance.

  • Encourage the patronage of made in Ghana goods, starting with agric products. All state institutions will set the example. I like the slogan ?grow what you eat and eat what you grow?, leadership will set the example.

  • I will be tempted to devise a way to reward farmers based on their output, the goal is to make farming an attractive venture ? a form of voucher system which is accumulated and exchanged for cash annually. Of course, I?ll be guided by the experience of and lessons from the defunct Food Distribution Corporation.

    Education

    I have heard countless people say education is the key, and little meaning is given to this in practical terms. Once again most of the problems with education surfaces at the local level and are best tackled at that level. An assessment of the nation?s manpower needs will be made and the outcome will influence my educational strategy. Some of my policies will be

  • All public office holders will have to send their wards to public schools. Teacher supervision and random checks in schools will be re-introduced. A teacher?s assessment and progress through the ranks will be made a function of his/her output. At the end of every term, the ?our day? program will incorporate a teacher appreciation function. Parents will have to attend to reward freely teachers according to the progress they see in their kids.

  • Free and compulsory education to JSS3 with one free uniform per year. One free meal a day for kindergarten to primary six. With about 270,000 primary kids a year, this should not be beyond the reach of the GetFund. District assemblies will pass by-laws making it possible to arrest and punish kids of school-going age and their parents during normal school hours. No parent will be given the excuse to keep a child out of school. Remote cottages and villages will be encouraged to congregate into bigger settlements to facilitate easier access to educational facilities.

  • The current situation where over 60% of the 270,000 kids leaving JSS every year get thrown onto the streets with no social provision for them is a very sad reflection of our situation and a dangerous issue to ignore. A gradual de-boarding of our secondary institutions will be implemented to absorb even more students. Boarding houses will be converted to classrooms. Secondary education will be compulsory but not free. Parents will bear 25% of non-tuition cost. This will apply equally to senior secondary, vocational and technical schools. Student apprentice/attachment program will be worked out with industry, private and public, to engage second cycle student during holidays. Every child must benefit. Student exchange programs among schools will be encouraged.

  • Teacher training facilities will be expanded to double the intake. Thousands of SSS graduates who qualify to train as teachers, nurses, etc are turned away for no good reason, whilst the society cries for the services of these professionals. For once the base remuneration for those working in civil/public service will be based on years of training required to graduate in that profession.

  • Tertiary education will not be free. Tuition will be free, but all other cost will be borne by students. This will apply equally to all tertiary institutions. For the nation at this stage, certain priority areas will be subsidised. These are teacher training colleges, nursing training colleges and medical schools.

    Health

    What is happening in our health sector is very sad. Stories abound of even accident victims at emergency wards being attended to several hours after reporting. There is a huge problem with quality and availability of the service. In spite of this we still train ?just a few scores? of medical personnel annually.

  • No public office holder will be treated outside with public funds. There is no sense in spending hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers dollars on few individuals whilst millions have no access to descent health care and nursing mothers sleep on bare floors.

  • Resources will be made available to improve the manpower needs of the service. I don?t have a big problem with the brain drain in this sector, for Ghanaians remain Ghanaians no matter where they are, and often contribute more when they are outside. So the solution will be use their contribution to train more. The elitist mentality attached to this issue will be removed.

  • The NHIS will be kept, implementation will be delayed for six months to further improve the modalities and legalities. For example, every Ghanaian pays 2.5% VAT towards the scheme, so legally everyone is entitled to some form of service. Public education will come during this break period. Management of the scheme will be at the district level.

    Employment Generation

    One single most pressing issue left un-tackled is what to do with the teaming masses of able bodied Ghanaians, young and old, who roam our streets, troop to employment centres or sit idling day in day out for years. The psychological trauma of being unemployed has a toll on our health. This is why I will place much premium on the committee that will handle this issue. I believe very useful and constructive ideas will be provided to fashion out a strategy, but for now my answer will be in agro processing, starting with products have ready market ? both internally and externally. Key ideas are

  • Oil palm industry ? this is one area that has demonstrated in practical terms the ability to create sustainable jobs. One needs a visit to TOPP or BOPP to see this. The PSI in this area is good, let us remove the term PSI and make it national aspiration to explore the opportunities to maximum advantage.

  • Fruit juice industry ? another potential mass employer, let us encourage and assist in real terms, not words private investments.
      ? Tomato, pepper and other vegetable canneries.
      ? Expansion in cocoa industry, emphasis in cocoa bean processing.
      ? Poultry farm products will see a new level of processing. Punitive tariffs on imported stuff.
    In addition to the above, real estate development offers another source of hope. I am talking of the form which dwells on expensive and imported material, but rather tasking the Building and Road Research Institute to come out with appropriate technology for this industry.

  • Private entrepreneurs will be encourage to develop a business plan and bid for support to start a housing project.

  • Each district will select two of the best plans. Secret ballot will decide which district chooses the best plans for which district. The winners will be assisted via loans and/or otherwise to setup and start operations. The goal is affordable houses for working Ghanaians.

  • Local tourism, when encourage will provide job opportunities for countless youth. This can start with organised trips by schools, institutions, churches etc to interesting places in the country, especially during the holidays. Boarding houses could be turned into cheap hostel accommodation for visitors.

    I trust my fellow countrymen to come up with more workable ideas.

    Law Enforcement

    Under my government, the rule of law will be given a proper meaning. Justice, certainly must never be for sale. Those who break the law must be given reason to think twice. The law here includes all by-laws and regulations governing driving, housing, noise levels, sanitation etc. Each district will be responsible for its own law enforcement, and will take responsibility to resource relevant agencies. The military will be used to assist the police. The police force will be expanded in numbers to cope. The police will live among the general populace and will be paid to find their own accommodation. No more barracks-type environment.

    Population control is another area I will go tough on. All avenues, persuasive and as well as coercive means, will be explored to keep our numbers under check, until things begin to normalise. This is one reason why successive governments have not made visible impact in our lives. The little gains have always been swallowed by our sheer numbers.

    Finally, I am not 100% sure if all these ideas will work. I do not know much money will be available to do these, but I hear there is a lot of waste in the system that can be avoided to help achieve these. For example, talking to friends at the Dept of Feeder Roads, it came up that the state spends/wastes billions of cedis on contracts of dubious value to the taxpayer. Excluding tarring, it could cost as much as $50,000/km or ?460M/km for re-gravelling. Tarring is even more expensive, some $250,000/km or ?2.3bn. Imagine a single 20km road being gravelled and tarred in one district, that?s some ?55bn.

    If this work is messed up so that every 2 to 3 years we have to spend money to make it motorable and repeat this for even ten districts in the country, then you can image the sort of waste I am talking about. Now, out of 270,000 kids 180,000 will have to be fed if we limit it to class six. At ?1,500/day for 200 school days in a year this will amount to ?54bn yearly. I have faith that if we get our priorities right we can make a big difference.

    You might say what will you do if the price of petroleum jumps to $55/barel? What about the reaction of the international community to tariffs, subsidies and state of emergency? Well, I do not have answers to all possible scenarios, it is for us Ghanaians to decide. What I know is where there is the will, there is always a way and our current breeds of politicians are not helping matters at all. We can do much, much, much better with the little resources the almighty God has endowed us with. They should please ?die much more? for this dear nation to forge a better future for the young ones.

    In conclusion, the state of affairs in our nation requires drastic measures. The business as usual approach will not work in these circumstances. Let us all, no room for opposition, storm our brains to fashion out workable solutions hinged on self-reliance. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and are crying for help. May God help us.


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