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Opinions of Friday, 22 March 2013

Columnist: Asante, Danso K.

Is Ghana ‘broke’ or ...

we are just incompetent to manage our affairs?

I have never stopped wondering what is wrong with us as a nation. We can’t provide good drinking water, we can’t provide electricity, our children sit under trees to study, we drive on dusty roads full of potholes, a good number of our women die in childbirth, we have no money to finance our national health insurance scheme, we can’t pay our teachers, doctors, nurses and midwives a decent wage, and yet we are a middle income country – amazing!

I live in Australia and travel quite frequently to many Asia-Pacific countries that are middle income. You don’t need a World Bank list of country classification when you are in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta to know you are in a middle income country. They have their challenges – no doubt, but you can literally see the ‘middle income’ all around you.

I was in Ghana last January (mind you I come home every year, sometimes twice in a year), and for the first time I used one of the domestic flights (Starbow) from Accra to Kumasi. I took a few aerial shots of Kumasi with my compact camera as we were about to land. Almost every road or street in the Buokrom-Pankrono-Tafo area I captured was untarred and full of dust. My ten year old son travelling with me asked – “why are all the roads brown in colour, can’t the people tar them like they do in Sydney”? He never stopped talking about the dust and the potholes till we got home… concluding that one day when he grows up and make enough money he will come and re-construct all the roads and tar them to make the city clean and beautiful like Sydney.
Of course it was a childish talk of a ten year old boy, but upon reflections I felt quite ashamed and thought it was a serious indictment of our progress as a nation 56 years after independence. The magnitude of the developmental challenges confronting us and the inconsistent efforts we are making to address these challenges is sufficient to make ones head explode. The question that keeps coming to me, particularly when I hear complaints of delays in government funding disbursements is: are we ‘broke’ as a nation or we are just incompetent to manage our affairs?
I understand that as a developing country we would definitely have some cashflow problems – we don’t generate sufficient revenue to cover our expenditure. But have we made serious efforts to generate revenue? We are so engrossed in partisan politics such that we invest all our energy in political mudslinging rather than finding sustainable solutions to our problem. Consider this, for many years we have been paying lip service to adding value to our primary products to improve our competitiveness in the global market. We continue, nonetheless, to sell the bulk of our products in their raw form, subjecting ourselves to the vagaries of international trade and irrepressible fluctuations in commodity prices.
Our revenue collection system lacks innovation – we rely heavily on those taxes that are easy to collect – payroll deductions for employees in the formal sector, import duties, VAT and few others. We have failed to think creatively about new types of taxation and sources of revenue. Our revenue collection agencies are weak and corrupt (everybody knows that) – they don’t account properly for what they collect but we sit and watch as those who steal this much-needed tax revenue enjoy their booty.
In Australia, a federal member of parliament was recently arrested after months of investigation by the police, for misusing funds of a state agency he headed prior to becoming a member of parliament. The charges levelled against him include using his official credit card to pay for prostitutes. The monies involved are nowhere as gargantuan as those in some of the ongoing court cases in Ghana, but he was handcuffed, strip-searched and held in police custody before being granted bail and charged the following day. I didn’t see any party flags or party members besieging the police station he was held or the court where he was charged. This partisan political madness in Ghana ought to stop!
The incompetence of our leaders in handling the affairs of the nation is simply mind-blowing. Do we really understand what priority setting is all about? Is it not insanity to use the meagre resources of a poor country like Ghana for something as unimportant as paying for pastors to travel to Jerusalem to pray for the nation? Or how smart is it to spend reasonable sums of money to give awards to so-called distinguished Ghanaians including yourself? When are we going to seek real value for money in the use of our resources?
Finally, our state and parastatal organisations are so inefficient, yet they spend significant chunk of their budgets on capacity building – what do they get out of such expenditures in terms of enhanced efficiency? If we would ever get out of the mess we are in, we need to shed the ‘business as usual’ mentality and start taking ourselves seriously. Ghana is so cheap that anybody can get away with anything – as long as you clad in an NDC or NPP flag. Let’s demand serious accountability, not only from our political leaders, but also all those who are paid by your tax money.

K. Danso Asante
Sydney, Australia