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Opinions of Saturday, 5 August 2017

Columnist: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Left behind in the development agenda

Ensuring that all marginalised and excluded groups are stakeholders in the national development processes and, indeed, benefit from the overall development of any country is a prerequisite to the attainment of inclusive development.

In other words, for a developing country like Ghana to grow with all of its people, old and young, the able and specially-abled, rich and poor together, it must ensure that the marginalised and disadvantaged groups are not left behind in the development agenda.

They must not only be recognised as right holders actively engaged in the development process but development institutions, policies and programmes must take into account their needs.

Thus, successive governments over the years have tried to bridge the inequality gap and ensure that the marginalised and poor are brought at par with the nation’s development through social protection interventions like the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Free Compulsory Basic Education (FCUBE) and the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).

For instance, the decision to replace school fees with capitation grants under the FCUBE had a positive impact on many enrolment-related figures during the 2005/06 school year.

Primary school gross enrollment rose by nearly 10 percent, bringing total primary enrollment to 92.4 percent nationwide. Primary net enrolment increased from 62 percent to 69 percent.

Every region in the country experienced a rise in enrollment; Northern Region (where rates were lowest) experienced the largest increase. Overall enrollment in basic school increased by 16.7 percent in the 2005/06 school year compared to 2004/054. Enrolment of girls increased slightly more than that of boys (18.1 percent vs. 15.3 percent).

The country’s national poverty level fell by more than half, from 56.5 percent to 24.2 percent between 1992 and 2013, thereby, achieving the MDG 1 target with its per capital growth remaining relatively high, especially with the discovery of offshore oil reserves.

These efforts have significantly contributed to the country’s development indicators like poverty reduction putting the country the middle-income status in 2010.

Development Contrast

Despite many efforts by the country to reduce hindrances and bottlenecks in the development agenda, great inequalities still exist even in regions where there ismassive development.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) research on Ghana’s Development Gap shows urban poverty has dropped in recent years much faster than rural poverty and, as a result, the gap between urban and rural areas has doubled.

The space between the rich and the poor has also widened to such an extent that there are now two Ghanas, the report states.

“What stands out in Ghana’s development inequality is that the highest levels of inequality are now registered within certain regions. This means that some districts communities or groups of people in certain regions are being left behind and are missing out on recent economic growth.

UNICEF research shows that one in four people in Ghana still live in poverty today, while the country’s growth continues to benefit the richest people the most.

In contrast, the poorest people are seeing the least benefit and struggle to develop their own livelihoods. The research further states that children are much likely to be poor than adults (40 percent) and they are also more vulnerable to poverty as it can curtail their potential in life, reduce their performance at school and later in the workplace.

“Having a large gap in well-being between the top and the bottom in a country can slow down national growth development and even impact stability. Is it also unfair and goes against national and SDG objectives of supporting all Ghanaians,” the research states.

Reality

The Afram Plains area of the Asante Akim North District of the Ashanti Region is one of the places facing stark inequality in the educational development of its children.

Communities in the area like Kansanso, Behwe, Brahabebome and Kowereso do not have junior high school (JHS) facilities, where children can continue their education after completing primary six.

The educational infrastructure deficit in the communities has resulted in many of the children terminating their education after their primary six class, with majority who could not afford to.

Ernest Kwadwo Afari, Educational Director of the Asante Akim North District, says the available JHS in the district are located as far as 15 miles away from the communities, making it inaccessible for the children.

Mr Afari discloses that Kansanso community has a 25-year-old three classroom block serving the community, “two classes are combined in each classroom to accommodate the children in the community.”

The Behwe community, although has a full primary school, lacks a JHS. “The only consolation here is that most of the children who complete their education can afford living with relatives in other communities like the Agogo Township which is relatively closer to the community access their education,” he indicates.

He mentions that although there have been proposals for the construction of the JHS for the community, the members of the community have agreed to provide labour for the construction of the structure to accommodate the JHS and teachers. He adds that he will ensure that the teachers posted have the basic teaching and learning materials so children can come back to the school.

But while Mr Afari waits for government’s intervention, most of the children are engaged in child labour activities like farming and fishing to make a living, since they have no hope of furthering their education.

National Inclusive Development

In May 2016, Accra hosted the National Forum on Inclusive Development, where over 300 participants from over 150 institutions from across government, civil society, trade institutions, private sector, development partners, academia and the media came together to contribute to the promotion of the equitable transformations of Ghana’s economy.

The forum, organised by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNDP and ActionAid, was to ensure national aspirations resonates with the international and continental vision for development and transformation.

The stakeholders after deliberations agreed that Ghana has a relatively good track record in the collection of data, adding that the country’s national development requires extensive data collection that is not only of high quality, but is also easily shared and analysed for decision-making.

They, however, called for the exploitation of new approaches for gathering data using technology to be promoted.

“Ghana must invest more in data collection to ensure that data is nationally-owned and its priorities are addressed: most data collection/surveys are donor-funded, but if the data is a national asset then such initiatives should receive higher levels of public funding and support.

Collection of data should have as wide a national coverage and be as disaggregated as possible: GSS collects and publishes good data at the national and regional levels, but the sample size is usually not adequate to allow for district level analysis and publication. Also, the systems and mechanisms for district level data collection and analysis need deepening to ensure timely information and indicators at the local levels,” they enumerated in the outcome statement of the conference.

The stakeholders also advocated an increased coordination and collaboration between institutions responsible for data: data producing agencies – including the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), government agencies, civil society and private sector – should convene and coordinate on initiatives to reduce duplication and exploit synergies between a wide-range of existing initiatives, particularly related to geographical mapping data.

They also called for the expansion of the social protection initiatives like LEAP, which they agreed, is well targeted and reaching the very poor households and making significant contribution in boosting productivity and local growth.

“It only reaches one in ten households and it should be expanded initially from the current 147,000 households to 55,000 households by 2017,” they agreed.

Since Ghana has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eliminating poverty and leaving no one behind, inequalities are self-perpetuating, do not self-correct, and require conscious policy efforts to be reversed. Failing to eliminate poverty wastes the value and potential of our democracy therefore failing to tackle inequality risks the polarisation of our society.

“The National Forum on Inclusive Development are, therefore, a key step in the process of undertaking such deliberate policy-design to ensure a more equitable nation. The expectation is that these suggestions will be carefully analysed and supported with available research and practical experiences for incorporation into national policy-making and the upcoming long term national development plan (LTNDP),” they concluded.