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Opinions of Thursday, 16 March 2017

Columnist: Anderson Assuah

Let’s prioritize building data as a country!

By: Anderson Assuah

Efforts to obtain data from public institutions can be very dreary in Ghana. After diligently spending time on the websites of Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs), one sometimes wonder whether these institutions recognize the importance of gathering and compiling data for public consumption. Not only does data not exist on most of these websites, but a reader is also subjected to unnecessary bureaucratic procedures. The most exasperating moment is when you send e-mails to a contact who is said to be responsible for the data and information you need but such persons choose to not acknowledge receipt of your e-mail, nor respond to your inquiry. If you are lucky, you get a response, but the answer is usually sorry, we don’t have data on what you are looking for.

Developed, developing, or about to develop, no country can duck the critical need for carefully collected, reliable data. In fact, data is the linchpin to development. However, in Ghana, many, if not most, of our public institutions do not see it as such. Yet, we are always in awe of industrialized countries and wonder why they have tonnes of data and information on almost every occurrence or phenomenon within their countries (and beyond). The answer is simple: they invest and are committed to collecting data needed in formulating goal-oriented policies. Ghanaian politicians and public officials have always quoted statistics and data from industrialized countries or international organizations to support points they make or to strengthen their arguments.

We (Ghanaians) reference reports and statistics of international organizations on key development indicators in our country and make it sound that this practice be the norm. The conundrum is why and how international organizations have data on these critical sectors of our economy while our very own public institutions do not have such data available? A paradox indeed! It is only laughable to think that we won’t compile our own credible data, but are under the illusion that our country will develop someday. It simply won’t happen!

The underlying reasons for ineffective policies in our country is our poor data gathering culture. We cannot expect our policies to be sound and contribute to changing our society if we do not formulate these policies on accurate, reliable data. If our public institutions do not commit to gathering and compiling data for our own use, our development will be tardy as it has been till date. And, don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about right to information. Without the data and information, we cannot exercise our right to demand them. Getting the data is first, followed by making a request for it.

It is exhilarating, however, to learn that the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection is embarking on the Ghana National Household Registry (GNHR) project to compose a comprehensive database for social protection programs (see: http://mogcsp.gov.gh/view-projects.php?id=4). If successful, the National Identification project will be a massive step in the country’s effort to tracking persons in the country and formalizing our economy, hopefully (see: https://www.modernghana.com/news/751981/govts-national-id-project-takes-off.html).

While the above two initiatives beacon hope in our data gathering journey as a country, the time has come for all public institutions to prioritise gathering and compiling sound, reliable data for use by the public. Portions of budgets for MDAs should be directed to hiring and training personnel in data collection, analyses, and processing. We have enough human resources to do so, in addition to the many computer models and algorithms available – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The country will be doing itself a favour if unemployed graduates (as we like to call them) are hired and trained to collect, compile, and maintain data at various levels in the country.

Let’s make building sound, accurate, and reliable data a national priority. We need data to propel our growth and development - It is a need, not a want!

Anderson Assuah Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Canada (deenvoy@gmail.com)