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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Matters Arising From Kufour And Mills Saga

: Are Ghanaians Lazy?

Appiah Kusi Adomako, Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, London

When pressed by the demands of inner truth men do not easily assume the task of asking a question: are Ghanaians lazy? Nor do we expect politicians like President John Agyekum Kufuor and Professor John Evans Atta Mills to engage in a long philosophical debate on whether Ghanaians are a bunch of lazy people or it’s the economy that is suffering under the heat of the current global economic meltdown. The truth of this question is beyond doubt. Whichever telescope one uses to look at the Ghanaian working culture, it may be difficult to admit, and as former US President Al Gore would call it ‘the inconvenient truth’ is that ‘Ghanaian working force is not competitive’.

Early last week, the president John Agyekum Kufour was quoted as saying that Ghanaians are lazy people. Why should a president gallivanting around the world to bring investors to Ghana to do business later turn around to say that the people whom he is lobbying for work to be created for them are lazy? I think the president’s firm assessment of the issue has been informed by what he has seen prior to becoming president and his extensive travels abroad.

Professor John Evans Atta Mills has taken a swipe at President Kufuor for labelling Ghanaians as a "lazy bunch of people" who don't want to work hence have no money in their pockets. I at least expected this issue to be discussed on political coordinates. This is a social and economic issue which ought to be looked at under the lens with the highest objectivity. Rather it has been subjected to the same debate as the bloated electoral register.

I think when the president says that ‘Ghanaians are lazy’ he is not saying that all twenty million Ghanaians are lazy. Let us not misunderstand him. Rather, he was using part to represent a whole. In literature we call this as synecdoche. For example, when Ghana recently found oil in commercial quantities every Ghanaian was happy. many newspaper headlines across the world read: GHANAIANS REJOICE OVER OIL DISCOVERY’. Meanwhile, there may be some Ghanaians who may not be happy because to them the discovery would boost the image of the present government and draw more foreign investors into the country. They would rather want the oil to be discovered when their party is in power. Though they could not come out publicly to express their disenchantment, inwardly they felt unhappy about the news which has brought joy to every Ghanaian. So the fact that this group of people are not happy does not mean that Ghanaians are not happy. We are all happy.

On the whole our attitude towards work is generally poor. Compared to workers in Asia, Europe, America and even South America the average Ghanaian worker is not hardworking. When Ghanaians travel outside the country they are able to catch up with the pace of a culture of working hard and achieving results but at home the story is different.

In the public services it’s even worse. In the ministries, departments and agencies(MDA), people paid with the Ghanaian taxpayer’s money report to work late. When they get to work, they sit idle, converse on the telephone and some work lottos and bingo numbers. Alas! Some even trade their own private business there. Break time, which is supposed to last for thirty minutes, sometimes lasts for three hours. In the public service, the people who report to work late are the ones who leave for the house early. From the minister in Osu to the district director in Mankranso, top officials report to work late.

It is so frustrating that whenever you visit the ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) to transact your business. Something which can be done in thirty minutes, you would be told to go home and come the next day or the following week for it. Sometimes, one is frustrated in a way that in order to get things done for you then you must pay to have your way through. Fridays and Mondays are the worst days to visit the MDA’s. On Fridays, people leave the office as early as 11:00 am to prepare for funerals. Whether there is a funeral or not some workers leave the office before official closing. And on Mondays, when you visit the place, you will be told that the officer in charge went for the weekend and has still not reported to work. The public are advised not to transact business on Fridays or Mondays at the MDA’s because you will only find a skeletal staff. Consciously or unconsciously, people have accepted this with regards to doing business with the MDA’s as fact of working norm. In the Ghana Education Service, the picture is not that different from other public institutions. Teachers, who are supposed to be teaching, put pupils into the school farm to ‘farm’ so that they can have time to do their own private things. Some have also turned the classroom into shopping malls and have appointed the pupils as a sales and marketing representatives. This has contributed to the lowering of standards at public schools.

This toxic attitude is fuelled by the fact that the payroll for all public servants is located in Accra and that whether you work or not your salary will be paid. Even those who have left public service for many years still have their names on the government payroll. The remuneration system in Ghana is one of the reasons that laziness permeates the public sector. Ghana is the only country in the world where the hard working person and the lazy person in the same office or department get the same salary, if they are on the same salary level.

Ghana could have taken advantage of companies in Europe and North America outsourcing most of their services. However, the notion that Ghanaians workers are not hardworking has caused most international companies to find alternative places like India, Philippines, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to do business. We always want to make excuses for not coming to work: it was raining; I went for the forty days celebration of my aunt’s cousin; I went to prayer meeting; I was caught up in a traffic; etc.

The president might not be wrong in saying that Ghanaians are lazy. His statement should not be seen as a ‘fallacy of hasty generalization’. He has come out with the inconvenient truth. We need to be up and doing. Chaka Demus said ‘work like a champion’.

Mr. Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and professional speech writer. He can be contacted through e-mail: