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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 July 2006

Columnist: Ayisi, Gabriel A.

Replace National Development Planning Commission ...

Replace National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) with a Permanent Tripartite National Development Planning Commission (PTNDPC)

Ghana’s underdevelopment is the fault of our policy makers. Ghana’s infancy in democratic dispensation has given birth to politics of envy and contempt among our political parties. As such, it is time we evolved a new system of governance (re-inventing government) regarding the way the country’s priorities are set, especially, how our economic policies are developed and implemented. In the past, sitting governments have claimed sole ownership of economic policies and strategies, which, more often than not results in successive governments wanting nothing to do with policies and projects started by previous governments. Cases in point in the history of the nation were what became of CPP’s projects under Kwame Nkrumah. Most of them were halted or destroyed during the days of political upheavals and adventurisms of some young, restless and hungry military personnel. Another is when the NPP discarded “Vision 2020” because it saw it as an NDC programme. Now, the NPP has come out with its own vision of development of making Ghana a middle income economy by 2015. Under the present political climate, should the NDC win the next election, it is very likely that it will also set aside NPP’s plans.

The major stakeholders in every economy are the government, private industry, and higher education. Whereas, higher education is responsible for the development of the nation’s human resources, the government and private industry are the end users of the human resources thus developed. For effective planning, therefore, the three stakeholders of the economy need to dialogue to make sure that they support each others efforts towards national development. The government and private industry’s projections must be communicated to higher education so that it can adapt its curriculum and graduation rates to these projections. In effect, they must have a shared vision by thinking together.

The current situation in Ghana is a form of disjointed development, where pronouncements are made and actions taken by various government agencies without consulting other agencies about their input or how the pronouncement will affect other sectors of the economy. Examples of the results of such disjointed development processes are listed below:

How can we increase university graduation with the influx of private universities without correspondingly increasing job opportunities within the country? This results in a situation that fuels hyper-unemployment.

Are the various programs being offered at the tertiary level relevant to Ghana’s economy? Are they developmentally appropriate? Who evaluates the relevance of these courses to the national economy?

In another situation, how well are we maintaining/managing our hospitals? Our hospitals are ill-maintained and have been few with no new major ones being built despite the quantum increase in the country’ population. Take Accra for instance, its population has increased tremendously because of rural to urban immigration, yet Accra can only boast of Korlebu Hospital, the Military Hospital and Police Hospital. These hospitals were built when Accra’s population was 50% less than what it is today. The same thing applies to Kumasi. The only major hospitals the city has known for years, despite increase in its population has been KATH and KNUST hospital. All these are being allowed to skew disadvantageously despite increases in the population of the youth and a sizeable increase in the population of the old and retired. Take any other sector of the economy, and you see much of the same. Our economic base has been mainly agrarian limited to the production of raw materials with very little value added. Why can’t we incorporate some vertical integration into our productivity and venture into adding value to what we produce? Why do we have to export raw gold and diamonds cheaply for them to be made into very expensive jewelry in the west to be sold back to us at very high prices? We need to reduce the percentage contribution of agriculture to GDP by increasing the percentage contribution of industry/manufacturing. If Ghana wants to be competitive in the Global village, we need to broaden the country’s economic base.

Take a look at the rural areas. The government’s poverty reduction measures have not trickled down to these areas. It appears nobody cares about living conditions in these areas. Most places are not even fit for habitation by humans. Instead of gradual improvements in some of these areas, there has been massive retrogression instead. If we want the rural areas to be attractive to investments, living conditions in these areas must be quantitatively and qualitatively upgraded. For example, major hospitals must be planned and cited in these areas supported by clinics. Our farmers, as for now, play the most important role in Ghana’s economy yet they are far removed from adequate health facilities with the majority of them relying on traditional and untested treatments and in some cases on quack doctors.

Some form of economic activity (investment), apart from agriculture, need to be infused in these areas. This will call for good roads, electricity, water, etc. For our District Chief Executives (DCEs) to be effective, the constitution must be amended to allow them to be elected otherwise they will all become YES men and women and sing the master’s praises to the detriment of the rural population. This needs to apply to Municipal Chief Executives (MCEs) and mayors of all major cities in the country. African leadership should discard the idea of winner takes all. It has become the practice of leaders in most African countries to undermine or eliminate those who are not their declared partisans, feeling that those who are not actively for must be presumed to be against. African leaders must learn to work with the opposition. Vice-versa, the opposition must criticize positively and provide better alternatives, instead of simply debunking and opposing recklessly every measure that is tabled by the ruling party.

Let us turn our attention to our road and railway networks. We have not even been able to maintain the road and rail systems we inherited from our colonial masters, much less, construct new ones. At present, there must be super-highways linking all major towns and cities in the country. This will not only spur economic activity but also reduce the high incidence of automobile accidents. For example, if I am driving from Accra to Sunyani, with no business in Kumasi, I do not need to drive through Kumasi. Why haven’t we been able to extend our railway system to the North through Sunyani after 50 years of independence? Ghana’s development efforts must be coherent. Successive governments must build upon/add to development projects started by the previous governments and not discard them, while at the same time being creative and forward thinking regardless. This is what I term “concrete incremental development”. Each government upon leaving office must be able to show to Ghanaians what they have added to our development instead of just being rhetorical.

What about sanitation? Why can’t we rid Accra, Kumasi, and other major cities of filth? We have not been able to because policy makers have not made it a priority. In this modern day and times, every house in Accra and all other cities and towns must be forced to construct water closets employing the use of septic tanks until we develop an elaborate and efficient sewage system. However, we need water to flush the waste. This is something our government must be concerned with. The government, however, has to make sure there is provision of adequate and constant running water before it can enact such a law. In Accra for example, it will stop the Nungua people from using our beaches to ease themselves. That done, we can turn all our beaches into revenue generating enterprises.

The dust and flooding situation in Accra can be improved only if policy makers make it a priority. What is the sense of having open gutters in Accra while the surrounding areas are not asphalted or cemented. We should do away with all open gutters. We need to stop building flat streets. Our streets should be gently/gradually convexed and asphalted with the edges raised to form a curb (replacing the unsightly gutters) resulting in a natural drainage system on both sides of the street which empty into underground tunnels and drainage system. This is what pertains in the western world. When it rains in the cities like New York City, the water running into the curbs and underground drainage systems are as clear as tap water or water that falls on the roofs with no sediments to block the drains. What happens when it rains in Accra? All the silt is washed into the gutters and refills the gutters causing them to overflow and block the drainage system resulting in severe flooding. The gutters are desilted and placed right on the edges of the gutters to be thrown back in again when the nest rain comes. On the other hand, when it is not raining we experience dessert storms like Iraq, and the whole place gets dusty. As a matter of fact, the whole country is one big dust bowl. Simple solution…asphalt, cement or grow grass and other vegetation in all open areas. The government can enact a law and enforce it for every landlord to do this around his/her property including the space between the property all the way to the curb.

Before we go globetrotting looking for investors, we must make sure our house is in order. If we do not, either the investors will not come or when they come, they will get frustrated with our constant power outages and lack of constant flowing water, pack and leave the country to spread the bad news (word of mouth). The government, must ensure that the necessary infrastructure, constant flowing electricity and water, expanded and reliable communications system, conducive business environment, efficient court system, efficient transportation and ports system, efficient health delivery system, well equipped schools across the country, to mention but a few, are in place if we want Ghana to progress towards a middle income status. Successful industries depend on the above. Ghanaians need to see “concrete incremental development” and some form of improvement in their daily lives.

All the above boils down to formulating economic development policies that are followed through and this can be done when we us the systems thinking approach to governance. “Systems thinking” is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots… it is also a set of specific tools and techniques originating in two threads: in “feedback” concepts of cybernetics and in “servo-mechanism” engineering theory, according to Peter Senge. Globalization is making the formulation of a country’s development policies more and more complex. Formulating national economic policies means facing a never-ending procession of hard choices among conflicting objectives. Economic policy involves much more than finding the best path to a clear objective. Some of the many important objectives of policy may be full employment, stable prices, increase in national productivity, and greater equity in distribution of income. These diverse and equally important objectives are related to one another by a complicated system of trade-offs, in that the advancement of one may lead to the sacrificing progress towards others.

Given the complexity of economic policy formulation, and to ensure the efficient use of our material and human resources thus developed through the increased provision of tertiary education, a systems thinking approach which leads to a shared vision to economic development must be initiated by the government. This approach will call for an ongoing formal dialogue among the three constituencies (government, higher education, and private industry). It is only through such formal process of dialoguing that the constituencies will be able to complement each others efforts. Dialogue is a way of helping people to “see the representative and participatory nature of thought”. In dialogue, a group accesses a larger pool of common good. In this regard, government, private industry and higher education should “meet at the policy-formulation level as well as the operational level and encourage more fixed dialogue rather than ad hoc good-will sessions”, according to Melvin H. Bernstein. Officials who participate in dialogue must be trained in dialogue procedures for it to be effective. They should be encouraged to make their thinking explicit to be explored by each other through reciprocal enquiry, without personally attacking each other. The participants must view each other as colleagues. They must also avoid leaps of abstraction, which occur when people jump to hasty conclusions and generalizations without effective analysis.

The 21st century will undoubtedly call for greater collaboration among government, private industry, and higher education for complex research and development projects in the fields of technology, agriculture, health, the sciences and engineering. This collaboration, however, must begin with formal networking among individuals in the universities/polytechnics, private industry, and the government, which may eventually create the necessary basis for cooperation between the industrial and academic worlds on specific projects and lead to formal, broader, and continuing collaboration once they are established. These formal initiatives, however, may require an environment, which encourages relations between the three sectors as well as high levels of institutional flexibility and openness to allow the pursuit of different approaches and modes of cooperation.

By including higher education and private industry in the formulation and implementation of economic development policies, the nation will be able to forge a focused shared vision approach to economic development, sustained growth, and stability. An ongoing bilateral and reciprocal collaboration between government and higher education, between government and private industry, between higher education and private industry to find lasting solutions to Ghana’s economic development and growth problems would enable the three constituencies to develop a common front in tackling national development objectives. The Universities must also take a more direct initiative through research and other means, to identify and anticipate national needs, and bring its influence to bear on government in setting goals and objectives. Through continued dialogue between the three constituents, higher education will be in a better position to respond to economic and market trends through timely changes in enrollment by field and discipline as well as adapt its curricula to current and projected business and national manpower needs. Most African countries lack the necessary national machineries to ensure that educational objectives, such as manpower training and development, as well as research, are adequately assessed and effectively coordinated and harmonized with overall national economic development objectives.

This thinking together (systems thinking) may be the beginning of a formal recognition of higher education and private industry as a partners in economic development planning. The government should, therefore, use the opportunity thus provided and replace the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) with Permanent Tripartite National Planning Commission (PTNPC) made up of think tank representatives from government, private industry, and higher education to advise the government on economic development policies and their implementation. The shared vision approach will foster commitment to the objectives of national development goals and eventually lead to sustained economic growth. The collaborative approach will also ensure continuity of economic development policies and projects regardless of change in the country’s political leadership. When a change in government occurs, only the incumbent government representatives will be withdrawn to be replaced by members of the incoming government. The new members will thus get a briefing as to the state of affairs from the permanent members. This approach to policy formulation will thus lead to multilateral acceptance of policies and hence commitment by successive governments. This approach of collaboration must be extended to the regional and district levels as well. The various ministries and government agencies must also be encouraged to adopt the systems thinking approach to dialogue among themselves.

Lastly, the incumbent government should not feel shy to reach out to think thank members in the opposition party to assign them on special projects as well. We need to build Ghana together. God Bless Ghana and Long live Ghana.

Dr. Gabriel A. Ayisi
New York City

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.