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Opinions of Friday, 17 July 2009

Columnist: Appiah-Kubi, Kojo

Six Months of NDC Government

KOJO APPIAH-KUBI, (PHD)

The NDC government under President Mills is six months old in office. Under normal circumstances there should not be any fetish about six months of a government in office, particularly, if this government has a four-year mandate. But if a government celebrates itself and its performance just after 100 days in office with a series of press conferences and awards itself high marks, it is thereby subjecting its performance to a continuous assessment. This piece is therefore just adding up to the numerous continuous assessments.

First let us deal with the six point manifesto pledges; the input indicators, which the NDC government wanted Ghanaians to use to assess its performance after 100 days in office, and interrogate how far it has performed over time in the last six months.

The first point talks about the establishment of a lean but effective government by cutting out ostentation and profligate expenditure; rationalizing ministries and ministerial appointments; and promoting services, humility and integrity as canons of government.

It is indeed gratifying to note that the NDC government managed to get a complete list of its cabinet ministers within 100 days in office. This, however, in no way ensures a lean and effective government, more particularly so, when one is not sure as of today whether the government has a full complement of its ministers. Just a few days ago a new Minister for the Ministry of Private Sector Reform was appointed and this signals that the list of ministerial appointments is definitely not yet closed. Let us not forget; about four ministries still do not have deputy ministers.

It is also important to query the basis of its assessment of a lean government. Does it lie in the mere reduction in the number of ministries from 27 as under the NPP administration to 24 after six months in office or in the reduction in the number of ministerial appointments from so called 88 to 75? What about the numerous staffers in the presidency about whom the general public scarcely gets information? Comparing figures the NPP government can also assert that it started with a far lesser number of ministries and ministers (63) within the first six months in office. By the way if a 75 minister government is regarded by the NDC as a lean government, what do you call a 35 minister government for Ireland, 54 for Canada, and 46 for Australia?

By all indications a lean government should reflect a reduction in the costs of running the govern¬ment business but the evidence is not available. What can be said is that some government offices such as the Presidency have even increased their budget allocations with supposedly less number of appointees. Concerning the effectiveness of the government, given the paucity of evidence, one can only draw on the judgement of the NDC founder, Mr. Rawlings, who finds the current NDC govern¬ment to be slow and the ministerial appointments of the government mediocre.

In the case of service promotion, it is indeed ironic to imagine how this could have been promoted when the 2009 budget has slashed services and administration budgets of MDAs by almost 50 percent. Moreover, most of the government agencies, including all the district assemblies have not received any budgetary allocation six months into 2009. If any this should suggest a reduced room for service promotion in the face of increased user fees and charges.

The second point talks about the intention of the NDC government to, within 100 days, “prepare and present to Parliament legislation on various tax and tariff measures designed to provide relief for Ghanaians”. In the past six months the NDC government has been able to introduce only two legislative measures on related to taxes. The first one sought to increase the airport tax, whilst the second one sought to reduce petroleum taxes by 5-10% and consequently petroleum prices. But how have these provided refliefs for Ghanaians, against the backdrop of the fact that petroleum prices have experienced two consecutive substantial increases of about 40% during the past six months. On the whole, considering the rising inflation and the rapid depreciating cedi-dollar rate, Ghanaians cannot have enjoyed any reliefs from tax and tariff measures from the NDC government in the past six months.

With regard to the third point the NDC government wanted to, in the first 100 days, ensure prompt and effective implementation of existing legislation such as the Persons with Disability (PWD) Act 715 and the Whistleblower, 2006, Act 720. Indeed it has followed this up with the setting up of a commission to be responsible for the implementation of the PWD Act, which was passed by the previous NPP administration. But this in no way ensures the effective implementation of the Act, considering the fact that the operationalization of this act would require considerable resources, which are currently not available, and also complete collaboration of the municipal, metropolitan and district assemblies, which after six months are yet to receive the development funds from the government.

The fourth point deals with the intentions of the NDC to, within the first 100 days, review and re-constitute the membership of Commissions and Boards, solely on the basis of expertise and competence; eschewing all partisan and familial considerations. The fact is that the government did not review the membership of commissions and boards. It just dissolved them via an executive fiat, with serious negative consequences on the effective operations of government business and other para-statals. In the case of the re-constitution of commissions and boards, it is gratifying that the current government has initiated the process. But the delay is affecting the operations of these agencies and institutions negatively, since without the boards and commissions these agencies cannot take any important decisions.

The fifth point seeks to protect the safety and security of Ghanaians by streamlining, harmonizing and resourcing the agencies of state with responsibility for ensuring the security of life and the safety of property within 100 days. The safety and security of Ghanaians can have several dimen¬sions including food security, personal, internal, political, national security, etc.

In terms of food security considering that most of the ministries set up to execute government programmes are still in their formative stages and that staff of MDAs are still be reshuffled, it is almost impossible to identify any government action that could have ensured food security or ensure that Ghanaians at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Given the rising price trends, one can only infer that food availability and affordability, all vital components of food security, could only have gotten worse.

In the area of personal security or safety it is difficult to imagine how things within these six months could have been different from the days before. It may not be far fetched to conclude that things have even gotten worse. The spate of armed and highway robberies, for instance, appear to have increased in the six months under this government. The regular explosions in some hotspots of the country, including Tamale and Bawku, continue unabated, with the renewals of curfews to curb them having become a ritual. The NDC has also had to experience a stadium disaster with deaths, this time with a change in venue from Accra as occurred under the Kuffuor administration to Kumasi. But there are also new incidents that appear to have contributed to deteriorate the personal safety of some Ghanaians. These include the soaring state of the road carnage; seizure of toilets and private cars; the assault of local government workers in Ashaiman, Sefwi, etc. resisting illegalities; the serious attacks on NPP sympathisers by NDC youth in Tamale and Agbogloshie, which resulted in deaths of some people; the proceed on leave of senior public servants, who served under NPP, etc. All these are pinpointing facts that the six months have not been that rosy for some people.

Concerning internal security, Ghana can express gratitude to God for overseeing it safely through a weary election and for holding the nation together after the acrimonious election. But what has this government actually contributed to ensuring this internal security? Have the agencies of state with responsibility for ensuring maintenance of internal peace, security and stabi¬lity been more resourced to bring about any difference in the effectiveness of their operations? Even for the fiscal year 2009 indications are that the Ministry of Interior which harbours the state security agencies would have to do with resources in 2009 less than in 2008. An examination of the 2009 budget reveals that the budget allocations for the Ministry of Interior have been cut nominally by about 9.5 percent compared with that of 2008. In real terms this constitutes a substantial reduction in resource allocation, which would seriously affect their operations of this vital security sector.

Political security concerns ensuring due process and the rule of law as well as ensuring equity in the political arena for all political organizations in Ghana. Admittedly six months are too short a period to judge a government, but recent serious cases of arrest and detention without trials, remo¬val of public servants from office without due process, BNI harassments, car snatchings, renewal of curfews by unauthorised per¬sons and retroactive review of ex-gratia matters for article 71 and 58 office holders are all serious acts that do not uphold constitutionalism (rule of law) in Ghana. Indeed the pledge of the NDC government to take bold and comprehensive measures to deal with the appalling filth in the communities in 100 days cannot be taken serious. Waste management is the sole responsibility of municipal, metropolitan and district assemblies. Hitherto the assemblies are yet to receive anything from the government to finance their development budget. Until recently they were not even allowed to sign any new contract for service provision. Moreover, the majority of these assemblies are yet to hold their first deliberative sitting. It is thus very difficult to see how these assemblies could have taken new bold and comprehensive measures to deal with wastes in the communities. Moreover, the new government appears to have failed woefully in this area. Six months into government it has not been able to give any indication through policies, forward looking measures, legislations, etc., how this menace should be dealt with. Indeed it set up an ad hoc committee to deal with the filth in only Accra and other urban cities, and this has ensured the clearing of certain mountains of filth, which had become eyesores in these cities. But by all indications the recent monsoon rains appear to have worsen the situation, as the floods have wash the waste and filth into the gutters and leading to the choking of these gutters. Input indicators, as reflected in the six points, examined above, which the NDC government wanted to accomplish in 100 days in office, are not ends in themselves. They are supposed to lead to some social and economic results which can be measured using some outcome and impact indicators such infla¬tion, exchange rate, interest rate, growth rates, etc. Let us now take a close look at the trends of some of these outcome indicators, which are strongly influenced by the above men¬tioned input indicators.

Inflation: There has been a substantial deterioration in the headline inflation rate measured as year-on-year changes in the consumer price index of about 13.43 percent in less than 100 days of NDC government from 18.1 percent at the beginning of January 2009 to a 5 year peak of 20.7 percent by the end of June 2009, a food harvest season when general price levels are expected to decline. These increases rather in price levels imply rising cost of living and a deterioration in the standards of living of the average Ghanaian.

Exchange rate: Over the last six months the Ghana Cedi has lost ground against all major international trading currencies by about 20%. Coupled with the rising inflation rate, the rapid decline in the cedi rate has fuelled increasing propensity to hold money instruments and foreign currencies away from the real productive sector to the detriment of economic growth and employment.

Interest rate: Already the level of interest rates in Ghana is said to be relatively high compared with that of other countries. That is why governments in Ghana have in the past tried to bring it down to enhance effective mobilisation of savings and make credits affordable to the private sector and thereby boost economic growth. The NPP government, for instance, managed to reduce the lending interest rates from 42 percent in 2001 to 29.7 percent in 2009. However, the prime rate, a major determinant of lending interest rates of commercial banks, has gone up by about 1.5 percentage points during the last six months, thus pushing the average lending rates and credit costs to its highest peak of more than 33 percent.

Economic growth: The impact of the negative trends in the above mentioned outcome indicators of government policy on investment and economic growth cannot be overemphasized. Hence the continued deteriorating trends in these indicators could be seen as poisonous to economic growth.

Poverty levels: The latest available statistics estimate about 28.5 percent of Ghanaians to be poor, with about 18.2 percent of Ghanaians not able to afford sufficient food to meet their nutritional requirements. Given that the negative trends in the above mentioned outcome indicators are likely to negatively affect economic growth and consequently per capita income growth for 2009, one can therefore predict a slowdown in the declines in poverty levels of the country for the period.

In conclusion it is worth reminding the NDC that it has a four year mandate to transform the economy of Ghana and the lives of Ghanaians. It has promised them a “better Ghana”. Even thought Ghanaians have the right to preside over the evidence of failure or success of the NDC government only on the anniversary celebration in four years time, some of us would continue to hold them to their word and mark the steps they take.