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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 January 2003

Columnist: Annoh, Lyssiemay

Waltzing In Ghana's Democracy

The aftermath of the increase in the price of fuel products and its relative consequences has left Ghanaians in a state of shock. This is because various Government sources have attributed the 94% increase to a variety of reasons including for the umpteenth time the accumulation of trillions of Cedis of debt from previous governments, especially the last one. I choose to use the word Government in plural because it appears the safest thing to do where the word accumulation and inheritance are employed.

The People of Ghana have never made any Government accountable so to create a fair picture, and if the NRC is anything to go by, we might as well blame all past Governments.

Furthermore, the President in his opening address to the two-day Annual Policy Forum of the Global Coalition for Africa held recently in Accra said, “African governments are showing more sensitivity to the plight of their people”. Are our Leaders showing us any sensitivity? If so why are Ghanaians being asked to pay for the reckless behaviour of their past leaders?

Many Ghanaians would loathe finding another Government spending two years of its first term blaming the previous one! Nevertheless we will need to be abreast with the state of the economy before anyone else takes over.

So let us start by setting a good example.

We asked for positive change and accountability should come with the package. Accelerating change should be priority for the delivery of better services to the public. It would only be proper that before the next election, the current Government presents Ghanaians with a statement of account detailing particularly all debts incurred or to be incurred and any other relevant information so that we can have a complete picture of the State’s finances just as any company or business would do when it is up for a takeover. This would be published before the elections and the onus will be on prospective candidates to prove how best they can manage the economy with the statement of account before them. After all, there is no guarantee that the incumbent would remain in place after the next election. Potential leaders might be worried when they read this and quite rightly so because thanks to the new millennium and albeit our Presidential Government, democracy is thriving in Ghana. Ghanaians have practically elected for this and would like to exercise their rights in terms of accountability.

Take the TOR debt for example, if only we were presented with a detailed statement prior to the takeover, we would have been prepared for this shock. The opposition parties would not have to mourn for us. We would mourn directly ourselves. At 45 we are old enough to be able to share in responsibilities as citizens of one of the beautiful countries in West Africa. Our only problem, our Governments are not accountable to us. We will need to renew our faith in how they manage our affairs. No presidential candidate should start rejoicing at the thought of winning the seat for their parties until they have seen what is on the agenda for 2004.

In Ghana, we do not lack skill but we lack know-how. We still have teething problems, which the NRC cannot resolve:

    ? Armed Robbery – Why have the robbers become so ruthless and cold?

    ? Unemployment – When will Ghana be able to create new jobs that will take in these JSS and SSS graduates and train them to acquire new skills?
The future is still not bright for the youth. Let us invest in our youth. Technology will make a huge impact on the services we provide to the public. We can train our youth for this at minimal cost. The youth would be grateful for this opportunity. It is important that all youth programmes have SMART long and short-term objectives. This is to say that they would be:
    ? Specific
    ? Measurable i.e. quantity, quality, Cost Time,
    ? Agreed
    ? Realistic (achievable, challenging) and
    ? Time bounded.
The development of youth programmes should not be expensive. They are vital. We should place a high priority on improving the way we manage and develop people. It is also possible to secure charitable funding for a properly designed programme. The programme must be outcome focused and led by someone under a performance contract. I can even be cheeky here and suggest that we could have covered the cost of establishing a technology-based youth programme for the benefit of all Ghanaians from the travelling expenses we incurred during 2000-2002. All we needed for the development of 50 youth under a 6-week technology-based programme was accommodation, 50 workstations and two trainers with an objective! This programme will be revolving so every six weeks there will be a new batch of youth enrolling. Result – modernising our information management system, developing our youth and reducing paperwork!

The average Ghanaian will not care about the poverty gap so long as her son or daughter is be able to find some work to do after leaving school. Education in Ghana is not free and it is frustrating to imagine that even after striving to pay fees, you cannot find a job. Ghana’s Civil Service is bursting with extra tables of civil servants who are not contributing to the development of the service but are actually using the service as a refuge. They have no special skills and are not readily employable anywhere else. Salary is low and they still hang on because it is either that or revert to the streets leading to the criminal option. To crown it all, they learn that the Governments they have ably served (simply by turning up to work –and not particularly doing anything) have left them with huge debts, which they will have to settle.

Ghana should seek to establish a Civil Service that delivers results and is respected by the public. A place where people are proud of what they do and can be trusted to give the best advice and service.

Wouldn’t our woes be easier to bear if we saw regular statements and shared in discussions on how to pay-off the national debt? Perhaps the load would even be lighter if we all agreed to the loan in the first place especially as it would improve living standards. But we have elected MPs for these and yet we have inherited a lot in our probate. Like in any Will, there are some good news and bad news. The goods news with this Will is that we can all help make it better for the future.

This is the first time the average Ghanaian has been told that they are directly responsible for a debt they were unaware of. The reasons for this - democracy and let me throw in our favourite word ‘accountability’. Those were the days when we did not know who paid for what or where monies were coming from and what balances remained outstanding. During those days we always assumed that the fat cats in their Jeeps and Mercedes and motorcades will go to the bank to get money on our behalf, buy themselves fancy cars, manage our affairs and then when there was trouble they would know how to sort it out! So we did not care. Time and pain have changed us. This time we have democracy. Government by the People for the People so guess what - we have to help sort things out!

Parliament must work closely with Ministers when developing policy. We all need to know from the start what we want to achieve and be clear that our policies are going make a difference to people when they are put into practice. Ministers must be honest with Parliament – letting them know well in advance if there is likely to be a problem so that they can prepare to deal with it together.

We must have clear relationships between the centre, departments and wider public sector and understand who is responsible for what to avoid duplication of efforts. I personally do not know the precise roles of Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, Elizabeth Ohene and Kwabena Agyepong (I am sure there are a few more others duplicating in this area). Neither can I sometimes tell the difference between the role of Osafo Marfo, J H Mensah and Kwesi Nduom. I prefer not to use their Ministerial titles because that is even more confusing!

Let us make information accessible to all Ghanaians. We must be able to assess any presidential candidate, who, as a potential team leader of our future Government should be capable of reviewing our statement of account and while using their competencies tell us how best they can manage our affairs. We would evaluate their responses and choose whom we deem fit from their management skills. We should be able to work together to help them achieve our goals. After all this is our homeland. We want to make our nation great and strong and be the proud people that we have always been. We are almost 46 years of age now and the days when coups and guns took decisions on our behalf are over!

Long Live Ghana – Long Live our Democracy!


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