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Opinions of Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Columnist: Appeadu, Charles E.

What Are We Doing as a Nation?

What are we doing as a nation? In 1957, our country’s per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was $400. Let’s say Ghana decided not to grow at all (that is to achieve a zero percent growth rate in real terms) but took the decision to just make sure that, every year, each Ghanaian would be able to buy the same amount of goods and services that a Ghanaian could buy in 1957. Let’s also say that prices of goods and services increased by 3 percent per year in dollar terms from 1957 onwards (a very realistic inflation rate assumption).

Then, in fact, in 2013, the per capita GDP of Ghana should have been $2,093. In other words, if Ghana’s per capita GDP in 2013 were $2,093, the country could be said to have achieved a zero growth rate in real terms. An individual Ghanaian living in 2013 would have been as well off in 2013 as another individual Ghanaian living in 1957 was in 1957.

Now, our own Ghana Statistical Services reports that our nation’s per capita GDP in 2013 was $1,838. Yes, you read right – the figure is $1,838. This means that in 56 years, we went ahead backwards. Yes, we moved but we faced the wrong direction. Stated another way, if we take a Ghanaian living in 2013 back to 1957 and set him side-by-side with another Ghanaian living in 1957, the 2013 Ghanaian will have $351 compared to $400 for the 1957 Ghanaian. We LOST 12 percent of real per capita GDP in 56 years!

What is wrong with us? What at all is wrong with us? How can this be? Sometimes, when I discuss these issues with some of my fellow Ghanaians, they are quick to point out that it took the US and Western Europe several hundred years to get to where they are so we should give Ghana time. Well said, but seriously why do we need time to stop stealing money?

Why do we need time to start doing some basic things right? I can understand if you tell me we need time to make cars, or make computers. But do we need time to punish people who steal millions from the national coffers? Do we need time to cut down on the size of our government when we know clearly that we don’t have MRI machines at our hospitals and we have children going to schools under trees when we are spending millions on 275 Law Makers?

Do we need time to understand that the important thing is not a large number of MPs but good schools and good clinics and food for our citizens? Do we need time to conclude that we need newer cars on our roads so we should reduce the import duties on newer cars but increase the duties on very old cars? Do we need time to modernize work ethics in our ministries/agencies/departments? Do we need time to put measures in place to ensure that goods and services are delivered to our citizens in a timely fashion and that if those who are responsible for delivering such goods and services renege on their responsibilities and demand bribes before execution, that these people should be punished promptly and consistently without political and tribal bias? Do we need time to do these things? Are we subhuman?

I personally call on President John Mahama to be bold, incisive and decisive here. He is the one who has been given the privilege and responsibility to lead our nation at this time. It is not an easy job but he is the one occupying this seat at this time. He has to decide that certain things are very important for national development. He has to know that our developing economy cannot afford leakages as we make efforts to fill our bucket. Individuals and groups who are punching holes on the side of our bucket should be punished severely.

Even the richer countries who are pouring a lot into their buckets find it necessary to severely punish those who punch holes on the sides of their buckets. How much more we, who are struggling to fill our bucket. We should be ever vigilant and seriously guard the bucket as we make efforts to fill it. We can do this, folks. We can do this! If the President needs help, there are thousands of Ghanaians with the competence, integrity, and passion to serve our dear nation, scattered all over the globe.

These Ghanaians are ready to lend a helping hand. Some are already helping and many more are ready to help. Our leaders should decide firmly that we want to do better. Then they should make concerted effort to put in place the individuals and institutions who will facilitate our development process. Allow me to suggest one concrete thing that can be done (and we can replicate this in several other areas):

Get someone to lead the effort to modernize the Tema Harbour. Give this individual the mandate to assemble his team to develop the harbour into a world class facility and create a seamless process of paying for and clearing goods from the harbour.

Imagine the impact this will have on the nation’s development and revenue! Tema will be the first port of choice among our neighboring countries. Tema Harbour doesn’t even have restaurants and toilet facilities for those who spend hours trying to clear their goods. What is this? How can we sit down and let things like this happen? Do we need time to come to the realization that this is disgraceful? Do we need 200 years?

As I mentioned earlier, if the President needs help, many Ghanaians are available and if we are serious, we will find them. I am not talking about the likes of the CHRAJ Boss who spend the nation’s resources as if we were drowning in oil! I am talking about COMPETENT Ghanaians with INTEGRITY and PASSION to serve.

Of course, none of these will work if we don’t punish wrongdoing and corruption in our system. We cannot depend on people to “just do the right thing.” Even God chastises His children who go astray because He loves us and wants us back on the path of righteousness. Corruption has to be punished severely and consistently and those who do the right things should be rewarded.

Then, we should educate people on ethics and patriotism. But I say again that nothing will work until we get serious at punishing corruption, while we put in place individuals with integrity and competence to head and strengthen our institutions. Then, and only then, will we be able to create a real sustainable growth for our dear Ghana.

Dr. Charles E. Appeadu.