Feature Article of Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Columnist: Tsuo, Cedric

NPP Manifesto: A False Political Prospectus?

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) formally unveiled their Manifesto for 7 December 2012 elections some four weeks ago. Since then, Nana Akufo-Addo, their presidential candidate, has hit the campaign trail, hard selling their promises to the Ghanaian voters. The NPP manifesto makes an interesting and revealing reading. My purpose in this article is not to analyse every policy and corresponding promise(s) rolled out in the document. My aim is to look generally at those promises with a view to assessing their feasibility in a four-year presidential term. Specifically, I want to test against the NPP manifesto promises the view I formed many years ago, that there has developed in Ghana a perverse, cynical and immoral political culture that values vague and general promises over specific promises, underpinned by integrity, honesty and patriotic zeal and commitment to serve and deliver. This culture is like a sort of auction house politics where our two main political parties, NDC and NPP, vie to outbid each other on promises. (We wait anxiously for the NDC to publish their manifesto.)
Perhaps, I should start with two preliminary comments. First, the NPP manifesto is extremely well-written. The English is as faultlessly smooth as silk, like a 1995 Château Chanteloup Bordeaux, elegant, beautiful, and enjoyable. The use of short and simple sentences makes the document very easy to read and understand. Its format and presentation are well designed and equally reinforce the message.
Second, its holistic, integrated and comprehensive approach to formulation of Ghana’s social, political and economic problems, from dearth of quality leadership to perennial general lack of basic necessities of life, such as potable water, is refreshing. It recaptures the spirit of scientific development planning shunned by successive governments since the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. That kind of planning requires some vision and thought. On that score, Nana Akufo-Addo and his team deserve our congratulations.
None the less, the more crucially important question is whether Nana Akufo-Addo and his NPP can deliver their manifesto in its entirety in four short years. The document lists a litany of promises under every section and sub-section. Almost every single page of the 115-page document is replete with alluring phrases like “we shall,” or “Akufo-Addo government will”, or “NPP administration shall” implement this or that plan. How credible are NPP and Nana Akufo-Addo?
Let us look more closely at a few randomly selected promises. First, under the general heading, titled “Access to Good Quality Education Matters,” the manifesto lists numerous promises. Admittedly, most of those promises are generally sound (I take no position one way or another on the free SHS education palaver). However, how many of those promises can Nana Akufo-Addo deliver in four years? He promises, for example, to “accelerate the implementation of providing one public university per region”. That promise may mean in practice building by December 2016 three or more new public universities, in addition to completing the two universities (Brong Ahafo and Volta regions) in the process of gestation. Building a university takes time and money. Can Nana Akufo-Addo honestly tell Ghanaians he can fulfil all those promises in four years or, at least, can he give us a specific number of universities he plans to build and complete by the end of his first term so that we could hold him accountable for that specific number? Is it moral to ask voters to vote for a political Trojan Horse?
Second, under health, the NPP make the following promise: “We will work with the private sector towards having three more first class hospitals in the country...” Their manifesto goes on to add: “we will also construct Health Training schools (number and location, not specified), nursery and midwifery training schools and two new schools of Hygiene” (location, not specified). No one can seriously argue against the substance of those promises. If those facilities are needed to improve the standard of healthcare for Ghanaians, by all means let’s have them! My query, though, is whether Nana Akufo-Addo can deliver all of them in four years.
Third, the NPP manifesto very rightly emphasises the strategic importance of good and integrated transport system for development. With this in mind, their document promises the following: “We will, in partnership with the private sector, also ensure that all economically active areas are connected with first class roads across regions and districts. These shall include flagship projects such as the Eastern Corridor roads, the Western Corridor roads, Wa-Tumu-Navrongo road, Walewale-Bunkrugu, Fulfuso-Damongo-Sawla road, a four-lane Accra-Kumasi highway (again, the number of miles of road to be constructed, not specified)...We will also look at expanding the Accra-Tema motorway from a two lane road to a four lane road.” All these are feasible in four years?
The NPP manifesto similarly promises to build, expand and modernize Ghana’s railway system: “We will in partnership with the private sector, establish a modern rail network...We will link the North to the South (through the Eastern corridor, Accra through Akosombo to Kumasi and then Paga)...We will develop the Western corridor rail from Takoradi to Hamile...and then develop the East-West Line (number of miles of rail lines to be laid, not specified)...” Is four years a realistic time-frame?
Regarding ports and harbours, the NPP have this to say: “we will work with the private sector to continue the expansion and modernization of the Tema and Takoradi Harbours; and link our railway to the ports by constructing the proposed Tema-Akosombo rail link to Buipe and Boakra inland ports.”
The document also has promises concerning air travel. Nana Akufo-Addo writes: “We will, in partnership with the private sector, establish Ghana as a hub for air travel in West Africa with the vision of building a new international airport (location, not disclosed obviously for political expediency and lack of transparency). In partnership with the private sector, we will upgrade and expand the facilities at our domestic airports, including the provision of a new airport in the Western Region....” Is Nana Akufo-Addo serious about redeeming those promises in four years?
Finally, the NPP manifesto very rightly recognizes the special needs of Northern Ghana. They pledge, among other things, that: “We will improve the roads in the North and develop a railway system to open up the regions (number of miles of rail lines to be constructed, not specified)...We will also develop the three public universities (we intend to expand the two UDS campuses in Wa and Navrongo into autonomous universities) into academic centres for excellence for agriculture, ICT and languages, attracting students from Ghana and beyond.” Wa and Navrongo already have a nucleus for a university. However, upgrading those two campuses into quality (not quantity) fully-fledged universities will require a huge investment in infrastructure and equipment, not to mention academic staff. Can all these happen in four years?
The promises cited above represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of promises laid out in the NPP manifesto on which Nana Akufo-Addo seeks election as president. The sheer number of promises is in itself a major problem. There are other problems, too. I term them constraints. First, under our Constitution, if elected president in December 2012, Nana Akufo-Addo would have a mandate for only four years. There is no guarantee that he or NPP would be re-elected to the next term. So, Nana Akufo-Addo would take office knowing full well that he only had four years in which to implement all his promises. Second, in several and crucial areas, Nana Akufo-Addo pins his hope on “private sector” support or partnership. He has not, however, identified the “private sectors”--local or foreign or both--he plans to tap or the specific expertise and resources he expects them to bring in. Third, there is legislative constraint. Some of Nana Akufo-Addo’s promises, as he himself expressly recognizes in his manifesto, will require amendments to existing legislation and passing new ones. Legislative process is always painfully slow, more so in Ghana where our MPs are notorious for their absenteeism. Fourth, there is financial constraint. In my view, it is highly unlikely that Ghana can generate internally most of the enormous financial resources that a Nana Akufo-Addo government would require to finance their litany of manifesto promises. This means he would borrow heavily, as well as rely on foreign aid. I just wonder whether Nana Akufo-Addo has done his elementary arithmetic homework of the four-year cost. If he has, transparency requires that he should publish his figures. Finally, there is also, as Nana Akufo-Addo himself acknowledges, a general lack of sufficient skilled Ghanaian manpower. So, how many expatriates does he envisage bringing into Ghana to help build our airports, roads, railway lines, factories, universities, hospitals, etc., etc., while he trains the thousands of unemployable Ghanaian university graduates?
Nana Akufo-Addo himself appears to be aware that he will be unable to deliver all his promises in four years. In the whole manifesto, there are only two instances where he is specific about what he will deliver by the end of his first term. The first is housing. He states more or less categorically that: “We will seek to increase the national housing delivery to at least 100,000 units annually by the end of a first term...”! The second instance is the provision of power. Regarding that, he makes the following commitment: “By the end of 2016 we aim to extend rural access to electrification to 90%” (current level of supply, not specified). The wording of those two promises is specific enough for us easily to do performance accountability check at the end of his first term. Interestingly, however, Nana Akufo-Addo makes no such specific commitment in respect of the rest of his manifesto promises. He does not, for example, tell us the number of miles of roads or rail lines he will to build. So, by yardstick are supposed to judge his performance? There are two possible explanations for their vagueness or lack of specificity: either they have no clue how many miles or roads or rail lines their promises entail, or it is a deliberate ploy to avoid being held accountable for their non-delivery.
The NPP manifesto describes Nana Akufo-Addo as a “competent, committed, experienced, honest, and has a clear vision to lead the transformation of Ghana.” Vision alone is never enough. Vision must be coupled with realism, integrity, transparency and accountability if it is to serve any useful purpose. Going by the NPP manifesto, Nana Akufo-Addo has some vision. Unfortunately, he does not appear realistic enough to recognize that there are constraints that will determine the promises he can deliver. Any leader who weighs down his manifesto with a volume of promises, however sound they may be on paper, as if there were no constraints, risks being perceived as a man lacking realism, integrity and honesty; a man bent on conning the electorate on false prospectus just to become president. The Book of Genesis teaches us that God created the earth and the heaven, all creatures and things therein in six days and rested on the seventh day. I just have a feeling that if we dropped the NPP manifesto in the lap of God and prayed Him to implement it for us in four years, even He, the Almighty, would probably confess: “Not possible in one, two, or three terms.”!!
What conclusions can one draw regarding the feasibility of the NPP manifesto promises in four years? First, the document resembles a political conman who promises so much while he knows very well that he will not deliver every promise or, indeed, most of his promises, in four years. Second, the manifesto lends credence to the view that political deception and gimmickry form part and parcel of Ghanaian political culture. The NPP manifesto, true to tradition, is deeply rooted in that perverse and cynical political game of the more promises a party makes the more they sound credible and appealing to the Ghanaian voters.
It is rather unfortunate that the NPP failed to grasp the strategic advantage of presenting their well-formulated manifesto as their vision for Ghana for, say, the next 8 to 16 years. Had they done that they would only need to select and campaign on a few selected promises that would require immediate implementation, i.e., within the next four years (call it Phase I), which would lay a firm foundation on which they could progressively build “transformation of Ghana” agenda in the years to come. Such strategy would earn them general acceptance as a realistic and credible party, worthy of re-election for as many times as it would take to complete their agenda. In mature democracies, such as the United Kingdom, where a tradition of party political manifestos exists, such documents set out, and in sufficient detail, only programmes they would implement during the life span of their parliaments, as laid down in their constitutions. That tradition serves the end of democracy in two main ways. First, it makes it easier for the electorate in those countries to weigh the relative strengths of the respective parties’ programmes prior to elections. Second, it enables them more easily to evaluate the performance of the party in power against their manifesto.
As a nation, we cannot afford to approach our development planning the way we have been doing since the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana’s democracy is suffering an acute case of stunted growth and in need of radical surgery. At election times, our politicians prance around platforms, durbars, and other such gatherings around the country, literally like actors, promising Ghanaians heaven and earth whilst in their heart and mind they dream of gaining power just to amass wealth through, what else, corruption! This has been the pattern for as long as one can remember. Ghana has never had a visionary, serious and clean government like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s. (Krobo Edusei and his golden bed scandal look today like pinching one Cedi to buy a bottle of coke!) More worrying, the Ghanaian electorate have yet to appreciate the enormous power of their votes, which we could deploy effectively to clean up our politics by voting out politicians who have no track record of service to the people or who are tainted with the brush of any form of corruption. (Our corruption fighting instruments are woefully weak!). Despite their commendable manifesto, the NPP itself has a terrible record of corruption and drug scandals. To paraphrase a well-known adage, Ghanaians deserve the politicians we vote for!
Cedric Tsuo