Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Columnist: Mensah, Kobby

Ghana Is Not Thinking!

Over the last few months I have, like most Ghanaians home and abroad, been following with keen interest the December electioneering campaigning of the major political parties competing in this elections. I have engaged in discussions on policy positions of the major political parties with Zakariah Tanko Musah, Ato Kwame Appiah and Kobby Gomez Mensah, and many others that I have met at functions.
I must make a disclosure that much as I would like to follow all the political parties with the same level of keenness I have, without willful intent, been following the NDC and the NPP more. Truth is the two are the most contending parties with the hype in Ghana so far. And my argument has always been that I do not think Ghana, like most democracies, especially with the kind of presidential political system like ours, could have three strongly competing parties. Certainly not in our lifetime. This is because of our tendency and desire for ‘choice simplicity’. We like to compare ‘apples and oranges’ and choose one. Not ‘apple, oranges and banana’. That looks too complex for our choice making. And this desire and tendency is not only Ghana bound, but across the nation states that practice democracy, and certainly presidential democracy. This is how far we have joined the lots.
Back to my observation, I have been following what NDC and NPP are offering, led by two gentlemen whom I have met, spoken to and found to be fine, approachable men who are very intelligent and deserve to lead our country. I have also been reading and listening to the media who are to ask the tough questions, supposedly, on our behalf in order that these men could be put in check to say what they really think they could do, and what are possible to do. But these observations have left me stranded, in want of a milder word frankly, wandering all around in my head, and asking myself and the many that I engage in conversations with whether we are doing any serious deliberations about our future and that of our children. Because of space I will home in on one issue that has gained traction, certainly in the media if not with voters. The NPPs free SHS. In my mind, I feel the arguments from the two sides are out of place.
First we don’t need free education at the second level of the educational ladder because I do not think it is sustainable - but doable in the short term. But my strongest opposition, which I think should have been the NDCs counter argument rather than saying it can’t be done, given that they are the party of the left, should have been that free SHS will widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and that their solution was to equip schools to provide quality education, but most importantly they will set up TARGETED SCHOLARSHIP programmes to take care of those qualified students who do not have the ability to pay for education: a Means Testing (MT) approach, in otherwords. Now, It is fair to say that the first two of the three points have been advanced by the NDC, but that defence has been so weak and vaguely advanced that sometimes NDC officials, Lee Ocran for example, did not realised that they were equally as guilty as the NPP when it comes to policies benefiting the rich, and widening the proverbial ‘rich and poor gap’.
It is also necessary to point out that NPPs free education would not, and cannot qualify a student into secondary school, per common logic without being a specialist in education. It is only when we have robust first cycle institutions that give quality teaching to all students could ensure that many qualify for secondary school. So the fine print of the NPPs free SHS policy is that yes it could be free, but you need to qualify first to get that free education. Here, I must say that I am disappointed in our media because they haven’t raised these issues with the NPP, and if they have I certainly haven’t read or heard it. I have also not heard the media ask the NPP for how long do they project these ‘freebies’ in education to go on, providing figures as evidence at least for the next five years. Let us ask ourselves this simple question ‘how long did the school feeding programme go on until it ran into headwind’?
On the other hand the NDC hasn’t fared any better. To me NDC has been disappointing in their response to what to many NPPs flagship policy, novel in contemporary Ghana. It is always a losing battle to say NO without any clear proposition of what you can offer different from either the status quo, or competing ideas. I know that ‘John the 4th’, his Excellency President John Mahama has come out to state the NDCs position of offering a standardised fees for all, but I think this is almost like the status quo, and it doesn’t answer the problem that has led to NPP offering free SHS: which is the affordability for the poor question. NDCs standardisation also widens the rich-poor gap. Just last week I heard the Minister for Education, Mr Lee Ocran say that NPPs free SHS policy would benefit the rich without recognising that his own party’s position would also do same, and so is the status quo. Even Nkrumah’s free education has to be critiqued, and perhaps refined, as it unfairly benefited some people from the North who could have afforded education, like our Excellency John Mahama’s family, as my friend Ato Kwame Appiah mentioned in a discussion we had on the parties’ policy positions. Yet, the NPP seems to be taking Nkrumah’s policy wholesale, and widening it without any due critique and refinement. There is no mention of one single policy for the vulnerable in our society: no policy for the disabled, the elderly and certainly no mention of policies targeting violence against women let alone the girl-child or children in general. Even SUTs (Schools under Trees) have not been completely eliminated yet.
So what really is our motive in campaigning as politicians? And are we collectively thinking as Ghanaians? If we really seek the development as we say we do, then we need to wake up and do some really good thinking than we are doing now. For me, and certainly for Tanko, Ato Appiah, Kobby G and for many others that I have spoken to on these issues, as I mentioned earlier on, the argument in this election should rather be ‘Jobs. Jobs. Jobs’! Who has the master plan to create the jobs that we need to make Ghanaians economically viable, and to afford to pay for essential services like education, should be the competing campaign messages. But I know why politicians are afraid to make job creation the centre piece of their campaign: that, it is harder to do than to promise free education or free healthcare because for these two they can perhaps get funding for a year or two from donors. They have also failed in the past to create the jobs that they promised, making them untrusted now. Politicians simply don’t seem to have the answer to job creation. Therefore I will call on our excellency ‘John the 4th’ and his opposite number, our respected veteran politician and civil right advocate Nana Addo to come out of their inner party cells, and call for Job Forums where folks can suggest ideas for creating well paid good jobs for Ghana to move forward. For now, my opinion is that Ghana is not thinking as we should. Not the politicians, not the people, and certainly not the media as we are not demanding more of the politicians, and are not asking the tough questions: Are we really thinking?

Kobby Mensah, PhD (Sheffield)