The coronavirus pandemic has caused depredation across the globe. It has shaken the foundations of human life and cut a swathe through almost all sectors of the economy. And just like many economies, Ghana is not immune from the far reaching consequences of COVID-19.
Hospitals are stretched, schools remain shut and economic activities have slipped into the slow lane. Despite the debilitating impact, however, COVID-19 provides the opportunity for sweeping cross-sectional reforms for economies like Ghana that when implemented will strengthen the national economy and improve the lives of citizens.
Theoretically, we knew our long-standing economic challenges. What COVID-19 has done is to expose us to the practical dimensions of these problems and how we can tackle them. We have outlined many of these measures below:
On health, we have been exposed to the myriad of problems in the health sector, including inadequate protective equipment and health facilities. We are clearly better off fundraising 100 million dollars to boost our healthcare facilities than we will ever be finding the same for a cathedral, and we applaud the government coming to its senses and prioritising investment in the health sector to promote quality and equitable health care delivery across Ghana’s many districts.
Once there is an improved health sector, there will be no need for government functionaries to seek medical care abroad. Serious attention should also be given to medical research in the country. We need more scientists than we need lawyers.
On education, we have been exposed to the serious technological gaps, as well as the wide educational inequalities between poor/disability groups and the rich. Not long ago, universities themselves laughed at the idea of online education and spent no mean amount of money building large lecture halls and halls of residence.
The Ministry of Education should put a premium on investing in technology such as E-learning and distance learning infrastructure, and provide tax-free data sim cards for all students of tertiary institutions to access their learning experiences. Implementation of inclusive education in Ghana should be prioritised with sustainable funding.
On social protection and welfare, we have seen the deep-cracked challenges that confront the sector. There is the need to resource and retool the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection and the Departments of Social Welfare across the country. Strong social protection and welfare systems should be developed to provide adequate support for the poor, the vulnerable and the unemployed in Ghana.
On the environment, we have realised that smog caused by traffic fumes, as well as noise pollution can be reduced to check climate change and promote environmental regeneration. COVID-19 has been a good checker of climate change. We can encourage teleworking where applicable in this regard to reduce vehicular movement, in addition to mitigating heavy traffic on the streets.
On culture, we have noticed the critical role local languages play in the country’s development. The local languages are roundly regarded as the most effective medium of reaching citizens and promoting increased awareness and understanding about COVID-19 and its related preventive measures and intervening services. It is not enough to encourage the reading of local languages in basic and secondary schools if English remains the official language in all formal levels of engagements.
On trade and industry, all importation of basic items such as protective equipment, toiletries, tooth pick among others can cease immediately. We have realised that indigenous companies can meet high quality standards and capacity demands. This will promote job creation, improve living standards and strengthen the national economy.
No community in Ghana should ever cry for water. If not COVID-19, many Ghanaians didn’t know that our security agencies like the Ghana Police Service had water tankers that could supply water to the remotest communities that lack access to safe, readily available water. We need to seriously digitize our utility companies so that no one needs queue at ECG vendor shops manned by people without a teaspoon of customer service care in their hearts.
And we mean digitisation by seasoned technological companies, not some Jack-Where-Are-You apologies of party affiliates building software off cheap open data and passing that around as innovation. We need to be able to pay water and electricity bills effortlessly, and there is no need for utility agents to come to our homes to upset our dogs when technology can read water consumption and bill accordingly.
On resource mobilisation, we have realised that is possible to generate funds locally to carry out development projects, provided domestic organisations and individuals have trust in the government that the funds will be utilised judiciously. There is therefore, hope for Ghana Beyond Aid if governments can justify the ‘financial faith’ citizens have reposed in them.
On media, we have seen that our media content can be improved by focusing on heightening awareness and helping to address critical social issues. There is the need to roll back the chronic monotonous hubbub of politicians and their social commentators who always see black as white and vice versa.
On politics, COVID-19 has already upended the foundation of human life and economies, compelling many organisations to halt their usual activities, restructure and adopt innovative measures to remain relevant and make an impact. In the same way, we need to restructure the organisation of our national elections and to make way for safer, highly technological ways of voting. Lining up in long queues is not the only way citizens can cast their votes.
Relevant stakeholders can hold an olive branch to dialogue and agree on new and safe ways to fulfil constitutional requirements without endangering lives. Many will cite constitutional crises, but in our view, the constitution should not be treated as an ossified document which cannot be amended even if portions have overstayed their relevance. COVID-19 provides us with the unique opportunity to do a sober reflection on our political activism.
On religion, we have this one opportunity to cut out charlatans from employing religion as a tool to steal from the masses and as a license to practice mind-boggling human rights abuses. Since no religion can yet claim a cure for this virus, we need to stop religious leaders from peddling substances that they claim have healing properties. Especially should we safeguard the silence we have enjoyed over the past few weeks from the cacophony, the bedlam of noise that attend religious services? We absolutely should not bring that back, and when that happens, communities should take stands and sue churches for all they are worth.
To achieve all these however, we need to expunge and exterminate the long-standing economic enemy and the Frankenstein Monster of Ghanaian corruption and mismanagement of public resources. All corruption-related activities should cease with immediate effect and resources transfused into development projects vital for economic growth.
We are concerned that any attempt to develop the economy without first tackling corruption which is endemic and pervasive in Ghana will be rendered nugatory.