Let's call it like we see it. Ghana is a totally dysfunctional state. Once we stop denying the reality with thin – skinned defensiveness, we will come to an accurate diagnosis and have a decent chance of repairing the damage we have done to our country.
We should do this because our youth will have no future and the country will implode if we don't. We owe it to so many before us, who toiled honestly and endlessly for the success of this human development enterprise called Ghana. We have squandered so many proverbial goal chances, the latest being oil, our newest resource. We have also failed to progress beyond simply being an exporter of raw materials.
Who are the captains of industry in Ghana today? They are the people the government should be consulting with while they contemplate another tango with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF, will recommend what we know we should have done long ago but have not had the political will to do. We must slash the public sector significantly but not as a singular act. This must be accompanied by a real change in fiscal attitude untainted by political imperatives. The application of controls to minimize losses to corruption coupled with comprehensive and long-term support for entrepreneurially based options for workers in the agricultural, service, IT and other sectors is critical.
Ghanaians need to understand that nothing is free. If sanitation is poor and we now have 3000 plus cholera cases in Greater Accra, it's because fundamentally, the numbers do not add up. Sanitation is poor partly because a significant component of our economic activity occurs outside the formal sector so all our revenue projections are false. We will never generate enough funds to keep our cities and municipalities clean and healthy as long as a myriad of adults engaged in constant income generating activities do not pay taxes.
If for over five decades we have not devised mechanisms for formalizing most of the economic activity in the nation, then we deserve the filth and all its implications. Property rates are also too low to support the services required, such as comprehensive waste management including recycling and infrastructural changes such as permanently covering all open drains to prevent flooding and ending endemic malaria and other water borne diseases. These highly preventable conditions still kill our children. Malaria is a public health problem but its permanent solution lies in the hands of civil engineers.
At the health policy level, if we set and pursue a strategic goal of providing clean water for the whole country, this simple act would transform all our healthcare indices with very positive implications. All mortality and morbidity from water borne diseases and poor sanitation would be a thing of the past. Healthcare utilization would drop and we would reap savings to invest in the prevention and management of costly chronic non-communicable diseases and mental illnesses which are not being effectively addressed.
If public sector salaries are sinking the economy, then we should have measures of outcomes of public sector workers. How productive are they? Do they come to work on time? Do they accomplish what they are paid to do? How are they evaluated? Are good workers incentivized and useless workers sacked? Or are these jobs for life, irrespective of performance? Is the taxpayer getting good value for money?
Do we need the IMF to ask us these questions and then tell us to do the obvious? Related to this is the size of the political bureaucracy in the public sector. There are so many deputy ministers whose functions could and should be performed by the Chief Directors and other senior civil servants of the various ministries, who work with and advise their respective ministers. This maintains professionalism in the outlook of the various ministries at a much lower cost. It also preserves institutional memory for better continuity of purpose at points of transition between successive political administrations.
The government should find out from successful entrepreneurs in Ghana what in their corporate culture breeds success in the private sector.
The answers to our problems do not lie in the stars; they are to be found within us. We should stop dialing up so called development partners and seeking to be re-colonized by our old classmates, the Chinese, the Turks, Indians, Koreans and the like. What do they have in common? They have transformed themselves from unaccountable cultures like ours to cultures that define accountability as a core value. This has been achieved by visionary, dedicated, selfless and fearless leadership.
Much of our public discourse tends to be sensational with insufficient investigative journalism and critical thinking to contribute effectively to change. We see the fundamental problems staring us in the face and we pretend that some name calling fight is the issue. Culturally, Ghanaians have great difficulty in holding individuals accountable and we are all paying the price. Healthy conflict is a necessary ingredient of change.
There can be no progress without order and Ghana is currently a lawless society as a result of a continuing failure with accountability across all sectors of our society. An interesting development in this regard is to be found in the work of a presidential taskforce which reportedly has retrieved hundreds of millions of unpaid customs duties from various companies.
This has been achieved without a single prosecution of even one individual. It makes no sense because the resulting message is that, one can steal and even if you are caught, the simple act of refunding the money is enough restitution. Crimes are committed and indeed even with so much at stake, no one is punished. This can only be corrected by strong leadership from all arms of government at all levels. Is our political class up to the task?
Forget foreign aid, IMF and all that. We made our bed and we have to lie in it and clean it up. Our problems transcend the sonorous yet loud political arguments we are inundated with constantly.
Our task is that of national development. That of bringing Ghana into the 21st century from the 19th century in terms of our educational system, healthcare services, business practices, institutional effectiveness and our culture of management. There is a major role for technology to be leveraged in improving the efficiency of all systems and institutions in the country. One specific area is the use of various modes of technology to allow the public to provide feedback on the work of public servants. All public agencies should have websites and mobile platforms for receiving such feedback, so that systems and services are improved and poor performers are identified and helped or removed as appropriate.
Technology is grossly underutilized in both the healthcare and education systems, two areas that should form the bedrock of development because nothing spurs development on more than a healthy, well educated and skilled workforce. The watermelon of our problems has become so large; we do not seem to know which side to slice first.
Nothing is truly managed or properly maintained in Ghana. The art of managerial supervision is unknown in many of our local organizations so there is no growth, innovation or true capacity- building to sustain our increasingly complex systems for a rapidly growing population.
Who sets our targets for development? We must be architects of our own development. If Nkrumah had let others decide on the Akosombo Dam, we would be in total darkness not “Dumsor”. We should be informed by best practices and successes around us but more importantly we must regain our position as pacesetters. Do we have the capacity for enough strategic thinking and planning to lead such a transformation?
Yes, there are Ghanaians doing such things within the country and all over the world but can they succeed in a culture without accountability? This is how we lose our most valuable experts to other countries and international organizations who value their contributions and act on their input. We must face up to the cost of kicking the can down the road every chance we get. Now we have hit a wall and there is nowhere else to kick the can. We have to pick it up and fix it.
At a very basic transactional level, the government employs new workers and they are routinely not paid for a year or more. Eventually when they are paid, it is not retroactive. Not only is this unethical, it is cruel. The failure to meet such statutory obligations is troubling and the systemic problems underlying this phenomenon must be addressed with those responsible for these failures being held accountable. This is a man-made problem. We cannot meet all those fancy macro-economic targets if these fundamental issues are not addressed. If workers are not paid, they will engage in corrupt practices to support themselves. They are only human.
We are at a critical point in our development where politics is only useful if it solves problems. Only bold radical interventions within the law will do.
Ghanaians must be inspired to transform themselves from beggars to doers. We must solve problems instead of saying everything is a challenge. In the past we looked forward to challenges because they invited competitiveness and caused us to innovate but now it is an excuse for inertia. We have become experts in describing problems in detail but offering no solutions. When solutions are present, we avoid them for political expediency or the fear of causing offence.
This is a central feature of our unsustainable management culture and we are paying the price for this. We are a country awash in resources and human capital yet we are defeated by our own ineptitude, enabled by a culture that does not value and act on hard data. The leadership class is afraid of applying our own stated rules because corruption has permeated all levels of decision – making. We are pretending to be a country that was called Ghana.
We have established a structure of democratic governance with some gains, especially in protecting individual human rights but we have effectively squandered the peace dividend. The funding of political parties is opaque and this hides all the compromises politicians make to get elected. This is an area crying openly for reforms that should lead to transparency and better regulation. Parliament has been dragging its feet on the passage of the freedom of information bill because of the self-interest of its members.
True citizenship means using the power of the vote to choose leaders who are proven problem-solvers, who inspire us to better ourselves by their example. Citizens must demand results from their elected and appointed leaders from the local level and up the chain to seek real verifiable outcomes for identified problems in their communities. Citizens of local districts must contribute to solutions themselves in concrete and practical ways.
Community activism in partnership with government at the local level needs to be fostered across the country. Also, to break the dysfunctional stranglehold of the major political parties, Municipal and District Chief executives must be elected locally, not appointed by the Executive Branch. Years of longstanding corruption and failure to deliver services have caused citizens to become tax avoidant because they do not trust that funds collected will be used to serve their communities. This is another reason why leaders must elected at the local level. Only then can trust and accountability be restored.
Our leaders must demonstrate that they understand their responsibilities, not just their positions, titles perks or rank.
There was once a country called Ghana. It had an educational system that was the envy of the world beyond Africa. It had a functioning railway system, metropolitan and inter-city buses ran on time; it had a professional police force that served the public and an army of public servants who built institutions citizens could depend on. We have not stagnated, we have gone backwards. The seeds of this retrogression were planted when self-appointed leaders devalued higher education and existing hierarchies of order in our society and were unable to replace what they destroyed with a better system.
Abraham Lincoln was asked once what his policy as president was. He said he had none. He simply came to work and dealt with the problems he was confronted with at that time, as president. He was not guided by a manifesto. He addressed realities that confronted him as a leader should and we all know the outcome of his tenure. He died for his convictions but saved what has become the greatest nation on earth from destroying itself.
“Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way” – Abraham Lincoln
Prof. T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, University of Alabama School of Medicine and Author of “Java Hill: An African Journey” – A historiography of Ghana.
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