Business in Ghana

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Political Will and The Future of Our Democracy

Posted by Business in Ghana on April 7, 2013

Prof. T. P. Manus Ulzen, tulzen@yahoo.com

There is no lack of talent in Ghana for all manner of roles and functions but the country seems woefully unable to use the best brains it has at its disposal, both locally and globally, to achieve the level of functioning consistent with wealth of material and human resources it has. We seem highly gifted at describing problems after the fact and even when we do so accurately, we never remedy the situation by immediately holding responsible parties accountable.
We love to mess up and then appeal or beg the disappointed or sometimes legally aggrieved parties to give up their just right to a remedy or restitution.

Successive governments from both sides of the political divide have presided over a steady decline in the standard of living, quality of education, availability of reliable and safe means of public transportation and unacceptably high mortality rates in the population from easily preventable causes of death. The gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen with an attendant increase in crime and violence which is not prevented by anticipatory and proactive strategies but reacted to, after the fact. This is what happens when a government cares more about its officials than its people. As I listened to the most recent budget speech on the radio, I noted that the loudest applause was garnered by the announcement on improved conditions for parliamentarians. It was a disgraceful spectacle.

The frequency with which the Black Stars snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is a metaphor for the state of the nation. The constant dithering in the 18 and the lack of commitment of strikers to shoot at every opportunity is consistent with our current national ethos. We go to these tournaments to show off our talents forgetting that we are there to win. There is so much pandering to players who are clearly not committed to the team. No one is indispensable. This business of begging people is unproductive. People who do not follow laid down policies in any organization are not worth keeping.

Do we have a comprehensive plan for bringing sanitation standards into the 21st century? With the persistent issues of poor access to clean water and insufficient and inadequate facilities of public convenience, we are calling for an epidemic, which we will describe in detail with elaborate mourning for the dead. We are simultaneously branding Ghana as a destination for tourists from the world over. Is it going to be an honest brand?

For years the Auditor – General has identified serious losses suffered by the state through inaction or deliberate actions of public servants or appointed officials. The courts would be choked by now if we were to follow through with the necessary legal interventions resulting from these findings. The same goes for the so called “Judgment debts.”
Fires break out in buildings all over the country. There is no sign of a carefully planned and scheduled review of electrical wiring in government buildings and other installations. What are the standards for electrical safety in these installations? Is there a template to be followed? Are regular inspections scheduled? No. We wait for the fires and hope the Fire Service shows up on time.

Buildings are constructed illegally reducing vehicular access to neighbourhoods, causing flooding and the like. When the authorities plan to demolish these structures, traditional rulers threaten to visit violence upon the city officials, citing the cost to the individual law breakers. These people call themselves leaders while supporting those who endanger the public as a whole and disregard the fact that these individuals have broken the law. That is Ghana for you. The tail is wagging the dog all the way.

We are running a huge budget deficit and definitely need to improve collection of revenue from existing sources. We must also broaden our tax base beyond those who pay tax at source. Most of the artisans like masons, tilers, plumbers, AC/ refrigeration technicians and others are not registered. They are often paid in cash and are not taxed. I have nothing against the lady who sells kelewele down the road from me. Nor do I have anything against the fried yam seller, the kenkey seller or the fried rice guy. They sell us food but they are not subjected to health screening nor are they registered, regulated or taxed. They have full access to tax supported services but are non-contributors. Not until everyone engaged in commercial activity is registered so they can contribute to the tax base, we will not be able to sustain our current rate of economic growth. Let’s grab the low hanging fruit first and stop the hand wringing.

We have all these unemployed youth roaming the streets in semi-purposeful activities who could be supported actively in technical vocations or commercial agriculture in a sustainable fashion. They can become functioning taxpayers with just a little imagination and a disciplined approach to their issues. To date, our approach to youth unemployment has been full of platitudes and political expediency. They don’t need jobs. They need to be trained and launched into careers. The programs are not monitored and no results are shared with the public.

When businesses have addresses like”near Taifa junction” or “behind Ga Mantse’s Palace” how on earth can they function? It is standard to lose about 30 minutes or more looking for a place which is “easy to find”.  We have many national service men and women who can be trained and deployed to re-label streets with lost names or identify unnamed ones. They can number our houses with a simple and sensible protocol in our cities and towns under the guidance of town planners, land economists and other professionals. This is critical for efficiency in business and in revenue collection.

It is heartening to note that the President has recently taken a step in this direction but it remains to be seen if the pronouncement will be followed by the steps necessary to implement the desired changes and also what systems will be established to sustain the new order well into the future.

Leaders are often confronted with old problems that have been allowed to fester and grow, as well as new unforeseen crises. For decades now, politicians and high ranking public servants have wandered away from the people they are sworn to govern and protect. Only the compass of political will and the tonic of innovative creativity can shine a light on the path back to the people. We need leadership driven by political will and innovative creativity to see political directives come to life in a real way for ordinary people. Our leaders have often made grand pronouncements with little follow through and when no results are forthcoming, we just make excuses, point fingers, apportion blame and do next to nothing. No one is held accountable and nothing changes. But things do change. They get worse.

We have nurtured a dangerous culture of official indifference for almost 60 years, which cannot be overcome by think tanks, new strategies or management courses. The solution lies in principled leadership from the top to drive cultural change with unequivocal transparency and enforcement of already existing laws. President Truman famously said “The buck stops here.” In Ghana the buck keeps moving into the pockets of those at the trough.

President Mahama has a great opportunity to turn the tide for the rising generation. Our citizens deserve bold, courageous and decisive leadership. What shall it be? Something new or more of the same?

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