Long before the Coronavirus pandemic, we were being strangled daily and could not breathe because of the persistence of Corruptovirus in all aspects of Ghanaian life. As a matter of fact, for all the problems that Coronavirus brought, it took our minds off Corruptovirus, which has been carefully and expertly nurtured by the two major political parties, NDC and NPP in our public life, for as long as the sun shines every day in Ghana.
The sickening spectacle of the NPP delegates conference, taking place without adhering to any of the safety protocols necessary to keep Coronavirus in check, made for a very sad day in our lives as Ghanaians. It is bad enough that we all know that delegates of the major parties are bought regularly at their parties’ conventions. But to disrespect the populace so brazenly by announcing how much delegates were paid and by openly displaying gifts of bicycles, televisions and refrigerators, is a clear indication of the culture of impunity and total disregard for the place of the ordinary voter in our democracy. This is a complete breach of public trust.
Examples reported in the public space, included that of one Dr. Dickson Kissi announcing that he had spent over a GHC1 million on his delegates. Another, Benjamin Ashitey Armah openly announced that he purchased the votes of 766 delegates at Ghc 550 each. Daniel Titus Glover threw GHC 1000 and a refrigerator to each delegate to influence their vote. The obvious question is how do they come by this money? How do they intend to recover their investment.? This is public service? There are a whole lot more examples, not worth going into.
Where is our human rights lawyer president in all this? Silence about such brazen, open, democracy-undermining wrongdoing, is tantamount to tacit approval by the president and party leader of corruption in the political process. If these are the custodians of the so-called “democratic dispensation “and the “peace dividend “, then indeed in the middle of this pandemic, we need to throw caution to the wind, go to church and kneel down and pray like hell.
If the delegates are bought by corrupt contestants, then indeed the parliamentarians are corrupt and parliament is for sale. If the people’s house is for sale, then clearly the other two branches of government, being the executive and the judiciary cannot claim to be untouched by this culture of corruption. Ghanaians have been brow beaten by politicians to accept such conduct as normal since the beginning of the fourth republic, more so than we have seen at any other time.
In such an environment, where influence peddling is so open, yet no one is arrested, no one is invited to explain their conduct to law-enforcement and no one in the public is able to hold politicians accountable, then this is not a democracy but a kleptocracy.
Within this operational context, when those seeking to manage our affairs are not held accountable, how on earth do we believe that we will be able to contain this pandemic.
We started out quite well, barring a few mis-steps, following the recommendations of health experts, but in no time politics begin to color the national interventions. Building 88 new district hospitals is the least important dimension of keeping Ghanaians safe from the vagaries of Covid-19. The distribution of such facilities within the country should not be determined by man-made geographic boundaries but by carefully studied population-based healthcare needs and indeed by focusing on infrastructure that enables easy access, even if the nearest district hospital to a person happens to be in another district. Where is the human professional capacity to staff and operate these hospitals after they have been built? We need to learn from our own current realities. Our existing health facilities are understffed and otherwise under-resourced. The urgency now, is for thousands and thousands of well-trained contact tracers.
It is disturbing even to mention the question of party cards when food was being distributed to the hungry. With an election looming, the temptation to color urgent public health interventions with politics is great but taking the high road is what will save Ghanaian lives. The United States stands alone as an example of how politics can kill citizens in a pandemic.
On the face of it, everything is being done right. In reality, the question is how well are these interventions being managed and implemented to ensure that this public health emergency is treated as such. To be blunt, in those 88 districts where hospitals have to be built, if citizens do not have access to potable water, then providing sustainable sources of clean water should be the most important investment in the healthcare of citizens in those districts. Eighty percent of visits to district health facilities are related to water borne diseases. If they don’t have clean water, they can’t wash their hands as often as the president directs.
Social distancing, when possible combined with the wearing of masks is supported by global evidence from countries that have displayed the necessary discipline required to contain this pandemic so that economic activities can resume. One only has to drive a short distance outside Accra to find that compliance with the mandate for face coverings in public is not translated to action on the ground. It is rare to find a community we are more than 20% of the people in public are wearing masks. An adherence rate of above 90% is required to have the desired impact.
We have not flattened the curve and indeed the curve is not being shown to us directly. It is only partially true that increase testing accounts for increased cases. There is active community spread which accounts for most of the new cases and indeed, if we do not get real about this, really soon, we will be overwhelmed by this virus.
The mandate is good but behavioral change will come not just from public health announcements, presidential mandates and executive instruments but from real continuous community engagement at the local level, truly explaining risks to the population. Ghanaians need to understand clearly what an asymptomatic carrier is.
An examination of the data reveals that it would be prudent to lock down Greater Accra and Ashanti again and to enforce this lockdown seriously along with an intensified nationwide community engagement around mask wearing for the next four weeks or more to turn this around. When the lockdowns were lifted, the population was overwhelmingly disappointed, just as they were with further easing of restrictions allowing for church services. Its a sorry state of affairs, when the led are ahead of their leaders. Failure to step up our interventions because of political or other imperatives, will cost more lives and further disrupt the economy. Any program, no matter how well designed, will succeed on the basis of how well it is implemented. This is the weak link in the proverbial chain.
If a well implemented public health program with verifiable results is in place, then the resumption of international travel poses less of a risk. Tourism-focused countries like Jamaica have a geo-tracking app for visitors, so they can be monitored. This is because travelers will be screened and will have to fall in line with appropriate self-isolation measures that are supervised by an army of well-trained contact tracers. The government and many travelers can be spared hotel expenses by using appropriate technologies. Rwanda with a population of 12 million people has 60,000 contact tracers. How many do we have in Ghana for our population of 30 million?
The cocktail of Corruptovirus and Coronavirus is an explosive one. Ghanaians need to wake up to the reality that the NDC/NPP duopoly has created a culture that is an anathema to our development. It is time to create a new culture of politics that rests on integrity in public life and in professionalized institutions with real regulatory mechanisms that empower our citizens. Ghana has a lot of talented, patriotic and faithful citizens who are capable of doing a much better job for our nation. If our political landscape does not expand to include political alternatives to this false binary choice of NDC and NPP, we shall all pay dearly for complacency and inaction. Worst of all, we will pay for accepting the current norm as a basis for planning for our future. If we do, we would have failed our children and many future generations.
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” - Frederick Bastiat (1801-1850) French author, economist and statesman.
T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Alabama, Annual Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Coast School of Medical Sciences and author of “Java Hill: An African Journey” – A historiography of Ghana
He is also Interim Chairman – Progressive Alliance for Ghana (PAG), a movement for social and economic justice in Ghana.