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20.04.2004 Feature Article

National Database Is Essential For Ghana Socio-Economic Development

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A Introduction Governments, businesses and other institutions worldwide spend huge sums of resources on research and development and generate vast amount of information that needs to be effectively managed. Increasingly, scientists are abandoning traditions and pursue new technologies to manage information effectively. Developments in information technology, including computers, storage media, software packages and public switching telephone networks have made it possible to convert large volumes of information into machine-readable form. The national electronic database holds the key to improved information accessibility with ease and quickness.

As Ghana makes every strive to move this nation towards economic development-transforming the economy from rural based to industry driven one, and our quest to march towards knowledge economy, there is one missing link which needs to be given priority attention and that is we should not look sight of the fact that a National Electronic Database is very essential and can play a significant role in our development processes. Many find digital database as a goldmine of information and technological advances and scientific breakthroughs have made it possible for such database.

But before I delve into its importance and application, it is necessary for readers to know what we mean by database. By definition, database is a collection of organised information in which a computer can display and select different fields of data. Database is designed to meet the information needs of multiple users and typically it is organised to make common retrievals easy and efficient. You can think of a database as an electric filing system. It can also be described as a set of related information created, stored, or manipulated by a computerised management information system. Some common database programmes include Oracle, Sybase, Postgres, and Informix etc.

By this explanation and bringing it to the Ghanaian context, a database can be likened to collection of varied information about its people in terms of demographics, businesses and almost on every sector of the economy so that it provides a one-stop information base or repository for government administration, MDAs, Metropolitans, Municipal and districts assemblies. Also businesses both local and international and any individual who requires certain form of information about Ghana will access it. It is a pool of information serving multi-purpose functions. Why National Database? Given the capacity of computer and communication technologies to store, manipulate and transmit vast amounts of information at very high speeds and with great accuracy, it has become possible to reduce the time factor involved in the information dissemination process. Electronic Database offers complete, intensive, current and faster response.

A closer look at how information is organised, stored, retrieved and managed in Ghana shows that Ghana as a nation has not strategically made any effort to have a central database system which will function by gathering data from all sectors of the economy and managing the data in such a way that it becomes accessible to all for the purpose of delivering an efficient government and businesses functions. Investing in a good database software package will enable the government and indeed the nation to track and follow up on every government and business activity conducted in the country and given its dexterity interface with all the sectors will result in greater productivity and efficiency. Ghana needs database at this crucial point because it will also enable government to in a matter of seconds know the total number of registered businesses the population, and other social indicators and keep track on them. Benefits of database There are overwhelming benefits of this system. In the first place, by aggregating this information into a database it will act as a counter check on the operations of each other and non-fulfilment from any sector or department will. automatically come to light because the system will be such that it will be self-revealing and prompting. For example, if a company has not paid its tax or it has been undercharged this will show at the national database system so that action can be taken to address the issue. If an imported car into the country is not registered and licensed, any police officer that come across that particular car can at an instance, determine the status of the car and act accordingly. This is because any importation of any car, its registration, license and renewals will automatically send signals to the national database, which becomes accessible to all. It is an undisputable fact that majority of businesses and certain individuals do not pay tax and even where they do proper assessment is not done because we lack accurate information about them. Payment of tax in Ghana is by few individuals and companies and there is the need for us to have this system in place because almost if you are a Ghanaian, you will be covered and every aspect of your life including the work you do and almost every information on individuals will be gathered. When such happens there is no escape route for anybody to evade tax.

Secondly, it has the potency to bring about increased productivity and efficiency in all sectors of the economy. By a click of a button, every information required for a decision to be made on any transaction is instantly retrieved and this brings about greater efficiency at work places and the general populace is satisfied because of good service delivery. It will reduce to the barest minimum, deep-seated bureaucracies that have engulfed the Ghanaian society.

Another benefit is that it can also reduce corruption; ensure greater transparency and good governance. As we begin to benchmark the advanced countries in their development efforts, one thing that has helped their economies is a national database and the lower levels of corruption can be attributed to the institution of a database that is accessible everywhere in their countries. As a result the performance of one's activity becomes a check on the other and there is no doubt that this makes people less corrupt and become more transparent.

Database can bring about investor confidence in the Ghanaian economy because information needed by these foreign investors can be made available with seconds. By providing a one-stop information point investors will be very delighted and will be more encouraged to proceed with whatever business plans they have. Let us remember that most of these international organisations have gathered quite significant information than even some of the state institutions, which have the responsibility to do so. What comes to mind is why is that they build such a database? If organisations operating in Ghana of foreign origin do this, then it means there is a lot of a benefit in it. A walk to MDAs, District Assemblies and other agencies to demand some information will reveal that Ghana as a nation has played down and has not done enough to manage information in such a way to derive maximum benefits from it. In some cases, the information is not there at all and even if it there it is not organised or structured well to make it useful.

It can as well help the government to increase its revenue base. For example, by linking the operations of CEPS and the MTTU of the Police Service, a vehicle or goods cleared will automatically be known by MTTU and VELD so that nobody can have the opportunity to use the car without proper licensing for months. Crimes can also be controlled in a more efficient and professional manner because the database will have the profile of every person leaving in the country so that once one is caught in any act the security officer will instantly know the type of person, his crime history and other relevant information about the arrested person. It will also make tracing for the arrest of any person in Ghana very smooth and fast.

In the long run, the registration of voters for any election in Ghana will be a thing of the past because once this is done and a person finds his or her name in the national database, that person qualifies to vote and there would be no need for government to spend huge sums of money to yearly revise the register as we have currently. This will requires that all institutions that will feed the national database management system will have to be strengthened and act in a professional manner so that the data they collect will be credible for an exercise like this. For example countries like Sweden and United Kingdom and many others have put in place a national database system and each person has a national identification number and once this identification number is entered into the national database, everything about the person comes out. Even foreigners who are able to get NI (National Insurance Number) and Personnumer as it called in UK and Sweden respectively are allowed to vote How will it work All evidence point to the fact that the development of a national database system is vital at this point in our development agenda. I believe the government started something of national identity card. This is a good exercise. What I think needs to be done now is to stretch this exercise further so that in the course of gathering information for this national assignment, adequate information on individuals, businesses and indeed every sector is gathered for the start of the national database.

Already there are state institutions that in one way or the other gather a lot of information. These are the Registrar of Companies, national Board for small Scale Industry, Ghana association of Industries and other professional bodies, MDAs, District Assemblies, Internal Revenue Service, Vat Secretariat, CEPS, Ports and harbour Authority educational institutions and all agencies. They will form the nucleus of the database system and they will be required to feed the central database system with every information about their operations. As this is done from time to time and the database is conscientiously and regularly updated, a national database will soon emerge and by a click of a button you in a sea of information and can study behaviours of businesses and individuals- whether they have complied with all their civic responsibilities. This does not mean it will be limited to these mentioned institutions. The fact is that any information generated with the country and is of some form of importance will be converted into this national database system for access.

Also, for the system to function properly and deliver to this nation unimaginable benefits, a national body/institution be put in place. It could be called “National Database Management Team (NDMS) with the sole responsibility to manage the database in such a way that it is responsive to the changing needs of mankind. This body will then liase with all sectors of the economy for submission of data for their operations into the central system and it will be their duty to regularly update the database all the time. Conclusion Ghana has set for itself a clear policy plan to move this nation to knowledge economy by 2015, which also falls within the Millennium Development goal. The attainment of this goal requires among others a national database system. If we are very serious with national agenda and having come into a firm grip of its immense benefits, then a national database is long overdue and should be given a top priority. All the developed countries have it and if we want to develop too whereby information will be readily available and accessible to all at any point in time, then we must act with electric speed for I know it will facilitate increased revenue mobilisation, prevent crimes and brings about higher productivity and efficiency.

A paperless economy, which Ghana is striving to achieve, will be given a deeper impetus and this could accelerate national development. Deferring it to another day will not serve any significant purpose and the time to act is now and not later. Let us recognise that managing information is vital and healthy practice. In this vein I call on the government as matter of urgency to look into the merit of this system and fashion out plan towards its implementation. Even though it will requires government committing quite substantial amount into it, is worth investing as its benefits are glaring and enormous.

To succeed in today's world, Ghana needs accurate and timely information that provides an edge over other countries and this electronic national database will solve most of our teething problems if not all. The technology is readily available and it is very feasible. It would enable us to maintain order in what could be a chaotic environment. A high level of industrialisation and computerisation, which in the past was the yardstick for assessing the economic powers of countries, is no more relevant and significant. Gaining economic power in today's global and competitive environment will be determined largely and highly influenced by how countries could leverage ICT to manage its information base efficiently. A country like Singapore was able to move from third world economy to a developed one because it managed its information well. This should not be a nightmare. Thomas Kwaku Obeng Luleå University of Technology Sweden Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Thomas Kwaku Obeng
Thomas Kwaku Obeng, © 2004

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: ThomasKwakuObeng

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