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20.03.2005 Feature Article

PRODUCTIVITY: The Challange of a Nation

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As a recent visitor to Ghana I noticed some improvements in the road system and some infrastructural developments. I also saw traffic lights that work and I was impressed that the Electricity Corporation of Ghana at least informed people of impending power cuts even though when they say it might take a few hours to fix the problem it could be three days. I could still see the smiles on the faces of people as they went about their daily chores even though they might not have had a decent meal that day. I also observed that the gap between the poor and the rich was widening. The traffic congestion in Accra was getting worse by the day. I also noticed the prevalence of poverty, the poor standards of sanitation, the lack of quality services even at the entry points into the country and the absolute lack of a sense of time.

>From these observations, I have formed the view that the greatest challenges facing the nation are increasing productivity and the provision of quality service. Productivity is the life-blood of every economy. It is important to every individual and the nation as a whole. To the business person, it is the basis of profit-earnings for the firm or enterprise. To the individual, it is the foundation on which his dreams of higher earnings can be translated into realities. To the country, it is the fundamental driver of improvements in real incomes and living standards over the long term. However, the realisation of this crucial and significant role of productivity is lacking in Ghana.

The evidence of low productivity is there for everyone to see. We see able- bodied persons selling dog chains or three pieces of “home use” bras, or boxer shorts or one piece of second hand suitcase on the streets. An STC bus supposed to leave at 7am leaves at 10.00 am and not a word about the reason for the delay. A meeting scheduled for 9.00am does not start till 11.00am as participants are yet to arrive. On the contrary most people arrive ahead of time for visa interviews and examinations.

Most workers do not put in a day's work when they report for work. They arrive at work on most days at 10am, have lunch for an hour from 12.30pm to 1.30pm and by 3pm they are on their way home. Many wilfully absent themselves from work after long holidays.

It takes repeated visits to the passport office to get a passport, repeated visits to the Registrar-General's to register a company or even get a licence for marriage. Accounts of all government businesses have to be audited because of a legal requirement but the audited accounts get delayed for years and when produced are full of inaccuracies and there are inefficiencies in all the utility services. Road construction is undertaken during the peak period (why can't some of this work be done at night and on weekends). A visit to an out patient department of a public hospital (where they exist) takes the greater part of a day.

There are no standards for anything in Ghana. The culture for fostering the values of efficiency, quality, creativity and economy does not exist. Indeed apart from those aged in their 60s, many people are unaware what quality service is because they have no reference points with which to compare. Even those who have lived overseas appear to easily forget what quality service means when they are handed positions of responsibility in Ghana. Many people are also not aware of their rights and those who are, are reluctant to stand up for them. A sizable proportion of the people is illiterate or semi-literate and so is easily exploited. In such a situation the attitude is “live and let's live”. There is the tendency to coexist with the practices hence comments like “too known” or “who do you think you are/” Anyone who attempts to question the practices becomes the enemy.

I must confess that I have some sympathy for the average worker in Ghana for most of them have to queue for hours for transportation, travel long distances in crowded ramshackle vehicles, work in some cases sub standard buildings and sit at dirty furniture. Work in such conditions becomes exhausting. There is little incentive to work but every incentive not to work. Furthermore, wages and salaries are not tied up with inflation and in this situation most people are living a hand to mouth existence.

Having said this, workers cannot hide behind unattractive wages and poor logistics to flagrantly abuse the employers' trust. Ghanaians also have a tendency to hide behind resource constraints as the key barrier to productivity and to lack of action or the maintenance of a plant or equipment. Resource constraints cannot fully explain this trend in view of the evidence that the potential for resource generation is often left untapped. Furthermore, if resources are scarce then, one would expect greater care and efficiency in using these scare resources. On the contrary there are various examples of waste and duplication in the system. Even services that do not call for substantial resources are in an unsatisfactory state.

It must be noted that productivity gains provides increase income which frees additional resources that can be invested to meet the needs of the population in areas such as health care, education, the environment, public infrastructures and welfare.

In my opinion, Ghana is in a vicious cycle of poverty because of our consistent low productivity and lack of efficiency in enterprises both in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. This cycle of poverty will continue to damage our whole national and economic life unless we introduce and enforce structural reforms and improve on agriculture.

As a first step we need to review salaries and wages and improve on transportation and above all reduce congestion and travel time on our roads. The money for the review of salaries and wages and for infrastructural projects, including improving the road network to reduce traffic bottlenecks, can be found in reducing government expenditure and increasing revenue by checking corrupt practices. It is extremely disappointing that the Government continues to increase its wage and non-wage bills through the creation of more ministries and duplication of services. Why do we need 88 Ministers and Deputy Ministers? I am not sure I share the view that “more political appointees would ensure effective leadership”(Ghanatoday.com 14 March 2005). On the contrary “too many cooks spoil the broth”. What is needed is putting the right persons in the right places- in the civil service, public boards and corporations - a factor which has not existed because of nepotism, “jobs for the boys” and “whom you know”. Individuals are the important linkages in the whole process of productivity improvement and hence there has to be an honest effort for individual effectiveness and this in my view was not taken into consideration in the current vetting exercise.

As government is also the major employer, it should play the major role. Ministers and Deputy Ministers and persons in positions of responsibility should set the example. They should create an environment conducive to productivity.

The Government must ensure that the things that have suffocated our growth and put at risk our collective future prosperity: corruption which pervades the fabric of all public institutions in Ghana, bribes, nepotism which I have spoken about, embezzlement, kickbacks, financial mismanagement-wasteful spending, conspicuous consumption and appointments based on grounds of tribal/ethnic affiliation are laid to rest.

We need to establish infrastructure and methodologies in the short term to increase the volume and quality of what we currently export and in the long-term increase the products we export thereby facilitating economic growth.

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Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebenezer Banful
Ebenezer Banful, © 2005

The author has 21 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: EbenezerBanful

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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