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26.03.2005 Feature Article

The Strategy of Governance must Shift .....

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.... to a Culture of Prevention Initiatives and not Problem Solving. Its Ghana's 48th birthday and the usual annual rituals have urged us, the long suffering citizens, to once again ignore the recurrent policy failures meant to deal with our problems, but seek the kingdom of God first and be happy. The hard clinical facts are that we are still plagued by deep seated economic and social problems. Given the depressingly familiar situation, I think Ghanaians are amazing. If this situation persisted any where else, outside the continent, it would be totally unacceptable. (Having in mind places, like Colombia in South America.) .The powers that be want us to be merry because, we have achieved a milestone. But what are we celebrating if I may ask? Especially when another recent austere budget has again diagnosed more belt tightening, more pain and no gain as the only panacea the state can offer. Infact if, our state were to be a human being the belt will now probably be snapped round their pelvic bones without any flesh to hold it back in place.

It is due to this, that I wonder how many of us are still proud, like our forefathers were on the eve of independence, of what our nation has achieved for its citizens all these years ? I have always believed that despite the seemingly intractable problems we have all remained Ghanaian patriots, peaceful and would die for our country if need be. But I can also understand why some, who do not suffer fools gladly, are extremely angry and disappointed and not proud at all yet would still remain patriotic.

Since independence our leaders have told us to be patient, have set up many institutions and structures, overseen by shiftless officials, to facilitate the nation building process. In most cases the problems have grown into crisis and rapidly getting beyond solutions. How is the governance structure dealing with it, legislative processes, executive policies and procedures, judicial oversight issues etc ? Well at best still engaged in crisis management and fire fighting. Still depending on decision making systems which are flawed because they are unwisely designed to only kick in when the problems have occurred and escalating and not the prevention of them. With an added issue of changes in demographic trends, the archaic policies and procedure of some institutions which are in terminal decline have run into the sand and given up the fight. There are several examples I can cite to back up this argument, but I will leave you to ponder over your own suggested examples and hope you are convinced just as I am, that the current framework is not working, and in most settings after 48 years are still having a severe impact on the quality of peoples lives.

One may keep on asking how did we get to this stage. ? But surely has this not got something to do with the way our governments and people in positions of responsibility have made decisions in the past? Some may say, we are now getting the fundamentals right. Yes we are now doing relatively well in our neck of the woods, by now sustaining our young democracy, and generally remaining relatively peaceful. Others will say we should of course be proud of the fact that we still enjoy enormous goodwill from our friends and development partners, in the light of our relatively impressive, current economic indicators, that ministers have a habit of churning out on a regular basis. Statistics such us (GDP growth of 5.8%, inflation falling to … %, monetary reserves built up to cover four months of imports, standard & poor rating up to B plus, etc). I can well understand why people unable to make ends meet will ask “ibi statistics I go chop” ?. Haven't we been here a few times before? I don't also think I would be wrong in saying these statistics, even though they look impressive on paper would probably take another couple of decades if not even more to make a difference to the lives of our children, the next generation.

I have noticed that another new “buzz statement” from our politicians and ministers, is “we are now operating in a globalised world”. But when I hear this I get the CRINGE. I am a bit concerned how anyone can be so convinced the solution to our problems lies in promoting this concept. At the moment cement prices are more expensive in Poor Ghana than in Rich Europe, how do you justify that. ? I cannot see how we can operate in a globalised world economic system successfully with flawed systems of decision making, and shiftless officials. The fact of the matter is if we do not make the necessary changes and start tackling our problems in bold and innovative fashion fast, we are bound to be taken to the “cleaners” by those who spot the opportunity and move in for the kill.

Due to personal experience I have always had a feeling that “the laws of economics” works differently in our country, and this is probably because of our particularly unique economic situation. Its structures and banking systems, it appears, hardly respond to policies or trends. Take the banking system; it is currently only geared towards charging very high interest rates no matter how much money is pumped into the economy. Therefore very high interest rates would ensure that probably only 10% of the population would avail themselves of the positive economic fundamentals the politicians always allude to. If that does not convince you there is a lot evidence from Latin America in the 1970's and 1980's and even the 90's, that the economic policy we have chosen has also got its pitfalls, because it always ensures the that the top 10 % ( those with access to resources) benefit , leaving the majority of the poor behind. I am not the only one who has recognised this. As far as I can remember, economic critics have been very critical of all past Governments about their policies which in the long run inflict more hardship like Structural Adjustment did. Yet the last thing that anybody in government, past or present would want to do is to hold up their hands and admit that possibly maybe the criticism of the decision making framework and the policies it generates is justified. I have always believed that what every leader and especially the future leaders of our country should know is coming clean is a learning process that will benefit all of us.

Now my point is we have now reached the cross roads and there must be a new approach regarding how we deal with issues of policy, and the decision making systems at the heart of the decision making process, at both national and local levels, be it economic, social, political, environmental and traditional. They must be re- engineered to make sure its core elements places more emphasis on prevention and earlier intervention, not only to stop a problem developing into a crisis but stopping it from developing at all. Our laws must be drafted in such a way that it recognises prevention and proactive initiatives in all areas of our national life. If we do this why shouldn't we expect the decision making systems, to then start implementing pilot schemes, to testing the effectiveness of policies and procedures before they are implemented nationwide. I am heartened to see some slight examples, in what we are now trying to do in our AIDS awareness campaigns, even though we are still failing to do the same for Tuberculosis, Malaria and Cholera, by far the biggest killers.

Now you don't just do these things by just sitting down and talking about them. What you do is to find a ways of getting the various Ministries, Agencies and Local Authorities, whose operations form the core of the decision making systems we are lumbered with, to promote prevention as the cornerstone of all their policies and procedures. Encouraging preventative approaches and publishing strategies for dealing with issues probably every four years may be as a starting point. The strategy must force the institutions through legislation to prioritise and with proper guidance from responsible mangers, why should we not expect them to start researching, collecting, and publishing data which would help them to understand the problems at stake. So they can list ways in which they plan to eliminate, reduce, isolate or control and prevent potential problems from emerging. This brings me to another good example which I wish to highlight, the Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) concept to alleviate poverty in the rural areas. Though laudable it's difficult to assess its effectiveness and shortcomings because of the lack of credible reviews by the oversight institutions and the media both print and broadcast. I think an assessment of how well individuals actively engaged in the projects under the initiatives, would make it possible for others to enthusiastically sign up if one comes their way.

I know the problems have become complex and cannot be left to governments alone to resolve, but nothing should stop any government from leading on bold innovative preventative initiatives, for example in the sphere of strengthening national unity and combating tribalism, which is one problem to my surprise is not sufficiently at the heart of any debate. In this priority area as well nothing should stop the government from exploring initiatives, including financial incentives if necessary, that would encourage various tribes and their elders, especially ones that do not get on, across the length and breadth of the country, from let's say holding joint annual festivals of friendship and unity in each others local areas to strengthen the sense of national identity and unity. In the same vein in some traditional areas in the country, economic and development activities have virtually grounded to a halt and peoples lives have been paralysed due to chieftaincy disputes. Here again bold and preventative action should have been taken ages ago to prevent such negative trends from occurring because of the enormous damage they cause. We should not just sit down and let something nasty happen, then we say, “We did not know it was that bad”!!! and dispatch security forces at great cost, to the tax payer to impose order.

In all these areas we should be thinking about initiatives that would engage civil society institutions, including our traditional authorities and educational institutions as well as our religious organisations to jump on board, by taking actions and devoting part of their activities towards discouraging negative activities that alienate others and promoting national cohesiveness. For instance there is nothing wrong with churches devoting the last half an hour of their sermons each week, each day, each hour or however often they meet, to educate their congregations on the importance of national unity, or on environmental sanitation.

Now coming to the officials that are appointed or recruited to deal with these matters, let me say that if we cannot rely on those in positions of responsibility to steer the ship of governance towards preventative initiatives and innovative schemes as a basis of solving the myriad of problems, we face, then we should look else where for experienced and qualified professionals to take over these failing institutions. I cannot see why we cannot look at best practice and experience elsewhere, not necessarily Europe, but on the continent. Import them into the Country for brief periods to manage our Ministries, Local Government and Agencies, so they can pass on the experience on how to do these things properly. I know some people would feel uncomfortable about this. But tell me what is wrong with for example importing an experienced chief executive from let's say South Africa to be Mayor of Accra or Kumasi, or appoint a good quality Principal Officer at let's say the, Ministry of Education and contract him to implement strategies and actions, to run these cities or ministry efficiently for a contract period, whilst their Ghanaian counterparts shadow them to learn the ropes. I don't see anything wrong with that, because after all we are prepared to accept paying a second rate Serbian Coach $20,000.00 a month to manage, the Black Stars, our national football team because we were not able to do it properly. If this venture works, it would probably bring some joy, but no material benefit to a few supporters of football in the country. However we probably will be reluctant to engage experienced administrators with good track records and experience, for that same amount of money, to fix the decay in our institutions and put into place preventative systems of decision making and training to stop the rot, something that would bring material benefits to a great deal more people, and for once, improve their quality of life. I am sure the powers that be are aware that it is only when we take proactive action that we can avoid all the nasty surprises which cause so much damage and hardship to majority of our people. With this strategy we can successfully stop hunger and poverty in its tracks even stop the current menace of Armed Robbery and the Ataa Ayi's of this world. Prevention is better than Cure. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Stephen Nyako
Stephen Nyako, © 2005

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

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