Attracting foreign direct investment is at the top of the agenda of most countries and Ghana is no exception. Countries are increasingly competing to attract foreign investment because of the positive effects that foreign investment can have on a country's development. Along with an immediate impact on current account financing and job creation, foreign investment brings longer-term benefits in the form of technology transfer, increased export development, improved international integration and greater domestic competition.
Several factors and policies influence investors in their decisions on the type of investment and the location of that investment. These include the rule of law, corruption, legal and regulatory stability, market size, taxes and infrastructure services. Long term stability and reduced internal conflict and tension are also positive factors for investment decisions. The development of good practices, the creation of an enabling environment for investment and the provision of incentives are equally important considerations.
Investors are constantly evaluating the attractiveness of different countries for investment decisions so it is up to governments to know what drives these investors and tailor programs to meet those needs. Investors will pay a premium for a well-governed country and so Ghana needs to make a special effort to reduce bureaucracy. Most people expect a single point of contact as well as seamless interaction across multiple touch points. However, in Ghana you have to go through over a dozen people before you get to see a decision maker, that is if you are lucky, or you happen to know the person or know someone who knows the person. You are also frequently expected to grease people's palms to get anything done. Government needs to increase the transparency of its operations, improve the public's access to information, guarantee the rule of law, improve the country's “business climate”, simplify regulatory procedures that investors must follow in establishing and operating new businesses, improve on customer service and above all good governance. The recent arbitrary seizure of an Australian investor's passport is the sort of conduct that drives investors away. It takes untold number of visits to the Registrar General's office to register a business in Ghana.
The country must invest in its human resources since the high growth industries of the future, such as information technology and biotechnology, require an increasingly skilled labour force but our education system appears to be going backwards and plagued with irregularities at all levels.
Having outlined some factors that militate against Ghana being an attractive location for foreign direct investment, I would like to refer to a number of factors which if managed well will provide Ghana with a competitive advantage. Ghana is well endowed with natural resources suited for activities in various areas including the tourism sector. In the tourism sector where the government is trying to attract investment, Ghana has sandy beaches though many are polluted, exciting flora and fauna, hospitable people and to some extent favourable climate. Ghana has game reserves and other attractions that could be developed eg Kakum but the last time I visited Kakum you could not even get a postcard to buy in the shop. Accra is a relatively safe city compared to other African cities eg Johannesburg and Nairobi, and is also more welcoming.
I would describe these as the tangibles but there are other factors, though intangible, which could go a long way in making the country attractive to investors. A prospective investor may form an opinion about whether Ghana is a safe place or an ideal location for business and investment, a country worthy of exploring and whether Ghanaians are trustworthy people through various means including: visiting Ghana, attending a Ghanaian trade expo or function, reading about the country, attending a Ghanaian social function or talking to a Ghanaian or through research on Ghana. The most important resource a country has is its people. Ghanaians are to be found in almost every corner of the world. They live and interact with peoples from different cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Many are professionals in the countries where they live and work while others hold positions of responsibility in the organisations in which they work. This human resource can be used in attracting investment into the country. It can give valuable knowledge that can be useful in developing proposals for investments.
A good name they say is better than riches so the conduct of Ghanaians in general including those abroad may inform perceptions and decisions on Ghana. "Every good tree bears good fruit”; so a good reputation, honesty and integrity are bound to create some goodwill for the country. We need to send the right signals to prospective investors and visitors. Unfortunately, on many occasions we send the wrong signals. When a Ghanaian official contracts a loan without due diligence examinations or ask for part of the loan to be paid into their foreign accounts we are indirectly saying to an honest investor we do shady deals in the country. When people deliberately tell lies or involve themselves in unlawful activities while overseas sometimes in order to gain residence or some benefit, we are not doing the country any favours. When sportspersons and officials leave the country for destinations overseas and misbehave they are not portraying the country in a positive light. Many Ghanaians are making false declarations and claims about Ghana in their bid to gain residency or benefits. Such claims are counter productive and make it very difficult for genuine travellers to get required documentation.
It must be noted that once a country's good name has been ruined, it is most difficult to fully restore it. There will always be those who have doubts but the problem is those who previously did not have any doubts but now have doubts. We might be citizens or landed immigrants in the countries in which we live but we must also see ourselves as ambassadors of Ghana, for a leopard cannot change its spots no matter how hard it tries.
Those in Ghana also have a part to play. They need to radically change their service mentality. Customer service is an essential building block for improving customer satisfaction, loyalty and increased revenue. However, Ghanaians think they are doing you a favour when you are in reality paying for a service. The Aplankees (driver's mates) are rude to fare paying passengers. A State Transport Bus that is supposed to leave at 7.30am is still not at the loading bay at 9.45am and nobody explains the delay. Yet you dare not even ask for the reason for the delay.
When I was last in Ghana, I went to a restaurant on the so called “Oxford Street” in Accra, with three other people. We found seats for ourselves and it took close to 35 minutes for some one to come and ask what we would like. I would have been accommodating if the place was busy but I could see some of the waitresses chatting away while we were waiting to be seated let alone to be served. We all agreed that we would wait for the waitress to show up and then walk away explaining why we were doing that and that was exactly what we did. She remarked that we are leaving because we cannot afford it. Yes, she failed to realise that poor service was the cause of our decision. I doubt I will be recommending that establishment to anyone. On the contrary, we went to a Chinese Restaurant at Kuku Hill and the service was of a standard you will get in any four star place overseas. We were met at the door and ushered into a seat and given hot wet towels. The food came on time and was of good quality.
In my opinion no amount of publicity on investment opportunities in Ghana can replace the personal contacts and impression we give to prospective investors and visitors. We need a culture change in our service mentality if Ghana is to compete for the tourist euro or dollar.
To meet the challenges of attracting investment, everyone has a role to play: government, individual companies, private sector bodies, professional associations, the media and individuals. If all the actors play their role well in a play, the play goes well and so if every Ghanaian were to play their part well and government were to provide the required leadership, perhaps, one day Ghana will be the land of promise we all wish it to be. We should always remember a good name is better than riches. Ebenezer Banful Canberra Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.