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19.11.2005 Feature Article

Ghana: Good Governance and Pro-poor Development

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...... the apology of slogans

Comparisons ........

Part I

In recent years, my pondering over the plight of our nation, improving from the slow pace of development to sometimes non-existent development or progress, through steady growth compels me to believe in one thing.

That there was more left to be done. Which must begin like or in form of even the "little things" in attitude, behaviour and the culture of unison that could allow us work towards total human well-being and pro-poor growth and development.

In effect it is not so much of the grandeur economic plans, call it powerful and numerous "slogans" (which just means a 'rallying cry') nor even our total debt cancellation that will get Ghana to a middle-income country.

I reckon the answer lies in much of the former, it includes things like if leadership found a way of making every Ghanaian be part of it. I mean part of everything that leads to Ghanafs development or at least feel to be part of it. We should all be involved.

Then we can create the real wealth and good life for all just like other nations have done. Let us in this consideration forget a little bit about the post-colonial praises or appeals in the words like patriotism.

Since many people in the past, present and in the future would have done and continue to do even greater things for the nation without first thinking about the "word" before doing what is right.

I would elaborate a little on the "slogans" a bit. At best slogans should be limited to, and probably used only during or on an election period. If at all, slogans are the only things we understand and want to continue using.

Never in the post-independence history of the Ghana that we have had so many slogans as in this last decade. Which has gone a long way to stifle the energy, power and the goodwill in all of us.

I do agree, other writers have attempted the chronology of political slogans in Ghana since 1940s whereas, others believe Ghana is a repository of slogans. Another writer once featured on Ghanaweb a title gGhana, A Fertile Land of Slogans, Mottos and Shibboleths,h all have been well noted.

I heard some years ago, (since was not in the country until 2000) that there were the "kumi prekos," to the time of my return home during the elections in 2000. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) said it hoped for gA Better Ghana.h

Whereas the ruling New Patriotic Party 'positive changes (I to II),' 'golden age of business,' 'property owning democracy,' 'zero tolerance for corruption,' 'so far so very good' (announced), but was later altered to read 'so far so good' and the like.

Then came the 2004 Budget and for some mere twist of fate it was labelled a 'wahala budget'. In the first instance, I felt it was funny and thought it was just a good sense of humour.

Last but not the least in the list, is what has become government's favourite to my disappointment is; "private sector the engine of growth." This fact I hope to explain some time in the future and I believe there may be other people who feel the same in the public sector (or civil service).

The slogans being tabled every now and then, I think are nothing but some kind of "ananse" words or better still, see them as the kind of inscriptions we had in the olden days on "trotros;" the passenger Bedford mummy (wooden) trucks, the "wa to in chini."

The words may give hope when you are in despair, but in real national developmental policy arrangements and goals, I am sorry I have not seen such a mess anywhere in the modern world.

It may be part of some culture some may say, for that matter you may pardon me. But, Again culture is dynamic and responds to change in changing times. By saying so, if I may recall, the prevalence of the use of slogans or otherwise was not a feature of governance in this country a long time ago, but just recently.

I do not think people are, in any way responding to it positively, but see it as a jeopardy game initiated by the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Incidentally, the practise is becoming a such a contagious or even so infectious a disease.

Such that, even when a bold but risky effort of making available the 2006 Budget ahead of a budget year (by November) long before it was due, it soon becomes the "azaa budget," implying a budget of deceit for the minority in parliament.

Whereas I am sure who to blame, whether the government was the culprit to call its budget a 'good news budget or it was just a journalistic invention or proposition. ("Budget of Good News" by the Statesman newspaper/Ghanaweb, Nov. 11 2005)

Why I am saying this? I have lived my adult life in over 20 countries and can not think of any country that could match Ghana's ingenuity with these fruitless slogans. The idea (or attitude) of just chip in a good slogan, "after all they are illiterates" so lets exploit their reductive thinking and that is the end of it.

We need to rather put more emphasis (focus) on good policies that involves the entire society (that which society buys into). If we want to see progress and development whereby wealth is distributed fairly to all. I am sorry but, not by slogans.

The answer is beware of slogans! Slogans I will say "chicken on details" of real policy imperatives especially in the case of politics in Ghana. Since the devil is always in the details. Ghanaians demand details and not generalisations or the syndrome of "in general." It has become persistently an exit strategy for the Ghanaian politician.

Ghanaians should always remember how limited the legitimate role of slogans are, and the electorate can avoid being exploited by them. Furthermore, we must guard against superficial truths being treated as if they were profound.

I was surprised when I attended a conference in Accra a few years ago and a comparison was brandished around about how Ghana was like Singapore and Malaysia. But wondered why we have not developed like these countries.

I would like to say that, one has to live in any of these countries to know what drives people to development, how they acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses in the effort to develop. Such governments, therefore create the opportunities that helps to overcome their threats.

In simple terms it is not just a want to develop for the sake of it, but should be backed by action. There should be frivolous expenditure. Lets think about the filth in the capital of Accra that everyone has complained about up till today and no one has done anything about.

In Singapore for instance, the police will flog you there and then, no matter who you are when you drop a piece of paper on (or littered) the streets and in any public place. "Singapore continued to have the highest rate of execution per capita in the world." (Amnesty International Report 2005)

There was the case of some British youth (tourists) some time in the 90s, who may not have known unfortunately, but had go through the ordeal of flogging (caned) in public as their punishment for throwing rubbish around the city for instance.

There is a little over 20 countries around the world today that practise flogging of adults, most sadly especially of women as punishment for various offences to the displeasure of amnesty International (AI), luckily Ghana is not one of them.

There was a diplomatic row for sometime after the judicial flogging and that was it. But Singaporeans are Singaporeans they accept it (discipline), and must live with it. Hence, you find them generally doing the right thing and the country is very clean.

Everyone behaves within the order and the laws of the land and culture of its people is held in high extreme and its up to scratch. It is a country run by a civilian government and has been so, for a long time. The have the following festivals; be it the Dragon Boat Festival, Theemidhi (Fire walking), Chinese New Year, Thaipusam (Hindu Festival), Hari Raya Puasa (Ramadan) and others, at different times of the calendar year to the delight of tourists who visit the country.

They have a thriving service industry; tourism, the best airline industry, the IT industry etc., are all booming. During last week Singapore's purchase of the biggest airliner (Airbus A380) on the planet earth from Europe, landed on the tarmac at Changi International Airport for the first time on Friday November 11, 2005.

The jumbo plane has a sitting capacity of over 800 passengers. What does Ghana's GIA plane have as its sitting capacity? Were we told it could take 160 passengers? Yes, "The Boeing 757 aircraft of 160-passenger capacity with 144 economy and 16 business classes." (Ghanaweb/Accra, Oct. 29, GNA). Where then lies the comparison?

By this I think it will not be right to "compare oranges with apples," as such we should be careful because there is no case for such analysts, politicians and in recent times certain journalists for the international media (BBC) woefully, comparing Malaysia for instance with Ghana. It is not a matter of just the figures.

In Ghana the case of flogging of course is not acceptable and could be likened or blamed only on a military regime. So lets face it Ghanaians will have to know what works and what is good for them and build on that foundation.

Just to touch on a simple aspect of Malaysian life, like accessibility to tourism and you will notice that the country has about a dozen airports (private, military and civil) both paved and unpaved. Also 22 other paved civil airports registered with International Air Transport Association (IATA)-codes, a 3-letter identifier.

The country has 4 major International Airports at Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuching all of which I have being to, except for Langkawi International.

I will suggest the right comparison is made, Ghanaians especially our leaders have to be very serious about what they profess. Those doing the comparisons should have lived or knew all about the intricacies of the over 20 years of the "civilian" rule of former President Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (1981 to 2003), affectionately called "Dr M."

They will then say we do not like this President. He was a Physician and did not have to take kindly to being pushed around by any outsider. He was a very aggressive proponent of "Asian values;"authoritarian state-led capitalism, as an alternative to American individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. How about that?

His country was the only country spared of the Asians economic crisis for instance. I mean the crisis that begun in Argentina in South America and quickly spread to Asia via Thailand.

Malaysia became one the largest and most powerful economies in South East Asia within the period from 1988 to 1997.

gLiving standards rose twenty-fold, with poverty almost eradicated and social indicators such as literacy levels and infant mortality rates on a par with developed countries.h In short therefore, he knew what was about and all his country-men (and women) bought into it (you may call it, his vision). His leadership style was a "no-nonsense demeanour," what is very well a differentiation from arrogance of some Ghanaian politicians.

For his legacy in short, he became known as "Bapa Kemodenan" or "father of modernisation" in Malaysia.

In reality, slogans are becoming the order of the day in poverty stricken Ghana. I would strongly suggest it is high time the name calling and slogans become a thing of the past.

So that very soon Ghanaians will not be asking our politicians, if the slogans do reflect in the pockets. To me the slogans are not vision or mission statements, since those of the later require a lot of work and commitment to arrive at one.

I wish to conclude that, governance, not to even venture into the demands of good governance, is a serious business. So it is time all politicians live up to the demands of basic governance.

Meaning administering the country and managing the economy towards a pro-poor development. The performance indicators on Ghana are grossly in red and they have found it fashionable just to play around with slogans.

The situation under which the government continue to think it is in an advertising business and not in governance to administer has is leading to despair among majority of Ghanaians.

[Please read the followup article in due course, it will focus on education, physical activity and development.] Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

James W. Doe
James W. Doe, © 2005

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

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