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26.11.2005 Feature Article

Mojo Odyssey: Government Policies and Empty Platitudes

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Even though there are many fine African playwrights, Shakespeare's Macbeth has a line about life, which is more appropriate to our governments, past and present:

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/To the last syllable of recorded time;/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! /Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, / That struts and ! frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more: it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, /Signifying nothing." (Macbeth, V, v, 19)

Governments come and go, and while they are there, they make lots of noise about the work they are doing and the programs they are creating. But when these statements and programs are carefully examined, they are often found to be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” to the masses. Governments tell their people many things, some true, many not true. If these politicians are working so hard, why don't the masses experience tangible results from these programs? Why is it so difficult for ordinary people to differentiate what they need, from what they merely want? With all the fanfare about programs and policies, why is poverty still so prevalent in Ghana? It is, of course, impossible to have absolutely zero poverty in a country. But it is possible to have a society in which the poor are a small minority, not the majority.

Governments know apparent confusion exists in the minds of masses, and they do well to take advantage of this. At the back of the minds of many government officials is the notion that “we know what you want; we don't want to know what you need”. Yet, in their public statements, these same government officials put on the mask of public concern, and pretend to be taking care of and providing the needs of the masses. This is official hypocrisy that panders to the people, but ensures that the plight of the ordinary man will go unaddressed.

One instance of this official hypocrisy involves the issue of land reform. Ghana's system of land tenure is ill-suited for the modern world; it is not the panacea to alleviation of poverty. Rather, it helps to perpetuate poverty. As a result, land reform is something that the masses need, as opposed to want. But at the same time, the government does not spend time in addressing this imperative. They rather prefer to talk vaguely about poverty reduction, and grandiose economic agendas that do not go to the heart of the matter.

In this article, we will be discussing some of the policy claims of our government, and view it against the background of poverty alleviation. We want to observe whether! the plight of the poor is really the concern of our typical government official.

Not much ink has been spilt on land reform and agriculture, as compared to inflation and other macroeconomic indicators. Most of Ghana's income comes from the agricultural industry, which also employs most of Ghana's workers. At the same time, many of Ghana's poor are also concentrated within this same agricultural sector. It appears that the key to lifting many Ghanaians out of poverty is to make agriculture more rewarding to those who work in it. This is tricky. The problem is that the incentives of the landowner differ radically from that of the tenant farmer. And the tenant farmers ! are the majority. In economics, this problem is termed as the problem of “moral hazard”, where the incentives that motivate different groups of people are not the same. Even though the tenant farmers are heads of households, with wives and other family members to support, it is not to say that landlords do not have families of their own to support. Because tenant farmers outnumber landlords, their plight is more pronounced. Ghana's system of land tenure practically ensures that these tenant farmers will work hard for a pittance, and hence remain in poverty in perpetuity.

So, it is apt to discuss Ghana's famous “Abunu” and “Abusa” systems of land tenure, even if our government will not talk about it. Indivi! duals and organizations have commissioned work on Ghana's land tenure system. (For instance, see: Report of the FAO Sponsored Seminar on Land Tenure, Agrarian Systems and Rural Development; Newmont Ghana Gold Ltd.; da Rocha and Lodoh, Ghana Land Law and Conveyancing; Ollenu and Woodman, Principles of Customary Land Law in Ghana, etc).

From such studies, one gleams the following to be the situation on the ground. In Ghana, land use rights vary between landlords and tenants in many areas. Generally, a landlord is a property holder with exclusive rights to use or dispose of use rights to land. Land use rights are typically acquired from traditional rulers, family heads, or by inheritance and are disposed other! wise by sale or to tenants. Tenants are people or households with rights to use the land as negotiated under a private agreement with landlords. There are two types of tenants: sharecroppers and caretakers. There is also what is known as “usufructuary rights” (where continuous cultivation confers ownership).

The “Abunu”/ “Abusa” system is a specific type of sharecropping land tenancy, common in the mid-belt region of Ghana, in which the landlord extends farming rights to a specific parcel of land for an agreed upon period of time.

In the 'Abunu' system, the harvest, or revenue thereof, is shared evenly between landowner and tenant, i.e., 50-50. In the 'Ab! usa' system, the harvest, or revenue thereof, is shared such that one-third goes to the landowner, one-third to the tenant, and one-third is used for maintenance. This is a common practice determined through negotiation between the tenant and landlord and depends on the type of crop harvested. A caretaker is employed – by either a landlord or sharecropper – to tend a particular field (e.g., a cocoa plantation). The caretaker usually resides on or near the field, and in exchange for cultivating the field receives a share of the proceeds from the sale of crops, typically a one-third share.

The current situation with Ghana's system of land ownership leaves much to be desired. The government does not seem to have the stomach to deal with the problems created by this ine! quitable distribution, which contributes to the endurance of poverty. There appears to be high levels of litigation over land title in some parts of Ghana where there is no formal land registration and where boundaries are imprecisely defined by traditional methods. In parts of the country, there is also evidence that many share cropping and other tenancy arrangements are insecure. Also, ethnic conflict in some areas over land boundaries has been reported - e.g. Konkomba - Nanumba and Peki - Tsito. Finally, where inheritance is based on the matrilineal system, women's tenure can be insecure if the husband dies intestate. In areas where the patrilineal system predominates, land ownership is less available to women.

These four issues – litigation, insecurity, ethnic con! flict, and inheritance – are the problems that the government is failing to tackle head-on. This then is the bane of poverty-alleviation policies.

This should not be construed as proposing land reform Zimbabwe style. In Zimbabwe, the basic issue was that about 90% of all fertile, arable land in the country was owned by Zimbabwe's whites, who comprise only about 10% of the total population. In Ghana, the problem is that the current system perpetuates poverty, and the solution will lie in ensuring a distribution that lifts the majority out of poverty without causing Zimbabwe-style conflict.

Is the government ready to tackle this difficult and politically-sensitive issue, to bring salvation to the poor?

In the 2006 budget, the government claimed that “expenditure on Poverty reduction activities increased substantially from 2,362 billion cedis or 22.5 per cent of total Government expenditure in 2002 to 5,456.2 billion cedis or 28 per cent of total government expenditure by the end of 2004”. While this statement sounds nice, where did the money go? Who received it? Was it the numerous babies kept hostage in our hospitals when their mothers could not pay their hospital bills in this National Health Insurance System era? How about the masses who cannot afford a single meal a day? The problem is that, although Ghana is spending allegedly grandiose sums of money on poverty reduction, very little of this seems to trickle down to the masses. If this is the case, then it is fair to say that the HIPC money basically went, not to the poor, but directly into the pockets of the wealthy and the politically well-connected.

Praise be. There are some admirable aspects of government policy. It has been said that those who like Sausage or Political Policy should not watch it being made. Very few politicians truly act in the interest of the poverty stricken masses, who get confused with high sounding platitudes describing budget statements as well as policy statements. Therefore, in spite of their “non-promise promise” before coming into power, of creating a hundred thousand jobs within a limited time, we no! w have a 2006 budget that aims to generate employment by assisting and empowering the private sector, as well as programs that deal directly with unemployment.

Because of Ghana's impoverished state, we need to set priorities on what can be accomplished with our scarce means. In the 2006 budget, the sum total of Ghana's various exports amount to US 2,110.9 million dollars in the first nine months. On the other hand, Ghana's total import expenditures amount to US 3,458.3 million dollars in the same nine months. So, Ghana is in the red, running a trade deficit of US 1347.4 million dollars for the above-mentioned period of time. This amount is part of Ghana's national debt, which is the sum total of all previous deficits. This means Ghana is spending more than she earns, a course which is unsustainable in the long haul.

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

Ebby Koney
Ebby Koney, © 2005

The author has 22 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: EbbyKoney

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily 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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