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25.12.2007 Feature Article

Tackling Governance and Accountability in Ghana: Democracy or Kleptocracy ?

Tackling Governance and Accountability in Ghana: Democracy or Kleptocracy ?
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Africa's long suffering people are all too frequently caught in the crossfire of rampaging wars, millions afflicted with diseases, preyed upon by greedy despots and prevented by corrupt leaders and bureaucracies in a kleptocracy from obtaining basic schooling, medical attention, and any semblance of economic opportunities.
A look at the socio-political and economic environment in Ghana today reveals a horrifying picture. There is massive corruption, staggering poverty, unemployment, poor education, deteriorating infrastructure, and general degree of hopelessness among the youth who feel very disappointed and let down by their political leaders. According to the 2007 World Bank Human Development Index, almost half of the national population live below the poverty line surviving on less than a dollar per day. And as many as over 75% live on less than $2.oo a day. The economic conditions felt by the ordinary Ghanaian are poorer than ever.

However, Ghanaians are resilient. They have learned to survive. They look after one another, too, and altruism flourishes amid surprising circumstances of adversity. What does political independence mean to ordinary Ghanaians? Independence was supposed to make life better but what do we see around us? Half a century of independence has brought nothing in terms of real development in the country. In many parts of the country, hundreds of kilometers of colonial roads have disappeared, schools and clinics are in dilapidated state and social infrastructure have been allowed to collapse. In 50 years not even a single kilometer of railway line has been constructed and the one the colonial rulers left have been allowed to deteriorate and collapsed. Something is definitely wrong and needs to be put right now.The country is in deep crisis and the biggest problems at hand now are corruption, poverty, and unemployment. Several decades ago, may be you could live with an economic growth rate of 3.5% per annum, meanwhile the labour force in the country is growing at 5% per annum and creating unprecedented labour tensions and the result is a huge unemployment problem among the youth.

More than half of the jobless rate in Ghana today is accounted for by people in their 20's and 30's. This is very alarming. Figures are hard to get by but it is abundantly clear that about six out of ten University graduates this year are without jobs not to count Secondary school and Technical School graduates. There is no system in place to absorb new graduates into the workforce as new graduates are left on their own to fend for themselves. I was moved to tears the other day as I listened to a forty something year old University graduate giving a testimony at church for landing his first job. He was so happy and thankful to God for giving him his first job. Obviously I was happy for him too because he counts himself so lucky to have a job while many of his colleagues were still searching. B...
But before that we need to strenghten Parliament to make it perform its duty of checking executive power and also controlling the national purse more effectively. Our constitution is so flawed. It has concentrated all powers in the hands of the executive branch of government seriously constraining the work of Parliament. Our President under the 1992 constitution is just too powerful.He has the power to hire and fire everyone in Ghana, and also to order or not to order a probe into everything. If he doesn't do it nobody can do it.Parliament must and can have the power to probe executive acts. And the judiciary must not only be seen to be independent but must act so . The recent judgement by the Supreme Court that CHRAJ and the SFO have no right to investigate acts of corruption and such allegations reported in the newspapers is a serious blow to democracy in my opinion. Investigating such allegations will make the people know the truth or otherwise and give the people who such allegations are made agai nst to defend themselves.

Again, government needs to downsize. The current size of the government is too big and costly, in fact over bloated. Japan runs the World's second largest economy with just 17 ministers. How come a country like Ghana has over 70 ministers and deputy ministers not counting the nephews and nieces who double as special assistants. What for? We need fiscal discipline. The people are overburdened with taxes while government displays a great deal of fiscal indiscipline. The government needs to create the right business atmosphere for industries and businesses to thrive so that they can compliment government efforts at creating jobs. Elsewhere taxes are cut to spur growth, but in Ghana, an economic team that lacks fresh ideas always look up to increased taxation as a way of generating revenue. Government needs to simplify taxes, lower tariffs on imports, and clear away red tape to encourage entrepreneurial skills. Too much taxes stifle growth. You don't need to be a prize winning Nobel economist to know this.
< BR>The priority should be to do everything possible to wage a battle against poverty, raise living standards, and encourage businesses to thrive. Some 8 million Ghanaians live on less than one dollar a day, this is unacceptable and a shame. Ghana's poor are less inclined to vote than the middle class because they have kind of resigned themselves to fate, that no politician nor political party can make a difference in their lives, thus virtually guaranteeing that their discontent would not prevail on the election day. Election 2000 was the turning point and just as there was a yearning for change in 2000 that drove the people to the polls, I can sense the same yearning for a change now and that will show in Election 2008. Those who have ears, let them listen.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah.
Tokyo, Japan.
The author is a senior social and political analyst and policy strategist who lives, writes, and plays in Tokyo, Japan. Your views and comments are welcome.

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