Thu, 02 Apr 2009 Feature Article

Reflections on Human Behaviour and Public Policy

Reflections on Human Behaviour and Public Policy

With a new government finding its way, an opportunity arises for a close examination of some of the individual and cultural factors which help or hinder the best plans set out for the benefit of our nation. The transition from an NPP to an NDC administration has given expression to some obvious, occasionally entertaining but very disturbing patterns of behavior which continue to have long lasting consequences for the general population.

The first is the acceptance of the rules of institutional democracy. These seem to have been well internalized by the Joe & Mary Ghana. After 5 straight elections over a 20 year period, the population has accepted this as the method for evaluating our governments every four years. During the recent election, it seemed that while the voting public was concerned about the rules of fair play and the integrity of the process, the political parties had only the winning of power on their minds. The fact that the most contentious and emotive issue which emerged in our very brief transition period was ex-gratia benefits for legislators and other heavy hitting politicians, was noteworthy. It is interesting that the process for establishing these awards was completely outside the view of the taxpayer. It was all perfectly legal and binding as we have come to understand. It appears then, that when the law serves the powerful in the land, they are unflinching in their efforts to uphold it. Shame on all of us, who have described Ghana as a lawless place in the past.

Individual responsibility is simply not prevalent in the discourse and actions of our citizens. These traits are then carried to levels where responsibility for major decisions with an impact on so many, are made. In the ex-gratia fracas, the most common refrain was “I wasn't there” or “I did not see it” as if this absolves one of responsibility. Well, you were expected to be there! In a tangentially related matter, there was a recent news item about 6 people having sequentially disappeared in a small community in BA region. They were all subsequently found dead. The Police's response was that, - you guessed right! “Information is just reaching us” - Six deaths later. Not to pick on the Police but they are a microcosm of the larger society.

Now the former Speaker of Parliament has added a new dimension to these very issues. In any other country, the attorney – general's office would have this man in for questioning because the possibility exists that a crime may have been committed. The behaviour of individuals who have had an opportunity to serve the people under wonderful conditions is disturbing to say the very least. The continued obsession with cars is so terribly pathetic and is an indication of the rather crass motives many have for entering politics and public service at the highest levels. The state is raped repeatedly and her cries are not heard.

A stream of weak and ineffectual responses flow after problems are identified, which do not contribute to providing substantive solutions. We do not anticipate problems nor do we learn from our failures and take corrective actions, not only to prevent the repetition of problems but to improve on past poor performance. We rely on pronouncements, threats and exhortation to change behavior. Well, these do not work. There have to be rewards for exceeding expectations and appropriate sanctions for illegal or otherwise unwelcome conduct in the guise of service.

We simply have internalized the idea of setting benchmarks for our activities and exceeding them. Why does a Ghanaian who submits an application for anything have to go back so many times to find out how things are going? You and I both know why. It's not just to pay the installments. The person collecting on behalf of the department in question is not going to be punished. He is actually a critical lynchpin in the alternative economy which is starving the government of revenue and denying efficient service to citizens. In most other jurisdictions, you pay the state your fee for the service and you are told when to expect the outcome of your interaction with the state.

If President Mills is going to be successful, he will have to be an enforcer of the rules from within his own circle, right from the outset. He must do this openly and fairly or he will be no better than his predecessor who promised zero tolerance and oversaw corruption entrench itself as a growth industry. Prez. Mills is going to have to be proactive on this front because there is absolutely no trust in the political leadership. All 3 branches of government do not inspire confidence on the question of corruption and its effect on fairness, justice, the rule of law and true protection of the rights of citizens. Many Ghanaians would be happy with major changes in only this aspect of our lives even if salaries did not keep up with inflation because most would save enough to make up the difference.

There is no reason why citizens do not have an agency of government to which they can report incidents of extortion by individuals acting on behalf of the government. Every person employed by the state should be identifiable by name and number as it is in most countries serious about rooting out corruption. Once someone is reported and investigated, if a finding is made, it is game over. There is always an exaggerated fear of possible witch hunting, abuse and the like but realistically, corruption is so pervasive that the abuses will pale against the teeming real cases requiring administrative and judicial intervention. The basic point is that we should have systems in place to begin to address the problem. Right now, so many corrupt individuals operating on government and corporate time act with impunity because they know that no deterrent exists in the system.

In so many jurisdictions, a telephone number to report dissatisfaction with any service is an integral part of the system. Once a call is placed, action is taken and the complainant is informed of the outcome. On many public and corporate vehicles in west, the note “How is my driving? For problems call 1800xxxxxx…..” is boldly displayed. A system is in place which can save lives even if it is not perfect. We need to act on so many levels. There is no reason why undercover operations cannot be launched at various agencies with government operatives acting as ordinary citizens, seeking service. The new leadership must act with creativity and determination if it is to earn a better legacy.

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frederick Bastiat (1801-1850) French author, economist and statesman.
Mere talk is not going to shape behavior but bold initiatives that are well designed, implemented, evaluated and refined will offer some hope to the suffering masses at ports of entry, on the roads and in government offices. President Mills has an opportunity to depart from the past as Ghana waits less than patiently. The opportunity is one for policies that are truly transformational with a reach well into the future, long past the next election. Our policies must imbue citizens very early in their development with ethical behaviours which will endure in the service of a productive and vibrant nation. To this end, the Ministry of Information must become the Ministry of Citizenship with a central role in shaping behaviors in the secular sector that will make us ethical competitors in the global enterprise.

Prof. T. P. Manus Ulzen
[email protected]