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28.04.2012 Feature Article

Positive Activism: The missing ingredient in Ghana’s development process

Why is Ghana poor after 55 years of Independence?
LISTEN APR 28, 2012
Why is Ghana poor after 55 years of Independence?

In 2007 Joseph Stiglitz a leading U.S. Economist observed that at independence, Ghana was far ahead of Malaysia in terms of economic development. Malaysia was considered one of the poorest countries in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about 5 per cent below that of Ghana. But today, Malaysia's income is 7.8 times that of Ghana. Dr. Michael Tagoe of the Institute of Continuing and Distance Education of the University of Ghana, notes that while Ghana is crawling at the bottom of the global growth league table, Malaysia is in the top tier with China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

Reverend Mensah Otabil gives a sad reason for Ghana's poor economic performance. He notes sadly that since 1966 Ghana as country has been majoring in the minor thinggs and minoring in the major and critical issues leading to a situation where the nation has stagnated if not retrogressed. The question many Ghanaians keep asking is: Why has Ghana fallen terribly behind her Asian counterparts? A short answer to this question is what I have termed the lack of Positive Activism. I will explain later but to begin with when was the last time you protested when ECG failed to provide electricity to your home or business?

One peculiar thing about Ghanaians is that each one likes to complain to him or herself and each one likes to murmur and suffer in silence. They do not protest when government and state institutions do not perform their duties. They do not mobilise themselves to demand that government, state institutions and people acting in Ghana's name deliver first class services to them.

For decades the Electricity and Water Companies have provided and continue to provide 15th century power and water services to Ghanaians and yet the people do not complain. Port officials at Tema and Takoradi take bribes from importers and exporters yet the victims do not complain. Timber Companies are raping forest and destroying farm lands in Western Region and the people do not complain. There are villages whose water supply sources have been polluted by unscrupulous mining firms yet the people do not complain. There are communities that lack proper sanitation yet they do not mobilise to complain. Police officers take bribe from drivers on the daily basis yet the drivers do not complain or mobilise themselves to put a stop to it.

Pensioners are forced to hand over 5% of their end of service benefits to corrupt accountants working at the various ministries and departments before their entitlements are paid to them. It is common knowledge that the Ministry of Finance is full of people who are virtually sabotaging Ghana's development and preventing it to move forward. You really need to be an insider of the Finance Ministry to appreciate the gargantuan corruption and daylight robbery that has resulted in impoverishment and underdevelopment of Ghana.

Many Ghanaians think the GHC51 million (500 billion cedis) Woyome judgment debt or the GHC94 million CP judgement debt and the collusion and connivance of officials of the Finance and Justice ministries is the first time such people and organisations have been involved in a grand strategy to dupe the nation. Hundreds of billions of cedis that could have enabled Ghana to build fast train network, world class roads and be at par with the likes of Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are siphoned off on a monthly basis through the connivance of officials working at the Ministry of Finance, Revenue Authority, Audit Service and the Controller and Accountant Generals' Department.

The accountants working in the various state ministries and departments have teamed up with those working in the Ministry of Finance to dupe the nation of hundreds of billions of cedis meant to build roads, schools, hospitals and improve the living standards of all Ghanaians. There are projects that have been implemented on paper and payments made yet these projects cannot be found on the ground. There is an unspoken culture of corruption at the Ministry of Finance.

Chapter 20 of the1992 Constitution of Ghana titled 'Decentralization and Local Government' advocates financial decentralization in the country to ensure that functions, powers, responsibilities and resources are at all times transferred from the Central Government to local government units in a coordinated manner yet few oligarchs/Accra Mafia working at the Ministry of Finance are thwarting the Local Government agenda, preferring to centralise financial resources at the ministry and depriving local communities the resources they need to improve their lives.

Ghanaians, yes I mean Ghanaians working at the CEPS, Revenue Authority and the Audit Service have colluded with companies in Ghana (both local and foreign owned) to avoid paying taxes that could go to help provide clean water and healthcare to all Ghanaians. Yet these are the very people who want traffic jams in Accra to be eliminated.

Ghanaians like to talk about Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Korea and many of the youth are struggling to go there in search of greener pastures, but the record show that there is no way these countries could have reached their level of development if few people working at the ports, CEPS, and finance ministry have been allowed to steal and sabotage the country.

There are people who have virtually built corrupt empires in the ministries and have succeeded in bringing Ghana on its knees. The irony is that no one cares. The people of Ghana do not care. The members of civil society do not care. The media do not care. And the politicians? Well they are part of the problem if not the problem. Because of lack of positive activism the country is paralysed by corruption, incompetence, mismanagement and poverty.

Much of the reason why Ghana has not broken away with poverty, unemployment and inequality is that the people appear to accept the poor governance and corruption handed to them by politicians and state bureaucrats. The Positive Activism that put politicians and state bureaucrats in Thailand, India, Singapore and Malaysia on their toes and force them to deliver good quality services has been absent in Ghana.

Positive Activism (i.e. refusing to suffer in silence and letting your voice heard through protest, votes and other citizens' actions) has not been part of the Ghanaian people and their culture. Positive Activism means insisting that what is due to you be given to you without paying bribe to corrupt officials. It means that when people refuse to mobilise themselves against their rulers, against injustices, against corruption they [the people] are taken for granted and suffer. Positive Activism also means that politicians, directors and top bureaucrats are able to get away with what they steal when people refuse to demand accountability from them. This is exactly why many Ghanaians still struggle with having access to water and electricity. There is no accountability because the people do not demand it.

Since February 2012 Ghanaians have had to make do with poor electricity supply. The Electricity Company of Ghana frequently cut off power supply to households and businesses without prior warning and do not apologise or explain why it had to cut power supply, yet all that the people can do is to sit in their homes and murmur. The consumers have not been able to mobilise themselves to put pressure on the ECG to improve service and to change. This culture of suffering in silence is the reason for Ghana's socio-economic quagmire where 55 years after independence not a single of the country's many problems including housing, energy, education and sanitation has completely been solved.

Tema and Takoradi Harbours, CEPS and ECG are synonymous to corruption. Courtesy Anas Aremeyaw Anas, we all know what is going on at the Tema and Takoradi harbours. We all know the difficulties exporters and importers have to go through, and the millions of cedis that they have to pay as bribe to get their goods imported or exported. Although the directors at Takoradi and Tema Harbours and their workers are paid to do the work they are doing yet they and their subordinates demand huge money from importers before goods are allowed to leave the port.

There are various levels that an importer has to go through before his or her goods are allowed to leave the port and at each level money must change hands before the green light is given. These are facts. Talk to any importer and you get the same answer of having to pay bribe in order to get their goods cleared. Even when they pay the bribes the goods will still not be allowed to leave the port until further sums are paid. Delay tactics is the major weapon employed by the officials at the port and it seems to be working pretty well for them as frustrated importers part with millions of cedis just to clear their goods. But their lack of activism is always to blame.

Why have these importers not organised themselves and protest against these thieves and nation wreckers? Instead of protesting against these officials at the port for them to change their corrupt activities these importers prefer to suffer in silence and then pass on the bribe they pay to consumers in the form of higher commodity prices. Since I was born I cannot recall a day or a year in which prices of good imported or produced locally have ever gone down.

During Christmas festivities businesses cash in on the people through higher price increases even though the occasion is supposed to be in celebration of the birth of the LORD JESUS CHRIST. In Europe: United Kingdom and Sweden where I have much information about their business practices it is very common to see prices of goods including mobile phones, computers, laptops, TVs, cars etc being slashed sometimes half of its original price. But you will never find such price reduction in Ghana even though these goods are imported from these countries. The reason is that importers have to always prepare for the bribe they pay for their goods --which can vary according to their bargaining strengths and negotiation skills with the bribe takers at the ports. Their lack of self awareness, activism spirit and their preparedness to suffer in silence have ensured that ordinary Ghanaians pay higher prices for goods whose prices may have fallen considerably in the country of production.

You may think that the lack of positive activism is only with importers. Since the Junior Secondary School programme was implemented in the 1980s there have been several cases where students in a whole district have scored 0% (zero percent) and yet no one has ever being made to account for such failures. Every year the results obtained by about 150,000 students are so poor that they cannot continue their education to secondary schools and many of the students end up selling dog chains in Accra and Kumasi. Yet the parents of these young students have never joined forces together to demand explanation from schools and government officials responsible for education.

In Ghana the police and especially the MTTU are notoriously corrupt despite effort by government to improve their working condition. Drivers both taxi and trotro (mini bus operators) pay several hundreds of cedis to corrupt police officers who mount unauthorised road blocks to pursue their private interest. Despite the fact that the activities of the police and the MTTU are a hindrance to the work of the drivers, the drivers have not been able to organise themselves against the nefarious activities of the police.

The recent biometric voter registration exercise has exposed the police institution as the bidder of whichever party is in power. Instead of maintaining professionalism, independence, and integrity the police officers used by the politicians to arrest people and political opponents and detain them instead of joining the people to demand accountability and improvement in the general well being of the people. They would rather support the corrupt politicians to embezzle state funds at the expense of the people. The irony is that the police officers are aware of the difficulties the ordinary Ghanaian is going through yet they are always in bed with the corrupt politicians who see no reason to improve the condition of the people.

It is these little little things that have culminated in Ghana's poor performance in almost every facet of economic and social life. If Ghanaians are ever going to have better standard of living, and taste the goods people in the West take for granted: clean water, uninterrupted power supply, fast speed train system, good quality health service, quality education, etc then the people themselves must be active not only politically but socially and economically. They must let their influence be felt by actively getting involved in political process, engage in peaceful demonstrations, strikes, sit ins. They must put fear in politicians by voting for independent candidates like what happened in Benin when they elected an independent candidate as president. The government in Ghana must fear the people and not the other way round.

By Lord Aikins Adusei

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