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Opinion | Apr 5, 2013

Good Governance: Remedy To Poverty And Corruption In Ghana

Good Governance: Remedy To Poverty And Corruption In Ghana

Governance in Ghana today, does not only occupy the central stage in the development discourse but it is also development strategy. In the conceptualisation, divergent views either represent governance as a narrowly defined phenomenon in the form of activities of the stage i.e. the government or as one where the state comprising the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are the parts that constitute a whole without the positive synergistic relation with the private sector and civil society.

Some recent interpretations of governance in Ghana introduces the private sector and the civil society including the local government system as participants in and promoter of good governance, through changes in their subsidiary roles and direct involvement in areas hitherto kept exclusively in the public domain.

Very seldom, people of Africa happened to be fortunate to enjoy good governance during over forty years of independence. By now, failing governance in Ghana has become a matter of debate at all points where even a two citizen get together. Every conscious citizen is found to be very unhappy and got disheartened at failing governance.

From this discourse to debate also comes out that no government, except the military rulers, can govern or function without necessary political support of opposition political parties. This is a convention of prime importance in respect of good governance for a government, before going for good governance. But unfortunately, these parliamentary conventions have never been followed by the oppositions in the history of Parliamentary systems of government in the country.

Non-cooperation of the opposition political parties through continuous absence and boycotts in the Parliament, when it is in session and the demand and attempt to unseat the elected government in the next election have been the usual practice. Many people claim that this definitely goes against the norms of politics and breaks the commitments of the political parties to their electorates. Thereby the common people get deprived of the benefits and services they deserve from their elected government.

Witnessing this situation, the international development partners of Ghana in and outside the country recently also express their dismay. In my view, regardless of whatever they said about the country 'bad governance', failed governance' and 'failed state' disheartens the aspirants and actors of a prosperous Ghana.

Their views about Ghana reflected in the media saying. “the country has a bright future with its potentialities if poor governance could be replaced by good governance, massive corruption and poor management skill as well as dysfunctional leadership could be replaced by transparent and skilled management, 'out of control' low and order situation could be replaced by a controlled one.”

What the conscious people still see: politics and political practices are of wonder, deteriorating law and order situation, insecured public life, first in corruption for some years in row, politicized campus and distressful education situation, disappointing human rights and human development, incapability of economic policy and development infrastructure to alleviate mass poverty, unfriendly tax policy hindering industrialization, indiscipline in the industrial sector has made the most of the industries sick or closed, pretends and neglected agricultural sector and slow trend of its modernization, lack of investment friendly environment, massive bribery in the government offices, absence of a pro-poor health policy, arsenic contamination in ground water etc. etc.

I don't know how the country's respected political leaders react to these matters! What happens to the advantaged people of this country, especially those who are able to help the situation improve and participate to bring about a change to get rid of the prevailing situation given this context of governance?

In recent times, Ghana is engraved with two prime curses: poverty and corruption. Poverty is endemic and corruption is widespread and very disturbing in Ghana. Nowadays, the question that looms large is: how to overcome these crises. It is widely believed that good governance is the panacea to these two social ills. Before discussing how good governance can act as a panacea of poverty and corruption, let us have a look at the present trend of poverty and corruption in Ghana.

Poverty has two dimensions income poverty and non-income/human poverty. Income dimension refers to a state of earnings that are too small to buy the basic necessities of life. Non-income/human dimension of poverty includes lack of access to education, health, lack of empowerment, participation etc. In Ghana, from both these two dimensions people are poor.

I am tempted to believe that more than 50% of the country's total population lives below poverty line though income poverty rate has been declining modestly. In the case of human poverty also Ghana seems to have achieved impressive gains particularly in terms of mortality reduction, decline in child malnutrition, increased rate of literacy and school enrollment etc.

Despite these achievements, the level of human development is still very low in Ghana. In Human Development, Ghana ranks very low. There are also notable failures in some areas such as maternal health, child nutrition, food security, access to safe water, sanitation and electricity and overall safety of the masses.

Corruption is widespread in Ghana even among the religious sector. The concern of government officials is how best they can squeeze funds for their personal benefits and it has become institutionalized. Development projects with huge funds are undertaken every year but failing to achieve the goals.

Officers are more concerned about their monetary gains form the projects than the greater benefit of the nation. Corruption is also manifested through bribery, loan default, evasion of taxes and customers duties, nepotism in appointments, negligence of duties, and politicization of administration. The country is being seen as one of the corrupt countries world. Causes of such widespread corruption include low wages of public servants, centralized decision making, inefficient rule application, misuse of power by the political and administrative elites and non-transparent administration.

The term 'Governance' has three dimensions: form of political regime, the process by which authority is exercised to manage a country's economic and social resources and the capacity of government to formulate and implement the policies and to discharge government functions. Thus governance has three spheres political, economic and administrative. By saying 'Good governance' I mean a system for establishing and maintaining accountability, transparency and efficiency in all spheres of governmental and administrative machinery. Good governance is not something to be desired by the government delegating some of its powers and functions to the informal organs but a formal outcome of a new social configuration of institutions resulting in a new social contract (an ideology) and redefining the pluralistic state in the Constitution.

It is believed that these features of good governance can most effectively address the social ills of poverty and corruption. Good governance doesn't only aim to maintain economic stability and attaining higher economic growth rather it also means to take measures to provide public safety, maintenance of law and order which would make it possible to stimulate the economy to raise output and employment. Three main features of good governance can be discussed here as the remedial of poverty and corruption.

Accountability and transparency are the pertinent features of good governance. Public officials should be held accountable for poor performance or delayed actions. Such accountability ensures better performance of the officials and also the appropriate use of public resources.

Good governance also ensures transparency in government operation like how major political parties function, sources of their fund, the routes to leaders, the way in which the cabinet system works and the checks and balances containing the power of the Presidents.

It is argued that greater accountability and transparency of the public sector can make the state more responsive to the needs of the poor; it enables the poor to raise their 'voice' to influence service provision. Lack of accountability and transparency also encourages corruption. Because corruption means 'abuse of public power for private gains' corruption does have a long term impact on the poor.

Due to corruption, access to public services gets limited as officials “charge” or demand personal gains from the poor for what should be a free service and political process is manipulated to favour the interests of dominant groups. Therefore, to eradicate poverty, combating corruption is a pressing need, which can be achieved through making government accountable and transparent.

To make government transparent and accountable, ensuring free flow of information and strengthening certain public accountability institutions are necessary. Lack of free flow of information regarding the decision making process leaves the scope for the Civil Servants to be unaccountable and corrupt.

On the other hand, public accountability institutions like Public accounts Committee of Parliament, the office of Comptroller and Auditor General, Anti-Corruption Commission lack structural strength, autonomy and authority to enforce their decisions.

These institutions are either bypassed or diluted by the law-makers. To reduce corruption and to ensure better access of people to public goods and services these institutions should be made transparent and more powerful and effective. Therefore, the following steps should be taken: anti-Corruption Commission should be made free from any influence to work effectively; the Office of Ombudsman should be established; and an Independent Human Rights Commission should be formed.

Weak, inconsistent and ineffective judicial system has also led to weak law enforcement, which stands as a major obstacle to good governance. Rule of law is not only the first parameter of good governance but the most crucial too. Inefficient application of rules and regulations causes arbitrary exercise of bureaucratic and political power allowing administration to be corrupt. Money buys power, privileged access to the administration, media access and eventually voters. Career advancement in Civil Service is linked to political identity and the extent of patronage by an office.

Officials loyal to the ruling governments are eligible for promotion. In the same way the most loyal and trusted officers are posted so that they may be used for granting bail to the criminals and activities of the party in power and putting opposition activists behind the bars, manipulating election results etc. All these happen due to weak enforcement of law.

Separation of the lower judiciary from the executive is essential as the rule of law can't be enforced impartially and promptly due to the interference of the executives over the lower judiciary. Besides, reinforcement of rule of low including fair and accessible legal and judicial system can enforce civil, social, political and economic rights without any discrimination. In this way, corruption as well as deprivation causing poverty will also be minimized to a great extent.

Efficiency in managing resources is another important criteria of good governance which can significantly reduce poverty. In Ghana, a huge amount of money is spent for maintaining a big size of government. At preset Ghana has over thirty (30) ministries whereas the UK government runs with only 16 ministries, Japan and Thailand with 14 ministries and Malaysia with 24 ministries.

Number of ministries is increased to offer more ministerial positions to the political leaders. Not only the number of ministries, but also 50% of the existing directorates and other organizations can be reduced. Staff strength of public organizations can also be reduced.

By cutting expenditure for these nonproductive sectors, priorities should be set in consistence with development needs, which eventually would result in proper allocation of resources. Misallocation of resources causes Ghanaians poor access to basic services like housing, electricity, safe drinking water, education and health.

Decentralization of financial and administrative powers to the local authorities makes public services as well as the elected representatives accountable and transparent. For example, if the Health and Family Planning Officer is given autonomy in taking expenditure decisions or administrative decision regarding the level health officials and employees then automatically the officials working under would be accountable and the quality of service would improve.

On the other hand, if local bodies are headed by the people's representatives, administration will be responsive to the needs of the people whereby the extent of poverty might be reduced.

Frank Adarkwah-Yiadom
Frank Adarkwah-Yiadom, © 2013

This author has authored 3 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: FrankAdarkwahYiadom

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