Ghanafesto: The questions we must ask the candidates and the issues we must vote on
It is less than 30 days to the elections and as it is expected the political climate in Ghana is highly charged. There are both excitements and emotions throughout the country as almost everyone is getting involved.
The reasons for the excitement and emotions are not farfetched. As one would-be voter told me: ‘It is my election. It is our election. It is the future of Ghana we are talking about here.’
As usual, politicians and political parties are busily unveiling their manifestos and are aggressively courting Ghanaians to vote for them. Celebrities including musicians, comedians and film actors are being recruited and deployed like fighter pilots to boost and defend their recruiters’ campaign and weaken their recruiters’ opponents. Even chiefs are lining up and declaring their support for some candidates and political parties. As part of their strategies to win the voters’ support, some politicians have abandoned issue-based politics and are highlighting the region they come from, the religion they adhere to, the language they speak, their tribe, ethnicity and blood ties.
However, voters must not vote for a candidate solely because he/she has been endorsed by a chief, a musician or a film actor. Neither must voters cast their votes for a candidate because he/she is of the same tribe or ethnic group as themselves or is from the same region, or speaks the same language or adhere to the same religion as themselves.
Rather the electorates must vote based on the issues, policies and programmes the candidates are offering and the commitment of the candidates to deliver. The electorates must elect a candidate who will put Ghana first and bring true meaning to Ghana as the Black Star of Africa. Voters must elect a candidate who has a strategic vision, commitment, dedication, a real passion and the willingness to transform Ghana from its current agrarian status to West Africa's economic, financial, industrial and technology powerhouse.
Voters must ask the following important questions:
Economic Security: Which candidate has a real economic policy (not just the usual talk and promises) to invest, grow and expand all the sectors of the economy including agriculture, service and most importantly manufacturing? Which candidate's economic policy will diversify Ghana’s economy away from dependence on the export of few raw materials and put an end to Ghana's delayed industrialisation? Which candidate's policy will bring investment, grow jobs, boost local manufacturing, support local businesses, and strengthen domestic trade and export? Which of the candidates has a policy and commitment to support start-up businesses and the self-employed? Which candidate’s policies offer fairer taxes to businesses, employees, employers? Which of the candidates has the best policy that will reduce the nation's growing debt, cut wasteful government expenditure, reduce inflation and interest rate, and bring price stability? Which of the candidates’ policies will enable Ghanaian companies to compete and become global champions? Which of the candidates has a policy that will narrow the North-South economic divide and the Rural-Urban economic divide?
Energy Security: Energy is the engine of Ghana’s economy. In the last several years, very few Ghanaians have not experienced power rationing, and blackouts. Despite paying one of the highest electricity tariffs in the world, electricity remains a luxury commodity with businesses and households always struggling to get power. The economic and financial cost of the irregular power supply is huge. For large and medium size companies, unavailable power has added a huge cost to their operations as they resort to diesel and petrol-powered generators to produce goods and provide services. For small scale businesses the devastation has been enormous as their limited capital makes it difficult for them to procure generators for their activities. Hospitals and schools are among those institutions also greatly affected. For households, the erratic power supply is equally disastrous as their thermal comfort and social life have been affected.
Voters must scrutinise the policies of the candidates to ascertain which of them has a realistic policy and programme to address Ghana’s energy security challenges? Which candidate has a realistic policy and willingness to put an end to erratic power and guarantee that households and businesses will have an adequate, reliable, and affordable supply of electricity always? Which candidate has a strategic policy to transform Ghana’s abundant but untapped energy resources (solar, wind, hydro, natural gas, crude oil) into electricity for national development? Which candidate’s policy will upgrade the existing energy infrastructure and build new ones to reduce or eliminate the huge infrastructure deficit that contributes to poor electricity generation and distribution? Which candidate recognises the importance of energy diplomacy and is willing to work with other energy-rich countries to ensure Ghana does not depend on a single country (e.g. Nigeria) for our energy imports?
Food and Water Security: A nation that cannot feed its population does not command respect among other nations. More importantly, a nation that relies on food import is never far away from political, financial and economic crises. Ghana spends almost $1 billion on food imports annually a situation which is not only destroying the agriculture sector and the domestic market but is also partly responsible for depreciation of the cedi, pressure on the exchange rate, high inflation and international trade imbalance. The hundreds of millions of dollars used to import foods annually could be channelled into the domestic agriculture economy to boost local production, provide jobs and make food available and accessible to every Ghanaian at affordable prices. Also in several cities, towns, and villages across the country, access to potable water is hard to come by. The taps are not only dry but there is a problem with the safety of water consumed in many households.
The question is which candidate’s policy will make nutritious food available, accessible and affordable to all Ghanaians at all times? Which of the candidate's policy will cut food imports and the increasing import bills? Which candidate’s policy will revive the shrinking agricultural sector, boost local food and cash crop production and consumption and stimulate the local economy? Which of the candidates has a policy that will protect Ghanaian farmers from dumping by foreign governments? Which of the candidates addresses land rights, land security, and land access? Which of the candidates has a realistic policy to make water accessible and affordable nationwide?
Technology: The world is not only becoming technologically dependent but technologically driven. In fact, we live in a digital age where smartphones, computers, tablets, satellite communication, fast internet broadband and applications are enabling people to work from home, connect to the rest of the world. Ghana has made strides but a lot more needs to be done to eliminate the technology backwardness confronting the nation. For example, many Ghanaian farmers still rely on rain-fed agriculture as well as low yielding seeds for food production. Canals, irrigation, silos, food storage and packaging are still beyond the reach of farmers. The cost of technology is very high compared to what exists in other countries. Making international calls is still out of reach for many Ghanaians. The Internet has still not penetrated many parts of the country and many mobile phone users have poor signals at home and as they change locations.
The questions voters must ask are: Which of the candidates has the policy to support Ghanaian-owned technology firms to go global? Which of the candidates has the best technology policy that will enable Ghanaians to have technology devices for their businesses, education, transportation, health, farming at an affordable cost? Which candidate has a policy that will provide internet security for Ghanaians against the growing threat from hackers and malicious software? Which of the candidates has a policy that will expand internet access, reduce international call charges, increase internet speed and lower charges consumers pay? Which of the candidate’s policy will increase competition among the companies and protects consumers?
Education: Education is the backbone of every country’s success story. It plays a critical role in developing and refining the minds and values of a country’s population. It inculcates discipline and critical thinking in the youth who later become a country’s leaders. Education makes a country’s workforce both productive and competitive in an increasingly globalised world. It has an added advantage of bringing social order, political stability, industrial and technological prowess to a country. It brings enormous economic benefit to a country and its population as can be seen in Ghana’s independent peers such as Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. These countries were far behind Ghana in the immediate years of independence. Today they are five times ahead of Ghana in every human endeavour despite lacking some critical natural resources that are abundant in Ghana. What changed these countries so dramatically is their emphasis on education particularly Business and the STEM subjects: i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. They embarked on a systematic change in the broader curriculum; placed a huge emphasis on research and implemented the results of the research to benefit society. They also made training, retraining and retaining teachers a top priority. They encouraged their citizens in Western universities to return and also attracted Western scholars to teach in their universities. For instance Prof Howard Thomas, former dean of Warwick Business School in the UK now teaches at Singapore Management University while Prof Arnoud de Meyer, former dean of University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School is now the President of Singapore Management University.
These countries have also established research collaboration and cooperation between their universities and top universities around the world and made learning materials available to their students. For example Yale-NUS College based in Singapore is a collaboration between the Yale University of US and the National University of Singapore and is headed by Prof Bertil Andersson, a former head of Linköping University in Sweden. Imperial College London and the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore jointly operate a medical school in Singapore to train physicians in the country. These collaborations have seen a dramatic rise in global ranking positions and citation impact scores of their universities. It has also led to the creation of national champions and global giants such as Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo, LG of Korea and Petronas of Malaysia.
In Ghana, the quality, standard and method of delivering education has not changed much from the days of independence. In many primary, secondary and tertiary schools, teaching and learning are still delivered by means of blackboard and chalk. Ghanaian tertiary schools are still theory-driven rather than the context-driven system that is shaping Asia economies. There are little collaboration and cooperation between Ghana’s universities and other top universities around the world. Many research laboratories in Ghana do not have the equipment and instruments to work with. Few lecturers are able to publish five journal articles a year largely due to poor funding. Some students leave junior high school unable to read and write.
As Ghanaians go to the polls to elect a president they must ask questions about which of the candidates is committed to delivering high quality, accessible and better funding education in Ghana. Which candidate’s policy will make high-quality education accessible to all Ghanaians?
Which candidate is committed to early childhood development at the creche, nursery and primary level? Which of the candidates is committed to prioritising secondary, vocational and technical education in the country to make them the engine of Ghana’s development? Which candidate has real interest and willingness to invest in research and education, encourage data and solution-driven tertiary education system, and move Ghana away from an education system that only graduates students?
Which candidate is willing to provide the investment with the education sector needs, i.e. to properly pay teachers and equip students with the best learning materials and tools to produce the best human resource needed in the 21st century? Which candidate is willing to transform the research produced by tertiary institutions into policy that will benefit Ghana? In short, which candidates’ policy will turn Ghanaian academic institutions into centres of excellence, incubators of ideas, technological innovations, scientific powerhouses, and blueprints of national development?
Security and Defence: Ghana, like the rest of West Africa, faces several threatening non-traditional security challenges including terrorism, narcotics trafficking, armed robbery, piracy, internet scam, illegal fishing, human trafficking, weapons proliferation, climate change, pandemic diseases, land guards and youth unemployment.
Which candidate's security and defence policy can best protect Ghana and Ghanaians from the menace of terrorism, arm robbery, piracy, internet scam, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, human trafficking, weapons proliferation, land guards, and other crimes that impact on Ghana's security and its image? Which of candidates has a policy that will guarantee the autonomy and independence of the police and security agencies? Which candidate’s policy is capable of drawing the youth away from the recruitment strategies of terrorist groups? Which candidate has the best defence policy to modernise the Ghana Armed Forces into a modern fighting force with the best offensive and defensive capabilities and deterrents to protect the territorial integrity of Ghana? For example which of the candidates is committed to building the cyber capabilities of the armed forces and other technologically driven defence capabilities such as drones?
Corruption: Corruption is a drain on Ghana’s economy. It is destroying the entire fabric of the Ghanaian society. Corruption at various public and private institutions is the reason why Ghanaians enjoy poor services and substandard goods in the country. It is the reason why roads, bridges, and other public projects do not stand the test of time. It is the reason why prices of goods and services always keep rising. It is the reason why inefficiencies and poor performance exist in the public sector. And it is a major factor why investors shy away from investing in Ghana. Few people who are not working hard are getting rich overnight at the expense of the society. Ghanaians pay a bribe for every service they receive from the state. The poor cannot send their children to better schools or access hospitals because of endemic corruption. The Passport Office, Tema and Takoradi harbours, DVLA, Police, CEPS, Immigration, Ghana Cocoa Board, the Forestry Commission, Mines, Petroleum and several institutions of state are a goldmine for few people who have turned them into their personal, money-making fiefdoms.
Freedom of Information remains one of the tools through which corruption could be fought yet the politicians have shown little commitment to passing the needed laws that will allow Ghanaians to obtain information about the activities of government and its agencies.
The questions electorates must ask are: which of the candidates has realistic policies and willingness to protect the public purse? Which of the candidates will be willing to implement policies that will tackle and clean Ghana of the rampaging effect of corruption? Which of the candidates will allow corrupt officials to be punished? Which of the candidates is committed to passing the Freedom of Information Law so Ghanaians can know what their government is doing in their name?
Decentralisation: Too much economic, financial and political power and activity are concentrated in Accra and some very few cities and towns especially the regional and district capitals. This has contributed to the growing gap between rural-urban development and the associated tide in rural-urban migration leading to several crises in the cities such as housing crisis, employment crisis, homelessness, road congestion, land crisis. Between 50 and 90% of all foreign direct investment is concentrated in Accra alone. While the agricultural and mining areas produce the bulk of the nation’s wealth (gold, cocoa, cotton, maize, etc) the revenue realised from these activities is captured in Accra with very little in terms of infrastructure, employment and money going to the communities to the detriment of the communities and those who live there. Despite the fact that the people in the districts, municipalities and metropolis are the ones affected by the decisions and policies of the chief executives, the people do not get to choose the chief executives. The chief executives are imposed on them by the president. This is not only an affront to democracy but is also the very reason why most districts remain underdeveloped because the chief executives are answerable to the president and not the people.
The questions voters must ask are: which candidate is committed to economic, financial and political decentralisation of the country so that rural areas can also thrive and not be a hub for poverty and economic underdevelopment. Which candidate is committed to transferring political, economic and financial power to the districts so that they can become engines of development?
Constitutional Reform: Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the president and the executive arm of government at the expense of Parliament and the Judiciary. The President appoints almost every principal officer in the country, from the chief of staff of the Ghana Armed Forces, to the IGP of Ghana Police Service, Head of BNI, the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court Justices, Governor of Bank of Ghana, the Electoral Commissioner, the Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), ambassadors, attorney general and minister of justice, cabinet members, district chief executives, regional ministers and some members of the Council of State. Such unlimited, unquestionable and blank cheque power is the reason for the high level of corruption, patronage, personalised politics, underdeveloped institutions and poor governance in the country. Foreign Policy is conducted solely by the president with Parliament playing no role. Ghana’s Parliament is one of the weakest institutions in the country. It has few powers compared to what the constitution gives to the Executive and particularly the President. The President appoints some of his ministers from Parliament a situation which has contributed to weakening Parliament and turning it into the President’s other chamber. Meanwhile, the uncapped term limits of parliamentarians have encouraged a practice where people who are virtually not representing their constituencies get elected because of their association with political parties.
Voters must ask questions about the candidates most committed to promoting constitutional reform, strengthen Parliament, and make Ghana’s constitution work better for the citizens.
Voters must ask similar questions about Youth Employment; Health; Housing; Transportation; Infrastructure; Environment, Sanitation, Air quality, and Climate Change; Foreign Policy; Poverty reduction, and inequality; Rural and Urban Development.
By Lord Aikins Adusei