A lot has been said lately about a Ghana beyond aid. In a 61-page Charter and Strategy Document, the vision of an ambitious, prosperous and self-reliant nation has been well laid out. It is the vision of a nation in charge of its own economic destiny, freed from a begging mindset, and boldly pursuing its own future with pride and purpose. It is a nation that is no longer vulnerable to the subtle agenda that often goes with handouts from Western nation—a Ghana where citizens have embraced a new mindset, with a renewed sense of patriotism, hard work, honesty, transparency and accountability.
Ghana Beyond Aid details some notable aspirations in economic growth, industrialization, governance, and many more. In this agenda, Ghana will do a sprint economic miracle in ten years, growing at an incredibly high speed of 9.5% per year on average, up until 2028. This Usain Bolt-pace of growth will be fuelled, according to the Strategy Document, by the government’s flagship agricultural and industrialization programmes – the Planting for Food and Jobs, Rearing for Food and Jobs, One District One Factory, One-Region-One-Park, among others.
A robust upgrade to skills capital will be propped up by a Free Senior High School policy – where government fully shoulders the financial burden of secondary education for all Ghanaian parents; rich or poor, rural or urban, farmer or doctor. The Beyond Aid agenda visualizes a robust National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) doubling free healthcare to 70% of Ghanaians by 2028, with a whopping ten-fold increase in mental health services, from 2% access in hospitals (2014) to 20%.
A revolutionised transport system will see Ghana with a modern rail network, linking the Eastern, Western and Central regions, along with four-lane highways connecting Accra, Kumasi and at least three additional capitals. A hitherto volatile fiscal deficit will be tamed at last, accounting for no more than 5% of GDP. Foreign debt will shrink to 25% of GDP, and grants from foreign donors will finance only a negligible 2% of goods and services and capital expenditure of the total budget.
This is not the first time the leaders of this country have dreamt big. Ghana’s history abounds with beautiful development plans and inspiring visions, accompanied in many cases by catchy slogans. Over the years, we have produced masterful plans for transforming the economy, modernizing agriculture, enhancing education, reforming healthcare and fighting corruption. And yet after more than six decades of political independence, and two and a half decades of multi-party constitutional governance, our economy and standard of living have not quite matched the splendour of our development aspirations. The tragedy appears to be that our national development aspirations have become seasonal commodities in Ghana – here today and gone tomorrow because of a change in government.
Once upon a time, in the mid-1990s, the talk of the day was Vision 2020 – an ambitious 25-year roadmap to transform Ghana into a middle-income country. This vision faded into oblivion as government, given the harsh economic realities of the times, was forced to embrace IMF-administered economic plans. By 2001, a new government was outdoored, ushering in the era of Presidential Special Initiatives under an ambitious industrialization drive.
Then followed the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS I; 2003 – 2005), and later its successor, the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS II; 2006 – 2009). By 2010, the country welcomed a new plan under a new government, the Better Ghana Agenda, also known as the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA I; 2010 – 2013), which was later succeeded by the GSGDA II (2014 – 2017). In the last election in 2016, government again changed hands, and the new national focus from 2017 became: Agenda for Jobs: Creating Prosperity and Equal Opportunity for All, which is tied to the vision of Ghana Beyond Aid.
What becomes of Ghana Beyond Aid when the NPP-led government hands over to a new administration? What fanciful new slogan or policy will the new government create for Ghanaians to dance to?
In 2010, Ghanaians expressed frustration at what was becoming a seemingly endless cycle of witty sloganeering and long-term but short-lived development plans. During the public hearings of the Constitution Review Commission, citizens called for a long term national development plan, one that would not be partisan but truly national in character. The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) took up the challenge and undertook nationwide consultations, in the end producing a 40-year National Development Plan.
The expectation was that this plan would be the reference point for all successive political parties and governments to align their policies. Two years after the NDPC submitted the 40-year Plan to the Akuffo-Addo government, it remains unclear where this Plan fits with government agenda. And yet the preparation of the 40-year Plan came at great expense to the taxpayer, the same taxpayer who is bearing expenses on the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda with its consultations, secretariat, etc.
The examples of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, China and Malaysia – countries which have produced miraculous strides in development – point to the need for a long-term approach and commitment to development planning. Many of these countries showed remarkable progress after staying the course for an average of three decades. In Ghana, our frequent changes to the national development focus, resulting from four-year election cycles, is a huge drawback to our development. It is an expensive joke when governments simply abandon projects initiated by previous governments. The cure seems to lie, at least partly, in adopting a binding long-term national development plan.
Government must therefore prioritise all processes necessary for the approval and rollout of the 40-year National Development Plan without any further delay. Additionally, the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda must be tied to the 40-year National Development Plan.
Establishing a 17-member council to oversee implementation of Ghana Beyond Aid, as provided for in the Strategy Document, seems an unnecessary duplication of roles. Why not have the appropriate state agency, the NDPC, champion the Ghana Beyond Aid, along with the 40-year National Development Plan?
At a recent event to launch a medical drone delivery base in Mampong, President Akufo-Addo called on Ghanaians to stop politicizing every issue. This was a call in the right direction. Government must heed this call by seeking the inputs of civil society and other political parties on its policies. Policies such as the Free SHS, 1D1F, etc. can be enriched if government engages the public more widely and opens up to external inputs. Political parties outside of government need to demonstrate maturity by criticising government fairly and constructively and providing robust policy alternatives and ideas to enrich the public debate. Simply opposing government policy, without providing intellectually superior alternatives should count for nothing.
The electorate must demand a long-term approach to development planning, and bury the illusion that their favourite political party will somehow solve all of Ghana’s problems in four or eight years. State institutions like the NDPC must be empowered to champion the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda alongside the 40-year Plan, not side-lined or replaced with temporary councils which will fade away with a change to the political cycle.