This is the first in a series of position papers published by Okyeame – an online community of Ghanaian professionals worldwide*.
We note the lifting of some restrictions announced on the 19th of April, but we believe that the points raised are still relevant since the threats from COVID-19 remain.
Okyeame says that while the government is doing well with its handling of the COVID-19 crisis so far, a lot of care is needed for the reliefs to be effective. Okyeame says that as a country, we need to look beyond the immediate crisis and plan for the 2020 elections while preparing for the longer-term economic impacts.
This paper addresses two questions:
1. Elections 2020: Are there any likely impediments to the holding of the Elections in December 2020 as a result of COVID-19? What are the likely contributory factors? Options can be explored, and what are the key issues for each option?
2. Government Reliefs: The COVID-19 reliefs being announced are popular, but will they trigger future problems for the State and its Institutions? Are there better alternatives? If so, what are they? How are we going to pay the bill down the line?
1. COVID-19 and Elections 2020
a. We find it difficult to imagine circumstances that would prevent the holding of the December elections. Nevertheless, it is probable that the election calendar and related activities would be affected by the current partial lockdown. In particular, we believe that the following timetables have been automatically truncated:
• the compilation or revision of the voters’ register,
• the passing of the 2020 Constitutional Instrument (CI) to govern the elections,
• the hiring and training of election officers; and
• the campaign window.
As such, we call on the Electoral Commission and relevant stakeholders to layout, discuss and agree on a revised plan to address the new reality.
b. On the question of the voters’ register, we are concerned that the window for compiling a new register, testing a new system and training employees and stakeholders to use the system appears to be closing. We must have a contingency plan for dealing with a scenario where a new register becomes impractical. The EC must provide reasonable assurance that it is capable of reverting to the existing system if it becomes clear that there is no time to emplace a new system.
c. We have noted with concern that two attempts to lay a CI before Parliament have failed. We call on the Electoral Commission to work assiduously in addressing this problem so that it can lay a CI before Parliament that is capable of passing before the end of May 2020.
d. Cognizant of the partial lockdown, we nevertheless call on the EC to come out with a plan to hire and train workers that can be implemented as soon as the lockdown is lifted but, in any event, no later than mid-May.
e. We call on the IPAC to meet and discuss ways and mechanism that will provide a level playing field for the political parties and those seeking elected public office to campaign. Among others, this could include subsidizing data cost that allows them to reach voters via internet or other electronic means.
f. While we are confident that the current situation will be resolved by December, we nevertheless call on the EC to develop a blueprint for voting that takes social distancing into account.
g. We are aware of some debates about what will happen on January 7, 2021 if elections do not come on. We do not believe this is a realistic scenario and therefore would not add our voice to that debate.
h. While appreciating the importance of quick action during an emergency, we encourage the President to act within Article 31 of the Constitution by submitting any such proclamations to Parliament for approval. There is a lot of wisdom in the emergency architecture in Article 31 in building in parliamentary oversight and in setting time limits for such proclamations.
i. The President and Government must ensure that any emergency actions taken in this crisis period must be constitutional, and as far as possible avoid the profligate use of Executive Orders. In addition, we urge Government to consider narrowing the scope of the recently issued EI 63, which seeks to collect a wide range of user personal data from the telecommunication operators.
2, Government Reliefs
a. Undoubtedly, the lockdown has disrupted the economic and social lives of most Ghanaians. Therefore, we commend government for its attempt to provide relief in the form of water, electricity and food in addition to some tax and salary incentives to frontline health staff engaged in combatting COVID-19.
b. Even as we provide these reliefs, we must also start thinking about how we will finance the unexpected costs. Government must also consider support for employers to restart their businesses, to hire employees and to acquire supplies.
c. The sheer magnitude of the financial burden compels us to prioritize our spending and examine our national budgetary objectives. We cannot continue as usual after this virus has been overcome. We call on all stakeholders to come together to have an honest and forward-looking conversation, devoid of partisanship, on what we can afford and what we must give up in the post-COVID Ghana.
d. We must learn hard lessons from this experience, including the lesson that there may be times that we cannot rely on foreign hospitals, schools or even essential supplies. As such, we must prioritize investment in infrastructure, including equipping our hospitals and making our local firms competitive. We must aggressively build a self-reliant economy where our agri-business feeds our local industries using funds grown locally to meet our challenges. This also means that we must prioritize the improvement of our capital markets. The time has come for Ghana to grow and place more dependence in Ghanaian entrepreneurs and investors. Non-discriminatory Investment incentives must be made available to our home grown businesses. In these days of closed borders, the need for self-reliance emphasis has never been stronger.
e. We must aggressively confront the evil twins of corruption and state capture, and build an inclusive economy that creates opportunities for all and leaves no one behind. The laws must be put to work and be seen to work.
f. If we are able to do these things, we would be better prepared to handle a future shock to the economy. If we fail to learn the proper lessons and move along as usual, then we may not be so lucky if we experience a future shock.
g. We would be successful in managing our interventions if more implementation improvement is effected by the field operatives. The current poor translation of policy and strategy into safe and comprehensive social intervention actions does not inure to the benefit of the target beneficiary communities.
h. In Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, this crisis has again shown that we really need to formalize our economies and have a good database of residents. Without this, redistribution or transfers to the vulnerable has been haphazard and not well targeted. Chaotic scenes of food distributed have been circulated on social media. We should consider matching phone numbers with national ID card numbers and using Mobile money (cash) transfers to targeted groups.
i. Universities, businesses, and organizations are relying more on online facilities during this pandemic. It is the inevitable consequence of lockdowns and physical distancing. In response, the government has given Vodafone and MTN additional spectrum at no cost for three months to enable them support the additional demand. However, we have to look beyond three months. We should invest in strengthening our IT infrastructure, and give targeted tax breaks and incentives for specific IT expenses by companies.
j. With this pandemic, the telecommunications companies must also be encouraged to provide reliefs and discounts on their price regimes, otherwise the critical recommendation for Ghanaians to increase their use and deployment of the digital economy to assist in the fight against the virus may not be realised.
*About the Okyeame Network
Okyeame is the oldest social media group of Ghanaians. Started in 1990 by a group of Ghanaian students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA, Okyeame has grown over the years to engage thousands of Ghanaians abroad and at home in robust discourse on Ghana’s social, political, and economic development. Okyeame counts among its members and alumni, many prominent Ghanaians in all fields including academia, industry, law, and government.
For further information or to join the Okyeame network, please send an email to: [email protected]