Thursday, August 8, 2013

POLITICS AND DEVELOPMENT CONTESTATIONS: A PERSPECTIVE OF POLITICS IN GHANA

Background
Politics shapes the various aspects of Ghanaian societies from which ever viewpoint and operational level one may come from. From the social arena where individuals see politicians as social capital to the economic where business perceive political lineage either as a foe or an ally. It is really interesting the dilemma that exists when it comes to politics in the development discourse of Ghana. Interestingly this is not unique to Ghana alone but many developing countries.

Since independence in 1957, when Ghana was touted as an emerging limelight for Africa’s renaissance, one will think that over 50 years of national independence, development strides would be staggering. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is now a common saying that Ghana seems to be first in almost everything, related to development, on the continent. Yet sustaining this momentum has yielded to the caprices and parochial struggles for power. National development has been in abeyance for partisan interests and philosophies. As of today, the nation Ghana has no national development identity. Development interventions are more congenial to partisan interests and populism whiles structural transformation in national issues, development aspirations and human development linger saliently in workshops, researches, and advocacy actions

This short paper will examine in brief the political arena in Ghana and move on to discuss the political dilemmas leading to this past month (July 2013), and the critical roles politics ought to play but is missing in the development and planning processes of Ghana. 

Political Independence; Emergence of Ghana’s Development and Political Contestations
On March 6th 1957, after long struggles for liberation from the hands of colonization, Ghana becomes politically independent. Prospects were high; and calls were rife for proving that “the black man was capable of taking of his own affairs”; a declaration made by the first president of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Apparently this was not to be. The struggle for control over the country and the battle of political ideologies, capitalism and socialism, disoriented the national development agenda of Ghana. Military take-overs and poor governance in whatever aspect of the phrase kept the country stationary matching for over 40 years until constitutional rule was reinstated in 1992. This was the rebirth of constitutional rule, democratic governance and adoption of multi-party system in Ghana’s political discourse. 

Over 20 years of this process, Ghana is seen in Africa as a pioneer in democratic governance. Indeed, the current Supreme Court case on the 2012 election is an icing on this sentiments. This never leaves the lips of political leaders and civil society. Apparently, in a region of recurring political instability and questionable electoral processes, Ghana has become key leader in peace and democratic processes. But one issue still remains, polarization and fanatical politics and ideological contestations pervade in every aspect of society. Every issue in one way or the other is seen through political lenses either by those for and against a development direction. The minority at whatever point in the political discourse are known for one thing to oppose whatever a ruling government puts forward. Sadly, these contestations adduce little solution to national development discourse; rather politics is becoming or rather has become a bane to Ghana’s development.

In the mist of all these polarization are issues of ethnocentrism, tribalism, nepotism, and the burden of corruption. These have existed in the phase of piece-meal development achievements and recurring development challenges and livelihood deterioration. In many cycles, politics is seen as part of the problem and not a medium that offers solutions to Ghana’s development challenges. This is one aspect of our society that is not waning. Indeed, so long us there are vested interests and values as well as ideologies, political contestations will always exist. However, political contestation must not be seen to be the problem of society but most importantly, provide solutions to the problems of Ghanaians.

Politics of Development in Ghana
Politics has an immense role to play in the development of every society. The discipline together with its associated disciplines encompass the exercise of control and governance required to facilitate the needed decisions for socio-economic transformation of society, the amelioration of impoverishment and the promotion of justice for every individual of society; no matter the origin, race, ethnicity, affiliation or ideology. Originally form the Greek word "politikos", meaning "of, for, or relating to citizens", the implication thereof is an endeavor of the people and for the people and not against the people. This is the central tenet of development; change directed at livelihood enhancement and the reduction of impoverishment and ultimately, the eradication of poverty.  

From this perspective, it becomes disheartening when one takes a look at the political discourse in the past month in Ghana; which provides a culminated semblance of the political apathy and contestations in Ghana’s political and development discourse. Not chaos (though in some cases, this the case), far from that. The issue is the divergence from the goal of the “polis” which is to strive for the wellbeing of citizens. Aristotle notes that 

“Every State is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always acts in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.… [According to Aristotle]… encouraging and fostering a virtuous citizenry is the primary purpose of the state.” 

In a situation where the state is seen to perpetuate immorality and not facilitating a virtuous citizenry implies that the state is failing or not meeting its purpose as a “polis”.

In July 2013, and months preceding that, several issues of corruptions have been leveled against the government and in some instances, the state has been purported to have connived with people to loot and share resources of the state. Revelations related to judgment debt payments (e.g. the Waterville saga), GYEEDA, rampaging youth, among others present cogent examples of the dilemmas of Ghana’s political discourse over the past 20 years.

Firstly, the political interests and the severely partisan disposition of national priorities have allowed for a weakening in national institutions that are needed to perform obligations in a non-partisan manner. Critical developmental positions are given to party affiliates without necessary recourse to capacity and skill to facilitate the implementation of needed policies and development strategies. In many cases, it is not uncommon to see that District Chief Executives (DCEs), Ministers of State, and Board members of state enroll into masters programs and training programs to enhance their skills only after being appointed. Training on the job by no means is essential but one must not wait to attain political positions before enrolling to attain the needed skills. In any case, there are rushed through these programs as a result of their limited time and obligations and so these training programs have little or no impact. In the GYEEDA situation, the head of finance of this nation-wide program at the national headquarters was bereft of basic financial management skills; and was made responsible for over 900 million Cedis (approximately USD 450 million). 

The GYEEDA report provides an instance of one of many such occurrences in Ghana that have derailed the aim of politics in development discourse. In this case, inadequate capacity has been made an issue of ineffectiveness, inefficiency and non-sustainability of Ghana's development endeavours when in actual fact the problem is putting square pecks in round holes. Ghana currently has adequate human resource capacity to spur development; the only problem is political regimes have relied too much on excuses; particularly, inadequate capacity, when in actual fact these political regimes are only playing partisan politics with national development. So the issue is not inadequate capacity but simply putting the people without the needed capacity in key development positions. Like Ghana’s natural resources, there is an emerging trend where in the abundance of knowledge and adequate human resources (noting that there is still more room for improvements), Ghana is still performing poorly. 

Unfortunately, in both the Waterville and GYEEDA case, there seem to be apathy on the part of government to take immediate and eminent action. The state is not showing a concerted effort at reclaiming and prosecuting perpetrators whereas in other jurisdictions the first act by those mentioned and involved in the case would have immediately resigned or asked to resign whether guilty or not to clear their names. National institutions have been politically co-opted and corrupted and cannot take any action without a directive from the president. True political systems and functioning governance systems would see institutions pioneering efforts to retrieve state monies and bring individuals to book. However, so far as Ghana’s political process is concerned, the president mostly calls all the shots leaving governance experts suggesting that there seem to be too much power granted to the president. They seem to be right. As it stands out now, partisan politics seems to ride over national interests and impunity is perpetuated because of an affiliation to a reigning regime. 

Another dimension of Ghana’s political dispensation relates to the contestations that persist between national policies and partisan manifestos. Since 1992, government actions have mainly responded to the promises made on campaign platforms and government regimes tend to satisfy the interests of party supporters at the expense of national development interests. As such, this has led to unnecessary and non-budget expenses. There are several instances of government expenditure that are not contained in national budget statements leading to severe budget deficits and compounded pressure on fiscal indicators. Continually, the accountant general of Ghana laments the issues of overspending by government ministries on unnecessary and unproductive ventures and the sheer disregard for procedure, guidelines and ethics. 

The sheer desire to satisfy partisan interests lead government systems to subject the national development agenda to partisan review instead of national development criteria; the back and forth of the senior high school duration points to this issue. In other instances, the renaming of national programs and the abandonment in the implementation of national development programs give credence to these. Cases in point includes the affordable housing policy, the national identification program as well as unnecessary reviews and abrogation of contracts as a result of changes in government regimes.   

Compounding all these are the issues of the so called foot-soldiers who tend to cause mayhem as a result of dissatisfaction with their own parochial interests and personalities. They engage in vandalism, lock-up public offices, and fight over the management of national and community infrastructure and services. They have gained such unwarranted impunity because political regimes refuse to treat these acts as criminal actions; because they fear that their rein would be in jeopardy. All these stem from the political and ideological contestations that persist in Ghana. To the extent that these ideologies do not impact positively to development suggest a missing link between politics and development processes. In this latter issue, there have been several calls for the election of Chief executives of district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies. An example of such critique is presented by Komiete Tetteh in his article; Deepening democratic governance and popular participation in Ghana: The case for electing MMDCEs. The author reaffirms my initial observations that characterize Ghana’s political landscape as well as the institutional weakness that has been perpetuated by politics; which places individuals without the necessary capacity into key development positions but for the fact that they show fanatic allegiance to political parties. 
 
The enlightenment and institutional development aspects of political discourses and ideological contestation need to be revamped in Ghana. There should be clear cut distinctions between political interests and national development interests. The ideological contestations that should persist must only relate to the contestations of strategies for meeting national development goals. 

Similarly, national institutions should be able to operate in a non-biased manner and must not be subjected to the whims and caprices of partisan political interests. This can be done when there are clear cut nationally oriented policy goals and frameworks to which these institutions can work to. These institutions should be able to offer strategic guidance and suggestions to political authorities and must not wait to be led to implement partisan political goals that are not national in character. 

The weakness in institutions to preempt the consequences, in terms of cost and benefits, of development actions and quantify the monetary implications in the short to long term has left our development approach on the boat of experimentation founded on weak and risky assumptions. The overly reliance on incremental or short term planning limits the country efforts towards a long term vision for development.

Since 1996 when medium term development plans were offered as the approach to development at the local and national level, delay in the preparation of plans and guidelines have always been conspicuous. As such, many of the plans are not implemented before their target dates are reached; making development actions redundant at times. One significant implication is that in the absence of these timely guiding frameworks and plans, the vacuum left are filled with partisan programmes and projects that do not inure to the interest of structural development actions that are needed for transforming human development and reducing poverty. Such plans are also not able to be alined to national budgets thus making it difficult for them to be funded on time. To be able to reduce the contestations between national and partisan oriented priorities and goals, this approach to development must be re-examined. A long term plan that is legitimized by parliament would limit the degree of contestations in the development and political discourse in Ghana by binding political regimes to implement the strategies and programmes enshrined in the plan as well as make sure that development actions suggested by every regime are aligned to these priorities. 

Conclusion
Political contestations would continue to be part of Ghana’s development discourse. They are a great discipline for decision making and can facilitate the examinations of alternative approaches to solving development problems.Political contestations are rooted in ideologies and supported by groups and individuals. As such, the regimes that belong to these orientations may tend to direct their efforts to meet the aspirations of these select groups. They are mostly informed by the idea that it is the sole approach to sustaining their reign. 

However, the key to sustaining the reign of political regimes is pragmatism, proactiveness, and making strategic decisions about development that benefits all. This is the language that permeates all these political ideologies. The ability to meet the needs of all and ensure that there is reduction in impoverishments and a desire for prosperity enhances a regime's rein rather than subjecting their actions to satisfying only a select section of society. 

An approach that ensures the development of functioning national institutions that are creative and relevant for promoting development effectiveness and efficiency in a sustainable manner must form part of the political discourse of Ghana. Such an approach would facilitate development systems that have the tendencies of reducing the current degree of political contestations which are derailing national development efforts in Ghana.

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