Thursday, July 3, 2014

GOVERNMENT'S IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SANITARY PADS INTERVENTION UNDER THE GHANA SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT PROJECT: A SIGN OF MISPLACED PRIORITY?

Indeed, our secondary school education system is challenged with huge infrastructural backlog, which inevitably generates adverse implications for enrollment and performance. So yes, there is ample justification for Government’s implementation of the Ghana Secondary School Education Improvement Project using the USD156 million World Bank loan facility.

That said, the ‘freebies’ component of the project, particularly the decision to provide free sanitary pads to some select Senior High School (SHS) girls is rather ill-informed. Only yesterday I had tuned-in to Citi FM’s morning show and heard Dr. Kpessa Whyte, a presidential staffer, lambasting Civil Society Organizations for proffering solutions that are replete with personal opinions and emotions rather than being guided by scientific research. So the basic question is: Was the decision to provide free sanitary pads to SHS girls informed by research? Even if that was the case, is that really a priority for government to secure a World Bank loan, not grant, to pursue cognizant of the serious challenges we are faced with at this material moment? No, it is not!

In any case, I have seen the results for the Oxford University pilot study purporting a linkage between sanitary pads intervention and girl-child education in Ghana, which, as cited by the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Ablakwa, on Citi FM this morning, had somewhat informed this intervention. By adopting 3 treatment scenarios (1st: 60 SHS girls who received sanitary pads and puberty education; 2nd: 25 SHS girls who benefited from only puberty education and 3rd: 35 SHS girls who served as control for the study, meaning they did not benefit from either of these interventions), the study (Montgomery et al., 2012) showed that over a period of 5 months, average school attendance for the 1st scenario had increased by 9-10% as compared to a decline of 4.4% for the 3rd scenario. Meaning that for SHS girls who had not benefited from both interventions, average school attendance dropped by 4.4% after 5 months. 

Interestingly, over the same period, average school attendance for the 2nd scenario increased by approximately 12%. If this result is anything to go by, then it would mean that in terms of policy, going for the 2nd scenario, that is, intensifying puberty education only for SHS girls would yield the same or even higher school retention outcomes than the sanitary pads plus puberty education option. In reality, what this implies is that the sanitary pad provision per se makes no contribution to school attendance. Perhaps, an inclusion of a fourth scenario, comprising of SHS girls who receive only sanitary pads without puberty education could have told a better impact story than these rather crude results.

Well, ignoring the study and its methodological issues however, how sure are we that SHS girls skip school just because they lack sanitary pads? Could that not also be attributable to cramps during that ‘moment’ or any other factor? So gradually government is shirking its core responsibility to take on the role of parents/guardians. In that same ‘freebies’ component, there is some free school bags distribution or so. Taking loans to engage in such consumptive public expenditures is not the right way to go given the state of affairs. It would be prudent for government to rather focus on intensifying puberty education for these girls, which according to study cited above, generates the same results as sanitary pads with education intervention. Nonetheless, If government decides to go ahead with the implementation of the sanitary pads intervention, I hope the right procurement processes would be adopted to safeguard against corrupt practices. 

But in case you did not know, the Community Development Department that is supposed to spear-head development, in other words work to improve the livelihoods of poor people so they are able to meet some of these household needs and more in the North Gonja district run on a total imprest of GHS20.00 (equivalent of US$7.00) last year, I mean 2013.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

RIGHT TO THE CITY: PROMOTING LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE PHASE OF INCREASING INFORMALITY

Majority of people in Ghana today live in urban areas. Supporting this population is an informal economy that employs over 66% of the urban labor force. Despite this contribution, businesses in the urban informal economy in Ghana are treated as an illegality and receive less attention from authorities while workers struggle to maintain a decent standard of living. Using a “right to the city” framework, this paper advocates that the fulfillment of the rights of businesses and workers of the urban informal economy should be an aspiration of local economic development (LED) interventions in Ghana.


Friday, May 9, 2014

SLUM DEMOLITION OR UPGRADE—RESPONDING TO SLUMS IN THE URBAN CENTURY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

There are several debates as to whether in dealing with slums cities must demolish or upgrade these slums. It is really difficult to choose whether cities should go for demolition or upgrading as different contexts demand different approaches. At times, a combination of the two may be warranted. To appreciate whether a demolition or an upgrade is needed when dealing with slums, it is imperative to appreciate the dynamics and complexities that are associated with slums. This is because the understanding of the origin of slums presents short-term to long-term ramifications for policy formulation. Apparently, the causative factors and consequences of slums are well known. In 2003 for instance, the theme of the Global Report on Human Settlement by the UN-Habitat was on slums and in the Millennium Development Goal 7, slums are identified as a key indicator. Similarly, many also argue that the greatest challenge of cities in this century and the foreseeable future for developing countries are slums. Obviously, without a focused attention to the issues of slums, a serious "negativity" in our urban setting, will present dire consequences for human development and reducing urban poverty. 

There is no doubt about man’s survival ethics or behaviour. In the absence of “rules and regulations backed by serious enforcements”, man desperately search for survival and the building of livelihoods to reduce, mitigate and cope with shocks and risks to his survival also poses great challenges for entire communities and cities. Certainly, these are evident in many of the known cities in developing countries—they are characterized by uncontrolled growth and build environments expansions, congestion, poor sanitation, and in one phrase, “almost chaos.”

So in the presence of several long-term proposals that are often suggested i.e. tackling the root causes of slums in developing countries in the urban century, the question remains: how do we solve the current situations of slums? This narrative attempts to provide some answers.

Evidence from world development trends suggests the evolution of policy options to manage the global challenge of slums can be categorized into three main strategies. From the early times when the issue attracted most attention till now the various options that have been implemented include:

  1. Eradicating and relocating
  2. Clearance and Redevelopment
  3. Slum Upgrade

The building of Institutional capacities especially the town and country planning departments or physical planning departments of developing countries to manage and sustain urban population growth. As this presents a long term response, efforts must be made to design a comprehensive programme specifically dedicated at upgrading slums. Subsequently, an authority to manage this program would be necessitated with the devolution of these responsibilities to the local government levels in the future when their capacities have been developed through this same program. A case in point is Egypt and South Africa where conscious effort have been made towards urban development in their respective countries with the development of national urban policies and urban development programs. There should also be a responsive mechanism to developing livelihood capabilities. That is instituting activities to develop capabilities that would lead to wealth creation and respond to shocks. Consequently, as we improve housing conditions (often at the center of upgrade programs), there should be improved access to basic social services of water, health, and education, which are the foundation for promoting economic livelihoods within these cities.
Concurrently as these are being put in place, economic livelihood programs such as access to credits, capacity improvements of SMEs and employment creation within these slums and economic safety nets must be instituted. 


There should also be the design and institutionalization of public-private partnerships framework to support slum upgrades. The focus is to clearly evaluate the levels, actions and scope of interventions by the various actors in the framework. This is paramount as without a clear definition of roles and avenues of contributions by actors, the tool becomes an abstract on the shelves of theoretical minds.

And in the long term, rural development interventions in developing countries should be re-examined. Evidently, over the past 50 years of national policy interventions in developing countries, rural development have occupied the center stage with limited emphasis on urban and regional development. During all these times, the consequences of rural development interventions on urban areas have rather been speculative than imperative. With the imminence of the urban century, the interconnectedness of rural and urban areas as well as regions should be empirically tested, mainstreamed into national policies as well as inform responses to rural and urban interventions at the local level. 

Historically, Eradicating and Relocating slums have not been viable because the poor needed to be close to city centres where there are more informal income opportunities, and because often the cost of transportation is unaffordable to the poor. In addition, Governments not only had to spend resources cleaning slums and resettling inhabitants, but also had to finance public transportation to facilitate access to employment in the central city.

For Clearance and Redevelopment of slums, the approach involved the demolition of existing structures and systems that characterized slums and then replacing them with new developments at the same site. This approached eroded supplementary economic activities in the form of small businesses that original supported these dwellers and the cost of this strategy was high thus was unsustainable (mostly 10-15 times the cost of improving the infrastructure of the slum)

The first two options clearly illustrate the short comings of demolishing slums and the subsequent reject of the approach to a more friendly or socially responsive approach to the handling of slums.

Slum Upgrade is now the most advocated for approach in many places. Indeed, this has been the current orientation by most practitioners and huge investments are extended towards projects that emphasize this approach. In countries such as Brazil, India, Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana, and many other countries where such initiatives have been implemented, the evidences put out suggest that livelihood improvements have been achieved at a lower cost as well as with improved participation by inhabitants— particularly in improving their attitudes towards housing, sanitation and environmental management.

Although this offers a better alternative, it demands a viable and willing financial sector. Furthermore, illegal occupants become owners at the expense of the original owners where without proper compensations may render the process ineffective. This is where the issues of land titles or physical assets become paramount. Brazil’s management of the slum situations in Sao Paulo is a good example of how the issue of land titles can be managed. Similarly, public-private partnerships are in many cases seen as very important in adopting slum upgrade as a viable option.

Slum upgrades is relevant and crucial not because it is the direction all over the world but because of the devastating consequences of displacements in whatever form— most particular in an urban certain where strong physical assets and communal social assets are weak for slum dwellers. 

The fight for human survival is primarily underpinned by man’s desire to create livelihood assets as indicated early. Therefore, when the mechanisms of survival whether legal or illegal (in this context slums) are destroyed, it further pushes the poor, excluded and the vulnerable into severer forms of deprivation and impoverishment—thus making Eradicating and Relocating and Clearance and Redevelopment a challenging approach.

Although slum upgrade seems to be an appropriate strategy in the phase of the other two, it is also imperative to emphatically advocate for a comprehensive approach.


NB: This narrative benefited from the "History of Urban Upgrading." 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

LEADERSHIP AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS OR IMPOVERISHMENT

Many of the development challenges in Africa are attributed to weak leaders (leadership) and institutions. Well, the former pre-occupies my thought in this article. I dare to put forward that show me your leader and I will show you the level of development you have attained. Yes! Great leaders inspire a vision of hope, a belief of progressive change, a demonstration of the will and commitment to this vision, service to the people they lead and their greater good, and the appreciation of the good sense of judgment. These are but a few of the good traits of a leader.

Depending on of the kind of leader you have, you may be led towards happiness or impoverishments. True, what a leader does or does not do has an implication on his/her followers. For national and local development, it is even more crucial and leadership can be catastrophic or liberating. John Locke in his book Second Treatise on Government in 1952, Sections 85, 88, 94 and Chapter IX (and other places) explains that legitimate governments are put in place to ensure a more effective protection or enforcement of natural rights, and may not abrogate an individual's natural right. Therefore leaders, and for that matter, governments are subordinate to natural rights-- life, liberty and property. Locke (1894, p. 348) in his book  "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" also emphasizes that “The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action…” 

The responsibility of governments therefore is to appreciate this inherent desire to pursue happiness and support citizens’ abilities to gain access to liberty and property. Efforts contrary to this is a travesty of the natural right of the individual. Unfortunately, many leaders have failed to live up to this expectation-- the expectation to facilitate the protection of people’s natural rights. 

As a communal unit, a society, a community, a district, a nation, a region, there are a collective visions shared by everyone although these manifests differently. Yes! Happiness underpins the daily struggle of the young, the old, the able and the weak. The desire to be free from the vagaries of socio-economic entrapments, the liberation from ignorance, and liberation from oppression influences the daily activities of all and sundry. Unfortunately, this desire which stems from individual interests can in conflict with the overall communal goal. Human societies thus come together to have rules, regulations, and codes not to constrain their liberty or their efforts towards happiness but to guide and strengthen their efforts towards the attainment of these aims. Leaders, governments in this context, have the responsibility of ensuring that these individual interests are in harmony with each other and the greater good of society. 

Unfortunately, many leaders forget this fundamental responsibility—the responsibility to enforce the rules, regulations and codes that guide the life of members of society. So what happens when these laws are broken? It is apparently not simply by condemnation but by pursuing justice with respect to the appreciation of the individual and the collective interest in the pursuit of happiness. 

You may wonder why this lengthy attempt at a philosophical disposition. Well, when a leader allows "ill" to perpetuate and tend back to crucify members of society for their derelictions raises concerns for the greater good. Where justice seems to be absent and the individuals abetting these problems continue to be free speaks "ill" of a leader’s commitment to the pursuit of life, liberty and property.

Ghana is urbanized now. Over 50 percent of her population lives in urban areas. Unfortunately, the rapid pace of urbanization and their spatial morphology and a poor regulatory spatial response has perpetuated uncontrolled development. Many properties have been tolerated in areas they are not supposed and several others continue to spring up amid limited action of control. There is thus a great dilemma as to how to manage these process

January 2014, a couple of some of these structures were demolished in Tema. The Tema Development Corporation in a bid to reclaim her land from encroachers went on a demolishing spree leaving scores of people without places to rest their heads.  At the same time, many of these property owners claim to have legal documents suggesting the sale of land to them. The question that many are asking is why wait for such a time to act when the TDC alleges that the property are theirs. Interestingly, this is the agency responsible for controlling development in the area and so the question remains why have they not been working? Surprisingly, as one government agency creates havoc in society, another (NADMO) calls for support for these victims.

I am not suggesting that illegal activities should be tolerated. My contention is that where were these leaders when these development started springing up? Why did they allow this to fester? Who are those individuals selling land to individuals when they are not supposed to? Were these victims informed to relocate and given ample time to do so? 

Moving forward, government will need to control these urban growth by mainstreaming already encroached lands in a manner that does not lead to impoverishments as was evident from this story? These and many other questions come to mind as I try to appreciate this event. Leaders responsible for taking decision making must do so proactively to advoid such a havoc in a later date, urban planning process should start reflecting on a vision that aim to prevent and manage this urban challenge-- encroachment and livelihood management. 

This is not the first and neither would it be the last if we do start acting soon. As governments and their leaders, as custodians of the our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness should begin to appreciate that they are also guilty of urban encroachment and must not simply make encroachers liable for their dereliction.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"THE PURSUIT OF IGNORANCE"

I listened to Stuart Firestein presentation on "The Pursuit of Ignorance." It was really interesting. His argument primarily is that: in knowing, we become more ignorant. Fortunately, this does not make us stop, it should rather propel us to understand the whats, whys, and hows of a phenomenon or our existence. Therefore, any discerning individual in search of knowledge should be asking himself/herself the questions including: what do I know? What more do I need to know? and how can I get this knowledge? It is such motivations and questions that help man to unravel the mysteries of this world according to Stuart Firestein. 

Why do I show interest in this notion? Well, I cannot help but appreciate the immense need and importance of information for planning and development. It is amazing how important information is in today's decision making process. For many countries, particularly, developed countries, information is treated in a similar fashion as gold. The ability to generate reliable, timely and verifiable information form the substructure of all agencies and institutions. As a matter of fact, information is systemic and systematic in the everyday process of government business. Significant efforts are made to ensure that every single action is informed by reliable and factual information-- there is an awareness that misinformation has cost implications and that for any change to occur, one needs to appreciate the known in order to promote the unknown (the change). Today, there is what we call the big data and so much information is made available at easy pace due to the evolution of technology and analytical tools. Spatial, quantitative and qualitative information are being presented in seemingly unique, complex as well as simple ways for the greater transparency and accountability in governance. For every investment that is made, efforts are made to establish its impact in society, to anticipate the effects; both negative and positive; who will benefit and to what extent they can benefit. As much as human behaviour is dynamic and make certain predictions difficult, I really admire the continuous effort to appreciate, understand and document the dynamics of society. 

In contrast, for many developing countries with emphasis on Ghana, information is treated as a privilege for the elite class. It is virtually a mirage to even attempt to appreciate the impacts of decisions and policies. The capacity to document and disseminate information is inadequate and sometimes absent. Aside national censuses, it is virtually a challenge to appreciate the number of individuals affected by national policies. Payrolls are fraught with ghost names, programs and projects are not able to document beneficiaries accurately and timely, and the implementation of governments projects and policies are seemingly impossible to track as information are not made readily available to the public. At a point in time, government claimed to be generating employment and yet could not provide the figures to show for this; and when some information was provided, they were not verifiable. 

So when a friend posted about "The Best Map Ever Made of America's Racial Segregation," all that came to mind was how Ghana is developing her own capacity to track development trends and dynamics. The questions of how Ghana was tracking the progress in the implementation of her polices, programs, and projects? Where interventions are taking place? Among many others preoccupied my mind. Unfortunately, I find that the enthusiasm that are exhibited by developed countries are not in consonance with that of developing countries. It seems that for developing countries, there is a deliberate effort to stifle information flow between governments and the general public. Therefore, this has given room to mistrust, miscommunication, and misinterpretation of government statistics that are put forward. 

As the MDG reports continue to lament, developing countries are still faced with the challenge of being able to generate the needed information about their development. Roy Carr-Hill in his "Missing Millions and Measuring Development Progress" article critiqued the methods for tracking the MDG targets as either under estimating or over estimating achievements. Roy estimated that about 250 million people are missed by the measuring frameworks adopted by the United Nations and developing countries.

I find this lapse critical to the development of developing countries including Ghana particularly because as Stuart Firestein puts it, we must be aware of what we know before we can, in a way, pursuit the unknown. By implication, developing countries should have a grasp of their state of development before they can adequately pursue the policies and programs that inform a structural change in development outcomes that they so demand and need.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

IN WHOSE INTEREST?

Often, the question of development accountability and efforts for a nation such as Ghana is confronted with the seeminly amorphous notion of the public interest. Indeed, it is a risky endeavour today, to attempt to define what the public interest is. In an increasing polarized society, diversed priorities, and celebration of individual and group identities, it becomes ever more challenging to appreciate who should be made part of the public-- and by implication the public interest.

Politics in Ghana in the past year, for instance, in many cases have brought this critical subject of development to fore. Let begin with the Supreme Petition on the election outcomes of 2012 that persisted for about eight months or more. Two main political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), contested the 2012 presidential election results at the Supreme Court of Ghana. The NPP was in court claiming irregularities and disputing the outcomes of the election. The NDC, the elected flagbearer and current president of Ghana, and the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana were the defendants. Immediately, three different interests surface; all of which has a bearing on public interest. 

Firstly, in the name of public interest, the NPP felt that the right of the people of Ghana have been voilated in that there is a president in power who may have not won the elections. And so, on behalf of the people of Ghana, they felt the need to contest the presidential election results. To the NDC, they also intimate that, in the name of public interest, the right of the individuals who voted their candidate into power would be voilated if the court overturns the declared electoral outcome. This sentiments also applies to the elected president who was also a defendant. The EC also felt that they are being voilated in that they were the custodian of the franchise of Ghanaians who voted to which they pursued freely and fairly. To suggest anything to the contrary is to therefore suggest that they may have been derelict in thier responsibility of protecting people's right to chose a leader. And throughout the process, the judges, journalists, commentators, lawyers (both street and practising), and the ordinary Ghanaian showed interests in the process-- making pronouncements that sort to suggest that they are presenting issues of public interest. In all these contestations, the argument put forward by these actors was seemingly to protect and defend the democracy of Ghanaians, the public interest, which invariable had different interpretations and priorities. 

Another major instance of public interest dilemma relates to the sale of Merchant Bank to FORTIS. The interests of government, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), SSNIT contributors, and FORTIS themselves tend to suggest how diverse and contentious public interest may be. Merchant Bank is in distressed and the board of Merchant Bank through their majority shareholder, SSNIT, seem to be of the view that selling the Bank to FORTIS is the right thing to do to protect their vested investments. However, contributors think otherwise, while government through the Bank of Ghana feels that no harm has been done. Think Thanks such as the Center for Freedom and Acuracy (CFA) whose executive director is in court suggest that the deal is flawed. Apparently, all these are acting in the name of the public interest. SSNIT wants to save a declining bank and the investments of their contributors who are members of the public. The Bank of Ghana actions tend to suggest that in the face of the challenges the bank is encountering, FORTIZ, having gone through the necessary regulatory processes, is an appropriate investor to take-over. Here too, the Bank of Ghana, in the name of public interest may be acting to protect investor confidence, employment, tax revenue, among others which inure to the benefit of Ghanaians; in this sence the public. FORTIZ on the other hand may be acting on their own interest (individual interests) but indirectly sees this as an opportunity to contribute their quota to the public interest by salvaging the employment of Ghanaians at the bank and investments of those who are saving with the bank; the public. The executive director of CFA on the other hand thinks that the public interest is being threatened by the deal as it does not offer value for money. Thus Merchant Bank is worth more than the deal that FORTIS is offering which by implication would mean that contributors to SSNIT may lose value on their contributions. Akin to the Supreme Petition, journalists, commentators, lawyers (street and practising) as well as SSNIT contributors have raised concerns either for or against the transaction.

Such constestations beg the question, in whose interest? Who is the public? And how are their interests mainstreamed in the public interest discourse. It is difficult to proffer an avenue of mitigation in such contested scenarios as many at times, these interests are entrenched-- with little attempt of groups to concede and accept opposing arguments. Nonetheless, relatively, it is mostly a matter of process and how these individuals, groups or better still, these interests are engaged with-- the public interest discourse. 

Fundamentally, if interested parties feel that they have participated enough; that is, they are made part of the decision process, they are privy to all the information, their challenges explained, mitigating alternatives to their challenges proffered, and a deligent and due process of transparency and inclusiveness is adduced, then there is a chance for entrenched positions in the public interest discourse to waiver. 

Yet, this is by no means an easy task. The Supreme Petition and the sale of Merchant Bank to FORTIZ are but two of such of the contestations that emerge when it comes to development in Ghana. These contestations would continue to persist. And as more and more people and individuals become audacious and empowered, more contestations would emerge. The strongest implication that bore relevance from this summary is an appreciation of a more polarized and diversed conception of the public interest. Defining public interest myopically is bound to raise heated contestations. Particularly for Ghana, where ruling parties tend to percieve almost every action based on their party lenses, it would be very challenging for decisions to be sustainable and more reflective of the population. It is within this context that we must think about development by asking again and again, IN WHOSE INTEREST?