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?