Debates on elections 2020 have shifted from prudent management of the economy to which party has provided the largest number of infrastructure, at what quality and at what cost.
When he presented the Mid-Year budget review on July 23, 2020, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta repeatedly stated that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government had proved to be better managers of the economy than the opposition National Democratic Congress party. The Finance Minister alluded to the poor state of the economy his government inherited in 2016 – indicating that the economy was recording the lowest growth rate in many critical areas.
According to him, expenditures in sectors like Education, Agriculture and Health targetted at addressing the basic human needs of Ghanaians were low. This had resulted in low productivity, deteriorating standards of living, and general despondency. Our governance institutions had also been deprived of the needed resources to play their critical roles.
One critical sector of the economy the Finance Minister attributed to his government’s efficient management of the economy is the nation’s energy supply. “We have relegated ‘dumsor’ to the past. It is clear to our fellow Ghanaians by now that we have enjoyed three and half years of reliable and cheaper power. Mr. Speaker, we have proven repeatedly that we are better managers of the Ghanaian economy. Together, we took Ghana out of HIPC and placed it among Lower Middle-Income Countries within a decade. Together, we recovered and revitalised a critically weakened economy, and today we can now attract renowned global automobile companies in just three years of returning into office.”
Last week Ghana’s Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, gave another twist to the election debate when he catalogued the number of infrastructure projects his government delivered in three and half-years, compared to eight years of the previous government. According to the astute economist, his government has delivered more infrastructure in four years compared to the whole eight years of the NDC government. He disclosed that a total of 17,334 projects had been completed or are at various stages of completion – adding that these projects are not just urban-based but spread across the country. He then said sarcastically that the government’s infrastructure record is not the artist’s impression of projects published in the NDCs ‘Green book’.
Survey for economic growth.
Dr. Bawumia indicated that before the 2016 election, the NPP conducted a comprehensive survey on the development of Ghana which revealed profound challenges, notable among them being the large infrastructure deficit and wide disparity in urban and rural development. This study informed our 2016 manifesto in the area of infrastructure. Subsequently, on assuming power, he said the government’s focus was on providing infrastructure for all. He said government’s approach to providing infrastructure development in Ghana is two-fold: to provide the infrastructure needs of the poor and the micro-levels – such as water, toilets, clinics and electricity; and to provide for broader infrastructure needs of the economy at the macro-level to drive economic growth.
The Vice President underscored the catalytic role of infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, factories and all the social amenities people need to unleash the potentials for inclusive economic growth. According to him, this current age of the 4th industrial revolution makes it prudent for every country to invest in industrialisation; hence government’s policy of transitioning economy from low to high productivity levels driven by digitisation.
“To do this, we have to put in place the required soft infrastructure: the digital infrastructure which in many respects may be more important than the physical infrastructure that we are used to. This has not received much attention in our development process until recently.”
Dr. Bawumia disclosed that over the last three and half years, the government has implemented various infrastructure projects across sectors, totalling 17,334 throughout the country since January 2017. In all, a total of 8,746 projects have been completed, while another 8,588 projects are at different stages of completion across the country.
Aside from the other infrastructure, the Vice President’s data on road infrastructure caught the attention of many Ghanaians. This is because of the controversy surrounding the cost and quality of some past projects. He recalled that on the assumption of office, government witnessed several protests relating to the poor state of road networks across the country. The protests came against a backdrop of claims by the previous government that they had constructed most of the roads in Ghana.
Perhaps the highlight of government’s infrastructure drive was the declaration of 2020 as ‘the Year of Roads’. According to Dr. Bawumia, since 2017 government has undertaken a total of 1,927 road projects across the country. Out of those, 1,307 have been completed while 620 are under construction.
Value for money
Among the key issues fuelling the infrastructure, debate are procurement processes, value for money and the quality of delivery. According to the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663), public procurement is the acquisition of goods, works and services at the best possible total cost of ownership, in the right quantity and quality, at the right time, in the right place for the direct benefit or use of governments, corporations or individuals, generally via a contract.
For procurement to achieve its goals, it should follow these two (2) principles: Professionalism and Value for Money. Professionalism is the discipline whereby educated, experienced and responsible procurement officers make informed decisions regarding purchase operations. Value for money is derived from the optimal balance of benefits and costs based on the total cost of ownership.
Value for money is a term generally used to describe an explicit commitment to ensuring the best results possible are obtained from spending the taxpayers’ money. Sadly, in Ghana, public procurement processes continue to be shrouded in secrecy – with sole-sourcing dominating procurement decisions, especially between 2009 and 2016. During these periods, there were several concerns about the cost of roads and hospital projects that raised eyebrows over value for money for the taxpayer.
During his presentation, Dr. Bawumia questioned the cost of interchanges undertaken by the previous government. According to him, the four interchanges that his government has completed or is constructing (Tema, Pokuase, Tamale and Obetsebi Lamptey) totalled US$289million, while the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange alone was constructed at a cost of US$260million. This, in the view of this writer, is the case of an individual or a group shortchanging the taxpayer out of millions of dollars at less value.
What’s even worse is that two of the current government interchanges (Tema and Pokuase) are each bigger than the Kwame Nkrumah Circle interchange, which cost the taxpayer a whopping US$260million. Here is the formula – One interchange = US$260million and four interchanges = US$289million. I am not saying that members of the current government are angels, but the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange cost raises more questions than answers. What could account for such a huge disparity in the procurement process and award of contracts? Certainly, one of the two major parties vying for power in 2021 is in a position to protect the public purse and give the taxpayer some value for money.
This is the first time in Ghana’s history that a former president (John Dramani Mahama) is contesting an incumbent president (Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. The battle-lines and perhaps the decider of the election could be based on track-records; who did what, at what quality and at what price? Certainly, infrastructure – especially roads – will be central to the debate. My view is that the main opposition contender (NDC) has become overly defensive of its track record. The fact that it is now claiming credit for every project the current government has initiated or completed gives an indication that NDC has a little record, if any, to campaign on.
I’d much rather have the NDC and its candidate focused on new policy innovations which would make a difference if/when they return to power. That said, the US$10billion infrastructure fund promised by candidate John Dramani Mahama is overly ambitious, if not unrealistic. I wonder if even Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the main contenders in the United States presidential elections, would dare to make such huge promises against the backdrop of World Bank and IMF predictions of a gloomy global economic outlook, post COVID-19 recovery.
Transparency and accountability
The Vice President proved his government’s infrastructure record by unveilling a website (www.deliverytracker.gov.gh) named the ‘delivery tracker’ – a portal whereby Ghanaians can track the status of government promises and also infrastructure projects. As the name implies, the ‘delivery tracker’ is geared toward enhancing transparency and accountability in governance. It will also enable the government to monitor all infrastructure projects to ensure uncompleted projects are prioritised in the process of capital budgeting, according to the Vice President.
In fact, as Dr. Bawumia put it, this is the first time any government since the fourth republic has opened itself for public scrutiny; as well as promoting participation in the governance process ahead of a major general election. Transparency and accountability have become two concepts that are driving good governance at the macro and micro levels. Without transparency and accountability, governments and businesses are deemed to be less open and less amenable to change and progress.
In fact, the central argument in development literature is that the process of governing is most legitimate when it incorporates democratic principles such as transparency, pluralism, citizen involvement in decision-making, representation and accountability. Civil society, the media and the private sector are deemed to have roles and responsibilities for holding government accountable. An accountable political system is one in which the government is responsible to voters to the highest degree possible.
The common notion is that when accountability works well, it enables a degree of feedback between the government and the public it serves. So, in my opinion, the ‘delivery tracker’ innovation will make Ghana stand out as a country promoting transparency and accountability in governance. Let me emphasise that it is uncommon, at least in our context, for a government to open itself up to public scrutiny in an election year. This is not only bold but also represents democratic maturity and good leadership. Without a doubt, this initiative has set the standard for future governments in Ghana and Africa to follow.
(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586)