The Independence Arch of Independence Square of Accra, Ghana at sunset. Inscribed with the words “Freedom and Justice, AD 1957”, commemorates the independence of Ghana, a first for Sub Saharan Africa.
In 1957, five months after Ghana gained its independence, Malaysia too had its independence after over a century of British rule.
According to data from the World Bank, per capita income of Ghana and Malaysia in 2021 was USD 2,445 and USD 11,371 respectively. Malaysia’s per capita income is well over four times higher than Ghana.
Malaysia’s per capita income increased to four figures (USD 1,027) as far back in 1977 and saw for the most part from 1977 to date, year on year increase, while Ghana maintained three figures until 2007, doing an average of less than USD 350 per year for the period 1960 to 2006.
How and why is Malaysia’s economic planning and its implementation yielding results? The country’s series of half-decade plans have been in synchrony with long-term objectives of what is called: Outline Perspective Plans (OPP) which spanned from 1971 to 2010.
It is however important to note that the country has enjoyed a much more stable political atmosphere. Besides its government’s commitment to implementation of its development plans, the political stability has been instrumental in the delivery of its results.
In the case of Ghana, there have been disruptions in the implementation of our economic plans due to a heavily polarised political system since independence. The blueprints for economic planning have been medium-term strategies, and political party manifestos, or if you like, promises.
These strategies and promises do attempt to respond to development objectives set out in long-term development strategies such as the Vision 2020, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The fact however is that governments have not been fully committed to long-term development strategies because of the differences in the ideological interests and policy priorities of political parties.
Take Vision 2020 for instance. Yes, governments in the Fourth Republic have contributed significantly to its rural development, increasing primary health coverage, improving access to water, and poverty reduction agenda through medium-term strategies.
The incidence of poverty reduced from 36% in 1988 to less than 5% in current time according to Ghana Living Standards Survey reports. But the expansion of vocational and technical education, increasing credit access and the relevant technology access to the informal sector agenda of Vision 2020 have been shelved for different political objectives after the first government of the Fourth Republic’s tenure ended.
The country failed to start the implementation of the 40-Year Development Plan put together by the government of former President John Mahama in 2014.
This is the case because of unnecessary politicisation of development agenda promoted by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana (I will explain this in subsequent paragraph). In fact, the largest opposition political party at the time: the New Patriotic Party (NPP), did not participate in formulating the 40-Year Development Plan.
Fast forward to 2016 when the NPP was elected, the plan was abandoned. This is what I mean by unnecessary politicisation of economic development plans. There is hardly buy-in of potential managers of the economy. But the question is; have political party medium-term development strategies, and promises, brought about the desired development?
Similar to Malaysia, the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) established by Act 479, 1994 was given the mandate to plan, monitor, evaluate and coordinate Ghana’s development programmes and policies. Articles 86 and 87 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution state that the NDPC shall be responsible to the president and shall also perform such other functions relating to development planning as the President may direct.
This has given governments the liberty to abandon well-meaning development programmes conceptualized or started by previous governments, to pursue their own political development agenda. How has this constitutional provision served the interest of Ghana? What can we imagine as ideal in respect of economic growth and development?
These are two very important questions that in my view will lead us to a point of deep reflection and realization that we need to pull the brakes on leaving economic planning, and its coordination solely in the hands of political parties.
In 2010 a committee was constituted to review the 1992 Constitution. The Government’s White Paper on the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) report, was very disappointing, to say the least, from the perspective of a citizen who views nationalism as more important than partisan politics. Government in the White Paper rejected several of the committee’s recommendations.
One of which was binding successive governments to economic development plans. The justification for the rejection was that; it “will tie the hands of successive governments to the ideological interests and policies of a particular political party”.
It is important to distinguish between national development objectives and political party ideologies or interests. The two cannot be the same. Development objectives are intended achievements. Political party ideologies cannot be achievements. They are potential means to achieving development objectives. Belief in creating an enabling environment for private sector to facilitate economic growth in a free market, and belief in certain socialist principles cannot be development objectives.
They are ways which could be useful in developing segments of the economy. It is therefore illogical to reject the CRC’s proposal on the basis that successive governments will be forced to implement ideologies and policies of a particular political party.
Now imagine this: let us have a comprehensive long-term development plan with realistic targets and milestones, prepared in broad consultation with all stakeholders. Let us re-examine the 1992 Constitution and make the NDPC independent of Executive control. Let the NDPC coordinate, monitor and evaluate implementation of the development plan, provide technical support, and report Government’s performance in relation to implementing the development plan to the Ghanaian people.
Let political parties no more promise development, but rather convince the Ghanaian people through presenting their proposals to delivering targets set out in the national development plan. Let the Ghanaian people use information from the NDPC’s assessment reports, to decide whether to boot out governments, or retain them. Let the Ghanaian people decide which political party has the best proposal on how to deliver a target or milestone in the development plan.
We cannot continue to run this country on political party promises that are popular and over-ambitious and medium-term development strategies that lack adequate consultation. For a heavily polarised country such as ours, we need a referee to manage our economic development planning.
Author, Eben Carboo-Hartog is an artist & Development Practitioner
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