Investments in digitisation, malaria, TB highly cost-effective for Ghana’s development – Top Economists

The Directors of the Policy Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Directorates (PPMEDs) from the various ministries have been presented with prioritised list of 79 policy interventions for Ghana’s future development.

The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) will use the evidence-based research to help secure a consensus across many stakeholders for Ghana’s development plan so that the nation will get most value for every cedi spent.

Dr. Ralph Nordjo, manager of the Ghana Priorities project and Dr. Felix Addo-Yobo, Director, Development Policy at NDPC, shared the findings from the panel of eminent economists at the NDPC’s headquarters in Accra.

This followed three days of deliberations by the eminent panel, who ranked what they found to be the smartest solutions for a prosperous future for the nation.

The panel argued that there is no country in the world, no matter how rich it is, can do everything, unless it prioritises its needs.

The Ghana Priorities is a collaboration between the NDPC and the award-winning international think tank Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

It has, over the past one year, worked with 28 teams of specialist economists from Ghana and abroad to study the costs and benefits of 79 concrete policy solutions to improve the country’s future development plan.

The NDPC is currently working with districts, ministries, youths, civil society organizations and many others, to help secure a consensus across stakeholders on Ghana’s development priorities, which forms part of the Medium-Term National Development Policy Framework.

The information from Ghana Priorities is crucial, as it provides a foundation of knowledge.

It was based on extensive academic work on important areas including; agriculture, education, health and infrastructure.

For each cedi spent, it shows how many cedis of development benefits could be achieved.

The compendium has resulted in the publication of more than 1,000 pages of research, freely available.

The Ghana Priorities project, therefore, invited a number of distinguished economists to discuss their priorities for three days at the Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel in Accra.

The panel was made up of; Minister of Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister for Planning Prof. George Gyan-Baffour, former Finance Minister Prof. Kwesi Botchwey; Prof. Augustin Fosu from the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana; Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA); Prof. Eugenia Amporfu from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST); and Prof. Finn Kydland, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

The top-10 list were:
Digitisation of property and business fees, universal malaria testing and health facility treatment, strengthening community health system and land title programme as top-five priorities.

Other interventions that made it to the top-10 priorities areas are tuberculosis patient education for adherence, logistics for faster and more accurate TB testing, ambulance maintenance in rural areas, preventive malaria medicine for children and complementary feeding promotion.

Multiple health interventions were chosen by the Eminent Panel among the top-10 priorities.

Dr. Samuel Nii-Noi Ashong, a Senior Policy Advisor at the Finance Ministry, pointed out that “health is critical, a healthy population, including that of the active workforce, is important for economic development,” he said.

With benefits as high as 190 cedis for every cedi invested, the panel prioritised three tuberculosis initiatives among the most promising policy pursuits. Similarly, two malaria initiatives made the top-10, with universal malaria testing and health facility treatment promising benefits 133 times greater than the investment required.

“The economic case to invest in malaria is highly compelling. Treatment is low cost and highly effective.

“In Ghana, as in other countries, this illness needs to be treated with greater urgency,” Prof. Aryeetey said.

Nobel laureate Prof. Kydland highlighted that “five percent of all deaths in Ghana are caused by tuberculosis, according to WHO estimates.

Yet, we have very effective and cheap opportunities to reduce this number significantly. There is a strong case for investing more in better TB testing and adherence.”

The eminent panel also highlighted the enormous potentials to be achieved in maternal and child health, embracing research that recommends scaling up the Ghana Essential Health Intervention Program (GEHIP) implemented in Northern Ghana.

“All mothers and children deserve the best possible care and support. The success of community health services, known as GEHIP, show that we can achieve an amazing amount of social good with a moderate investment. That is why Ghana should prioritise the health of mothers and infants across the country,” Prof. Amporfu said.

The eminent economists found that nutritional interventions are also essential for young children and recommended policy-makers prioritise promotion of complementary feeding—breastfeeding combined with micronutrients and calcium―during pregnancy.

These can yield benefits worth between 18 and 36 cedis for every cedi invested, according to researchers from the University for Development Studies.

“There is a compelling moral and economic case to focus on nutrition and micronutrients for infants and children. A tiny amount spent today will have enormous impacts on the rest of a child’s life,” Prof. Kydland said.

The panel also recommended better health access in rural areas through ambulance maintenance, which would yield benefits 21 times greater than their cost.

“Not only can access to emergency health services be a life-saver for any of us. Economic research shows that it can be a very effective social investment. We need to make sure no Ghanaian is left behind, irrespective of where they live,” Prof. Fosu said.

Besides these health interventions, the eminent economists also highlighted the great potentials of digitisation.

They ranked an intervention that focuses on digital revenue collection in Ghana’s municipalities through the implementation of a software called District Local Revenue (dLRev) as the country’s top priority.

That, they said, would ensure a faster data collection process, improved efficiency and increased revenue for the municipalities.

They said it is vital for local governments to generate their own income.

Digitising property and business fees can make tax collection much more efficient, and this will help municipalities to provide the best possible services to citizens,” Prof. Botchwey said.

A land titling reform programme was also regarded highly by the eminent panel, as it would bring benefits such as increased property value of titled land, improved access to credit, higher certainty for investments, and smoother land transactions. Every cedi spent on the reform would yield a benefit of around 90 cedis.

“Building a comprehensive and automated national-based land map can help Ghana unlock enormous economic opportunities. The research shows that stronger ownership means more economic growth and higher development for Ghana,” Prof. Fosu said.

The Eminent Panel was facilitated by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, President of Copenhagen Consensus and named by TIME magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Dr. Lomborg said that he looked forward to continuing a close cooperation with the NDPC as well as all ministries involved in the Ghana Priorities process.

“We are very interested in continuing to work with Ghana to help make sure that this research translates into action on value-for-money policies which will help to boost the country’s social development and economic potential.”

Multiple high-ranking policy-makers praised the policy prioritisation efforts of the research academics.

The Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta said: “Ghana Priorities is a truly valuable and useful project.

“Estimating costs and benefits across a wide range of policies to uncover the best value-for-money is a great help for setting priorities.

“I’m excited that the NDPC will make this an annual event that will assist in guiding policy making and be part of shaping an even better future for Ghana,” he said.

Prof. George Gyan-Baffour, Minister for Planning, said, “I’m very excited about Ghana Priorities. Coordinating dozens of the best economists nationally and internationally, the project has estimated costs and benefits for a vast range of the most relevant policies for Ghana.

“This information helps policy making set more effective priorities, emphasising where each cedi can do the most good. It is wonderful news that the NDPC will make this approach central in its work over the coming years.

“This can place value-for-money firmly at the centre of the Ghanaian policy discussion, helping promote development even further,” he added.

Dr. Kodjo Mensah-Abrampa, NDPC Director-General, added that, “No government has unlimited funds, and prioritisation based on the principle of cost-benefit analysis can help to identify policies that make every cedi go further. It is vital that our national policy discussion is informed by evidence such as the research provided by Ghana Priorities.

“Now we are taking the extensive cost-benefit studies to the districts, the ministries, the youths across Ghana to discuss and hear their priorities,” he said.

Dr. Lomborg said, “in Africa, Ghana is a trailblazer for setting national priorities based on cost-benefit analysis.

“We hope that many other nations will follow this pioneer project,”he added.