The tragedy of our education system now is that, children of four to 18 years who are now barely literate and peddling dog-chains and ice water on our urban streets instead of being pupils, will in 10 years time, be the social menace we have to spend money to combat-armed robbers, drug pushers, pimps and prostitutes. We cannot count upon them for the skills needed for the highly competitive international market, nor can we count upon them as the responsible parents of the workforce of the highly competitive global economy (Kwame Pianim, AGENDA ’96, Preparing Ghana for the 21st Century; Some Economic and Social Issues).
The first step to the Vision 2020 which spans 1996-2000 failed to lay the foundation to prepare the nation for the 20 years ahead for us. The Ghana Vision 2020, according to the document, was a total national effort at ensuring that Ghana attains the status of a vibrant middle-income nation within the next 25 years. The middle-income status was achieved around 2007. The question which follows that achievement is; did we attain the growth poles, sector by sector as outlined or targeted in the VISION 2020 documents?
Under the Human Development targets, poverty reduction strategies were designed during the Medium-Term Development Plan period. These included
i) promoting accelerated economic growth with equity through the pursuit of sound macro-economic policies which emphasize employment;
ii) strengthening the reduction and improving the data base on poverty with the view to ensuring the agriculture sector by introducing more modern farming methods and marketing practices to increase yields and incomes;
iii) Increasing investments in human capital in order to create a more educated, trained and healthy labour force;
iv) broadening and deepening the manufacturing and services sectors in order to create new business, employment and income opportunities in the formal sector of the Ghanaian economy;
v) gradually developing firm targets for poverty reduction and improving the data base on poverty with the view to ensuring more effective programming and targeting;
vi) promoting the development of an indigenous entrepreneurial class in order to strengthen the formal sector and encourage viability of micro and small-scale businesses.
It will be very instructive to critically analyze the above strategies to improve human development to find out which of the strategies indeed improved human development. The period 1996-2000 saw serious economic decline in the country such that the nation was declared a HIPC nation. Such economic condition could therefore not help accelerate the economic growth and increase employment generation.
Underpinning a policy towards any modernization in the agriculture sector by improving modern farming practices require that the economic fundamentals must be good and adequate incentives are provided to shift idle labour hands into the agricultural sector. A very weak economic condition certainly did not attract youthful hands into the agricultural sector. I remember the famine which occurred in 1998, within the medium-term period when we had 13 agricultural Ministers of State and yet, imported plantain and other food crops from La Cote d’ Ivoire.
The educational infrastructure with the plan period was so terrible and did not help improve and create more trained and healthy labour force. The period again saw turmoil in the educational front and at the labour front as well. The situation did not help improve the human capital and there was a relative decline in investments in the educational sector.
The manufacturing sector of the nation’s economy has been the worst during the periods of the Economic Recovery Programme, the Structural Adjustment Eras accompanied by the unbridled trade liberalizations the nation has gone through. The general economy was very hostile to manufacturing than imported finished products. While the services sector of the economy grew in its contributions to the GDP, the manufacturing sector’s contributions to the GDP declined consistently.
The total effect has been that Ghanaians consume more imported products of all shapes and colours than those that are produced locally. Any cursory look at the container shops and stores dotted at every little space throughout the country contain about 95 per cent of imported goods while those produced in the country may constitute just some five per cent. How could such economic environment create new businesses, employment and income opportunities in the formal sector of the Ghanaian economy? Of course the informal sector grew in the distributive sector but there was no corresponding expansion in the manufacturing sector because the goods being distributed did not roll out from Ghanaian industries.
Attempts at developing firm targets for poverty reduction and improving the data base for poverty reduction with the view to ensuring more effective poverty programming and targeting could not have been successful if the economic conditions were bringing down peoples’ social and economic status from one level to a lower level, the exercise to target and build a data base would have been an exercise in futility.
The introduction of the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) did not help the poverty reduction policy in anyway because the funds were distributed to party foot-soldiers irrespective of their economic and social status. As rural poverty rose, the youth moved into the urban centres to reduce the scourge of poverty in their areas. Overtime, urban poverty increased, pressures on social facilities in the urban settlements increased, unemployment rose for both the skilled, unskilled, literates and educate alike. With very little for so many to share, poverty levels increased instead of reducing.
While it is also a fact that reduction in poverty depends on the efforts of the poor themselves to improve their circumstances, certain underlining basic interventions or provisions by government will complement the efforts of those struggling to climb out of poverty. In situations where government policies and the general economic conditions take the little the poor has, the poor is always in deficit and worse off at all times.
A policy aimed at promoting the development of an indigenous business class in order to strengthen the informal sector and encourage viability of micro and small-scale businesses require stable micro sector. Small scale businesses are not strong enough to withstand the vicissitudes of unstable economic fundamentals. Fast depreciating currencies, rising interest rates, foreign exchange scarcity among others are not good for any business let alone small-scale businesses. These were the situations that confronted the nation within the Vision 2020 period.
Access to clean potable water to rural communities and available health facilities in readiness to address primary health challenges of the rural people would have gone a long way to improve their health and subsequently their economic status. Poor housing systems, poor sewerage and sanitation facilities impair the state of health of the poor people. The period in question in as far as the Vision 2020 is concerned saw a downward deepening condition in the above social sectors in many of our communities in Ghana.
It is very obvious therefore that the very poor foundations laid in the First Step were just not too weak but had worsened the very situations the document was meant to address. In the course therefore of the 20-year period within which the major policies were to be implemented, there was nothing to build on. The whole policy document had to be abandoned or the policy period needed to be reviewed.
Nations have developed on the basis of planned programmes just as our Vision 2020. How come 25 years of the Vision, not much was achieved? We will look at the others too.
By Kwesi Biney