The Missing Manifesto - What all the manifestoes are missing and what to do about it.

Published on 13 Sep, 2020.

All the major political parties have launched their manifestoes for the December general elections. This is highly commendable as it largely makes the campaigns issues-based...hopefully. A manifesto is a declaration of aims and policy. It asks the question, "What do you believe?" It is supposed to be a party's central policy document, and the political parties must be commended for making good progress on this since 1992, though we are increasingly seeing a shift to a litany of promises, projects and programmes in party manifestoes.

To begin with, various academics and governance experts in Ghana have raised issues with what the focus, content and size of political party manifestoes should be. How does manifesto positions – regardless of their measurement – relate to post-election politics? Laver (2001:67), for instance, helps to clarify this by distinguishing between ideal policy positions (representing the party's true convictions), stated policy positions (party ideals adapted to what the audience is considered willing to buy), and policy forecasts (what the party claims it will achieve if endowed with government power).

A critical study of the manifestoes of the NDC and NPP, the two leading parties who will in all likelihood form the next government on 7th January 2021 reveal the ‘hero mindset’ of a big ‘papa government’ who dishes free things to his children. Both manifestoes reveal a deep-seated mindset within NDC and NPP of Big Government, centralized control of decision-making in Accra, and even then in the hands of an Imperial President and a close kitchen cabinet, who make decisions, award contracts, cuts sods for commencement and commissioning of projects etc. All over the world countries are moving away from Big Government and yet in Ghana, government appears to be growing in size, power and control under the aegis of the NDC and NPP. My assessment: the two leading manifestos do not adequately address Ghana’s long-term development issues. This is why.

According to Oxfam Ghana, “too many development initiatives in Ghana have limited impact. Schools are built but children do not learn. Clinics are built but sickness persists. Governments adopt reforms but too little changes for their citizens. This is because genuine development progress is complex: solutions are not simple or obvious…Many development initiatives fail to address this complexity, promoting irrelevant interventions that will have little impact.” The development initiatives that have real results usually involve many players – governments, local communities, civil society, international agencies and the private sector – working together to deliver real progress...and not the sole prerogative of a partisan political party manifesto.

What the two manifestoes missed but badly needed to put Ghana back on track as the ‘Star of Africa’ are;

1. Constitution Reform

Prof. Raymond Atuguba, Dean of the Law Faculty of the University of Ghana, and former Executive Secretary of the Constitution Review Commission, says “Ghana is at a governance standstill and there should be urgent constitutional amendments that will be responsible to dynamics of the time.” Dr Atuguba said this at a national dialogue on Constitution Review organised by Star Ghana Foundation in 2019. Long before Prof. Atuguba’s observation in March 2002, another eminent Ghanaian, Dr. S. K. B. Asante, in delivering the J.B Danquah Memorial Lectures, had noted that “Ocquaye, Gyimah-Boadi, Kwasi Prempeh, Sandbrook and Oelbaum have all characterised presidential powers under the 1992 constitution as excessive and inimical to the inculcation of constitutionalism.” The respected H. Kwasi Prempeh, Executive Director of CDD-Ghana and notable constitutional lawyer has observed that “overall the power and authority vested in the President under the 1992 Constitution is simply too much for a bad President to have and yet too much for a good President to need. Moreover, the Constitution imposes few restrictions on the exercise of his authority and powers.”

Nana S.K.B Asante argued in that lecture that “constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy cannot be achieved on a regime of rigorous constraints alone but by the inculcation of a culture of restraints and certain core democratic values.” What Nana hoped for has however eluded Ghana as almost all Presidents under the 4th Republic have concentrated power and sometimes acted capriciously in their own partisan and parochial interests, mostly arguing that their actions are “legal and constitutional,” forgetting that there are ethical and moral considerations to be considered in governance.

Therefore, the imperative in the first two years of the next President’s term must be devoted to Constitution reform. The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) released a 1000 page report of recommendations in December 2011 following two years of extensive public consultations. The highlights of the report are proposed amendments to 34 entrenched clauses and the addition of seven new entrenched clauses to the Constitution.

These constitutional amendments are urgently needed to reduce the centralization of power and decision-making and devolve power more equitably as state capture have now been formalised by the NPP and NDC and corruption persists, as evidenced by Ghana’s low rankings on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Democracy and democratic decision making must tackle the entrenched power bases – particularly at local level – which lead to the skewed allocation of resources. What we have mostly seen in the 4th Republic is “a small but growing number of the economic and political elite is capturing public policy processes and excluding large sections of the population from governance,” according to Oxfam. The NDC and NPP, which have had the good fortune to govern Ghana in the 4th Republic continue to expand their influence, particularly over local decision-making bodies. This is bad for Ghana and urgent constitutional reforms are needed to ensure Ghana’s long term economic and democratic development. Ghana cannot continue the current trajectory. The pillars of Ghana’s stability cannot stand the current winner-takes-all state capture. As Prof. Atuguba says, “recommendations made by the Constitution Review Commission, envisaged current challenges such as the sanitation menace and reforms to legal education,” which the current state capture has not been able to resolve.

Unlike many of its contemporaries—Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Nepal, Tunisia, Zimbabwe or Zambia—where conflict, political crises or years of entrenched political and economic misgovernance drove constitutional reform, Ghana’s late President John Atta Mills initiated the constitutional review and reform process with the objective of consolidating the gains of Ghana’s democratic development. That agenda needs to be picked up now!

2. Public Sector/Financial Management Reform

The next issue that must feature prominently in the agenda of the next government is public sector/ financial management reforms. Accordingly to IDEG, Ghana’s public sector is “vast and complex and consists of the four categories of public services listed under Chapter 14 (Article 190 Section 1a-d) of the 1992 Constitution stipulating that public services of Ghana shall include civil service and 13 other services, public corporation, and other public services constituted by law.” The Public Services Commission Act 1994 and Civil Service Law 1993, stipulates that Ghana’s public services include commercial state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and regulatory organizations including commissions, boards, agencies, subvented agencies, statutory corporations, and joint ventures with government carried interest.

Despite Ghana's economic growth, institutional quality and government effectiveness have declined in the past two decades, undermining the state’s ability to provide the requisite support for transformation, according to the World Bank, which also notes that “successive governments have recognized that poor public sector performance undermined economic growth in Ghana.” For instance, the Senchi National Economic Forum of 2014 expressed dissatisfaction that “civil and public servants display a lackadaisical attitude toward the work they do.” The World Bank also notes that there is evidence of poor institutional capacity of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to formulate and implement policies for enhanced service delivery to citizens, with many development plans and programmes having a poor record of implementation. Concerns have been raised about the waste of manpower and resources in formulating public sector plans and programmes, with limited coordination between sector Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

As the World Bank emphasizes, “one of the problems identified as a cause of failure of past programmes is individual Ministry-led programmes with … few common linkages.” In the process, important projects have not been completed; important policies not fully implemented; and plans for new ones, though grounded in immense optimism, are often dropped with changes in administrations. The result: despite a favourable and stable environment, democratic consolidation, and human resource capacity, structural transformation has eluded Ghana. Political parties superimpose their own party structures to go around the issue instead of solving it. Real leaders don’t avoid problems, they tackle and solve it. For instance, there is a Free SHS Secretariat instead of allowing the Ghana Education Service to work.

This is bad for Ghana’s long-term development and once again urgent reforms are needed in the way Government is run. Ghana has witnessed its share of these public sector reforms and continues to experiment with new ones. Like many African countries, Ghana’s attempt at reforming its public sector can be traced back to the 1980’s when it underwent the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programs. From that time until now, successive governments have consistently implemented reforms in its Public Sector which has witnessed mixed results. Amongst these include, Civil Service Improvement Program (CSPIP), Public Administration Restructuring and Decentralization and Implementation Committee (PARDIC), the Civil Service Reform (CSR) and Public Sector Reform Program (PSRP) of the now defunct Ministry of Public sector Reform (Holm- Graves, 2011).

In August 2018, the President launched the 2018-2023 National Public Sector Reform Strategy (NPSRS), one of several strategic plans the Government has prepared in recent times. The NPSRS will guide the Government’s public sector reform agenda through its six pillars: Citizens- and Private Sector-Focused Public Sector; Capable and Disciplined Work Force; Strengthened Public Sector Regulatory Framework; Modernized and Improved Work Condition; Strengthened Local Governance Structures, and Digitized Public Sector Services and Systems. This strategy is designed to address specific constraints to public sector performance over the next five years. If well implemented, this should ensure efficiency and accountability in delivery of key public services and strengthening monitoring and evaluation. (The World Bank Ghana. Public Sector Reform for Results Project).

This is commendable and should form the basis of urgent reforms needed to improve public sector performance and service delivery, introduce service standards, shared services across the civil bureaucracy, or decentralization. The next government should focus on what the World Bank says are the three areas representing the most challenging aspects of public sector performance in Ghana today, namely: performance, accountability, and service delivery.

Financial Management Reform

A 2012 Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) Performance Review conducted by Dutch firm, Ecorys, for the Government of Ghana, made both startling and damning observations about public financial management in Ghana. The PEFA assessment concluded that “For all three years considered the composition variance between planned, budgeted and actual expenditure was above 15% which reflects a “D” score performance. This weak performance is consistent with high level of expenditure arrears, ineffectiveness of the fiscal framework as an instrument for fiscal discipline, weak predictability of funds for commitment of expenditure and delays in the release of funds, weaknesses in the expenditure control and commitment control, and lack of an effective establishment control”.

What causes this in Ghana’s public services, you may ask? The 2012 PEFA assessment reveals that “there is no central monitoring of expenditure arrears for goods and services” and that “MDAs have no systematic mechanism for monitoring these arrears; this is generally limited to the position of outstanding bills”.

Despite having had significant amounts of debt cancelled over a decade ago, Ghana is now back in a debt crisis, with the public debt stock having reached 73% of GDP in 2017. This is placing a significant burden on Ghana’s economy and society. The combination of a slowing economy and ongoing debt servicing meant that in 2017, 42% of government revenue was being allocated to debt repayments, according to Oxfam, leaving less money available to spend on vital inequality-reducing public services.

Despite the best efforts of our Finance Ministers, what has been missing in their package of initiatives is a concerted and focused effort or programme to reduce waste in government expenditure. There is the urgent need for strict measures and radical initiatives to reduce government expenditure and the budget deficit.

In 1991, the U.S state of Texas faced a whopping $4.6 billion budget deficit. The legislature asked state Comptroller John Sharp to review the budget to find some face-saving cuts before they raised taxes. Comptroller Sharp assembled a crack team and not only found a few savings here and there: He found enough to close the entire deficit. And then he kept going. Over the course of the next decade, Sharp's Texas Performance Review (TPR) saved the state $10 billion and won awards for government innovation from admirers as diverse as Harvard University and the Heritage Foundation.

A Spending Review or occasionally Comprehensive Spending Review is a governmental process in the United Kingdom carried out by HM Treasury to set firm expenditure limits and, through public service agreements, define the key improvements that the public can expect from these resources. Spending Reviews typically focus upon one or several aspects of public spending while Comprehensive Spending Reviews focus upon each government department's spending requirements from a zero base. Spending reviews are used to set out the maximum amount government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) can spend over a set period of time. It is then up to the 17 individual departments to decide how to slice up the cake.

The most important routine task carried out by any government - after deciding tax levels - is working out how much cash to spend and on what. It will have a direct impact on the public services Ghanaians use. Controlling spending is what any well-run organisation should be doing as a matter of course and the government should have the most effective spending control possible. Government must also make sure that it spending people’s money responsibly and providing value for money.

As international bodies such as the IMF and OECD have noted, reducing the deficit is a necessary precondition for sustained economic growth. Failure to take action now would put the recovery at risk and place an unfair burden on future generations. Particular focus has been given to reducing wasteful spending. What I propose is the introduction of Departmental Expenditure Limits (DELs) for each government ministry, department, and agency and for regional and district administrations. This should be implemented by the Public Expenditure Monitoring Unit of the Finance Ministry.

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