This is an eighth part of a series of articles concerning the role of various institutions, stakeholders and state-actors in revitalizing the ailing Ghanaian economy. Indeed, a top priority of any Government (administration or national authority) should be to improve (enhance) the lives of its citizens (giving priority to the welfare of the nation’s children). Under this noble objective, constructing new while maintaining (or preserving) existing infrastructures become a crucial element of the national development agenda.
Many developed nations devote enormous resources to maintain or improve the conditions of their infrastructure to facilitate the smooth running of the economy. Preventive and or routine maintenance helps avoid unplanned breakdowns, delays and disruptions of services. This constitutes an essential part of ensuring the efficient running of the economy (fundamentally important for maintaining the competitiveness of all sectors in the economy).
Effective maintenance of the country’s infrastructure base does attract foreign investment (direct and indirect) as potential investors do not have to worry about diverting part of their capital to maintain such structures as they operate in the country. Lack of preventive maintenance often pushes an economy into a crisis mode because of the frequent and rampant breakdown of important services and sectors (e.g. “current power crisis – Dumsor) and the cost associated with this can be devastating to national development.
With all of these advantages (and cautions), why is it that the Ghana Government (i.e. both previous and current) do not place a higher priority on preventive maintenance of the country’s infrastructure and other national assets? It is perhaps an understatement to say “the culture of preventive or regular maintenance is an alien concept to the national authorities’ just as truth is to a politician”. The extreme level of negligence (i.e. “The typical I don’t care attitude”), massive corruption (at all levels) and the disgraceful incompetence of the various authorities is causing the economy to deteriorate at a rapid rate just as as the infrastructure base of the country. While the authorities cry of incurring huge debts every year all in the name of infrastructure development (to help boost the economy), as one travels across the country, one is constantly confronted with the sad observation of deteriorating (decaying) national/public assets (e.g. roads, bridges, schools, universities, hospitals etc.) all crying for rescue (i.e. renovation and or maintenance).
There is some level of association (correlation) between the strength of an economy and its infrastructure base. To help draw the parallels, I will edge you to forget for a moment about the deplorable conditions of our roads, bridges, state buildings, hospitals, ministries, universities, etc. and ponder for a minute on the decaying state of “Efua Sutherland Children’s Park” (once a national pride) and draw if you can any resemblance to the Ghanaian economy (both deteriorating). An enormous national resource was used to create this beautiful recreational park for the most important asset of the nation – The children of Ghana.
Anybody who has visited the park lately will not only be sad, but shocked to the bones with the level of neglect, deterioration and destruction. The place still referred as a children’s park (but in reality not fit to be called a garbage dump) keeps deteriorating each passing day, but those in charge of the amusement park do not bother to renovate the place. A visit to any of the national recreation places in the country tell the same story. A casual visit to any of the nation’s Zoos is enough to immediately convert you to an animal right activist (because of the deplorable conditions). The national trade fair center (once a tourist attraction and a national pride) has been ignored to deteriorate to such an extent that, no serious international company will ever think about hosting an exhibition there. The rapid destruction of the nation’s water and forest resources is as alarming as the near extinction of most wildlife occupying them.
While it is true that, not only the government is responsible when it comes to maintaining such national assets, it is also true that, no responsible authority(s) will sit back unconcern or supervise such wholesale destruction of national assets. When a state authority lacks the necessary funds to maintain a particular set of national assets, a strategy is devised with the right agencies to invite third parties to partake or even a complete takeover of such assets through competent public auctioning actions. The least the people in charge of this particular park could have done to save such an asset will have been privatizing it or fashioning out some sort of private-public partnership to keep these assets in good shape and running. The fact that these national assets are left to deteriorate (decay) shows the level of incompetence operating at such high places. You can’t expect to have a vibrant and strong economy when the people in charge of national assets display such incompetence in maintaining them.
What is really disturbing and sometimes baffling is the fact that, most people in charge of maintaining such national assets are aware of the destruction right from the start, but are incapable of fashioning out a strategy to rescue such assets and so deliberately ignore them to deteriorate.
The various media outlets in the country with the mandate to draw the attention of the public to such destruction are mostly busy selling various kinds of stupidity and mediocrity as programs (e.g. the insults of celebrity X on politician Y). The general public has not yet developed any sense of ownership or attachment to national assets (with exception of the Black Stars) and so we live in a country where apathy (“I don’t care”) is causing enormous destruction. The public feels they have no relation (i.e. do not possess or owe) to these national assets and so refuse to confront or challenge authorities concerning the destruction of such assets.
To make matters worse, all political parties, religious organizations, community leaders, etc. in the country are culprits to such destruction(s). Instead of using their power and influence to provide the necessary check and balances, they put their self-interest (e.g. winning the next election, etc.) above the welfare of the nation and so behave contrary to the best interests of the country. Not a single political party or religious organization has incorporated such destruction(s) of national assets on their political agenda or on their sermons as an issue of concern.
The unsustainable, but the established culture of constantly borrowing at high interest rate (i.e. inflating our national debt to the detriment of future generations) just to build new assets while ignoring those we have already built to deteriorate in such a manner is nothing but madness. As a nation, it is high time we start cultivating the culture of maintenance by properly taking care of existing national assets for the sake of the country we all love – Ghana.
Author: Dr. Amos Mensah
Agricultural and Resource Economist (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)