It’s four months to the general elections in Ghana, and the political parties have still not released their manifestoes. The manifestoes are supposed to be part of the key technical criteria by which informed citizens make their judgement on who should govern the country for the next four years.
Through the manifestoes, the electorate can identify specific policy proposals, weigh their comparative competitiveness and decide which political party presents better prospects for national development. The more they delay, the shorter time we have to properly analyse and make informed decisions on voting day.
When there is not enough time for voters to scrutinise the governance proposals presented by political parties, more people vote based on the usually biased campaign messages.
This is not healthy for us as a country. We urge political parties, hoping to have our votes, to as soon as possible present their manifestoes so we the electorate can have good enough time to critically assess and make informed decisions on who to vote for.
But perhaps what is more important apart from the timeliness in the release of manifestoes is the quality of the content. Past manifestoes, especially from the main political parties, have focused on the “what” rather than the “how”.
It is understandable that a detailed development programming linking proposed actions to desired outcomes will not find enough space in a manifesto document. Yet, the consistent failure of governments to effectively deliver on their manifesto proposals should be instructive to any well-meaning political party and any responsible electorate.
When a political party wins power, state machinery is put at their disposal for the delivery of their manifesto promises.Since 1992, we have had six elections. To what extent have these elections improved our leadership, governance and development? How many manifesto promises or proposals were actually achieved?
If we leave it to the political parties, they will play an endless blame game with each of them pretending to surrogate for the “people of Ghana”. In the last elections we were promised an average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of at least eight per cent per annum. Before that we had a populist civil service salary structure which did not have a logical practical link to productivity. Today our GDP growth rate is around 4.9 per cent and civil servants continue strikes over their working conditions in spite of the implementation of single spine salary structure and low productivity in the public sector.
Is it the case that both what we promise in manifestoes and what we actually implement while in government are respectively unrealistic and detrimental to actual development? We have to interrogate the quality of manifestoes presented by the political parties. We have to check how doable the proposals are. Let’s take a few cases of critical importance:
Will the manifestoes give us a clear and correct diagnosis of the challenges in our educational system?
Why is our school system incapable of products that provide real solutions to the problems in our local communities?
We need a comprehensive analysis of why many of our children are not staying and performing well in school and why our public schools are failing. The manifestoes must provide some good indicative explanations of why our technical and vocational training systems are producing poor outcomes in spite of the nice paper policies.
They should provide us with cogent net strategies of how to address the primary, secondary and tertiary problems in our teaching and learning infrastructure, content planning and delivery methods.
They should tell us what the problem is with our education monitoring and evaluation mechanism and show us how they will fix it up in the midst of budgetary constraints. We are tied of recycled ideas that duplicate efforts, waste resources and dampen the morale of our education professionals.
Regarding health, the manifestoes should tell us why so many of our citizens are dying from preventable diseases like cholera, malaria, typhoid fever and diarrhea. They should give us an indicative net problem analysis. We know about the traditional problems of poor hygiene and bad attitudes in local communities. Our inquiry is about why these situations have continued for so many years and transcended many election cycles.
Why has the NDC not been able to deal with this challenge and why was the NPP unable to address it when in power?
Why are there not enough beds in our hospitals, why are our doctor-patient ratio lagging?
Why are our mothers dying in child birth and our girls losing the battle against right reproductive health choices?
A critical challenge in the health sector is inadequate research. Over the past few years there has been a worrying trend where diseases like cancer, kidney failure and strokes are becoming routine causes of death in our country. Why is this so?
It is not enough to attribute it to lifestyle changes and live it there. What do the power-seeking political parties have to effectively address these issues?
Our health workers are disgruntled over their working conditions, not in reference to their remuneration only, but more serious the availability of equipment for proper delivery of health services. These are basic issues we have been struggling with since independence. The political parties should give us something better than the usual menu of transcribed rhetoric and politicking.
Youth Skills Development
Many of our young people who complete basic school are on the streets of major cities and towns idling away their energetic youth. They are venders, hawking into poverty. They are fighting hard to prevent themselves from delinquent behavior and to survive.
But life is very tough on them. For many, the options are diminishing by the day. When the Junior Secondary School system was introduced, we were told that every school will have a workshop for vocational and technical training so that JSS graduates can have skills for self-employment even if they are unable to further their education.
This has not happened. Yet our politicians are still bold enough to ask for our votes without shame. Where are the skills for our young people?
Various governments come with big-mouth promises, big policy launches, media-heavy initiatives; and that’s all after the noise. What will the manifestoes say about this?
Perhaps the manifestoes don’t really matter. They are just window dressing tools to throw dust into our eyes. At best they may be available only to meet a traditional requirement for political expediency. After all the masses don’t seem to be interested in documented manifestoes; they are moved by campaign rhetoric and cosmetic development.
But we must insist on quality manifestoes, and the wide broadcasting of their content to stimulate an election discourse dictated by documented and weighted development policy proposals. This is where the role of media is critical. Manifestoes must matter and good manifestoes must be a critical component of the voters’ decision making process.
So this is what we can do: put pressure on the political parties to produce and publish their manifestoes before the end of August; task all radio stations to produce weekly prime-time programmes for independent analysis of the manifestoes by non-partisan experts, including local language editions.
Similar programmes may be done by television stations. Also, our churches should provide platforms for non-partisan analysis of the manifestoes. They should see this as a spiritual responsibility because civil duties are part of Christian expectations. Our mosques could do something similar.
As a country, 59 years after independence is not too short for us to have a good grasp of our developmental aspirations and strategies to achieve them. We must take advantage of the opportunities globalisation offers for international knowledge sharing and competiveness.
We don’t have to spend more than 200 years like the United States to fashion out a democratic system that is progressive for our context.
We do not have to go through all the experiences Germany had before we can develop a political system that is measured by its productive impact on industry and we should not sit by for countries we have inspired to overtake us because they put development above mere politics.
Let’s get our political parties to be more responsible. Let’s make them feel the hard work they must do to earn our votes; so that when they get the power they can rally and inspire us to work harder together to achieve concrete developmental goals. So let’s start with real good manifestoes this election season.
By Emmanuel Kwame Mensah