Laptops for Ghana MPs – A Good Idea

I earlier promised a post on why I support laptops for Ghana’s MPs. Here it is:

The Communication ministry led by Haruna Iddrisu last week made known they are providing laptops with modems for Ghana’s 230 members of parliament (No official information on this on the  Ghana Government website yet, but see JoyFM’s report here).

There was immediately an uproar. Most of the critique goes along these lines:

Many villages in the 3 Northern Regions fetch water from stagnant waters and used for cooking and washing. Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, just this morning when I was traveling from Yendi to Tamale, I saw one of your bill boards you used for the 2008 campaign in one of the villages I am talking about. You could have lobbied for the money to sink 230 bore holes this year in 230 villages in the north. Next year another 230 and here we go. God bless us all !!!!! (this is an acctual comment from myjoyonline.com)

Now I strongly disagree, and this is why I say providing laptops for Ghanaian MPs is a good idea:

  • In today’s world, to be able to do any political work you have to have access to good communication tools. To be able to make important decisions on water, politicians have to read proposals, write motions, communicate with citizens etc.In fact, it is shocking that it is news…did Ghana’s MPs not have access to ICT before last week?
  • Now we can easier demand accountability. Make MPs send all official emails through a centralized system so there will be transparency and a backlog if anything goes wrong. (Today many Ghanaian government officials send you emails from yahoo and hotmail accounts…)
  • Efficiency. Imagine if all motions and bills could be stored online. Maybe finally things could be done earlier than “the last year”?
  • Mzalendo in Ghana. Lets set up a website that keeps track on MPs work! This could never be done if MPs did not have access to ICT.
  • And last, but not least: Now our politicians can read blogs! Maybe even write their own on what they do! The Swedish foregin Minister Carl Bildt has a blog (in Swedish), The White house also has a blog etc.

The problem in the past has been the personal ownership of all “tools”. Like the personal car loan. I think governments should provide a car, an office with suitable equipment etc. to elected officials – just as for administrators –  but it should not be given/donated/offered to the individuals. May I remind you of Plato’s idea of denying the right of property to the rulers of his Republic (called philosopher kings)?

I’d like to challenge Osabutey Anny and Emmanuel Adu whom I know disagrees with me o this matter to respond.

And you, what do you think about MP laptops. Long overdue or a waste of money?

Photo borrowed from Single Particles.

>Good News for Ghana’s Economy

>

“We want to move the economy forward quickly and we want to try as much as possible to make an impact on the road sector, which includes city, urban and feeder roads,”

was the message from the Finance minister yesterday according to Joy FM, as he announced the government is releasing 160 million Ghana Cedis for projects that were stopped after the 2008 election.

Can I say hurray?

1. Roads for development = yes, thats the analysis! (when will power and water be on the list, by the way?)
2. At the time, I supported freezing funds as there were transparency issues for some contracts, but as time went along…and business life in Ghana almost came to a complete stop I ehhr…changed my mind.
3. Hopefully, this action will have a trickle down effect (although it is a long way from 25 big companies and the Kofi and Ama on the street)and might turn the Ghanaian economy around.

Or what do you say, am I being way too optimistic now?

Pic: A collapsed sign from an totally unrelated project.

>Hugh Hefner in Ghana

> So, lately the debate has been all about Ghana’s Ex-President Kuffuor who has been awarded with some huge retirement benefits.

* Lump-sum (thought to be worth $400,000)
* Six fully maintained comprehensively insured, fuelled and chauffeured-driven cars to be replaced every four years. The fleet comprise of three salon cars, two cross country cars and one all-purpose vehicle.
* Two Fully furnished residences that befit a former president at place of his choice
* 65 day overseas travel with 3 assistants each year
* 18 months consolidated salary
* Million-dollar seed money for the setting up a foundation,
* Security – 24 hours security services
* Budget for entertaining each year

Blogger Que has made an interesting comparison to the benefits of the US ex-president Bush here and an expose of possible feelings towards this here.

While parliament has agreed to again “review” the benefits after the public outcry, I have thought about the benefits intruiging me the most. They are the entertainment money and the 65 travelling days a year with three assistants…Isn’t that just too similar to Mr Hugh Hefner of the Playboy mansion?

And when the laughter stops, this is real – not just reality-show, is this the image we want to portray of Africa? and should a developing country really pay for this kind of lifestyle?

>Post Election Thoughts

>As the sun sets on the Ghanaian elections of 2008, here is my post election column for the Swedish newspaper AiP.

Although the brief text unfortunately is in Swedish only, the heading optimistically reads “Ghana visar vägen i Afrika” – in English “Ghana Shows the Way Ahead in Africa”.

In the pic, the beautiful sunset over Tema/Sakumono beach yesterday evening.

>Prof Mills Now Prez Mills

> So, finally we have a new president. In the run off on the 28th of December, NDC won with the slimmest margin ever in Ghanaian political history, 50.23 %. John Atta Mills, also called Prof since he is a professor, mostly researching taxation law, will be inaugurated tomorrow as Ghana’s new president.

Mills is a true academic with some 25 years in teaching at University of Ghana and other universities abroad. His PhD was completed at School of Oriental and African Studies in London. We’ll see if he will use his in depth knowledge in taxation issues in the four years to come. And if his nick-name Prof will stay, or if it will be changed for Prez.

Before the elections, I wrote a column on the Ghana elections for the Swedish social democratic newspaper Aktuellt i Politiken here (unfortunately only in Swedish).

In the pic John Atta Mills, pic borrowed from republicoftogo.com

>New Year, New President?

> As the new year approached, we have been waiting to hear who will be our new president in Ghana after the second round of elections on the 28th of December. But instead of finding out we have been showered with accusations of election fraud and delays in the Electoral Commission results. I must say I am shocked 2009 has come without a new leader for Ghana. However, I am impressed the court in this stressed conditions keep to following constitutional procedures. Now I can only hope we all keep our calm and when we have a winner, that everybody will accept the results.

That would be a very good start for 2009.

In the pic, election cloth with the ballot box and the thumb print from Ghana Textiles Printing, GTP.

>Ghana Elections Update

>So, now the elections are off to a second round, taking place on December 28th and with results probably not until just before next year starts, as Maya predicts.

When the total results were in, the “high turnout” (that I wrote about here) was also adjusted, into something much lower than last time. The Economist also questioned the high turnout from last presidential elections citing a bloated voters registry to cause the extraorinary turnout. They concluded wryly:

This time fewer votes were cast by the under-age, the multiply-registered and the dead.

This first round of elections where the opposition party NDC overtook a number of parliament seats from the ruling NPP, but left NPP on top -if just slightly – in the presidential elections, shows that people in Ghana do consider split ballots. Also, the campaign funds that probably were several times greater for the incumbents, much caused by their strong support by the middle class and Ghanaian Diaspora overseas, does not seem to have had any greater impact.

The elections were deemed free and fair by international observers and from my point of view, everybody has remained very calm, even when the two leading parties only were divided by little over 1%.

Maybe it is too soon to draw big conclusions on the quality of Ghana’s democracy, but it surely looks promising.

>High Turnout in Ghana Elections

> Still there is no proclaimed winner of Sunday’s elections here in Ghana. According to Al Jazeera the incumbent NPP holds a slight lead, but according to local radio channel Joy FM the race is still a complete tie, with more than half of the constituencies counted.

However, judging from international press it is clear is that the turnout was high, but no estimates have been given here either. According to the African Elections database the turnout was 60 % for the 2000 presidential elections and a impressing 85 % last time around in 2004. Can this year’s turnout really exceed that?

In the pic a friend with a purple pinkie indicating that he had voted.

>A Close Call

>Election results from yesterdays elections start trickling in. We are many who think there will be a second round of elections since a full majority or 50% of the votes are needed to win the presidential seat.

It seems elections went fine, my parents in law didnt even have to queu, but could move ahead straight to the polls because of their (high) age. My friend who voted in the afternoon also came out in 5 minutes with a purple stained pinkie.

Now we just have to wait and see.

>Tribal Vote in Ghana?

> This is the Electoral Map of the 2004 elections, blue for NPP, green for NDC. As you can see distinct areas of the country support different parties, eg. the central part of Ghana was predominately NPP and the north and the east mostly voted for NDC. As it happens, these geographical areas broadly converts into ethnic groups or tribes.

This year there has been a concern that the ethnic vote will create violence and confusion and this possibility has been met with not less than three campaigns: (1), (2), (3), to stem eventual violence. However, when I have talked to people, this is not a big concern. Some say, former presidents have been from different tribes; Ashanti, Ewe, and the main contestants this time around are from yet other tribes; Akyem and Fanti, so we have nothing to worry about. Others talk about an Electoral commission that is competent and independent, so who can then meddle with election results?

Even so, the majoritarian, winner-takes-all political system Ghana shares with USA has the disadvantage of leaving minorities unrepresented. Maybe Ghana, as a country with many ethnic groups would be better served with a multiparty, consensual political system? Read Eric Kwesi Bottah’s insightful article for more arguments for a multiparty system in Ghana.

On Sunday the Ghanaian general elections are on, and the question is how Ghanaians will vote this time?

Map from excellent elections’ site thinkghana.com/elections/

>Ghana, Corruption and the Afrobarometer

> I got my hands on a recent Afrobarometer report gracefully put together by Ghanaian think-tank Center for Democratic Development (CDD). The report prepared in June, assesses the Ghanaian’s assessment of the current NPP government. A face-to-face survey was carried out in March this year with 1200 respondents and was the forth round of surveys carried out in Ghana by Afrobarometer.

This being an election year, which I have posted on earlier here, the reading is quite interesting. Basically, large majorities approve of president Kufuor’s performance and the NPP’s policies, especially related to healthcare and education. The trust ratings for the current president are high (88% answered just a little/somewhat/a lot to if they trust the prez) has significantly increased since 2002 (64%) and 2005 (75%).

Surprisingly with this background, a large majority or 70% of Ghanaians also perceive there is corruption in the presidency (the figure above has from my understanding derived from again adding up the answers just a little/somewhat/a lot). Back in 2005, little over half or 56% of the Ghanians perceived corruption in the presidency suggesting a considerable change in people’s view about what goes on in the castle.

I am glad to come across such a important and interesting report underpinned by current and sufficient data, however I find this results very puzzling. Do these results mean Ghanaians trust politicians they believe to be corrupt?

The report can be found here.

Pic: A painting of some murky, corrupt men? Or is it enraged citizens? Or a politician accompanied by her life guards? I recently fell in love with this artwork in an exhibit, unfortunately without recording the artist.

>Credit Crunch in Africa?

> The last weeks as the “global” financial crisis has rolled out, I have been thinking about the impact for Ghana. What will the implication be for African countries such as the one I live in when US and Europe are experiencing a sharp decline that can only be partially slowed down by tens or even hundreds of BILLION dollars.

Will Africa’s already weak economies get hit by the financial splatter of the West?

No, I don’t think so. At least not that much. Less aid? Yeah maybe. But when it comes to dealing with a bubble…Hey, there’s no bubble to deal with. Actually, there is barely any credit in the Ghanaian economy – everything is cash.

You buy a house in a cash (or more like it buy some bricks today and some pipes tomorrow), car in cash, you get paid in cash (or a check that you immediately cash after a long wait in a bank queue) and interest rates for loans read about a hefty 27-33 percent, making them a no go option for most people. Also, Ghana and bigger part of Africa south of the Sahara (with the exception for maybe South Africa) is not really a part of the so called global financial markets.

Hence, the advice is to now invest in Africa. Our strong and solvent markets are now, finally, hyped by financial advisers see for instance here and here and here.

Even the World Bank and their economist Shanta Devarajan who runs the Afropositive blog Africa Can, seems to agree with me. In Ghana, the whole crisis is rarely discussed, maybe because of the upcoming elections or maybe because people just have an instinctive feel it wont affect Ghana.

Maybe it is Africa’s turn now!

Pic: The sky is blue but not cloud free in Accra, Ghana.