Home Opinion Manifestos and infrastructure – the substance of our politics

Manifestos and infrastructure – the substance of our politics


Sane Eteshi – Matters Arising

Election year comes with a lot of pseudo-intellectual work by political parties, intent on producing manifestos that civil society organisations and the so-called neutral think tanks will be unable to tear apart. So, they assemble the brightest sparks and wonks within the party with the intent of drawing up robust manifestos that should form the basis of the debates and from which they would extract slogans for the campaign.

The intent is that the incumbent party be able to showcase what it has achieved in the previous four years as it makes larger promises. The opposition party comes with a rehash of its old, rejected manifesto and adds on things that will make it better.

Fortunately, no one reads these manifestos because most of what is contained in them is never achieved.

Save the trees

A great deal of governance in a developing country involves firefighting problems for which there are no ready solutions. A broad vision of the direction of travel should suffice, not tomes which only contain promises that should not be fulfilled because they will not move the country on one iota.

But these are COVID days all around the world and although elections will go ahead, the razzmatazz is a little bit missing from all the preparations. In these foreign parts I have not yet come across the droves of Ghanaians, faithful party members all, who decamp these shore to go home to campaign in the hope that, when their side wins, they will be “rewarded” with a position of influence or, rather, an opportunity to contribute to the nation while living it up.

In these foreign parts, specifically Britain, we are thinking about the possibility of a second lockdown and restrictions on socialising in public places, all the while encouraging people to go out to the shops, use public transport and even enjoy “Rishi Dishes”, the discount scheme where one can have a discount meal on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in his personal effort to get the hospitality sector back to normal.

COVID is now complicated by the unfinished business of Brexit and whether the Prime Minister understood the deal he brokered in relation to Northern Ireland, and by what was in his manifesto about getting Brexit done. If only we had all seen COVID coming, we might just have opted for the Labour Party manifesto presented by Jeremy Corbyn, which promised just about everything, including free broadband.

Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, tears into Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
over his failure to present a clear Brexit strategy

But that is the main problem with manifestos: they usually promise more they can deliver, they are not expected to be coherent and, particularly in Ghana, they are not costed. As such, they remain an uncoordinated list of wishes and wants which do not always pay attention to needs. They are very long on infrastructure and low on what underpins the strategy for implementation of the infrastructural plans. And very little is said about building institutions.

When governments in the Western world, such as Britain, talk about infrastructure projects they usually talk long term. HS2 will take 20 years; CrossRail will take ten years but is already over budget by 50% and has been delayed for three years.

The Channel Tunnel took ten years; the redevelopment of London’s Docklands took 30 years; a nuclear power plant takes 25 years, a wind-power project ten years. The third runway at Heathrow Airport is scheduled to take ten years.Eurotunnel: Franco-British co-operation in action

These are serious projects with heavy British private sector involvement. Most of the projects are accompanied by court challenges from environmental groups and are delayed by campaigns organised by professional environmental protesters.

Road to nowhere

In Ghana, infrastructure projects are medium term, preferably over the life of a parliament. They attract few if any challenges from environmental lobby groups and invariably involve foreign contractors.

English infrastructural projects take a countrywide approach that benefits all. Ghanaian projects are regional or district/constituency-based. They are often about pleasing people with a road, a bridge (recently one new bridge in Chorkor floated away) or a housing development. It must be visible and tangible so that it can be presented as an achievement.

The rub is that the money for the project already belongs to the people, or has been borrowed so that future generations will pay for it. Sometimes the government will use our money to do something they want and not necessarily what the people want.

Incapable of independence?

Our infrastructure projects are timid affairs. We invariably must borrow for the construction. And we are not good at maintenance, so we borrow more money to rehabilitate the project years later.

Western countries are fed up with our borrowing for infrastructure projects because they think that we should be developing institutions that endure. So we have turned to the BRICS for infrastructure and may soon go to the MINT for funding for our projects. We seem uninterested in developing tooling capacity so that we can become able to undertake these projects without foreign assistance.

Enter the Chinese, who want our resources, our air, our earth and what is beneath it, our mountains and valleys, our stones and trees, our rivers and sea and all that is within and without, who will cut deals with businessmen, chiefs, government officials, politicians to get at these.

Sacred or not, they want these things for their own development because they have the resourcefulness to transform our resources to help fuel their own wealth. They will come and build our roads and our airports for us, transforming the country into Dubai. They will build our Parliament for us, and our harbours, and anything else we want them to build, so that our politicians can claim credit for these projects.

Principles of self-reliance

Infrastructure projects, however, breed corruption. The corruption starts at conception and continues through gestation.

Whether they are delivered stillborn, premature or after term, most infrastructure projects are over budget and not delivered on time. The local partner must “eat” or chop small but usually end up swallowing huge amounts of money. The professional firms are all at it – architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, accountants, lawyers and all other manner of professionals, including “financial engineers” – the only time I ever hear the term used in relation to a Ghanaian transaction.

Party affiliation is the qualifying factor: you must support a party, must be part of the higher echelons of that party and must have contributed to the party’s coffers. Then you resort to prayer that you will get paid before the government leaves power.

Our obsession with infrastructure projects means that we are not building capacity but creating tenderpreneurs. Why can we not source funding from our own people, design projects on our own and build using our own expertise? We will benefit better; we will create more jobs; and we will not create the mountain of judgment debts that could turn into neo-colonies. That is how Nkrumah built Job 600.

Let me wish a belated happy birthday to Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Katamanto, Oyɛ adiɛ yie, Nsuo dum-gya. The only thing you could not do was to turn a man into a woman. You built infrastructure in our country that is a lasting legacy. And as you were wont to say, “My Akosombo, my Ghana.”

London, October 2020

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