WHY IS GHANA NOT AMONG THOSE WITH BEST COVID-19 RESPONSES?

WHY IS GHANA NOT AMONG THOSE WITH BEST COVID-19 RESPONSES?

Date: May 05, 2020, 08:21BY: Dr. Daniel Appiah

On April 13, 2020, Forbes, a renowned US-based global media company, named Germany, Iceland, Taiwan, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Denmark as countries with the best coronavirus policy responses.

Forbes asked the question, "What do these countries with the best coronavirus responses have in common?" And the answer given by Forbes was that the seven countries had in common 'women leaders'.

Is the absence of a woman leader in Ghana the reason why the country is still not named among the countries with the best coronavirus responses?

Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by imposing a three-week partial lockdown on Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Kasoa beginning from March 30, 2020. The partial lockdown affected the centres of the country's economy. The country had then recorded 137 cases of COVID-19, with four deaths.

 

On April 19, 2020, when the President announced the end of the lockdown from April 20, it had recorded 1,042 cases with 99 recoveries and nine deaths. The President argued that the decisions of the government were "backed by data and by science".

This piece examines the political- economy data.

Informal sector

The World Bank cautioned that copycat lockdowns would not work in Africa, because the majority of the workforce were found in the informal sector and their survival was on a daily basis.

The April 2020 edition of the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) rebased 2013-2019 annual GDP report states that out of the GH¢349,480 billion of the total value of goods and services produced in 2019, the informal sector accounted for GH¢92,469 billion.

According to the GSS 2015 Labour Force Report, "90 per cent of the currently employed population 15 years and older are in the informal sector."

Informal sector employment accounted for 86.4 per cent of the total employment in the Ashanti Region and 84.1 per cent in Greater Accra Region. Ghana's lockdown had a serious effect on the informal sector.

Private sector

The lockdown threatened the collapse of private sector businesses in the affected areas.

According to the GSS Labour Force Report, private sector employment represented 92.1 per cent and 89 per cent of total employment in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions respectively.

The lockdown led to the closure of many private sector businesses, reduction of salaries of many workers in the private sector and termination of jobs in the private sector.

It was not surprising that on April 17, 2020, an Accra-based television station captured on video hundreds of traders and buyers who had defied the presidential lockdown to engage in night trading activities on the blind side of the security forces.

The National Disaster Management Organisation estimated that the distribution of 400,000 packs of cooked food a day cost Ghana GH¢2 million a day (about $350,000).

The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori- Atta, who is also the Chair of the IMF/World Bank Development Committee, quickly ran to the IMF for financial bailout despite the government's loud rhetoric of creating a 'Ghana Beyond Aid'.

On April 13, 2020, the IMF Executive Board approved a US$1 billion Rapid Credit Facility for Ghana.

Political dynamics

Let us turn to the political dynamics of the lockdown. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) government won the 2016 presidential election with 53.8 per cent of the votes, while the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) got 44.4 per cent.

At the regional level, the NPP obtained 76.3 per cent and 52.4 per cent of the votes in the Ashanti Region and Greater Accra Region respectively, while the NDC got 23 per cent and 46.7 per cent in the two regions respectively.

The largest percentage of voters are in the private and informal sectors of Ghana; not in the formal sector where many government employees wished for the extension of the lockdown.

Crucially, if the December election takes place amid the coronavirus pandemic, employees in the informal and private sectors who constitute over 90 per cent of total employment in the country are more likely to defy fears of contracting the COVID-19 disease to join long queues to vote.

In the face of the December 2020 election, the NPP government would be committing political suicide if the informal and private sectors continued to be locked down, without the payment of financial compensations.

Not case

It is not simply the case that countries with the best policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have women leaders.

The US-based Madison Project Database (version 2018) shows that when Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957, the country's real GDP per capita of $2,353 (in 2001 US$, multiple benchmarks) was higher than that of China ($1,103), South Korea ($1482), Singapore ($1963) and the Chinese province of Taiwan ($1943).

How were these countries able to overtake Ghana in economic development? The answer lies in the choices made by their political elites in the creation of political rules of governance.

Ghana is more likely to join the list of countries with the best responses to human development crisis if political elites move the country away from the notorious winner-takes-all democracy to the proportional representative democracy found in the countries with the best policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

If the 275 parliamentary seats, 19 cabinet seats and over 100 ministerial positions were shared in the proportion of the percentage of valid electoral votes obtained by political parties after general elections, it is likely that Ghana would have been counted among the countries with the best COVID-19 policy responses.

The writer, Dr. Daniel Appiah, is a public sector governance specialist & a lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School.