Dr. Owusu Banahene
At a time when for once leaders of a developing country cannot escape the infrastructure and systems they might’ve failed to build to benefit from someone else’s in the developed world, this presents a fine opportunity to experience the harsh reality for themselves and sit up, post COVID-19. A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.
I would like to add my voice to concerns that some have have expressed recently about lessons that Ghana should draw from the coronavirus pandemic. This is crunch time for us. It is a wake-up call. There is no doubt that the health system in Ghana would not cope if we were to be faced with even a quarter of the cases that we have seen in countries like China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Spain, to name but a few. Even Italy, with one of the best health systems in the world, cannot cope. The UK has adopted drastic measures because it recognises that its National Health System cannot handle the expected cases. Equally, the USA does not have enough test kits, ventilators, hospital beds, doctors, nurses etc. to manage the numbers expected.
Ghana’s health system is nowhere close to these countries. Even under normal circumstances, our public hospitals have low capacity—we struggle with shortage of beds, with many patients sleeping on the floor or in corridors. We cannot even deal with Malaria nor vaccines without going cup in hand to the Global Fund and GAVI. Yet, our politicians and governments over the decades have lived and continue to live in largesse. For example, for a small, debt-ridden, low middle income country like Ghana, we have well over 100 ministers, most of whom live in expensive houses in posh neighborhoods provided by the state and drive expensive cars (so-called V8s). Their favourite car, the Land Cruiser, costs about USD 135,000 to buy new. All of these ministers have two or more cars provided by the state.
It is not just ministers. I have seen parliamentary delegations travelling abroad, sometimes about 15 of them. They travel in Business Class. When you engage them in conversation, they tell you about some of their other trips to places like South Africa, the UK, Kenya etc. One gets the impression that they travel frequently and regularly. They get significant per diems on these trips and stay in expensive 4-star and 5-star hotels. I recall one such delegation on a trip to the UK, made up of MPs from the ruling party at the time and the opposition, not to mention their escorts. Most were in First Class, whilst the rest (the escorts) were in Business. Upon arrival at London Heathrow, there was a fleet of Mercedes cars on the tarmac from the Ghana High Commission to meet and collect them. Of course they did not go through immigration and customs like the rest of us did.
Add to the above the corruption and kick-backs from contracts and other rent-seeking activities and you get an idea of the scale of the loot and largesse. In consequence, infrastructure projects such as airports, roads, hospitals, electricity etc. cost twice or more what they should, to say nothing of procurement of routine and regular supplies across the country. These monies, amounting to hundreds of millions of US dollars, end up in the pockets of the politicians, public servants and their cronies.
I could go on, but now, consider what we could have done with such monies at a time like this with COVID-19. Consider the test kits we could have bought, the hospitals we could have built across the country, the isolation wards, the ventilators we could have procured, the number of doctors, nurses and other health personnel we could have trained and retained in Ghana—with all the extravagant spending, waste and corruption of the past three or four decades! We could have been like Singapore or South Korea but, no, our politicians, public servants and their cronies have chopped and wasted the money—and continue to do so.
I hope and pray that COVID-19 would be a wake-up call for all of us. I wish some smart Alec would identify and do an inventory of all the properties and monies, including those stashed abroad, of the politicians and public servants and ask them to account for them. Those that cannot be legitimately accounted for should be confiscated and auctioned, with those monies going into a special fund for development. It is crunch time. It is time for us to wake up!