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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Arthur K: Focusing on Jobs

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, the author
Arthur Kobina Kennedy, the author

Let the President stop cleaning the Castle and start leading us to create jobs. Cleaning the Castle is underemployment, not leadership.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy
Last week, on the front-pages of newspapers and on news programs in Ghana, there were images of able-bodied young men, fighting over the control of toilets. They were NDC activists fighting for the spoils of victory.

Struggling for control of toilets? What about struggling to set up businesses? To go to College? To learn trades? To set up farms? Of course, that was not the first time. There had been similar incidents in Accra and other places.

From Accra to Zebilla, our youth, bereft of options are struggling to make ends meet. In many rural areas, once the short farming season is over, entire communities are unemployed for months. Along our city streets, able-bodied young men and women sell whatever they can sell and sometimes, their bodies.

Periodically, the very governments that have failed them and the nation will turn on them: to drive them off the streets, to prevent them from hawking on the streets, doing “Sakawa” or in the case of women, from selling themselves.

Jobs in an economy are very important. In the United States, virtually everybody knows the unemployment rate. Governments rise and fall by them. Presidents are celebrated or damned by them.

Last week in America, the unemployment rate hit 9.5% which is a twenty-six year high. People were talking longingly of the twenty million jobs created by President Reagan or the twenty-two million jobs created by President Clinton. To the Americans, it is not only the number of jobs created that matters but the quality of the jobs. As one woman said derisively during the Clinton era, “President Clinton has created 22 million jobs and I have three of them just to make ends meet.” While the growth of an economy matters, the creation of jobs is very important. There can be a lot of growth with little job creation and that is not very good. Last year, for instance, the departing NPP administration chalked a historic 7.2% growth but it is unclear, how many jobs were created.

Which brings me to the current government. Last week, President Mills interacted with the Press on the occasion of his 65th birthday. According to the Graphic, “He said people, especially graduates from various educational institutions who were turned out in their thousands on an annual basis, were confronted with the problem of unemployment.” Elsewhere in the interaction, the Graphic reports “He said the lack of jobs had forced the youth, especially those in the northern regions of the country and elsewhere to migrate to the capital and other major urban centers to seek for jobs”. To cap it all, the President assured the assembled media that “several interventions have been taken.”

The President’s diagnoses were right on point. It means that Ghana spends a lot to support the education of many of our youth in fields where they are not needed.

What should upset all of us about the President’s interaction was that he did not identify even one of the “several interventions that have been taken”. The Press did not bother to ask the President to elaborate on the interventions.

On behalf of all Ghanaians, let me ask the questions that the Press should have asked.
  1. Mr. President, what are the “several interventions” and how will they create jobs for the youth?
  2. How many jobs will be created by these interventions, in which sectors and by when?
  3. As you begin to tackle this problem, what is our unemployment rate now and what do you expect it to be in 2012?

It is not only the President who has been parsimonious with information. A few months ago, the Deputy Minister of Finance, Hon. Fiifi Kwetey, was asked by Joy FM’s morning show host Kojo Opong-Nkrumah the unemployment rate in Ghana. Even though he had been on the job for six months, he did not know ! That was a stunning admission. If such high-ups in our government are not sure of the unemployment rate, how can they do something about it? The figures reported for our unemployment has varied according to the source. It has ranged from a low 20% to as high as over 50% depending on the source. According to experts, there are, in addition to the unemployed, many who are underemployed.

It appears that the government has not been doing much consultation about our economy and how it can create jobs. Speaking at a forum organized by “The Graphic” last week, Nana Owusu Afari, CEO of Afariwa farms and Vice-President of the Association of Ghana Industries complained about the government’s lack of consultation. He said “Just 3 or 5 days ago, we heard of the 5% National stabilization Levy. I don’t know if any private business associations or the private sector was adequately informed. The bill was rushed through Parliament and was passed and a lot of us started opening our mouths--- what is happening? We know we have gone through that with the previous administration that brought in the National Reconstruction Levy.”

We have a huge unemployment problem that our government is refusing to confront. While this is not a partisan issue, solving the problem requires aggressive Presidential leadership.

What do we need to do?

First, our governments must make job creation a priority and keep us informed regularly about what is being done about it.

Second, our government must work with the private sector in creating good, well-paying jobs for our young men and women. Such collaboration should include getting private-sector input into bills that will affect their viability and their ability to hire new workers. Furthermore, even when the executive proposes laws without involving the private sector, Parliament should have public hearings that will have as witnesses, private businessmen, academicians from the Universities and the labour movement.

They must also exercise executive oversight to ensure that our Ministers are doing more than battling over cars and eating “chinchinga”. It appears that our governments consult the World Bank more than the people who vote for them.

Third, our governments must actually initiate programs that create jobs or help the private sector to create jobs.

Opportunities for these abound. The building of 500 thousand new housing units for working people at 25 thousand Ghana cedis per house will create many jobs for bricklayers, painters, electricians and plumbers. The construction of thousands of modern public toilets, coupled with the clearing of the garbage that has piled on our streets will create thousands of well paying jobs.

Along the lines of keeping our streets clean, the implementation of the NPP’s pledge to train and deploy 100 thousand sanitary inspectors on our streets will take many able-bodied young men away from idling on our streets to policing cleanliness. The doubling of our Police force from 25 to 50 thousand will create thousands of jobs while making all of us safer.

While the government can create many jobs, most jobs, around the world are created by the private sector. Government should take steps to assist the private sector in this all-important function. Amongst the measures that can help the private sector are a reduction in corporate taxes, beginning with an immediate repeal of the Stabilization Levy, commitment of the government to purchasing most of its supplies from local sources, and a pledge to buy at least 50% of the maize produced by farmers for storage in our strategic reserves.

On the education front, we must stop training graduates we do not need and start training graduates we need and will need in the future. We need graduates who can build things, not those who can talk about things. We need doers, not talkers. For years to come, we are going to need technicians, technologists, engineers, doctors, nurses and entrepreneurs, who will have jobs waiting for them, at home and abroad, to build our nation, to get good incomes and to help us build a middle-class that will take us to middle-income status.

I know as you read this, you are wondering whether we have the resources to do all these things.

Yes—we do. The question is not whether we have the resources but whether we have the will.

If we can build “Job 600” and “Jubilee House”, we can invest in job-creation.

If we can give our Parliamentarians so much ex-gratia on retirement and so much “Pre-gratia” for car-loans, we can create jobs for our youth.

Let us help the youth to chase technology instead of chasing toilets. Let our internet-savvy youth market tourism instead of doing “Sakawa”.

Ghanaians have shown, for generations that we are hard-working and smart. Around the world, wherever we school or work, Ghanaians are celebrated for our diligence and intelligence.

Finally, as voters, we must hold to account the politicians who seek our votes and insist that when in power, they must pursue the public’s interest rather than private gain.

Let the President stop cleaning the Castle and start leading us to create jobs. Cleaning the Castle is underemployment, not leadership.

Let us move forward, together.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

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