“Seeing that poor people and poor areas will enter the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country is a solemn promise made by our Party.” – President Xi Jinping
As Ghana prepares for the 2024 General Election, a common feature will be the ‘brandishing' of political party manifestos in a few weeks to come. Manifestos are simply policies political parties present to voters at elections.
Some people call them social contracts. They guide voters' intentions, while the parties use them to woo voters. The results of the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 General Elections show that electoral choices in Ghana are gradually and largely being based on the policies, ideologies, and philosophies of political parties rather than ethnicity or “political tribalism”.
As a result, political parties are beginning to spend good time and resources in developing manifestos that will respond to the social welfare needs of voters. Unfortunately, it appears every election year, all manifestos focus on infrastructure development, health, education, and the economy with little differences among the policy documents of the various parties.
Some make promises they cannot fulfil – just slogans. For others, getting a crowd-moving song is a good enough campaign strategy to win votes. Chapter six of the 1992 Constitution – The Directive Principles of State Policy – enjoins the State to promote the welfare of the people – common prosperity, but that appears to be a mirage over the years, with a widening inequality gap.
The problem of inequality
Oxfam International says significant inequalities exist in the country, especially between the south and the north, where most of the population lives on less than $1 a day. It says around 24.2 per cent of the national population lives below the poverty line, with the country ranking 140 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Inequalities between women and men also continue to be very high despite policy interventions by successive governments. This has raised concerns, with some peace and development experts suggesting China's Common Prosperity strategy to improve citizens' well-being, eradicate poverty, and consolidate the country's democracy. Common Prosperity has been a theme in the Chinese development strategy for decades.
Though it seems to be a political slogan, it is the ‘spirit' of the people redefined by various leaders. For some, it means collective ownership. Others, allowing some people to get rich and support others, and recently, the equal distribution of income. China's President Xi Jinping is reported to have first introduced the concept of common prosperity at the 10th meeting of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs in August 2021. His focus is on raising the incomes of low-income groups, promoting fairness, making regional development more balanced, and championing people-centred growth.
Raising income of low-income groups
Income inequality appears to be a great challenge to countries all over the world. It has and still fuels agitations, some leading to military takeovers and the exodus of skilled labour and essential human resources. The situation is not different in Ghana.
In the last three years, there have been agitations and street protests over poor living conditions, with many people attributing the situation to high disparities in income levels. “One of the richest men in Ghana earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years,” says Oxfam International.
The inequalities in income levels necessitated calls by a section of the populace for the government to cut its expenditure, reduce the number of appointees and regulate the excessively high incomes of some people, especially Article 71 officeholders, with many calling for a new ‘people's' constitution.
Article 71 officeholders include the President, the Vice-President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice, and the Justices of the Supreme Court. The rest are Members of Parliament (MPs), Ministers of State, political appointees, and public servants with salaries charged to the Consolidated Fund.
China, in working on common prosperity, came out with some policies, including the regulation of excessively high incomes. It brought excessive income under control and promoted public welfare and charitable endeavours. It also encouraged high-income people and enterprises to return more to society. Besides those, it raised the income of key public servants and low-level employees of State-Owned Enterprises and institutions.
The country also made low-income earners its priority in the provision of basic public services. The above, I'm sure Ghana can do. Pay workers a realistic living wage and cut down on expenditure on Article 71 officeholders. Just like China, Ghana can also create a business ecosystem that nurtures businesses to thrive.
This can be done by giving tax holidays to investors establishing in the regions, with the central government or local assemblies improving rural infrastructure, rural public service, and rural living environment. These interventions will create business environments that will open the regions up, spur growth, and create employment opportunities, wealth, and happiness.
China is pursuing this with balanced, coordinated, and inclusive development through an improved socialist economy. It is enlarging the middle-income group by cutting taxes and fees and providing more market-oriented services to Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs). The idea is to help them remain in business for sustained growth. Unfortunately, our governments and local assemblies are arguably too heavy on taxes, charges, and fees.
This is preventing young entrepreneurs from starting small businesses that can later grow into regional and global giants. Often, as soon as the business starts, everything goes into the payment of taxes and fees. As a result, many new businesses with financial challenges hardly celebrate their third anniversary.
Local assemblies ought to know that it is their responsibility to nurture businesses to first grow, expand, create jobs, and pay good taxes and fees. China's support for SMEs empowered millions of individuals to join the middle-income level group, lifting more out of poverty.
With the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses still staggering, a policy document to raise the income of low-income groups and balance developments in the regions to create jobs could be a winning manifesto.
According to the World Bank, Ghana, between 1991 and 2012, had cut its poverty rate from 52.6 per cent to 21.4 per cent, but over the years, sustaining poverty reduction has been a big challenge, with COVID-19 making millions relapse into poverty. Currently, about 2.99 million people in Ghana live in extreme poverty, the majority in rural areas.
The Ghana Statistical Service's (GSS) 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC) General Report on Water and Sanitation says one in every four households (27.7%) in urban areas did not have their main source of drinking water on their premises.
This figure, the GSS says, represents 1.4 million urban households without access to water on their premises. Out of this number, 89,922 households travel more than 30 minutes to make a round trip to get to their main sources of drinking water and return. The North East Region recorded the highest percentage – over ten times the national urban average (2.2%).
It also says one in every ten (11.9%) households in Ghana's capital, Accra's urban centres, lived in uncompleted buildings or unconventional structures as of 2021. The report says over a quarter of a million (316,116) households in Ghana's urban areas were living in either uncompleted buildings (79,721) or unconventional structures (
236,395) as of 2021. All the other 15 regions recorded percentages below the national urban average (5.4%) – a clear case of high rural-urban migration fueled by unbalanced regional development.
China fixed similar challenges with regulatory reforms. For example, there are regulatory crackdowns on the private education sector for excessive profits; the video game industry for gaming addiction among children, the entertainment industry for “improper” content, tech companies for exploitation of platform workers, and tech companies for exploitative use of algorithms.
The policy also involves investments and incentives to address development and the living conditions of the people. An example is a rural revitalization campaign, with a focus on improving conditions in rural areas and encouraging industrial transfer to less-developed regions. By the end of 2020, the 98.99 million people who were in rural areas living below the poverty line in China had been lifted out of poverty.
Also, the 128,000 impoverished villages and 832 poor counties managed to shake off poverty too, according to the State Council Information Office. There has also been substantial improvement in the incomes, welfare, and living standards of the poor in impoverished areas as well as ethnic minority areas like inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia, and Xinjiang.
Another way China is creating common prosperity is by improving pension and healthcare security by bridging the financial and benefits gap between rural and urban dwellers and the rich and the poor.
In Ghana, currently, the highest-paid pensioner, a private businessman, receives GHC169,725.89 monthly. In contrast, many pensioners receive as little as GHC400 a month. Out of the 11.5 million labour force, 9.9 million are said to be actively employed, with 6.7 million being self-employed and only nine per cent of the self-employed under a pension scheme.
The Trade Union Congress attributes the low pension benefit to the poor salary structure and income inequality, which China addressed by creating an opportunity for more people to join the middle-income group.
Improving the low-income level is one way of addressing the issue. The other is empowering people in the informal sector to join pension schemes. This needs a deliberate policy that is comprehensive and appealing.
Health and wellness
China's common prosperity strategy focuses on health and wellness as well as enhanced access to quality healthcare. Aside from subsectors, including elder care, emerging areas like digital healthcare and biotech are seeing additional investments. The government is also creating a healthy environment by addressing environmental degradation, improving recycling and waste management practices, transitioning to sustainable energy sources, and investing in green technologies.
In Ghana, despite efforts by successive governments for the populace to have timely access to high-quality health services irrespective of ability to pay at the point of use, millions of Ghanaians still do not have access to quality healthcare services. This is because many are living in extreme poverty and cannot pay premiums; some cannot even pay for their transportation to healthcare facilities.
Some services are not under the health insurance scheme and the exodus of healthcare professionals to developed countries. Currently, the government is working hard to find solutions to the high cost of kidney treatment. The point is access to quality health must not be just a campaign promise.
The policy must demonstrate commitment to take good healthcare services to the doorstep of Ghanaians and show how the government will deal with environmental degradation, waste management, and energy issues and take advantage of green technologies.
In the implementation of all these, the country must not forget to monitor continuously the very poor people, regions, and districts and support them not to relapse should they encounter obstacles that can send them back into poverty – one of the golden secrets of China. Simply, the manifestos for this election cycle must lift those left behind and address social ills and “unchecked growth” for our common prosperity as done by China.