Dr. Bawumia, the chair of the economic management team, has lost credibility in Ghana’s political space. He mutates like a COVID virus – from a self-styled economic wizard to an Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Expert. He truly believes that Ghanaians are gullible. His sudden switch to digitalization agenda is a sincere attempt to cover the failure of his government to address the basic needs of Ghanaians. The NPP government has borrowed a little over GHc 214 billion, which is equivalent to about $35 billion. What have they done with these loans? The white-elephant grand infrastructure projects? Poverty and joblessness remain persistent and entrenched problems under this government. Dr. Bawumia’s recent lecture on “Transforming an Economy Through Digitalization – The Ghana Story” was just his usual rhetoric. It has no meaningful content.
Like most Ghanaians, we the NDC agree with the consensus that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have come to stay and has become an enabler in all spheres of life in the 21st Century. Indeed, according to the United Nation’s arm of the ITU, ICTs are considered a General-Purpose Technology due to their ubiquity and presence in the following areas: Education, Business/Commerce, eHealth, social media, Terrestrial TV and online streaming services in the era of internet of things (IOT) and so on.
The concept of ICTs has now morphed into a commodity/ national asset that has public good characteristics which needs to be managed and protected for future generations for most countries as well as the case of Ghana in particular. Matter of fact, usually, when there’s a new government their chiefly source of capitalization for budgetary support is Telecommunications Resources and ICTs infrastructure (cash cow) before the cocoa, diamond, oil and gold forex money come in. But then, the above cannot be done or achieved unless we go a step above and beyond the rhetoric, and create the needed solid, fundamental infrastructural framework on which to run the Digitization agenda for sustainable success.
By this piece, our aim is to assist Dr. Bawumia and his NPP government to initiate policy to enable Ghanaians leverage the benefits of ICTs to fight unemployment and fully access the benefits for socio-economic development. ICTS are our commonest syndrome and Ghana needs an all-hands-on deck effort from all Experts. As an alternative to helping the Ghanaian developmental agenda, to help Ghana fight the menace of graduate unemployment, we have a plan to employ over 2m Ghanaians in the short term and to make sure no graduate left behind in the 21st century through Youth Entrepreneurship to capitalize on the pent-up demand in these open ICTs/ Digitization spaces.
To achieve these necessary outcomes for economic development, the Ministry of Communication and Digitalization needs to step up its game. Departments and Governmental Agencies under the umbrella of the sector Ministry like the NCA and the Ghana Telecom Chamber et al should also do the needful by initiating pro digitization policies to help solve the issues that impede access to ICTs. For example, data rates in Ghana are comparably higher than what pertains in most neighboring West African nations such as Nigeria. As a country that is serious about ICTs growth, we cannot achieve the outcomes and expected leverage with such high broadband internet costs. In this regard, policy is needed for the Service Providers to be able to compete for Ghanaians to enjoy low data prices without compromising quality of service and so on.
Additionally, Spectrum allocation for VOIP Telephony and Terrestrial Digital TV systems and emerging technology solutions is a must in the private sector space. The Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) radio bands currently un-tapped needs to be freed/ opened-up and targeted provisioning ensured by the National regulatory body NCA for entrepreneurial and educational purposes to aid small Ghanaian businesses and entrepreneurs/ startups going into the post covid future.
Given that our Vice President, Dr. Bawumia, is not an Expert on the subject matter and associated technologies and nuanced issues, we present a few points below for clarity to the Ghanaian people.
1. Evolution of Ghanaian Telecommunications Systems and Government Initiatives and Policy
From the early years of Internet Access in Ghana, successive governments have progressively ensured our infrastructure is solid to enable Ghana leapfrog to capitalize the benefits of ICTs.
A plethora of initiatives towards our ICTs infrastructural developmental journey include-Then Ministry of Communication (MOC) /VOLTACOMM IMPLEMENTATION COMMITTEE, The National Database at NITA, GIFEC, The CIC Project, The ACCRA DIGITAL CENTER, The University of Ghana (GOG)/ Chinese Government (Huawei) Phase 1&2 Projects etc. All these policy frameworks and initiatives by past and present governments have not been enough due to the lack of a deliberate appropriation of funds, but at least have progressively contributed to the maturation of our national ICT infrastructure to a level where we can now begin to join the modern bandwagon of leveraging the opportunities that investment in ICTs bring to nations in what is now known as the knowledge era. In this regard, Dr. Bawumia should walk the talk and lead these initiatives that empower the private sector players to access ICT infrastructure and enable them to compete in a fair and free regulatory environment.
2. Broadband Investment for Job Creation and Employment
To say that Covid 19 has exposed most Governments of the world and Ghana is not alone will be an understatement. The fact that The Biden administration in the United States just recently approved $65bn infrastructure bill for broadband access alone tells you about a government who is interested in enabling the Digitization environment for her people. Ghana should do same by targeting development funds towards broadband and pro-broadband businesses and healthcare systems to thrive. It is curious to note that without a national broadband plan, the plethora of current, stand-alone e-Governance Projects under President Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo, so many times touted by Dr. Bawumia will fail.
E-government is engaged not only in providing citizen services, but also in improving public sector efficiency, transparency, and accountability in government functions (Madzova, Sajnoskia & Davcev, 2013). In view of the above, since Ghana is employing just under 1million Ghanaians in the public space, there presents a cogent reason why Government should initiate a deliberately strong telecommunication regulatory policy for the private sector to capitalize on the open spaces for the needed economic growth and help solve our growing unemployment problem, which has now become a national security threat, going forward.
As you all know, the Vice President has been very vocal on ICTs recently. Now, with such a digitalization policy agenda highly biased on e-governance initiatives focused on the public sector, as opposed to a more targeted policy towards the private sector, the truth is, without a broader plan that goes beyond the public sector and targeting the private sector, these fanciful initiatives only amount to gold-plating rhetoric and subject to failure. For example, a simple question to ask is what is the current government’s budget allocation for its digitization agenda in our National Infrastructure Bill beyond the public sector? 30%? Or more? This is a key reason why despite all the noise, at best, according to the Finance Minister, Government’s so called Digitization initiatives have not added to the employment creation agenda beyond one million people. One can simply conclude that such an agenda is not innovative enough. The government that is so poised to digitalize the economy has not shown any roadmap to public-private partnership.
3. The Question of ePharmacy
The Vice President should be informed that a Healthcare Informatics system that is a stand-alone won’t stand the test of time. Unless it is integrated within an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) System, the new ePharmacy solution being touted by the Vice President will be just another white elephant in just a matter of time. Instead, we propose a nationwide deployment of a solid standardized Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system that encompasses a pharmacy module which can be accessed by all the 30.8 million Ghanaians whilst they access quality healthcare. The reason is that access to quality healthcare and pharmacy are symbiotic and therefore not mutually exclusive. The globally known ones, namely Pharmnet and Willow, are widely used in health care service delivery in most top-level hospital systems and ambulatory clinics worldwide and are provided by healthcare systems technology giants Epic and Cerner. Again, with high data rates in Ghana, the benefits of this module cannot be fully achieved.
4. The Issue of Potential Duplication of Digitization/ ICT Technologies
Recall the Akuffo Addo Government led by the Ministry of Health recently launched the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) Project. Readers should care to know that most modern healthcare IT projects are not stand-alone solutions but usually comprise a full-fledged integrated Hospital Departmental model such as Emergency Department, Patient Record Access, Hospital Information Management (HIM), Environmental Service, Radiology, Pharmacy module etc. as patients access healthcare across the continuum of care. Now, without telling us about a plan to integrate his newfound-love e-Pharmacy onto the government of Ghana’s EMR Project, The Vice President is walking on a slippery slope with our meagre resources on a wasteful, duplicated expenditure. The best approach is the one which begins with an Asset Register that collates an inventory of all our national ICT assets and infrastructure. It is the cost-effective way to create value and prevent such wasteful, duplicated, over-supply ICT expenditures in the name Digitization.
Although we support digitalization initiatives, we want to state clearly that providing the basic needs of Ghanaians must be the priority of the NPP government. The unemployment situation is gradually becoming a national crisis. Dr. Bawumia’s claim that his government has created more jobs than any government in the 4th Republic is not only false, but also an insult to our hardworking youth who have been looking for jobs for the past several years. Maybe he was referring to the NABCO jobs that were temporary and did not pay livable wages. We know Ghanaians who worked several months and are yet to receive salaries from NABCO. The Vice President, the self-styled economic wizard, has failed the country. Managing a country is not about who talks more, it is about vision, pragmatic strategy, and hardwork. Talk is cheap! Has the Vice President arrested the depreciation of the cedi? Has he not borrowed since January 2017? Are Ghanaians better-off now than they were prior to January 2017? Indeed, their slogan “we have the men” is a delusion.
Issued by: NDC-USA Rapid Response Team
Signed by: NDC-USA Chapter Chairman, Madam Maame Aba Dadzie