UN Special Rapporteur’s statement on Ghana’s poverty eradication programmes Professor Philip Alston
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, has come to the conclusion that many of the government of Ghana’s flagship poverty eradication programmes may fall short of their mandate due to structural and roll-out defects.
Briefing the media on his preliminary findings after assessing the effectiveness of measures undertaken by successive governments to tackle extreme poverty and inequality in the country, Philip Alston said the only way to make these policies beneficial to the poor is for the government to fairly redistribute the country’s resources.
Find below the full findings
I have spent the past 10 days visiting Ghana, at the invitation of the Government, to look at whether the persistence of extreme poverty in Ghana undermines its people’s enjoyment of their human rights. In Greater Accra, and the Northern and Upper East Regions I have spoken with many experts and civil society groups, met with national and regional Ministers and government officials, and talked with many people living in rural and urban deep poverty. I am grateful to the Government of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for facilitating my visit and for its admirable cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council’s accountability mechanisms that apply to all states.
Ghana remains a champion of democracy in Africa, and its record in achieving certain Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is impressive. It met the targets for halving extreme poverty and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, and it achieved the goals relating to universal primary education and gender parity in primary school. Today, it is set to become Africa’s fastest-growing economy in 2018. Bloomberg News has proclaimed it the “Star of Africa in 2018 Lenders’ Economic Forecasts”2. And in reporting on the same fiscal policy achievements, Le Monde has pointed out that it is not just an oil-driven boom, but one due also to by prudent economic management, an entrepreneurial population, the role of traditional leaders, and good governance3. In addition, Ghana’s achievements in providing free schooling and free meals to students, and its creation of a health insurance scheme for the whole country are considerable achievements.
But there is another side to the coin. The benefits of record levels of economic growth experienced over the past decade have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthy. Inequality is higher than it has ever been in Ghana, while almost one-quarter of the population lives in poverty and one person in every twelve lives in extreme poverty. Spending on social protection is very low by the standards of most comparable African countries, and very little is spent on social assistance. Ghana has many admirable programs, but no discernible plans for funding many of them adequately. As a result, a large number of Ghanaian do not enjoy their basic economic and social human rights and the prospects for meeting many of the Sustainable Development Goals are not encouraging.
During my time in Ghana, I met with many head porters and others, both women and men, who sleep completely unprotected in Accra’s main markets and transport stations and in the nearby streets. These people are drawn to the big cities because there are no jobs for them in rural areas, but what they find is nowhere to shelter, little if any affordable toilet access, and the grimmest of conditions for any accompanying children. In Old Fadama, a huge informal settlement in Accra, I was shown the cramped, polluted, and often diseased conditions in which over 100,000 people live.
In Bongo, in the Upper East Region, I met with young men who expressed deep frustration that even after graduating from senior high school, there were very few jobs available for them. Ghana’s economic miracle has been largely jobless. I met with administrators who expressed serious concerns that such youths are prime targets for the radicalization that comes from a feeling of hopelessness. In distant rural villages outside Tamale, in the Northern Region, I met elderly people and people with disabilities, and they described how the government assistance they get (LEAP) covers them for at best two weeks out of an eight week pay cycle. They also acknowledged that others in their village had been distressed to be excluded from the cash assistance programme despite being just as poor. And I met with rural women, some of whom recounted that they had to withdraw their children from primary school because of hidden charges that they couldn’t afford to pay, while others explained how much they could make a living if even minimal training was provided in basket-weaving and many other low-cost skills.
I also met with a large group of school children aged between 12-15 who told of girl peers whose traditionally-minded parents did not encourage schooling, and refuse to support them if they become pregnant, forcing them to leave school and sending them to live in the male’s house, thus beginning a life of poverty for the girl and her children. In a rural area outside Bolgatanga, a group of parents of children with disabilities told me how traditional communities shun and often eliminate such “spirit children” or “evil spirits.”
Every country has people living in extreme poverty, but not every country has record economic growth levels and the capacity to take sustained and effective steps to eliminate much of the extreme poverty among its citizens. Ghana is at a crossroads and must now decide whether to continue existing policies that will further enrich the wealthy and do little for the poor, or to make fiscal adjustments that would lift millions out of poverty and bring them into the agricultural economy in ways that would contribute significantly to economic growth. Choosing to eliminate, or not to eliminate, extreme poverty is a political choice for a country like Ghana. When 3.5 million children live in poverty, and more than one-third of those live in extreme poverty, a human rights proponent would bemoan the violation of many of the rights of those children. But an economist would also point to the immense loss of human capital involved, the costs to the economy, and the future stunting of potentially productive citizens.
To discuss these challenges, I met with various Government Ministers and Deputy Ministers. But I worry that the fact that the Finance Ministry refused all of my requests to meet with even a single official during my ten day mission might be symptomatic of where its priorities lie. If the Finance Ministry has such limited interest in social protection, the resources needed will continue to be withheld, the discussions theoretically required to be held with the IMF on social protection floors will continue to be pro forma, and the economic growth and productivity arguments for taking social protection seriously, let alone the human rights ones, will never help to shape the President’s overall agenda. The Ministry will no doubt reply that they do discuss such issues with the World Bank, UNICEF, UNDP, and others. But the bottom line is that the policies being funded by the Finance Ministry are not those pertaining to social protection. Many are significantly donor-funded, and in the age of Ghana Beyond Aid, that will become even less sustainable. Many others are gravely under-funded.
Ghanaian politicians are immensely fond of, and very good at, creating slogans to describe complex but appealing programs. But there is little doubt that the appetite for such slogans has already far outrun the capacity for realistic implementation. This is compounded by the fact that many of the country’s legislative and institutional frameworks are progressive and impressive, at least until it becomes clear that there is little substance to them on the ground. Thus the challenge going forward is for the Government to choose its real priorities, make sure that social protection is among them and to be more transparent about potential costs and possible funding sources.
In the remainder of this statement, I outline the ways in which revenue could readily be raised if there was the political will, thus creating the relatively little fiscal space needed to transform Ghana’s current social protection approach and give it a good chance to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, of which the President has been a leading international advocate.
Before giving an overview of the official statistics that describe the situation of poverty in Ghana, it is instructive to look at a UNICEF snapshot of one of its poorest regions, which covers almost one-third of its territory. In the Northern Region, 70% of residents are in the bottom 20% income group. 47% of men have no education, only 27% of women are literate, almost a quarter of students do not complete primary school, 111 of every 1,000 children born die before the age of 5, 82% of the children are anaemic, one-third are stunted, and one-fifth are underweight.
Official estimates of income poverty show a reduction from between 51% and 56.5% in 1991‑2, to 24% in 2012-134. A person is deemed to be “poor” in Ghana if their income is less than 1,314 GHC per adult per year (which was US$1.83 per day in 2013, but would only be 81 cents today)5, while the “extreme poor” live on less than 792 GHC per adult per year (US$1.10 per day)6. According to the UNDP, the lower poverty line is only 27.1% of the mean consumption level in 2012/13, while the lower (extreme) poverty line is 44.9%7.
Ghana’s poverty is increasingly rural, with 38.2% of people in rural areas being poor, compared to 10.4% in urban areas8. The majority of persons living in poverty live in the north. The regions with the highest poverty rates are the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions, but the Northern region is languishing9. Poverty rates are increasing in the coastal zone and in urban settings, and overall poverty reduction is not keeping pace with population growth10.
In Ghana children are about 40% more likely to live in poverty than adults, which is a major increase since the 1990s, when children were only 15% more likely to live in poverty than adults11. The poor are more likely to work in agriculture: Not only are poverty levels much higher in agriculture, the sector has also shown significantly slower growth and “has not been seen as a sufficient policy priority12.”
Inequality has been rising consistently over the past 20 years13, giving Ghana one of the fastest growing rates in Africa14. The rise in inequality is apparent in household consumption. In 1987-8, the consumption of the top 10% of households was 4.7 higher than the bottom 10%, in 2012 it was nearly seven times greater15. In that time, the Gini index rose by 8 points16. The average consumption of the wealthiest 10% increased by 27% between 2006 and 2013, but the consumption of the poorest 10% only increased by 19%17. The top 10% consume approximately one third of total national consumption, in stark contrast to the poorest 10% who consume a mere 1.72%18.
The north and south dichotomy also plays out with respect to income inequality as well as poverty19. A particular spike in inequality between the north and the south of Ghana between 1999 and 2006 has been said to have “slowed down the impact of growth on poverty reduction” and involved low rates of growth for the poor20. This differential between north and south accounted for 10% of national inequality in 2013, while rural versus urban inequalities accounted for 17.6% of national inequality21.
Beyond the north-south divide, significant inequality also exists at both a regional and intra-regional level all over the country22. The Upper West, Upper East, and Brong Ahafo regions each record particularly high inequality levels23.
Inequality manifests itself in other ways as well. For example, the gap between rich and poor in relation to child mortality rates between 2006 and 2011 has doubled24. Children in wealthier families are now twice as likely to survive as poor children. Greater Accra recorded a much greater decline in childhood mortality than the three northern regions25.
It has been estimated that the number of millionaires will increase by 80% over the next decade (Ghana Wealth Report) and that the country’s wealthiest 80 people own wealth equivalent to almost 7% of the country’s entire GDP.
Specific issues affecting the human rights of the poor
The following list is far from exhaustive of the many ways in which people living in poverty are not able to realize many of their human rights.
Gender equality is mandated by the Constitution, and the Government has created a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Gender equality in primary school enrolment is also a notable achievement, although female dropout rates are much higher in some regions. In terms of representation in public office, the present government has committed to a quota of 30% and an important number of women are in the ministry. But in 2016, women held 10.9% of the seats in the national parliament and accounted for only 30% in tertiary education enrolments.
Because many of the discriminatory practices that still negatively affect women seem to be rooted in customary law and traditional practices, I met with a number of officials in the Ministry of the Chieftancy and Religious Affairs. Article 26 of the Constitution provides that, every person is entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion subject to the provisions of the Constitution. But it also prohibits all customary practices which dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental wellbeing of a person.
In response to my questions to the Ministry officials, they informed me that women are in no way disadvantaged in relation to land ownership and that “nothing prevents anybody from having title to land.” When pressed about how this works in practice the Ministry indicate that all land issues are handled by the traditional stool or family head, and that by approaching that person, anyone can seek access to land. When I asked if there were any specific policies in the Ministry to promote gender equality, I was told that this was the responsibility of another ministry. Given that the national and regional houses of chiefs are very important cultural and governance institutions, I asked how many women were represented. There are none at the national level, and until recently there was one at the regional levels. I then asked if there was any policy designed to explore how women might be better represented in that context, and the answer was that the Ministry does not interfere in traditional processes of this sort.
When asked if the Ministry seeks to discourage the extremely harmful and still common practice of child marriage, I was informed that there is no Ministry-specific policy on the issue and that it is not often raised. It seems that there was a project to combat the practice of widowhood brides, but that it had been ended three years ago because of a lack of funds.
The issue of land ownership by women is too complicated to go into detail here. It must suffice to note that about 80% of rural land is regulated by customary law. Community decision-making, with regard to the distribution of land plots, is under the responsibility of lineage chiefs, and all members of the lineage are entitled to usufructuary rights or customary freehold regardless of their sex. In practice, however, male family heads of household are in charge of establishing land ownership. Hence, women’s access to and use of land is mediated through their male counterparts.
Though agriculture in Ghana is predominantly practiced by small holder farmers, it contributes about 21% of GDP and 12% of tax revenues. Women make up around 50% of the agricultural labour force, and are estimated to produce between 50% and 70% of the food crops. Nevertheless, they earn less than 10% of the total income generated. There would seem to be powerful arguments for the Government to revisit the inevitably controversial issue of female land ownership and map out ways to achieve change that is essential if the rights of women are to be fully respected and if their economic productivity is to be unlocked.
(ii) Criminal justice
The President has acknowledged that justice is perceived to be “expensive and slow” in Ghana, and information presented to me by various stakeholders confirmed that the costs of the system fall overwhelmingly on the poor. They are the ones who cannot afford the lawyer guaranteed to them by the Constitution and by Ghana’s international human rights obligations. They are the ones who cannot pay the petty bribes so often demanded in this context, and thus end up in prison.
When I asked the Solicitor-General, representing the Attorney-General, she opted for an approach that I encountered all too often. When asked about specific shortcomings in practice, she consistently invoked legislative provisions or programs that had been set up and assumed that all must therefore be well.
In fact, Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms. The Ghana’s Legal Aid Scheme reportedly has 20 lawyers for the entire country, a ratio of worse than one lawyer per million of the population. What does exist is concentrated in large cities such as Accra and Kumasi, and the Legal Aid Scheme’s limited budget of GHC6.7 million (USD1.5 million) in 2017 has been reportedly further reduced to GHC5.9 million (USD1.3 million) in 201826.
The incidence of excessively prolonged and arbitrary pre-trial detention has been widely documented and criticised by human rights bodies and organizations at the national and international levels. Despite the existence of a number of constitutional and legal safeguards designed to prevent arbitrary pre-trial detention, they appear to be routinely ignored and violated by the law enforcement and judicial authorities27. There are reported cases of remand prisoners who have been detained for over 10 years28, and in some cases, for longer than the maximum sentence that can be imposed on crimes that they are accused of29. While a programme such as the Justice for All Programme has significantly contributed to reducing the remand prison population since its inception in 2007, it has not, and is not designed to, address the systemic causes of the problem, including the lack of capacity on the part of the law enforcement and judicial authorities to efficiently and effectively investigate, prosecute, process and manage cases.
The lack of effective legal representation is especially problematic in death penalty cases. Some prisoners have reportedly been sentenced to death without being represented by a lawyer30. The prisoners affected are overwhelmingly poor. Similarly, the consequences of prolonged imprisonment are devastating, particularly in light of deplorable conditions of detention. The prisons are often extremely overcrowded, and do not provide for adequate food, health care or sanitation facilities, leading to widespread communicable diseases among the prisoners. Again, the well-off will almost never be subjected to such treatment.
(iii) Urban poverty
Ghana is experiencing rapid urbanization, especially but not only to Accra. The growing urban population is very poor and the cities are becoming increasingly segregated as inequality gaps grow ever larger.
While people migrate to the big cities to escape from unemployment, under-employment and poverty and to search for better socio-economic opportunities, the reality they face in Accra is very high unemployment rates, and lack of access to housing and basic services such as water and sanitation.
Ghana has a housing deficit of about 1.7 million units, which is projected to increase to 2.4 million in 2018, and 3.8 million by 2020. Already, many people end up living on the streets in public places such as bus stations and markets, and performing menial tasks in the informal sector as hawkers, street vendors and head porters (Kayayee). With no social assistance in place to support the unemployed, engagement in very low-paying informal activity becomes a survival strategy, and many turn to sex work and criminal activities as their only options to make a living.
People living on the streets explained to me that they are able to access health care through the National Health Insurance System (NHIS), but that they are unable to afford the various medicines that must be bought privately. As a result, many end up in a negative cycle of ill health and impoverishment making it even more difficult to afford health care.
A shockingly high number of children live on the streets. A census conducted, by the Government’s Department of Social Welfare in 2011, counted 61,492 street children in the Greater Accra Region alone, and found that economic desperation was the reason for 87% of the children to be on the streets. Girls, some younger than 10, represented 59% of the total number. There is every reason to assume that the figures have become much worse in the intervening eight years.
The lack of updated data on the number of people living on the streets and the unemployment rate of internal migrants is concerning. Accurate figures are necessary to enable the Government to develop a strategic response. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection launched the national strategy “Operation get off the street for a better life” in 2017. I was not able to see a copy of the strategy and it is to be hoped that it will focus mainly on providing assistance, training and minimum facilities rather than seeking in vain to send people back to their hometowns.
(iv) People living in informal settlements
The quality of life in informal settlements is appalling. As I was able to walk through Old Fadama, the biggest informal settlement in Ghana located in the heart of Accra, and speak with the people living in the slum, I witnessed the lack of access to basic services, the terrible conditions they live in and heard about the continuous threat of forced eviction.
According to NGOs working on the ground, about 100,000 people currently live in Old Fadama, but there is no official data on the total population living in informal settlements. The last community-led enumeration done in Old Fadama was carried out back in 2009 when some 79,000 people lived there. However, Old Fadama is welcoming people every day despite its overcrowding. The people with whom I met explained that the main reason for them to be there is that they would not be able to afford living anywhere else; however, they feel strongly that they are being denied access to basic services and assistance provided to improve their livelihoods. For them, this denial undermines their opportunities and those of their children to be able to escape from living in poverty. Despite the difficulties they face, I was positively surprised to see that they have a strong sense of community and community members provide constant support to the residents who most need it.
96% of those of working age are in some form of employment, overwhelmingly in the informal sector, and especially at the Agbogloshie market and the lorry station. 65% of children under 18 do not attend school. While primary education is theoretically free, a number of parents explained that they could not afford the maintenance and uniform costs as well as fees for resources and school books and so had taken their children out from school.
Old Fadama is both a thriving community and a blight on the city. But rather than insisting that nothing can be done until a long-term solution can be found the Government should take urgent action to upgrade the living conditions in which so many people exist. In consultation with the community, efforts should be made to incentivize improved housing conditions and improve access to water, sanitation, electricity, education and health care for its residents. If relocation is eventually considered, it should be undertaken in accordance with the Basic Principles and Guidelines for development based evictions and displacement (A/HRC/4/18).
(v) Sexual orientation and gender identity
The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity is extremely controversial in Ghana. Many officials informed me that there is no prohibition on same sex couples, but that sexual contact between them would violate the law. They assured me that this was rarely enforced and there is thus not a problem.
This is not the place to rehearse all the arguments about equal treatment and respect for minorities. But there is a very important poverty dimension to the issue. The reality is that LGBTI persons face a range of human rights violations merely because they are perceived to be different. They suffer harassment in public, in the workplace, and in the family. They endure intimidation, arbitrary arrest, violence, threats, and blackmail, and they lack access to remedies for such violations. The absence of statistics on the LGBTI population and recurrent homophobic statements by political leaders, members of Parliament and religious leaders are symptoms of the prevailing discriminatory attitudes.
Stigmatization and discrimination make it impossible for them to become productive members of the community because when people know they are a LGBTI person they are thrown out from jobs, schools, homes and even from their community. Some of them choose to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity and are pushed to marry against their will; others leave their homes and communities to find new opportunities and start a new life31.Discrimination against LGBTI people makes them vulnerable to extreme poverty and LGBTI people living in poverty experience intersecting forms of discrimination that prevent the full enjoyment of their human rights.
Decriminalizing adult consensual same-sex conduct would be a first step towards recognising the human rights of LGBTI people and fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A national public education campaign on the rights of LGBTI persons and legal remedies and social services for victims of sexual discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is urgently needed to uphold Ghana’s commitments to equality and fairness32.
(vi) Persons with disabilities
Persons with disabilities are among the most vulnerable groups in Ghana. The 2010 Population and Household Census determines that there are 737,743 persons with some form of disability, representing 3 percent of the total population33. Socially, individuals with disabilities are viewed negatively and often ostracized and denied opportunities that result in their inability to participate in society34. Condemnation as a “spirit child” leads to ostracism at best, and death at worst. Persons with disabilities and families with a disabled child face a double burden of poverty.
In 2011, the Ministry of Health discontinued the collection of data on persons with disabilities. Concrete disaggregated data as well as government policies or programmes targeting persons, and in particular children, with disabilities are lacking. Another significant problem affecting individuals with disabilities is structural and accommodation barriers to access. Although the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2006 guarantees access, in practice there are various aspects of buildings that often make them completely inaccessible to individuals with disabilities35. This inaccessibility reduces the ability of individuals with disabilities to participate in employment, social life, and civic affairs.
The Government should re-establish the collection of data and the issuance of statistics on persons with disabilities to ensure the development of targeted policies and social protection programmes aimed to support persons with disabilities living in poverty.
Programs for the poor
The government’s five selected flagship social protection programs targeting the poor are: the Livelihoods Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW), the School Feeding Programme, the National Health Insurance (NHIS) Exemptions and the Basic Education Capitation Grants.
The five flagship programs fall within the purview of different ministries. LEAP is overseen by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. The School Feeding Programme is also overseen by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, but implemented by the Ministry of Education. Basic Education Capitation Grants are facilitated by the Ministry of Education36. Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW) is implemented through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’s Ghana Social Opportunities Programme37. NHIS is implemented, operated and managed by the National Health Insurance Authority – a body corporate – but is coordinated and implemented by the Ministry of Health38. However, while the 2015 National Social Protection Policy makes a point of encouraging inter-ministerial coordination, it is apparent that the policy has not yet translated into practice.
Indeed the coordination issue goes well beyond social protection issues. There are many problems involved in coordinating Government policies across departmental, or sometimes even within departmental lines. Many examples could be given, but a few must suffice. One Ministry affirmed that the SDGs were of major importance to Ghana but could not point to even a single programmatic goal or sub-goal that they were actively promoting or implementing. Instead, it referred me to the Presidential SDG Unit. The Attorney-General’s Department had no view on prison overcrowding or the abysmal conditions in which prisoners are held, referring me instead to the Interior Ministry, whose concern this was. And the Ministry of the Chieftancy and Religious Affairs, when asked if they do anything to promote gender equality insisted that this was a matter for the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection.
Most (if not all) institutions and commentators recommend spending more on targeted poverty alleviation measures39. For example, the positive impacts of LEAP on the lives of people living in poverty and the commensurate benefit that would be experienced with an expansion is widely accepted, including by the government. Currently LEAP only reaches about 18% of people living in poverty. The amount of the benefit is also seriously inadequate. A recent evaluation showed that in 2017 the assistance had lost 20% of its value over the previous two years and represented about a 14% share of average beneficiary household consumption – much below the 20% rule of thumb40. Similarly, the NHIS exemption for the poor is very obviously a positive program for alleviating poverty through access to health services and medicines. However, the NHIS scheme currently reaches only about one-third of the population – meaning both that people who need the exemption are missing out, and those who should be contributing to the scheme and providing funding through premiums are not subscribed.
The World Bank found in 2016 that LEAP could be expanded to cover all extremely poor families by using part of the fiscal space created by the ongoing fiscal consolidation. It found the following percentage breakdown within the social assistance budget41: school feeding 54%; Fee waiver 16%; LEAP 13%; LIPW 13%; and Other programs 4%. Thus, the two programs that were well targeted to the poor – LEAP and LIPW – comprised only 26% of total social assistance expenditures. According to the Bank, it would cost 0.12 percent of GDP in 2019 to cover all extremely poor families within the next five years42. Assuming perfect targeting and distribution, the World Bank estimated spending 0.5 percent more of GDP could eliminate extreme poverty in Ghana43. This recommendation does not appear to have been implemented. While there has been an increase in social protection spending by government from GHC 50 million in 2016, to GHC 157.7 million in 2017, and to GHC 168.3 million in 2018. In real terms, this represents an increase of 14% over the 2017 allocation. In the 2018 Budget, the Government again only allocated 0.5% of GDP to social protection44.
An example of the tenuous funding for social protection programs is the Labor Intensive Public Works (LIPW) program, which is a key intervention targeted at the rural poor. In the 2017 Budget, the government promised to “undertake a total of 322 sub-projects in 60 districts through the Ghana Social Opportunities Project (GSOP), which are expected to employ 30,764 rural poor through 154 climate change interventions.” The 2018 Budget was silent about LIPW and said nothing about funding it, which seems to suggest that almost all of it will be donor-supported45.
Existing budget spending on social assistance and protection is very low. The World Bank observed in 2016 that “Ghana spends 1.4 percent of GDP on social protection, 0.5 percent of GDP on social assistance including scholarships (compared to a global average of 1.6 percent of GDP among developing countries), 0.9 percent of GDP on pensions and 0.1 on ALMPs. Social assistance (excluding scholarships) represented only 0.9 percent of total public expenditures and 0.3 percent of GDP.”
Given the very low level of social spending in the Budget in general, and the fact that some 90% of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protections’ goods and services spending is said to come from donor partners46, the commitment to a Ghana Beyond Aid raises more questions than it answers. Commercial sectors will doubtless be able to make up for decreasing aid, as will some other government programs, but there is a risk that much of the burden of diminishing aid dependence will fall upon the social protection sector unless dramatic steps are taken to change the existing approach.
Even the IMF believes that there is no more room in the Ghanaian budget for expenditure cuts. Thus if revenue is to be raised to pay for significant social protection programs additional revenue needs to be raised. There have been many studies undertaken pointing to the options that exist to raise taxes. The reality, however, seems to be that if various forms of corruption were tackled more seriously, and especially if some of the politically-inspired tax exemptions were eliminated, the budget could enjoy rude good health. I heard informed estimates that existing taxes yield less than 10% of their potential because of the exemptions that have been included to satisfy special interests.
A recent academic study concluded that very little fiscal redistribution takes place through the budget, and that were it not for the in-kind benefits from health and education spending, the overall effect of government spending and taxation would actually increase poverty in Ghana47. In other words, except for health and education programs the rest of the budget disadvantages the poor.
The bottom line is that more revenue could very easily be generated if the political will exists, and even a small amount of it could be used to provide serious and sustainable financing for an expanded package of social protection measures in Ghana.
Many politicians have talked about the broken social contract in Ghana, but what needs to happen is for there to be a serious commitment to respecting economic and social human rights, especially of the poorest sectors of society.
Annex: Details of the Mission
The Special Rapporteur visited Ghana from 9 to 18 April 2018 at the invitation of the Government. He is grateful to the Government of Ghana for having invited him to visit the country, and he is very appreciative of the level of cooperation received from the Government, civil society, academia, ambassadors, donors, international organizations, and those with whom he met who are living in poverty. During his time in Ghana, the Special Rapporteur visited Accra, Jamestown, and its outskirts, including Old Fadama. He also visited the Northern and Upper East Regions.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Minister of Health, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Chief Director of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Chief Director of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, the Solicitor General of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, the Acting Government Statistician of the Ghana Statistical Service, and the Director on Plan Coordination of the National Development Planning Commission. He further met with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice.
In Accra, the Special Rapporteur met with people living on the streets and people living in Old Fadama, an informal settlement, located in the center of Accra.
On 12 April 2018, the Special Rapporteur visited Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, where he met with the Regional Minister and the Regional Coordinating Council. In the Northern Region, the Special Rapporteur travelled to East Gonja where he met with the Municipal Chief Executive as well as people living in poverty in the Gurishi Zongo community.
On 13 April 2018, the Special Rapporteur met with LEAP beneficiaries in the Dimani community, in the Tolon district, and Nalung community, in the Tamale district, as well as with the District and Regional Offices of the National Health Insurance Scheme.
In the afternoon of 13 April, the Special Rapporteur travelled to Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East Region, and met with the Regional Minister and the Regional Coordinating Council. He also had a meeting with civil society organizations working in the Upper East Region.
On 15 April 2018, the Special Rapporteur visited Leligo and Kansoe communities in the Bongo district where he was able to speak with different women groups living in poverty in rural areas He also met with a United Youth Group in Bongo central. In the afternoon, he travelled to Feo community where he met children and elderly people with disabilities and to Nabdam where he met with school children. At the end of the day, he met with the Single Mothers Association in Zuarungu.
Finally, on the last days of the visit, the Special Rapporteur returned to Accra for final official meetings and held a Press conference on Wednesday 18 April before his departure.
By: Professor Philip Alston @citinews