As Ghana grapples with a tottering economy, the Chief Executive Officer of Dalex Finance, has urged economists to use plain vernacular/English in their public communication. This will enable them contribute effectively to shaping and driving public policy.
According to him, “..the use of meaningless and empty phrases to make it look like people know what they are talking about must stop…..” and he also urged them to “…be passionate about economics as the pastors are about their collections”
Mr Thompson, speaking at a forum to launch the ‘K. B. Amissah Arthur Chair in Economics’ initiative, lamented the worsening state of affairs of the country’s economy and was unhappy with the failure of economists to effectively engage policy makers to provide solutions to the country’s problems.
According to the Chartered Accountant, “the economic challenges facing Ghana are complex - high youth unemployment, high debt levels, low national income, compensation of employees, interest expense and statutory deductions constituting an average of over 90% of the country’s budgeted income. This leaves very little money for investment”.
He said academia needs to lobby for change and develop long term relationships with policy makers either directly or indirectly. These relationships should be based on mutual trust and respect.
Although civil servants and politicians sometimes lack expert knowledge in their policy fields, they react unfavourably, if at all, to lengthy technical and opaque documents that academia produces. We have often tried to circumvent the need for healthy engagement by encouraging academia to cross over to active politics.
There have been several ‘successes’ in pursuing this work around including H.E Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur of blessed memory, Dr. Kwesi Botchway and Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta also of blessed memory and others too numerous to mention. This route, despite the many success stories is not a sustainable way to achieve the objective of academia influencing policy. Because the danger is that the academics who become partisan politicians may fall into the same trap as the policy makers they seek to influence.
In 1983, when Ghanaians repatriated from Nigeria, our population was 14.2m, 36 years later it is approximately 30 million and by 2050, 31 years from now it is projected to be approximately 52m. And this is a country whose economy is based on the extractive sector. Our biggest export is gold, followed by oil, then cocoa. Golden Star Resources, project that two of their mines in Ghana have an average remaining life span of 5 years. We therefore have big issues to contend with.
There are three main reasons why academia frequently fails to influence policy - failure to produce clear outcomes without caveats, reluctance to clearly define policy implications, difficulty in communicating findings in an accessible way. At that point, the policy makers are looking for their Prophet or Alhaji.