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Infrastructure for Poverty Eradication Programme probably won’t  help the poor

BY: Professor Philip Alston
 Professor Philip Alston
Professor Philip Alston

In socio-economic terms, there are two Ghanas, and they are radically different from one another.  One has the fastest growing economy in Africa and is a star performer globally. 

It boasts of  many millionaires, who will increase in number by 80  per cent  over the next decade.  Even today, the 80 richest people in Ghana own wealth equivalent to almost seven per cent  of the entire country’s GDP.  In the other Ghana, one in every five people is poor and one in every 12 is extremely poor.  These are Government’s statistics.

 The ‘poor’ live on less than GH¢1,314  per year and the ‘extremely poor’ on less than  GH¢792 . In this other Ghana, where 3.5 million children live in poverty, people are acutely aware that inequality is rising rapidly, and that the average person sees few if any benefits from the world-beating growth figures.

To bridge the gap between the two realities, the Government has promoted its flagship economic programmes “one factory, one district,” “one constituency, one million dollars,” and “one village, one dam.” These are being sold as  the Infrastructure for Poverty Eradication Programme(IPEP) which Government Ministers and officials assured me will generate major economic growth that will bring solutions to high poverty rates and unsustainable levels of urbanisation.

But these programmes, which were perfect as campaign slogans, actually have little to do with poverty alleviation.  Once they are rolled out, the main beneficiaries will be those with capital and the politically well-connected.  There is nothing in the way the schemes are designed to suggest that they are capable of generating the sort of large-scale employment opportunities or training for unskilled workers that would be needed to make a significant contribution either to eliminating extreme poverty or relieving urban crowding. 


Private funding

The government has also launched a huge effort to attract private funding for much-needed infrastructure spending.  But this too will not only do little for those living in poverty, but risks making their plight worse since they will never be able to afford access to the privatised facilities which must be paid for.

But if these programmes are not the answer to Ghana’s high rates of poverty, what is the alternative?  The most important element is to recognise that programmes that are specifically designed to end poverty are needed, and that poverty will never be eliminated simply by assuming that the benefits of economic growth will eventually trickle down to the poor.

Alternatives

First, the government needs to spend money on social protection.  Not truckloads, but enough to meet the essential needs of the very poor.  It is striking that other sub-Saharan African countries in the same low-middle income bracket as Ghana spend 50 per cent  more than it does on social protection.  In Ghana the figure is 1.4 per cent  of Gross Domestic Product(GDP), while in peer countries it is an average of 2.1 per cent. Social assistance (such as Livelihood Empowerment  against Poverty( LEAP), school feeding, capitation grants and  National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) exemptions) receive only 0.3 per cent of GDP, which is extremely low by any relevant international standards.  More money needs to be invested in social protection programmes that have been proven to reduce poverty and inequality such as LEAP and exemptions from NHIS fees.

Second, the government needs to ‘own’ the anti-poverty programmes.  In the Ghana Beyond Aid era, foreign donors will be less and less reliable sources of funds for basic social services. Around 90 per cent  of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protections’ goods and services spending (the part that pays for the actual programmes like LEAP) comes from donors, and that is entirely unsustainable.

Third, Ghana needs the sort of social compact that its politicians talk about at election time but do all too little to put in place when they are in government.  Citizens should be able to claim the economic and social human rights that the government has recognised internationally and the government should be held accountable for ensuring that they are able to claim the benefits they need to live a decent and productive life.

Fourth, freedom of information, long promised and long blocked, needs to become a reality.  There needs to be real transparency on the allocation of the national budget, and how it is distributed across ministries and geographic areas. People need to know where the money is going and why greater progress is not being made in eliminating extreme poverty.

The writer is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.