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COVID-19 challenges: Sam Jonah calls for national dialogue

BY: Maxwell Akalaare Adombila

The Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Sir Sam E. Jonah, has called for a national conversation on how to mobilise national talents and resources to address the challenges and scars created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said such a dialogue should include key stakeholders, such as organised labour, the political parties, traditional leaders, civil society and youth groups, to come up with "pretty tough decisions" that will be required to bring the economy back to normalcy.

In an interview with the Daily Graphic, the retired business executive said the woes of COVID-19 were enormous and pervasive, such that a different model, other than the usual "partisan approach", was needed to find solutions to them.

The interview was a follow-up to a speech he had presented at the ninth joint graduation ceremony at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra last week in which he had, among other things, advised the youth to be innovative in a post-COVID-19 world.

Parliament

The former President of AngloGold Ashanti said the emergence of a hung Parliament in the 2020 elections, with the Speaker coming from the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), showed that the people wanted the two political parties to work together in these difficult times.

He said history was replete with precedent, with countries facing severe challenges doing away with partisanship and working together.

Sir Sam, therefore, appealed to both sides of the political divide to work together in "a unity government or whatever name you will chose to call it" to confront the challenges.

"Such a government is more likely to create the level of trust required to navigate through the difficulties," he added.

According to him, the global nature of the pandemic meant that Ghana and other needy nations might not receive finances and technical expertise to deal with the challenges.

“Therefore, we have to look within and we have to be prepared to take tough decisions. If we are to take those tough decisions, I am saying that it must not be on partisan basis; it must be based on consensus or under a unity government,” he said.

He cited the rise in public debt on the back of increased spending by the government to contain the pandemic, the collapse of businesses and increased joblessness as some of the scars of the COVID-19 that needed to be tackled frontally to create a sustainable future for the youth.

According to him, joblessness was “creating a sense of hopelessness and helplessness” for the youth and needed to be handled with utmost care and urgency, as it stood the risk of degenerating into a security threat.

“Already, our system does not adequately train and equip our youth to face challenges of the modern globalised economy. The woes of the pandemic and the resultant high debt burden are also creating additional problems for them, including our 50-year bonds, without the required compensating debt capacity build-up for the future generation.     

“We need to create hope for them and I am saying that this is the time for the coming together of the very best of skilled, trained and experienced people and technocrats from both sides of the political divide to devise solutions to the problems,” the chancellor said.

Executive powers

Sir Sam further stressed the need to make the governance structure better and more responsive to the needs of the people.

He said the current system that vested overarching powers in the Executive and also required majority of ministers from Parliament, among other practices, were counter-productive.

"Indeed, holding the Executive to account to the sovereign people of Ghana as one of the main functions of Parliament is completely undermined. The intended separation of powers is completely blurred to a point where the Legislature is made irrelevant in the face of the all-powerful Executive in our resource-starved society. 

“If we have had this kind of system since 1992, then the time has come for us to have a conversation on how best we can change it to suit the current times,” he said.

The leadership consultant also expressed worry over growing public distrust in key state institutions, especially the Judiciary and the security services.

He said although there were people of integrity in the Judiciary, the findings of the 2019 Afrobarometer survey that about 85 per cent of respondents did not trust the justice system to deliver fairness were dangerous and must be addressed.

Sir Sam mentioned delayed litigation, especially on land and business matters, as one of the factors contributing to the mistrust, saying "these factors create a disabling environment that undermines investments, economic development, employment creation and national stability".

"The current reform of reducing election petition hearings from about eight months in 2013 to three months demonstrates that with the right reforms to rules and attitudes, such expedition is possible and could be brought to bear on other cases in the court system.

"An inefficient judicial system stifles local businesses and dispels foreign investment in an increasingly competitive world. We need to reform the system, so that justice can be delivered with integrity, without undue disruption to lawful business activity," he added.