Election 2024: From Free SHS to 24-hour economy
Ghana’s opposition leader John Dramani Mahama's proposed 24-hour economy promises to be one of the leading focal points that will attract attention ahead of the 2024 general election.
Interestingly, before the National Democratic Congress (NDC) flag bearer for election 2024 could fully exhaust what he means by the 24-hour economy to the masses as he embarks on a signalled nationwide campaign activation tour, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has overtly or covertly joined the 24-hour economy discourse, this time through action and not words.
One of the key takeaways of the 2024 budget statement and economic policy of the government delivered to Parliament by the Finance Minister, Ken Ofor-Atta, is what was dubbed ‘Night Economy Boost’. Part of that paragraph in the abridge budget statement reads ‘a Task Force composed of public regulators and private sector actors, has been established under a public-private partnership to enhance security and lighting infrastructure, driving the Night Economy initiative’. Surely, the signals are clearer.
The focus of a 24-hour economy is on how Ghana can make its economy as vibrant, productive, inclusive and diverse in the night as it is throughout the day. This sounds good, although we know the number of cities or towns in Ghana that can accommodate such an economy.
Admittedly, an economy that encourages and enables businesses to operate around the clock will come along with extended working hours, especially for sectors such as services, manufacturing, entertainment, retail and even education. This may sound utopian, given the economy we know and the adage that a joyful Sunday is dependent on the outcome of events on the previous Saturday.
But as a people, we are encouraged to be optimistic and we must be. After all, a successful 24-hour economy in Ghana will stimulate economic activity which will create jobs with all the attendant trickle-down effect for many.
A 24-hour economy, as the NDC will call it, and a night economy, as the NPP will call it, have the same outlook. What the Finance Minister has done is akin to what the Mahama-led erstwhile NDC government did when it quickly began the implementation of the progressive Free Senior High School (SHS) policy with some selected Day Senior High schools when it became clear that the NPP was going to attract more votes because it promised free school at the second cycle level.
Like the Free SHS and the progressive Free SHS debate ahead of the 2016 general elections, the 24-hour economy promises to feature in the next government whether it will be constituted by a Mahama-led NDC, a Bawumia-led NPP or any other surprised individual/party.
It should be normal to expect minor issues such as who is behind the 24-hour economy idea, who started its implementation, and whether or not it is a new or an existing thing as we enter the heat of the 2024 campaign mood.
In all these, what is critical is for the frontline actors – the NDC and NPP – to be open to tease ideas on the 24-hour economy from various sectors and actors to enrich what they may have already put down.
In response to the question of whether a 24-hour or 24/7 Economy is a good thing, a celebrated Chicago-based marketing consultant Chuck B, as he prefers to be called, used the mobile phone analogy which appears sensible. For Chuck, the invention of the cell phone and the internet changed society because people no longer just work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but they get contacted by work until the next day. As such, it is normal to agree that a 24-hour economy is good.
Chuck’s response reminds me of many workers, including those in academia, who get emails 24/7 and are expected to respond right away. Maybe thoughts of some negotiated allowance on that should be considered now before the industry-like 24-hour/night economy gets fully implemented.
Freedom to shop when we want, for what we want, as is the case for some items in Lapaz, Accra, the ability to work anywhere or freedom to reach people all the time are good. But at the same time, never getting away from work, less quality time with family and social interactions have health implications, which should be factored in at this stage.
As the days unfold, it is to remind ourselves that any attempt to hurriedly implement a 24-hour economy without the necessary foundation could have an outturn synonymous with the current state of Free SHS, which some believe is in tatters. But, it will surely get fixed.
The fundamentals need to be addressed on a non-partisan basis for our collective good, or we get into the mess together. For instance, how relevant is a 24-hour economy at the Tema Port when taxes are a deterrent to importation?
As the politicians get ready to meet voters in the period that they are humblest with listening ears, let us ask tough questions, taking a cue from Habermas' Critical Theory.
This will remind us that any attempt to gain a clarifying perspective in evaluating controversial claims without tough questions will be incomplete. After all, both the meaning and truth of any idea such as the 24-hour economy are a function of its practical outcome.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science Education, University of Education, Winneba