A long-term national development framework – A condition precedent for Ghana’s development

Independence ArchAfter groping in the dark for nearly sixty years, Ghana seems to have finally found the answer to its development conundrum — a long-term development framework is under preparation to steer the direction of development over the next 40 years.

This long overdue effort from Government is very welcome and needs to be commended by all who believe in long term development planning.  To the extent that this plan points to a vision of the country’s future desired state, it is a good thing that must be embraced by all Ghanaians.  The preparation of a long-term development framework affords Ghana’s leaders the opportunity to take bold and ambitious decisions to spur the country’s development, steering clear of the small-mindedness, mediocrity, and patchiness that have characterized past development initiatives.

The absence of such plan, which is a major contributor to the country’s under-development, can be attributed to a lack of vision on the part of the country’s leaders.  Over the last few decades the effectiveness of development assistance has been severely impaired by its focus on projects that were not well integrated into a broad country framework and which had relatively short time horizons. By contrast, successful development has been achieved when countries pursue integrated policies and programs over a broad front for sustained periods. It involves tackling several elements simultaneously and requires an overall conceptual framework that provides the direction, consistency, and focus essential to sustain any long-term process.

Key attitudinal changes expected

President Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore said, “You can build a country with buildings, but the transformation of attitudes and minds is more important.”The process of preparing Ghana’s framework should start with firing up the citizens, unlocking their talents, promoting attitudinal change, and instilling personal trust, responsibility, integrity and other desirable traits among them.  This must be underpinned by a comprehensive national identification system — people must be who and what they say they are.

This long overdue effort from Government is very welcome and needs to be commended by all who believe in long term development planning.  To the extent that this plan points to a vision of the country’s future desired state, it is a good thing that must be embraced by all Ghanaians.

Besides several other reforms in the financial sectors, public sector, lands and resource administration, science and technology, Ghana must also aim to substantially decrease, if not eliminate the proportion of citizens employed in the informal sector from the current 86% to the barest possible minimum.  Every business must be documented, registered and brought into the formal sector as pertains in developed nations.

Infrastructure development is a long term issue

Infrastructural facilities represent such a major investment that it is imperative to incorporate the needs of future generations when planning.  The primary beneficiaries of infrastructure investments by the present generation are the future generations, since projects take a number of years to plan, a further few years to construct, and can remain in service for more than a hundred years if adequately maintained. Changes in demographic and usage patterns cannot be adequately forecast and addressed if planning is not done over a long-term horizon.  Even likely future climate changes and their impacts and appropriate adaptation measures need to be factored in at the planning stages.

Decisions on investment projects therefore require a long-term perspective, and should depend on predicted levels of future economic activity.  In other words, projects should be considered in view of the long-term development trajectory of an economy.  Without a long-term development plan, politicians settle for short-term plans that may be ultimately expensive, substandard or unaffordable.

Building consensus

Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) must endeavor to obtain a buy-in of the long-term framework by opponents of the vision.  Contrasting voices also have a legitimate case that they argue persuasively.  The key issue appears to be the planners’ ability to empirically project into the future beyond the short term — say 10 years. A key member of the opposition described the plan as a hoax querying how Government can keep to a 40-year plan if they cannot implement a one-year budget.  The query belies the fact that the very reason about half of the budgets are not implemented is because of the absence of medium and long term plans to underpin it.  This also explains why some previously approved provisions are reversed in subsequent budgets.

Infrastructural facilities represent such a major investment that it is imperative to incorporate the needs of future generations when planning.

It is expected that the NDPC shall clearly delineate the goals, targets and activities of Years 10, 20 and 30 into the 40-year plan.  For example, if the country intends to build 4,000 km of railways in 18 Years as contained in the 2014 Railway Master Plan, then it should be able to complete about half in 10 years – and this deliverable item must be clearly stated in the plan.

The NDPC envisages the 40-year long-term plan as a series of 4-year rolling plans, which would be further broken down into annual plans that would tie in with the annual budget.  It is expected that the plan shall not only be reviewed every 10 years, but it shall be revised where necessary.  One big advantage of long-term plans over short or medium-term plans is that they get reviewed. In the words of former US President Harry S. Truman, “You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one.”

Most long-term development plans run for a generation — approximately 30 years, and it is not clear why Ghana chose a 40 year time span, but the Director General of the NDPC is reported to have stated that they are working towards achieving their goals by Ghana’s Centenary anniversary when they hope to have made similar strides as peers like Malaysia, Korea, etc. with whom they started life at independence.  The issue with development plans is that the longer the tenure, the more ambitious they should be.

Long term planning is by no means limited to nations.  Early 2015, a leading international gospel church in Ghana led its congregations to prepare 20-year personal development plans highlighting members’ aspirations, complete with step-by-step strategies to arrive at their destinations.  Individual members asserted that the idea of developing personal strategic plans promoted greater self-confidence, increased credibility and guided them to consider new alternatives in their lives.  If individuals, households and businesses need long-term plans why would countries, with all their sophistication, heterogeneity, amorphous nature and cultural diversity not need them?

Inability of manifestos to address development needs

Ghana cannot develop under the 4-year manifestos of political parties.  This is because development, particularly infrastructure development, is a long-term enterprise that cannot be squeezed into 4-year political cycles.  Experience has shown that no major development project can be initiated and completed within the 4-year tenure of a government unless the procurement process is circumvented.  For example, it takes a minimum of six months to plan and conceive a major highway program, one year to design and secure approvals, one and half years for procurement, evaluation and approvals, two years for implementation and completion, making a total of five years which is more than one presidential term.  This is why normally in the first term of a government the president gets to commission projects commenced by his predecessor.  The long-term framework will therefore serve as a guide to political parties that assume governance of the State and not constrict them to short-term agendas.

Success stories of long term plans

Show me a developed country and I will show you their long-term development plan.  Countries like China, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and the United Arab Emirates all have development plans. China’s rapid growth to become the second largest economy in the world today is the result of a long-term vision and open market economy initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1976.Singapore’s incredible accomplishment as a global force is a well documented culmination of a long-term vision initiated in 1965 by Lee Kuan Yew.  Malaysia also adopted a long-term plan under Mahathir Mohamad in 1976.  Dubai is what it is today because of the vision prepared by Sheikh Zayed in 1975 and Korea’s success as a developed country and reputation as the world’s most technologically wired nation was achieved as a result of long-term planning and reforms initiated by General Park Chung-Hee in 1962.

Long-term plans are actually inspired by the leader of a country, who comes out as the champion, leads the team, resources the process and runs with it as General Park, Lee Kuan-Yew, Deng Xiaoping etc. did.  Ghana’s plan, which must be led by the president, should never be left under-resourced or unattended.  The former boss of GE Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  This must apply to good political leaders as well. Of course it goes without saying that in Ghana’s case political stability is a necessary condition for sustainability of the plan.

Indeed some countries have development plans that run much further than 40 years.  The African Union has prepared a 50-year framework — Agenda 2063— to help transform Africa within the next 50 years. Both China and Singapore have 100-year plans.  While China’s main goal is to be the planet’s sole superpower, Singapore, with their limited landmass, intends to maintain their population at 5 million in 100 years, the same as the current population.  Has Ghana considered the need to manage its explosive population growth rate of 2.5 percent that doubles every 28 years?

City planning and development

Cities also develop and implement long-term plans.  In year 2000, Johannesburg and Abu-Dhabi launched ambitious 30-year plans — Joburg 2030 and Abu-Dhabi 2030 respectively — aimed at growing them into some of the most beautiful cities on the planet.  In the western world, established cities like Adelaide in Australia; and Aberdeen, Liverpool and Cardiff in the United Kingdom are some of the few that have prepared and are implementing 30-year plans.  Although the United States government has long-term plans for several sectors, namely Energy, Food Security, Healthcare, Water resources, the Green economy, etc. think tanks have largely led the thinking process to develop these plans for the federal government and its agencies.

One great importance of good city planning is e-commence.  In his paper The Internet of Things – CISCO boss John Chambers posits that in the next few years, every device, building, automobile and person — more than 50 billion items —will be connected to the web, and this opportunity will drive the next wave of global innovation and deliver $19 trillion of goods and services over 10 years to the private and public sectors.

Show me a developed country and I will show you their long-term development plan.  Countries like China, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and the United Arab Emirates all have development plans.

Ghana is yet to develop the urban grid system and infrastructure to profit from the revolution of the Internet of things.  Ghana and Africa as a whole missed the Industrial Revolution, the Agrarian Revolution, and also the first Internet Revolution. Only an ambitious planning system phased within a long-term horizon can secure the continent the golden age to profit from the revolution of the Internet of Things.  It is said that the Achilles’ heel to Ghana’s chronic underdevelopment is the chaotic urban planning system, only next to the absence of a biometric national identification system.

It took Europe about 400 years between the industrial revolution through the internet and knowledge revolutions to achieve their current level of development, but with the benefit of 3-D technology, Global Positioning System, Internet and lessons from earlier starters, Ghana can do it in 30 years just as China, Korea, Singapore and others did.  What a great time to develop!

In 40 years, the country should aim to eliminate all mud houses in its villages as these are generally poorly maintained and adversely affected by erosion.  The buildings are in a generally dilapidated state, with the foundations exposed at times to a depth of about one metre, leaving the whole structure shaky with overt signs of weakness.

A long-term plan affords Ghanaians the opportunity to better plan their towns and cities to benefit from the commerce that comes with it, making them livable, bankable and competitive.  Ghanaian cities and towns are living less than 10 percent of their potential.  The Government must prepare ambitious spatial plans and models showing how every city, town and village will look like in 40 years, including connecting them via central sewerage systems.

A 1:500 scale model of the future Shanghai was displayed in the city’s urban planning hall at the beginning of efforts to re-model the new Shanghai.Shanghai city authorities generated $100 Billion revenue from land leases after the model was launched.  The benefits of using 3D modeling techniques include getting a clear picture of the final project from the beginning, estimating the quantity of materials required and the ability to secure quick project financing. Every global city cited as an example of a success story did not come about by chance; it took decades of meticulous planning and implementation by selfless, bold, visionary leaders, which Ghana must emulate.

In 40 years, the country should aim to eliminate all mud houses in its villages as these are generally poorly maintained and adversely affected by erosion.  The buildings are in a generally dilapidated state, with the foundations exposed at times to a depth of about one metre, leaving the whole structure shaky with overt signs of weakness.

Development does not occur anyplace unless the citizens of a country achieve it for themselves and every developed country has attained this status by pursuing a carefully planned and thought out agenda. It is therefore important that Ghana takes ownership of its development agenda and Ghanaians lead the preparation of the t framework.  Development cannot be done for a country by another country or development assistance agency.  Country ownership means that Ghanaians lead the programme and be backed by sufficient political support to implement the programme. As the Japanese built Japan, Americans built America, and Koreans built Korea,Ghana can only be built by Ghanaians.

Solving Ghana’s energy needs is a long term issue

Clearly a long-term plan is required to provide direction for a reliable, efficient and sustainable energy infrastructure.  Ghana’s population is forecast to reach 60 million by 2057 and if it intends to achieve upper middle-income status, then the country’s installed power capacity must exceed 40,000MW, i.e. a per capita generation of about 4,000 kWh, the average for an upper middle-income country.  Even this figure is arguable given that with nominal installed capacity of 55,000MW and a population 52 million, South Africa’s utility provider ESKOM still has many challenges supplying power to the entire country.

The process of Ghana producing 40,000MW of power, up from the current 3,000MW must start now. For example, given Ghana’s estimated 3 million housing deficit by 2020, a plan to install 40m2 of solar panels on 20% of the houses shall generate 1,600mW, which is more than the current generation from all the country’s combined hydro sources, or the combined thermal sources.  Such an ambitious aspiration should be underpinned by plans to research, develop, manufacture, install and market solar panels locally.  Other long term options in coal, wind, and nuclear must be explored.

If political party spokespersons continue to trump the number of megawatts they were able to switch on during their 4-year tenure, rather than a sustainable system that ensured efficient and economical power supplies, then Ghana will continue to wallow in the dark and pay astronomical prices for power.

The Private Sector yearns for long-term national development plan

Long-term plans are also vitally important for the investing community as for governments.  Most leading global companies seek long-lasting partnerships with countries and their peoples, and not only sales revenues.   Private sector investors base their decisions to invest in a country on a deeper understanding of the country’s performance and potential to create long-term growth and value, not just short-term gains. Recently, Mr. Carlos Ghosn, the Nissan’s CEO, in an interview on BBC TV confirmed that the company looks at the country’s long-term economic plan stretching for about 30 years before making a decision to site a plant.  The revolutionary entrepreneur, credited with leading one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the corporate world said predicted future levels of economic activity helps to forecast the growth of the all-important local market.

In 2008, AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Mining signed 30year long-term stability agreements with the Government of Ghana to among other things, debar government from varying to their disadvantage the conditions under which they operate in the country.  Whichever way one looks at it, these global mining giants want a stable and favourable outlook of the tax structure, which tends to be varied by successive governments.

Sustainable financial development

Long-term planning facilitates investment and occupies the core of sustainable financial development.  In other words, without long-term plans, securing long-term finance can be unduly difficult.  Long term housing finance for example is arguably the most important ingredient towards home ownership.  Without a long-term plan, Ghana cannot develop a housing finance and mortgage system that could help bridge the country’s current housing deficit of 2 million units.

Long-term financing facilitates lower interest rates and promotes stability that makes it easier to protect one’s earnings, as it enables financiers to predict their interest expenses over a reasonable time horizon.  Short-term financing does not offer those advantages, as borrowers constantly renegotiate their terms of agreement. If Ghana plans well it stands to benefit from part of the 12 trillion dollars of low-interest funds available globally from investing entities to fund bankable projects.

Where will Ghana get its resources in 40 years?

Planning over the long term helps to emphasize the magnitude of development challenges a nation faces. In 40 years, when the population is about 60 million, and the competition for land is keener, where will Ghana get its food? All the gari making industries dotted round farmlands in the urban and peri-urban areas of Greater Accra Region would have collapsed because the sand beneath the topsoil would have been excavated for construction.  Due to absence of long-term plans, lands along the Accra-Tema Motorway are being shamelessly sold off by the very officials appointed to protect them.  This sale is going on at the time the Government and the Ghana Ports Authority are planning an expansion of the motorway on either side, and the Railway Authorities are looking for a Right-of-Way corridor for the proposed West African High Speed Rail system. Soon the Government will have to look for scarce funds to pay economic compensation for the release of lands its officials have sold off cheaply.  Efficient land-use planning and development control are some of the most immense gains of long-term planning.

World Bank sources contend that Ghana’s current deforestation rate of 2% is one the highest in the world.  At this rate, the country’s forests will be near extinction in 26 years, and the country would be compelled to resort to importing timber.  The report estimates that the country loses about 65,000 hectares of forest a year, equivalent to the combined area of Ghana’s two largest cities Accra and Kumasi. Since 2013, Ghana has exceeded its allowable timber cut by 200% and imported about 3,000 cubic meters of timber from Cameroon, and a large amount of finished timber products from China, Turkey and South Africa.

Planning over the long term helps to emphasize the magnitude of development challenges a nation faces. In 40 years, when the population is about 60 million, and the competition for land is keener, where will Ghana get its food?

Even without any planning, it isn’t difficult to comprehend that at the current rate of deforestation, illegal mining and destruction of the water bodies, Ghana will experience major water scarcity in the next few years.  According to the Water Resources Commission, the Densu River — the source of water for the western part of Accra — will be extincted in 23 years given the current rate of encroachment on its source and banks.  Other rivers like the Pra, Ankobra, Birim and Tano will all dry up much sooner due to illegal mining and massive encroachment. A number of smaller rivers have already dried up and almost all the remainder would be gone by then.  A recent IFAD report states that 600 dams in northern Ghana have dried up, and this has put farming activities and food security at risk.

If Ghana had a long-term development plan in place, there would be a corresponding long-term sector plan for education that would define the duration of senior high schools (SHS) – whether three or four years—and furthermore, clarified whether SHS education should be free or fee-paying.

Ghana must quickly overcome these and other rudimentary but essential issues like the provision of water, sanitation, housing, traffic, productivity, etc. and focus on complex development challenges like harnessing the triple benefits of silicon – in the glass, solar or microchip industries; or nuclear fission – splitting atoms to generate electricity; or launching satellites into Space to address the country’s development needs just as has been successfully done by emerging countries like Egypt, Vietnam, Nigeria, Ecuador, Bolivia, etc.


This beautiful land of Ghana has everything it needs to develop but the absence of a long-term planning system stands in its way.  Only a long-term plan can properly harness and unleash the country’s development potential.  At its core planning is a process of choosing among many options.  If Ghana chooses not to plan, then we are choosing to have others plan for us.  The planning process helps to identify and establish linkages between various sectors and ensures holistic development.

The current economic slowdown creates the opportunity to find a driver of long-term sustainable economic growth to lead the country out of the crisis.  We must begin to build our internal strengths, abandon our fantasies about money and focus on the physical economy and the creativity of the people.  Human creativity is the source of wealth, while money is a mere convenience, a way to exchange wealth created elsewhere. What Ghana must do is tap into the creativity of its population, to rebuild its productive base, and to amplify higher levels of technology while doing this. We must build our way out of the economic slowdown, which means we must think our way out.  There is no substitute for doing the right thing and Ghana must proceed with the plan and undertake other structural reforms now as the window for putting things right is slowly closing.

By Charles Boakye
Email: [email protected]

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