Monday, January 17, 2011

Actuarial Signs and the Wonders in tow

One lesson Egya Atta might have learnt midway through his presidential tenure is not to make promises by heart on the campaign trail. But for another lesson yet to be learnt, politicians would have taken this caution seriously. The Ghanaian electorate is yet to learn to take electoral promises uttered by politicians with a pinch of salt. Knowing the mindset of the people they represent, the Ghanaian politician has grown into a false prophet specializing in two types of miracles- Signs and Wonders. Let me explain.

Before the scientific method emerged as the de facto standard of testing knowledge, our understanding of the physical universe was consigned to 'Signists' who came in various shapes and guises. The wise men of the day were the Astrologers, Seers, Magicians and the ilk who could decipher the signs of the times. Thankfully, that era was upstaged by the appearance of the likes of Isaac Newton. The poet Alexander Pope aptly captured the moment in this heroic couplet;

"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light."

Somehow, Newton's light failed to illuminate our body politic resulting in over reliance on signs rather than science. There is no better example than Rojo Mettle Nunoo's debacle in Parliament. The NDC made a promise to Ghanaians to implement a one-time premium policy for the NHIS. In March 2010, Mr. Nunoo, the deputy minister of health, told parliament that each Ghanaian will have to pay about GHC600 premium to crystallize this promise. This he said was based on actuarial reports. Subsequently, Dr Kumbour, the substantive minister, apologized for what he described as misleading information given by his deputy. He explained that his deputy only read one of a number of options the party was considering. Determination of insurance premiums is guided by a well defined body of knowledge called Actuarial Science. One would have thought that such a bold campaign promise would have been the outcome of a rigorous scientific study using all the iterations known to the field of study. The deputy minister's assertion and the minister's subsequent explanation, only underscore the fact that the promise was first made, and they are only now scratching their heads looking for feasibility scenarios. If they don't find one, they will make a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea- either implement a bad choice or renege on the promise and blame it on the bad policies of the Kuffuor government and face the people's thumb.


Few people will deny that George Bush bequeathed a paralyzed economy to the succeeding Obama administration, but when the hard questions were asked less than two years on, Obama didn't blame the Bush administration for the slow recovery because he understood that he was elected to fix what was broken, not to pay tribute to his predecessor. As a result of the underperforming economy, Obama's Democratic Party received a thumping in midterm elections. In Ghana, the usual refrain from our politicians is 'we didn't know the past government had run down the economy to this extent when we made the promise'. Yeah, right! You didn't want to know. Any political party with intentions of governing the country, who cannot boast of a vibrant research unit that keeps track of the economy, is not worth its name. The fact is opposition Parties have mastered the act of winning power from a less than critical electorate. Look out for the Signs of dissatisfaction and keep shouting, keep matching, and keep promising, soon you will be in government by default. The problem with wrenching power by 'Actuarial Signs' rather than the Science is that, soon the electorate presents the cheque of promises but solutions are scarce to find in the vault. At this point, many politicians attempt a full re-incarnation of the prophet Joel as quoted in Acts 2:19:

"I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,"

Having identified the Signs on earth that won them the elections, the revelation is to protect your government with heavenly Wonders. This is the point at which they create solutions that are neither innovative nor found in any text book. In those days, don't be surprised if sometime, somewhere, someplace when you least expect it, a deputy minister steps up to you and says " we have created 1.6million jobs". Don't seek explanation for why you and all other unemployed foot soldiers are still without jobs, you must accept it by faith, it is a wonder from heaven. If they get more disingenuous, they will create National Youth Employment Program - the biggest Sign that the youth is unemployed and at the same time a Wonder solution to provide jobs. So this is the political rule of thumb; in opposition, gather all Signs of discontent among the populace, package them and have your propaganda outfits run riot with them; when in power, seek Wonders that can protect you from every irresponsible promise uttered  while in opposition and from the new "Actuarial Signists" in opposition. The winner is produced by the next line in the scripture- the party that produces more smoke to blur the truth.

I find it annoying that an important matter like Fuel is a favorite object of the Signists and Wonderers. The contradictory posturing of politicians depending on whether they are in power or opposition is robbing this country of rationally evolving a policy on how to deal with the ever fluctuating fuel economy. Recklessly claiming that we do not need taxes on fuel when in opposition, and acting contrary to that indication when in government, is a shameful legacy to bequeath to future generations. Blaming your predecessor for your vacillations only demonstrates ineptitude to say the least.

The lack of scientific depth in our political discourse is the bane to our development. I have always struggled to understand why our parliamentarians are asked to approve very complex deals like STX and Sale of Ghana Telecom, which take sitting governments months to finalize, in a matter of days. Not too long ago parliament was almost fooled to approve a 'loan' from a hair dressing saloon in London. Such embarrassments can be avoided if we respect the need for due diligence and arm our parliamentarians with credible research offices.

I yearn for the day when our political parties will invest resources and time into scientific research before they come out with their promises and leave the Signs and Wonders for Priests. But that will never happen until Ghanaians send the message to our politicians that every vote must be earned. A Party in opposition is not worth the seat of government because it replays our problems to us and castigates the incumbent. We must begin to demand evidence that critics who want the seat have a better plan. As for Egya Atta, he will have to account for the promises. Even his Chief foot soldier, the enigmatic former President Rawlings believed them. He expects all politicians who served in the NPP government to be in jail. He expects that Yaa Naa's killers would be found and justice served. Don't bore him with stories about evidence. He is not a law professor, he is a Soldier. He was shown the 'Signs' and as a faithful foot soldier he ran with it. Mr. President, produce the Wonder. 


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  2. Anonymous said...
    Nice piece! Keep the fire burning!!


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