Updated: Jun 2, 2020
The role of government and politics in alleviating the COVID-19 crisis
Research Fellow, Governance & Development
The outbreak of this novel pandemic COVID-19 is certainly not the first in the history of the world and definitely not going to be the last the world is going to experience so long as it continues to exist. Nobody ever that the coming of 2020 was going to be so dreadful to the extent that the world would stand still with less activity. There is absolutely nothing that has not borne the hurt of this dangerous pandemic. This is the current reality of the world and we must face it head-on. And head on indeed has the Akufo-Addo administration faced this pandemic. The government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Ghana has been comprehensive, and the continued effectiveness of this response requires that we avoid politicizing efforts against the pandemic.
The outbreak has shown how interconnected we are as a human race, such that what was to be an epidemic in Wuhan, China has now become everybody’s problem. Indeed, this is an outbreak which affects our very existence as a people. Therefore, it is not the time to play politics nor apportion blames. It is time to work assiduously as a unit. If there is a time to think of collective responsibility, then it is now.
Ghana is one of the few countries especially on the African continent whose response was somewhat timeous even when the first case of the virus had not yet been recorded in the country. The Ghanaian government's early preparation has won several commendations around the world. As one British visitor remarked, ‘the preparation of Ghana towards the COVID-19 makes one wonder whether it is a third world country or a first world country’. Many foreign observers echoed similar sentiments. Several praises have been showered on the government of Ghana for the expansive response towards the COVID-19 pandemic and especially the President for showing such competent leadership.
Since the virus was first detected in the country, the government has not ceased from announcing one policy or the other in an attempt to contain it and avoid its community spread. When the first two cases were detected, the President through a nationwide broadcast announced the shutdown of all entry points into the country including the borders, airports, and the harbours. This was quickly followed up by the closure of certain identified markets in the Accra and Kumasi metropolis for mass fumigation. On realising Accra and Kumasi becoming the epicentre of the virus’ spread, the lockdown of these two cities together with Tema and Kasoa in another nationwide broadcast was announced.
The government with a full appreciation of the enormous negative impact of the pandemic on the economy and untold hardship on the citizens, especially, the vulnerable and the poor rolled out various relief packages such as:
Stable water and electricity supply during the lockdown
Absorption of water bills for three months for all Ghanaians (i.e. April, May and June)
Absorption of three months of electricity for life-land consumers who spend 0-50kW per month. Other consumers-Residential and Commercial (50% of electricity bill using March bill as a benchmark)
Support to industry, enterprises, and service sector as a relief for households.
COVID 19-trust fund to a sum of GH₵8, 750, 000 to support the needy and the vulnerable
Coronavirus Alleviation Programme; With the objective to protect household and livelihoods, support micro, small scale, and medium-sized businesses, minimise job losses, source additional funding for promotion of industries to shore up and expand industrial output for domestic consumption and export.
Gender, Children and Social Protection Ministry, National Disaster Management Organisation, Local Government And Rural Development, MMDCEs, Faith-Based Organisations to provide food for 400,000 individuals at their homes in Kumasi, Accra, and their contiguous areas.
The government in collaboration with National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI) and selected Rural Banks to roll out soft loan schemes up to GH₵ 6,000,000 for a one-year moratorium and two-year repayment for micro, small and medium scale businesses.
Three-month Tax cut for all health workers (i.e. April, May, June)
Procurement of health materials for all front liners
Domestic production of PPEs
Insurance package of GH₵350,000 for each health personnel and allied professionals
All frontline workers will receive an additional allowance of 50% of their basic salary per month-April, May and June- March allowance paid alongside April allowance
Ministry of Transport to provide free transport for frontline health workers-Accra, Kumasi, Tema and Kasoa
Planning the fight against the virus was built on an inclusive approach that assessed various social, economic, and health implications on different communities. In the initial stages, the government engaged all stakeholders to hear their perspectives on deciding the optimum course of action and also canvass for their support in fighting the pandemic. Stakeholders such as leaders of faith-based organisations -Pastors and Imams, Political Parties, Pharmaceutical manufacturers, business leaders, etc were all engaged. Further, recognizing the important role that religion plays in the affairs of Ghana, President Akuffo-Addo called on the Churches and the Moslem community to offer prayers and fasting on behalf of the country to the Almighty God. I believe It is these consultations and engagements with leaders of various aspects of the Ghanaian society that laid the bedrock for a comprehensive response against the pandemic.
All these tall lists of policy items rolled out by the government are with the view of alleviating the impact of the pandemic. Though a laudable move, the effectiveness of these policies is not immune from examination by those who want to do it. However, it must be done with all sincerity and not for political gains. With some of these policies in full force and others about to be rolled out, issues have already been raised about the challenges that these policies have presented or likely to present to the fight of the pandemic.
Partisanship has found its way into the whole discussion of the COVID-19 fight. Already, a member of the opposition has accused the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection of sharing relief items provided by the government for the poor and the vulnerable on a partisan basis. The minister of gender has refuted such allegations and assured the general public that the distribution is strictly done without any regard to peoples’ party affiliations. It is imperative that the government investigates the accusation rather than brushing it aside since the matter has the potential to defeat the purpose for which it was rolled out. However, accusations should not be made for its sake but should be based on facts and truth. Therefore, those who are criticising should be constructive rather than being destructive.
There are others, without any substantial claims, accusing the government of massaging the actual figures of persons affected by the coronavirus. They allege “that Noguchi had teamed up with the government to reduce the numbers so as to prevent fear and panic among the people.” Crucial issues such as this pandemic require an apt communication devoid of confusion, less of all “politicized confusion”. There has to be proper coordination between all principal operatives (the opposition party included) in this fight so as to avoid adding to the already fear and panic hanging on us.
Whereas the relief packages outlined by the government to assist the vulnerable have been helpful, there remains more to be done. There are still a lot of the people suffering due to the closure of most businesses. Many have lost their jobs already and the fact that those who remain employed are not able to do their normal business means more hardship. This is what we have to grapple with as a result of the for a fair period of time.
Some have also raised issues about the government’s expenditure and asked for a thorough audit into the activities of the COVID-19 response. However, laudable, I believe that it is a call too early. Our focus as a country is to be united at this point and focus on our common enemy, COVID-19 and defeat it. Such audits are very prone to be politicized thereby slowing down appropriate actions against the pandemic, especially given that we are in an election year. Thus, the focus at the moment is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of efforts against the pandemic. Once all is settled, we can have an extensive discussion on some of the issues as a lesson for future reference.
By and large, per my assessment of the government’s response to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, I submit that the government has done fairly well. The enemy has not been defeated yet and so I encourage the government to continue to engage all the principal stakeholders and also make available all the requisite PPEs for the front-liners in our quest to defeat the virus. The effort by the opposition leader in supporting the efforts of the government is a laudable one, it echoes a greater need to put aside politics and unite against this crisis. We must all rally around the Black Star of Africa and show the way as we have always done.