Saturday, April 20, 2024
HomeAfricaGuiding Ghana into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Guiding Ghana into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In early November, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia was chosen by the New Patriotic Party as its candidate in Ghana’s 2024 presidential elections, which incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo will not contest following two terms in office.  Before entering politics as the surprise running-mate pick for Akufo-Addo in the 2008 elections, Mahamudu Bawumia was deputy governor of Ghana’s central bank and one of the team that implemented the redenomination of the currency and a reasonably successful programme targeting inflation. As Akufo-Addo’s Vice-President since 2017, Bawumia has found himself a new mission.  While he serves in the traditional role of Ghanaian Vice-Presidents as head of the government’s economic management team – during a time in which the country has entered an economic crisis and emerged with an IMF package – he has mostly dedicated himself to the digital transformation agenda, becoming the chief apostle, instigator and overseer of several landmark digitalisation projects that are slowly transforming how Ghanaians trade, access public services, interact with each other and travel.  Critics have been quick to accuse him of deserting the economic mandate, especially in the wake of recent economic challenges, but Bawumia insists that digitalisation is very much part of the economic transformation that his party promised.  With Bawumia himself leading the party into the 2024 election, that message will be tested and the impact rigorously assessed. We talked about how his recent priorities will feed into his presidential bid.  New African: The digitalisation of government has been a central pillar of this administration – how have you driven digital transformation?
Mahamudu Bawumia : When we came to office, we looked at how best to achieve our objective of modernising our country and creating more inclusion in terms of society and getting more growth. We looked at where the world was heading and how do you get this country ready to participate in the fourth industrial revolution.  Africa missed out on the first, second and third industrial revolutions and we didn’t want Africa and Ghana to also miss out on the fourth. We came to the conclusion that digitalisation was the best way to get inclusion in society and that we could leverage technology to address many issues. You are able to bring in efficiency in the delivery of public services, you are able to reduce corruption, you are able to increase access [to the poorest]. Historically the elites have generally been the beneficiaries of the inefficiencies that have come through since independence. For me and for us, digitalisation is a way of lifting up the poor to participate fully in society. You look at the situation where many people did not have a national ID. They were not counted as part of society. Most people don’t have bank accounts and are financially excluded. How do you participate? We asked ourselves: how do we make it possible for anybody in Ghana to have a bank account?  We introduced mobile money interoperability. We made mobile money accounts and bank accounts interoperable. Today in Ghana anybody with a national ID card can open a bank account sitting at home. They don’t have to go and fill a form, they just need to enter a USSD code [on a mobile phone], enter their Ghana Card number, their national ID number – and that’s all: their bank account is open and they can begin to transact.  That really helps a lot of people, in the villages, in the rural areas, who would not normally be able to go and apply for a bank account. They are intimidated even just to enter banks. We believe that digitalisation in all the aspects that we are doing really helps the poor. It helps efficiency of delivery of services. It provides a major pillar for the country. This is where we are going. We want to leverage technology for economic growth with inclusion. During this administration, has it made things more efficient? It really has. If you go and you want to clear your goods at the port, it used to be a very laborious process; we’ve digitalised that process. Even sitting at home, you can go through the clearing process. You don’t have to go down [to the port] to pay bribes to people. Even sitting abroad, you can go through and clear your container. If you are trying to apply for a driver’s licence, we have digitalised the whole process and this was always a place where you needed middle people to facilitate the process but now it’s world-class.  The service that you are getting to obtain a driver’s licence in Ghana is even better than in the UK or the US. I’ve got all government services on to one portal, the ghana.gov portal. You can go there and have whichever service you are looking for. Today, you can pay your taxes online – it never used to be the case. Through digitalisation we have been able to widen the tax net. When we came into office, only 4% of the adult population had tax identification numbers. Now we have issued the Ghana Card, the national ID, to everyone – and we came up with the idea of associating that number to the tax identification number for everybody. Once we did that, we went up from 4% of the adult population with tax identification numbers to 85% of the adult population with tax identification numbers. They can file their taxes online, on their mobile phone, and they can pay online because of mobile interoperability. Today, anybody who wants to buy electricity doesn’t have to wait and go to the electricity office to buy electricity, they can do it on their mobile phone; if your electricity runs out in the middle of the night, you can just reload it.  We have started issuing the national ID number to all newborns, so we can start collecting data from birth. That number will track you all the way through. The same number that is your national ID number, it’s also your social security number. Your national health number is also your tax and education number. We have linked all the data. Looking at the passport office, we have digitalised the process. As a result, the number of passports that have been applied for has increased. Before the digitalisation the passport office used to generate a revenue of 1m Ghana cedis ($89,000) a year. Since digitalisation they are generating 56m Ghana cedis ($4.9m) a year. We went to the electricity company and digitalised their collections. Previously they were generally collecting 450m Ghana cedis ($40m) a month. Now they are doing 1.2bn a month ($106m), a 167% increase. The whole digitalisation initiative is really helping us reduce corruption, increasing efficiency, increasing inclusion. The objectives are being met and we want to deepen the process. When you first came into government, education was at the heart of your manifesto: free senior high school, to enrol more kids in education. But critics say it’s been a drain on public finances. Where are you with your education programmes? Are you satisfied? For President Akufo-Addo, and for our government, education was key in terms of transformation of society. All the research that we have shows that human capital is the defining factor for the transformation of countries. We thought that increasing access to education and the quality of education was the key for the transformation of Ghana.  We are having too many children dropping out because of the inability of their parents to pay the school fees for secondary education. We made the decision that we were going to implement free senior high school education to bring inclusion to a lot of people who were not included. It’s a bold move and it’s not an inexpensive move – so we had to make sure we budgeted for the free senior high school education, costing roughly 1bn cedis ($88m) a year. There was also the problem of lack of adequate infrastructure for the students in terms of classrooms. There are two things that I have been very impressed with about what has happened in education, as far as the free senior high school policy is concerned. Number one, we’ve seen a 75% increase in enrolment over the last six years, from 800,000 students to 1.4m students. That’s the largest increase we’ve seen since independence.  What is also very interesting is that more and more girls have gone…

RELATED ARTICLES

Most Popular