Growth in the Ghanaian economy has always benefited the rich at the expense of the poor, a United Nations human rights expert, Philip Alston, has said.
According to him, unless growing inequality and continuing high poverty rates are addressed, the country will fall far short of meeting the key UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030.
“Ghana is at a crossroads and must now decide whether to continue existing policies that will further enrich the wealthy and do little for the poor, or to make fiscal adjustments that would lift millions out of poverty and bring them into the agricultural economy in ways that would contribute significantly to economic growth,” Mr Alston said at the end of a 10-day fact-finding mission to the Greater Accra, Northern, and Upper East regions.
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“The benefits of record levels of economic growth experienced over the past decade have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthy, and inequality is higher than it has ever been in Ghana,” he added.
The most recent official data from the Ghana Statistical Service for 2012-2013 revealed that almost one-quarter of the population were living in poverty and one person in every 12 in extreme poverty. Three-and-a-half million of those in poverty are children, with more than a third of them in extreme poverty.
“Spending on social protection is surprisingly low by the standards of most comparable African countries, and very little is spent on social assistance,” explained Mr. Alston.
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“With a thriving economy and the option to start collecting some of the existing but unpaid taxes that currently exist, choosing to eliminate, or not to eliminate, extreme poverty is a political choice for Ghana,” the UN expert said.
The Special Rapporteur continued: “Ghanaian politicians are immensely fond of, and very good at creating slogans to describe complex but appealing programmes. But there is little doubt that the appetite for such slogans has already far outrun the capacity for realistic implementation.”
“The challenge going forward is for the Government to choose its real priorities, make sure that social protection is among them, and to be more transparent about potential costs and possible funding sources,” Mr. Alston stressed.