Like world war I (Jul 28, 1914 to Nov 11, 1918) and world war II (Sept 1, 1939 to Sept 2, 1945), the year 2020 will go down in history as the year in which nations of the world went on their knees at the complete mercy of an almost invincible enemy called Coronavirus (COVID 19).
At the time of this article, Ghana, after over 51,000 tests already done with about 12,000 more results expected soon, has recorded a total of 641 positive cases with 8 deaths and 83 recoveries.
Many individuals and institutions, both home and abroad have hailed efforts by the Ghana government in fighting this global pandemic; from Inspirational leadership to prevention of importation of the virus, provision of care to the affected persons, and measures aimed at reducing the economic impact and hardship on citizens of our republic.
However, the free food distribution to the very vulnerable in selected areas within the lockdown communities has received some criticisms. Much as some of the criticisms are very objective and worth noting, the others must be disregarded due to the political sensationalism they seek to represent.
Abuse of Cooked / Uncooked food distribution protocols
It is a fact that many of our very vulnerable citizens do not have permanent cooking arrangement. That is why it is appropriate in my view to have some cooked food distributed to such persons. It is also a fact that much of the food being distributed is uncooked than cooked. It is also worth commending the Ghana Buffer Stock Company for supplying most of the food items Government is distributing in these hard times.
What is rightfully a shame is the blatant abuse of the food distribution protocols set out jointly by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) and the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP). The sixth point in the eight-point guidelines on distribution of food states; “It is mandatory that in the distribution of food, the protocols will be observed especially regarding social distancing”. As a matter of public record, the concept of social distancing is missing in many instances of food distribution and that if greater care is not taken, we shall be spreading the same virus whose spread we ironically seek to prevent.
Absence of list of vulnerable persons and groups
I participated (then as a research assistant and supervisor) in two very important research projects that sort to among other things secure for our country, a proper register of our very vulnerable citizens. They included the Poverty and Human Development Survey (Feb 2010) and National Social Protection Program: Common Targeting Mechanism Study (Feb/March 2011). Unaware of the outcomes of those surveys, it is very sad that we appear helpless as a country in our inability to, by the press of a button, produce the register of our very vulnerable.
In my view, the absence of such a list makes it perhaps very difficult under the urgent circumstance for Metropolitan Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to fully comply with the last sentence of point one of the guidelines on distribution of food; “The committee should prepare / have a list of vulnerable persons and groups at each electoral area”. In Statistics we say, “If you can’t measure, then you can’t manage”. The difficulty we are having in identifying and reaching out to our very vulnerable therefore doesn’t come as a surprise to me.
The good news is that, now as a Senior Research Fellow, the team of Senior Research Fellow at the Kumasi Technical University’s – Institute of Research Innovation and Development and myself are in a very strategic position to avail our professional expertise to help Ghana secure a very functional register / Database of properly defined vulnerable persons. This I believe will go a long way to normalize the ongoing nearly haphazard distribution of food and forestall future events of the like.
Source and Target of distributed food items
The source and target of distributed items have unfortunately and unnecessarily become the basis for ascribing political sectionalism into this very important humanitarian exercise. Whereas some elements in the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) suggest that the benevolence of former President John Dramani Mahama is targeting National Democratic Congress (NDC) members only, others in the NDC allege that NPP membership cards are demanded from the very vulnerable before he/she obtains mercy.
I have personally monitored the food distribution exercise carefully and have found such claims to be untrue and born out of bad faith. It may interest readers to note that about 60% of Governments stock are distributed by faith based organizations with the assistance of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) and other assigned Security personnel who are very unlikely to reach out to the vulnerable on political party lines. It is even practically impossible for MMDAs to distribute the other 40% on political party lines since lower levels of the current local governance structure is non-partisan and apolitical.
It is my fervent prayer that even those distributions being done by private individuals and groups would be open to all very vulnerable persons in our various communities. To our sitting Honourable members of Parliament and Aspirants, please do your best to reach out to as many vulnerable brothers and sisters as you can, but do so not on political party lines.
We are very hopeful that sooner than later, by the grace of God Almighty, the COVID-19 global pandemic shall pass with all its ostentatious calamities. While we look forward to that long awaited day, let us all rally behind the leadership of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as he and the team lead us all through these hard times. Leadership is from God; you disobey at your own peril. The responsibilities are shared equally between Government and Citizens. Government has pledged to;
(1) Limit and stop importation or the virus.
(2) Contain its spread.
(3) Provide adequate care for the sick.
(4) Limit the impact of the virus on social and economic life and
(5) Inspire the expansion or our domestic capability and deepen our self-reliance.
What we need to do as citizens include;
(1) Adhering strictly to the terms of the restrictions imposed,
(2) Keeping to the hygienic protocols,
(3) Observing Physical distancing,
(4) Eating and resting well to boost immunity, and
(5) Self isolating and calling the emergency numbers if you feel or sense any of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Together we shall prevail. Very soon this too shall pass. May the good Lord keep all of us safe.. AMEN.
By Dr. Smart A. Sarpong| Snr Research Fellow| Kumasi Technical University