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A 40-year national vision or development plan for Ghana?

July 23, 2015, midnight

A national development plan is an official document that contains a vision for the growth and development of a nation and policies for attaining the vision. It guides decision-making regarding the future of a nation just as architectural plans guide the construction of complex structures or buildings. Its preparation establishes a process for identifying national needs and goals with the participation of the general public.

 Involving the general public in identifying national goals and aspirations ensure widespread support for the plan. It also brings new and important information to the attention of planners, minimises opposition, and gives the public the pride of authorship and knowledge that their concerns are addressed in the plan.

The content of a national development plan can be categorised into four components, namely a statement of goals and objectives; a description of existing socioeconomic, physical, natural resources and environmental conditions; a prediction of future conditions and national needs based on empirical data and analysis; and proposals or policies for attaining the goals and objectives of the plan. 

The plan’s objectives must be quantifiable, measureable, and attainable. The average time horizon for an effective development plan is between five and 20 years. The planner’s ability to empirically predict into the future beyond 20 years with any reasonable certainty is very limited because society is very dynamic. Yet, without the predictive component and a set of feasible policies for attaining the stated goals and objectives, the product is essentially a vision statement and not a development plan.

Finally, the preparation of a development plan must have a legal basis to ensure that the content will be binding on current and future governments. It’s against this background that we need to examine the proposed 40-years development plan for Ghana.

Plan or framework?

The Constitutional Review Commission’s Report of 2011 recommended the establishment of a long-term national development plan that would ensure continuity in governance even in the midst of a change in government.  Following calls by religious bodies and civil society organisations for a national development plan, the NDPC is preparing to launch a process for the preparation of a 40-year national development plan that will set out a vision for the growth and development of Ghana leaving successive governments to devise their own strategies for implementation.

The Director General of the NDPC, Dr Nii Moi Thompson, is reported to have stated that “the reason why we are playing around with 40 years is because it’s when Ghana actually turns 100 so it’s a good terminal point so to speak”.  It is clear that about 70 per cent  of today’s population, including the major proponents, will be deceased before the final year of the plan.  What is not clear so far is whether the NDPC is pursuing a 40-year development plan or a long-term national development framework (vision). 

The clarification is very important because a 40-year national development plan is a mirage that is not worth pursuing but a 40-year national development framework or vision is plausible (after all, life is meaningful only if one has a vision to be fulfilled).  In other words, there is nothing wrong with having a 40-year national vision or development framework that will serve as a standard reference point for various governments in Ghana except that it may suffer the fate of President Rawlings’s Vision 2020 or President Kufuor’s Budget 2057 Development Framework which the late Finance Minister, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, is reported to have described as “our vision for the next 50 years”. 

These two documents have almost been forgotten and are inoperative not only because they covered more than 20 years’ time horizon but also because they lacked meaningful  prediction of future national needs and policies for attaining the vision, nor did they have a legal backing to ensure future governments would continue to pursue the stated national vision.

Legal backing

There have been reports that the NDPC will seek a legal backing to make the content of the proposed 40-year national development plan binding on all governments irrespective of the party in power.  Unfortunately, the accepted practice is to seek a legal basis for the preparation of the plan before major commitments are made (you don’t want to put the cart before the horse).

This is important because there is no guarantee that a national development plan will be given a legal backing after time, money, and other resources have been invested in its preparation. Moreover, the legal basis for its preparation could be challenged in a court of law if it was not secured prior to the plan’s preparation.

Finally, the NDPC must not be compelled to limit the scope of the plan to a national vision. Given the annual flooding episodes and sprawl problems in major cities in the country, there is the need to strengthen urban planning at the municipal level.  In the early 1920’s, the US Department of Commerce prepared a model zoning ordinance, as well as a subdivision ordinance, that has formed the basis for planning at the municipal level in the US up to this day. 

A zoning ordinance is a municipal government law that defines how property in specific geographic zones can be used. It regulates the use, placement, and the height or bulk of structures.  A subdivision ordinance, on the other hand, is a municipal government law that defines how a piece of land is divided into two or more lots for sale, transfer, or development.

It also specifies certain minimum requirements and standards that the lots must include. Urban planning in Ghana is in a mess because there are no zoning ordinance or subdivision ordinance to guide growth and development.  In this regard, the NDPC could emulate the example of the US Department of Commerce and come up with a model zoning and subdivision ordinances to guide urban planning in Ghana. In addition, municipal governments in Ghana must be compelled to prepare their own development plans to guide the growth of their cities.


The writer teaches land use regulation and planning at the University of Alabama. He is a certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners and currently a visiting Associate Professor at the University of Cape Coast, Department of Geography and Regional Planning.  E-mail:


Disclaimer : The views expressed in this news report do not necessarily reflect those of the National Development Planning Commission