The rich must pay more for petrolBy Ghanaian Chronicle
8/21/2012 5:01:25 PM -
By Emmanuel Akli
When I was growing up as a kid, I was always wondering how a woman gives birth to a child. 'Do they cut their stomachs open and take out the baby,' I would ask myself. Luckily for me, a lady in our house got pregnant and delivered. She delivered in the morning at the time I was in school. When I returned from in the afternoon to have my lunch, I again asked myself, 'Where did the baby pass through before coming out of the stomach?' This was after I realised that a baby was crying in the room.
Whilst pondering over this, I went to the kitchen and gulped down balls of 'akple' with my 'fetridetsi' and went back to school. Those were the days we went to school twice a day. Even though I was in Class Two at the time, Idid not enjoythe teaching that afternoon because I was still pondering over how the lady delivered. When I closed from school at 4:00 p.m. and went home, I decided to ask my father how the lady delivered to free myself from the unnecessary thinking.
Efo, as we usually call our dad, 'how did the woman deliver, did they cut open her stomach, or where did the baby pass before coming out?' I asked politely in Ewe. But I was greeted with an unpleasant answer, 'Shut up!This is not a question a child should be asking.' I was obviously not satisfied with the answer my dad gave me, so I bypassed him and went straight to the woman who had always been sending me on errands to ask her how she delivered.
Like my father, the woman was also shocked that I was asking her that question, so she called my father and told him. My dad then went bananas and decided to give me severallashes, which eventually zipped my mouth from asking that kind of 'stupid' question again. When I grew up, I realised that my dad was wrong in refusing to answer my question, but I did not blame him, because at the time sex education was considered sacrilegious, therefore, it was an abomination for me, as a kid, to be asking those kinds of questions.
Unfortunately,politicians are also holding onto this old tradition of not telling the truth for fear of the backlash that would follow. Folks, we are all aware that in Ghana we don't pay realistic prices for petrol, but politicians are always afraid to say it, and continue to subsidise the product to the detriment of the economy. The Member of Parliament for AfigyaSekyere West, Mr. Albert Kan-Dapaah, however, decided to break this protocol, when he stated a couple of days ago that Ghana could no more afford to subsidise fuel products to the detriment of the economy.
According to him, the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) debt, which has become a mantra in the country, was nothing but the cost of fuel subsidy the government had failed to redeem. According to him, over 70% of cars and vehicles roaming our streets are privately owned, and therefore, wondered why a poor man or lady who also pays taxes should continue to subsidise fuel for the rich in society to enjoy. Obviously, this pronouncement would sound unpalatable in the ears of some of us who own cars, but the man simply hit the nail right on the head.
Somewhere in 2010, the Atta Mills government announced that the TOR debt, amounting to over GH¢800 million, and which was threatening the very existence of the only refinery we have in this country and the Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB), had been redeemed. Per Kan-Dapaah's claim, this debt did not occur as a result of operational lapses, but cost of subsidies that were not passed on to the consumer. Though this debt has been cleared from the accounting books of both TOR and GCB, my information is that it is still a debt hanging round the neck of the country, because the government paid it through the issuance of bonds which were subscribed by investors. The government, therefore, has the obligation to pay back these bonds in addition to interest.
Meanwhile, this country is faced with so many developmental challenges which we are struggling to address. If you go to the rural areas and see the sort of roads the people are driving on, you would marvel as to whether they part of Ghana or not. I need not mention potable water, electricity and health facilities. Despite these developmental challenges, we are still subsidising fuel, which largely benefits the rich to the tune of billions of Ghana cedis. If this is what the developed countries were doing, I do not think they would have mobilised enough resources and send some down to us in the form of aid.
When officials of the Internal Monetary Fund (IMF) called on our late President Mills a couple of months ago, they expressed indignation over the continuous subsidisation of fuel by the government. Since the payment of taxes is always a difficult thing to do, the IMF officials became a target of harsh criticisms in the country, even though they spoke the truth. We cannot continue to eat our cake and have it at the same time. If we want to develop, we must be prepared to face the economic realities, instead of brushing it aside.
I, therefore, fully support Kan-Dapaah and the IMF'spositions that the subsidy on fuel must be withdrawn to enable the government rake in enough revenue to carry on with development projects. Innovative ways must however be found to the problem instead of increment across board, which would severely affect the poor in the society. Ghana's economy grew by a world record of 14% last year; inflation also plummeted from 18% down to a single digit. But, despite this record achievement, both rural and urban poverty is very severe in this our mother land. We should not, therefore, assume that everything is rosy for us. Already,the projections for oil revenues have failed to materialise, because the Jubilee Partners have failed to reach the 120,000 barrels production target. This has reversed most of the government projections, especially those geared towards the poor.
I have no contrary statistics to challenge Mr. Kan-Dapaah's figure that 70% of cars roaming our streets are privately owned. Here in Accra, if you see the quality of cars Ghanaians are driving and the volume of traffic on our roads, you would wonder if this is really a developing country. I am, therefore, of the opinion that instead of withdrawing the fuel subsidy and increase the ex-pump price of the commodity, which, as I have already indicated, would affect the poor most, the government should rather calculate the amount involved and shift it to road tolls.
Currently, the saloon cars pay 50 pesewas as road toll, but the government, in an attempt to redeem the fuel subsidy, can increase this toll to say GH¢2.00 or even more. The Toyota Landcruisersmust also be made to pay road tolls ranging between GH¢5.00 and GH¢6.00. Measures could also be put in place for all expensive cars such as the Hummers, Avaris, Jaguars, just to mention few, to pay higher than the figure I have suggested. I am aware that in the advanced countries, those living in expensive houses are made to pay higher taxes on the houses. We can also do the same for those who use expensive cars by asking them to pay higher road tolls as a form of subsidy, or pay realistic prices for fuel. All commercial cars and vehicles must, however, be exempted from paying these high tolls to enable them maintain the current commercial fares, which would benefit the poor and also stabilisethe prices of food.
If it will not breach any Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) protocol or an international law, I equally suggest that all cars and vehicles entering Ghana and leaving must be tolled at the borders. My reason is that if our neighbouring countries realise that petrol is cheaper in Ghana, the motivation of them crossing the border with their cars and vehicles to buy petrol in here would be very high. But if they are tolled, they would also be helping to pay for the fuel subsidy.
Somebody may argue that not all private cars and vehicles roaming the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and other busy cities and towns use roads that are tolled, therefore, it would amount to cheating if my suggestion is implemented, since most of them would escape these high tolls. I think this fear could be cured through other innovative ways. One way to deal with the situation is to ask all private cars entering the central business district of Accra, including the ministries area, to pay the new road tolls before they are allowed entry. To help decongest the business districts, some cities around the world, especially London, has this kind of policy, so it should not be difficult for us to also implement it in Ghana.
To ensure the easy tolling of these cars, the city authorities can designate roads that must be used only by commercial cars entering the business district of Accra and other cities, and those that must be used by private cars. The police can then be instructed to arrest any private car using roads designated for commercials cars to enter the business district.
It is the duty of every government to protect the poor from getting poorer and poorer, and since any petrol increment would exacerbate their plight, taking on board the suggestion I have made in this article would help stabilise the situation without compromising on the revenue generation for national development. I insist that cross subsidisation of petrol which benefits those who can afford the realistic prices must stop. If you are driving an expensive car, then you must also be prepared to pay for expensive fuel.
The implementation of this policy, though laudable, would not benefit the nation if corruption is not checked. Security must be tight at all the tolling points to avoid the situation where the payment of the taxes would rather go into private pockets instead of the state kitty. Despite the abundance of natural resources, Africa has still not developed, because of our corrupt practices. I cannot afford to pay these high road tolls in the interest of the state, whilst people are making money out of my sweat. In that way I will be the first person to agitate for the withdrawal of the policy