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21.01.2002 Feature Article

Ghana must modify the way it does Business for its advantage

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On March 6, 2002, Ghana will be 45 years old. A forty-five year old individual is supposed to be independent of her parents' influence. She must be able to make key personal decisions without any unnecessary outside interference and more significantly, be able to look after her children. This is not the case with Ghana. At almost forty-five, Ghana still allows itself to be manipulated by her trading partners, her benefactors, and worst of all, by the International Monetary Bank (IMF) and the World Bank. Nearly two decades after the implementation of an IMF supervised Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), which was touted as a long-term panacea for our ailing economy, Ghana is saddled with over 6 trillion cedis national debt with nothing concrete to show for it but misery, hardship, poverty and HIPC. Her financial condition is so precarious that the government could not lower gas price although world price of crude oil is falling. The majority of Ghanaians in the country is currently living below the poverty line as the cost of food, clothing, shelter, health care and education expand beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Moreover, the nation's unemployment figure kept soaring at a same time as her once dynamic manufacturing industry that provided job to school graduates face annihilation from cheap foreign import. Yet, there's no official buy "Made in Ghana" campaign in progress to create public awareness of the seriousness of this situation. Focusing too much on the negative might defeat the primary purpose of this article or simply be counter-productive. However, it is still important to point out that with a population of only 18.8 million, her vast natural and water resources, her land size, her human resource, and her favorable weather condition, Ghana is relatively an under-populated economy. But mismanagement, greed, corruption, dishonesty, and lack of sensitivity to a common good have thus far retarded her development. If recent events around the world are a harbinger of things to come, then we must endeavor to find local solution to our economic problems than to expect too much from foreigners. This is due to the fact that for the first time since the early 1930s, all the major countries in the world are facing economic recession simultaneously. Most of them are grappling with negative economic growth and high unemployment rate. September 11th worsened the situation for the United States where employment insecurity and low consumer confidence are keeping shoppers out of the stores thus hurting the recovery process. A continuation of these grim conditions into 2003 will create additional complications for many Third-World countries that rely on donor countries or the IMF and the World Bank for money to complete key economic projects. A very good example is Argentina, which just defaulted on the repayment of her $132 billion national debt because of the refusal of the IMF and the United States to renew $1.3 billion standing loan that would have enabled the Argentines to service their short-term interest payment on that debt. On that note, Ghanaians need to explore better ways to boost revenue from their foreign exports, improve their education system, strengthen their thriving democracy, and modify their relationship with the IMF and the World Bank. Among the perennial challenges facing any Ghanaian administration are creating jobs for Ghanaian workers and enhancing total revenue from our foreign export. Solving these two important issues might require a revision of Ghana's existing export policy to become a more FINISHED PRODUCT oriented. Presently, we rely heavily on raw commodity export that are vulnerable to price fluctuation on the World's Commodity Market. As a result, the country gains more in revenue when prices shoot upward in relation to demand. Conversely, it loses a lot when demand falls and prices take a nosedive. The sad commentary about this whole world commodity trading exercise is that the markets are not located on the African continent where majority of the raw commodity traded is but are situated somewhere in Europe or North America where we have absolutely no control. To put an end to this mockery, we should build factories in Ghana to process our cocoa, timber, bauxite, gold, diamond, manganese, tuna, etc into Finished Products before exporting. This would create jobs for Ghanaians and Africans and substantially improve our overall revenue from those exports. We may encounter many barriers in our effort to penetrate key markets especially in the advanced world where protectionism is on the rise, however, through negotiation, fortitude, and sacrifice we will eventually succeed. We must however, be prepared to trade or barter our chocolate, Milo, jewelry, newsprint, etc to other Third World economies if the industrialized countries are intolerant on allowing our products into their markets. This is absolutely important because Ghana cannot develop its economy as long as we continue to export raw materials and not find a way to ADD VALUE to them before doing so. Belgium is a west European country that is popular for its chocolate. Chances are some of the cocoa beans processed in her factories are from Ghana and other cocoa producing African countries. My only questions are (1) why should we feed her factories and create jobs for Belgians when Ghanaian and African workers are unemployed? (2) What is wrong with producing our own chocolate then compete with Belgium on the Chocolate Market? (3) Why should we export our raw cocoa beans to Belgium at a lower price then use the revenue to import their expensive chocolate produced with our beans? Please take a second to consider these "silly" questions above in order to understand the point that I am trying to make. As long as we continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated by the advanced countries, Ghana would continue to be a THIRD WORLD dumping ground for their products and accordingly, we WILL NEVER advance anywhere. Also, we will not progress beyond what we are today, because they would use whatever means necessary to degrade, stigmatize, demean, and mortify our products in order to maintain the status quo. We must therefore wake up and tell the IMF and the World Bank that the loans would be best spent in building factories rather than for servicing everlasting interest on our old debt. A strong manufacturing economy requires an educated labor force that keeps pace with evolving technologies at their workplace and an equally strong EDUCATION system to sustain that level of commitment for many years. One may wonder how significant education is to an economy. Well, let's consider this study that appeared in one of January's edition of Wall Street Journal in 1994 about Ghana and Malaysia. Both countries attained their independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia utilized over one half of its inheritance from Britain to educate its citizens. Ghana did not. Malaysia also allotted a sizable portion of its annual revenue to sustain that policy for many years. By 1994, according to the study, Malaysia had achieved over 97 per cent literacy rate with a semi-developed economy while Ghana was just enjoying around 35 to 40 per cent with largely an agricultural market. Malaysia has invested heavily in Ghana today acquiring key Corporations in the telecommunication and film industry. Ghana is asking for more from them. This is the essence of education to an economy! Such is the importance of education in the United States that yesterday - 01/08/2002 - President Bush went to Ohio to sign a reformed Education Bill passed by Congress amid noise and pageantry. Ghana must make education compulsory and affordable to all Ghanaians. There's NO WAY that we can ever develop our economy with less than 80 per cent sustained literacy rate. Our government should work closely with the universities to come up with new ideas, innovations and inventions to improve our daily lives and move the country forward. That can only happen however, if the government earmarks substantial amount of money to the universities each year for research and development (R&D) purpose. Companies that are operating in the country must be encouraged to cooperate with our universities to develop tools of operation. University graduates must be given jobs and be remunerated handsomely to keep them in the country. More public universities must be established and private ones encouraged to accommodate school graduates whom due to lack of space are forced to wait in line for almost three years before entering into college. More emphasis must also be placed on graduating advance degree holders in the master and doctorate categories to create experts in different fields of study in Ghana. The Ghanaian government must also declare basic education (Primary through Secondary) free so all Ghanaian children would have equal opportunity to education. We cannot afford to lose any child since the consequences of uneducated children are hardship, misery, poverty and crime. Educated adults find innovative ways to live but illiterates often steal and kill to do so. Moreover, as Ghana aggressively seeks foreign investment, it needs educated workers because most investors invariably hesitate to invest where majorities of the people they are going to deal with are illiterate. An educated economy is slightly better than a natural resource rich one because the people can buy raw material from outside and use their knowledge to process them to generate substantial revenue. Just ask JAPAN if you think that I am kidding. But a combination of educated citizens in a natural-resource rich economy can be potent. Take a look at the United States of America. Ultimately, our salvation lies on EDUCATION so our government must set a concrete policy on education to raise our literacy level to 85% or more of the total population within the next decade. None of what I have written above could happen within an authoritarian or dictatorial environment where ideas are stifled and freedom of expression is muzzled. DEMOCRACY is our vehicle for constructive engagement in nation building and social transformation in every aspect of the country. For a developing country like Ghana, which has suffered many years of repression, democracy offers the opportunity for the country to emerge from the past into a future of hope and promises and potential and possibilities. The whole world is moving in that direction and we are fortunate to be part of it. We now have the opportunity to encourage investor's and citizens equally to come invest in the future of our nation. But we must be vigil and constantly remind ourselves that in any political climate where citizens are always afraid to live and investors' fear for the safety of their investment, real economic growth is not achieved. To that end, our government should endeavor to educate Ghanaians about the virtue of our democratic system and the essence of rule of law. They should also rule the country within the democratic confines as stated in the constitution. Furthermore, the authorities must be transparent in their handling of important state issues so as to build confidence with the electorate to allow democracy to thrive. In Ghana where rumor is rife, any appearance of impropriety by government official could create confusion and mistrust, so the key word in a budding democracy is TRANSPARENCY. Finally, Ghana must modify its financial relationship with the IMF and the World Bank or at least be pragmatic in her dealings with those two financial agencies. I am very much aware that this suggestion might generate some controversy but let's consider the facts. Almost 20 years after their involvement in Ghana, the country is much poorer and desperate than ever. The stringent conditions that they imposed for loans forced our government to cut subsidies on several key important programs such as healthcare, education, agriculture, transportation, industry, businesses, and basic programs that benefit the poor in the society. Before the IMF and the World Bank, there was public transportation system in Ghana; no "cash and carry" healthcare system existed. Our school system " Primary, Secondary and Universities" were among the best if not the best in West Africa; cost of food, clothing and shelter were reasonable or affordable; there was no unnecessary divestiture program that sell our corporations; and our manufacturing industry was vibrant. All of the above cannot be said of Ghana today. Cost of living in the country has become so high that even our extended family system that did survive everything since the dawn of time is been threatened and the social fiber of the society is being torn apart. Worst of all, Ghana is losing her BEST BRAINS to other countries as living conditions in the country get worst. The IMF and the World Bank have no track record in any Third World country that they land. Their regular response to questions about the severity of the conditions that they impose on developing countries is the same: that "those economies were already on the brink before they are invited to help". My only question to the IMF is, "IMF are you out to kill all the citizens of these countries before you resuscitate their economies?" After destroying our education, health, occupation and confidence, how do they expect us to generate enough money to repay our loans? This is the basic reason for my controversial call above. Since April 11, 1983 when the first draconian IMF budget was read in Ghana and prices of everything from airline ticket to soap went through the stratosphere, living conditions in the country have gradually deteriorated. The costs of food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, and transportation are so exorbitant that many people have lost every ray of hope they have in the system. Our national debt is higher than ever and unemployment has quadrupled on the face of divestiture and retrenchment. The level of destitution is reaching an alarming proportion and that will require strong government response to avert national tragedy. The IMF and the World Bank have simply failed the country so we must rethink our strategy in dealing with them. To conclude, Ghana's problems are not insurmountable. Our first course of action is to improve our foreign export. FINISHED PRODUCTS will indeed generate considerable amount of revenue than raw commodity export. Therefore, in order to create jobs, pay down our national debt, pursue our development objectives, improve our balance of trade with our trading partners, and sustain our democratic values, we must CHANGE the way we do business with the outside world to benefit the country.

Rafak R. Nartey, Dr.
Rafak R. Nartey, Dr., © 2002

The author has 7 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: RafakRNartey

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