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19.01.2003 Feature Article

Petroleum Price Increases - A Personal View

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I was not at the press conference [yesterday] that announced the 100% increase in petroleum prices. I watched the proceedings on television. It was not only the facts of the case that struck me, but also the atmosphere. The atmosphere was somber and grave, and the expression on the faces of the journalists seemed to suggest that they had received a death-sentence. And indeed they had. We all had. 100% petroleum price increases! This was the sad and bad news that they had the unpleasant duty of relaying to Ghanaians. But it was not only the journalists who had looked like their death-warrants had just been signed. Indeed the executioners themselves looked as though they had also received the death- penalty. And indeed they had. Because an announcement of this nature could very well sign their death-warrants, generating demonstrations, workers strikes, and civil unrest, unseating them in the process. Perhaps this is why they decided to mete out this bitter pill ahead of elections so that by election time, hopefully Ghanaians would have forgotten about this, or at least some cushioning effects could be planned. This particular death-knell has been so bad that we have suddenly, immediately and permanently forgotten about the saga of Professor Mills and the rejected Christmas gift. As Ghanaians the length and breadth of Ghana wished themselves a Happy New Year, they perhaps could not have known in reality how wrong they were, when only a few days into the new year, they were hit mercilessly under the belt by a knock-out punch—courtesy of President Bush.? Not that I would want to blame the current Government entirely. After all, the reasons they have advanced appear acceptable. I guess I am naïve but I still have some unanswered questions: What exactly is the reason for this 100% petroleum price hike? Is it because President Bush has threatened to invade Iraq, and if so, are other countries also increasing petroleum prices? Or is it because Ghana generally charges low prices for fuel? Both of these reasons were advanced, and I am not sure which is which or whether it is both? But then this is not the first time that Ghanaians have been sentenced to such a petroleum death. This unfortunate phenomenon has been occurring from time to time in our history. I distinctly remember the same tune being sung by the then President Rawlings during the very severe petrol shortage early on in his government: “Tighten your belts”…20 years later, change of Government later, the tune is still the same: “Fellow Ghanaians, there are tough times ahead. Please tighten your belts because there is a very rough ride ahead.” It is impressive in a way though, that some members of Government are offering to also tighten their belts: strong symbolism that they, as leaders, are also prepared to suffer with the people, or with the common man, as it is sometimes put. It would be more comforting if they had to pay for fuel prices the way we have to. The 20% promised increases in salaries could also be described as ‘better than nothing’. But 100% minus 20% leaves one with a miserable 80% deficit, which will soon surpass 100% with the promised increases in electricity. Notable also is the attempt to improve the mass transportation system. For me, these are real signs of positive change, and signs that the current Government is doing in reality, what it considers to be its best, in difficult circumstances. I, as a common man, the grassroots, as some may say, do appreciate these beginnings. I really do appreciate these beginnings, because a journey of a thousand miles always starts with the first step, and these signs are definitely signs of better things to come. And so for me there has been positive change: undeniable signs of positive change...but the positive change has not reached the pockets of the ordinary Ghanaian. Indeed the pocket of the ordinary Ghanaian is far from positive in balance; if anything it is becoming more and more negative. And so something is missing. Something is seriously missing. Not that there has not been positive change. There has been, but something is definitely missing. In order for the positive change to reach the pockets of the ordinary Ghanaian, a gap within the positive change philosophy needs to be urgently and immediately addressed. The Minister for Energy, Honourable Kan Dapaah further stated that should President Bush actually attack Iraq, the price hikes would increase even further. As though to nail Ghanaians firmly into their coffin, the Honourable Minister for Energy went on to remind Ghanaians about the impending electricity tariff increases. This is real ‘kumi-preku’—kill-me-now (instead of torturing me in a long drawn out manner first). We are all in a state of shock, our ‘Happy New Year’ wishes having been dissolved by the petrol of bad news. But this is not the first time this ‘evil’ has befallen us. And it will not be the last. It will most definitely not be the last. The real question is “How long will this ‘evil’ continue?” “How long will we continue to be totally reliant on foreign raw materials for our very existence?” That’s the real question. But more importantly, “What is the permanent solution to these realities of life?” I really do not think that we can continue this way. In actual fact we are not truly independent, and the independence that Dr. Kwami Nkrumah fought for and died for, and many of us applauded, and continue to applaud, in reality is only a myth because when America coughs we are all in shambles. This can in no way be described as independence. True independence means economic independence, social independence, educational independence, technological independence etc. How long will we continue in this sorry state? That is the question? For how long? I said that there has been positive change, but that positive change had not yet reached the pockets of the ordinary Ghanaian. I said that there was a vital ingredient lacking in the positive change menu. The real and permanent solution to this problem can only be alternative and more affordable sources of energy. I am informed that Malaysia is obtaining diesel from Palm Oil? It is very interesting to note that the ‘richer’ countries are continuously trying to discover cheaper and more efficient sources of energy, solar, bio-diesel, wind-energy etc, whilst the ‘poorer’ countries continue to rely on expensive foreign sources. I recall a Ghanaian Engineer who recently demonstrated his product of bio-diesel, and also demonstrated that this bio-diesel, obtained from a local Ghanaian plant, could actually be used to run car engines etc, and to my shock and dismay, inspite of all our energy problems, negligible attention appears to have been given to this life- saving philosophy—Extended Domestication. Yes, it is extended domestication that is missing from the positive change diet. Until we begin to exploit our own products and our own local human potential, we will continually remain in a helpless state of pseudo-independence, a fools paradise, in which the reality is inordinate petroleum price hikes, energy price hikes, rising poverty, rising crime rate, instability, brain drain, corruption, continuous and unnecessary domination by external forces, etc, etc, etc. Until we ‘emancipate our minds from mental slavery’ to Western ideologies, Western Philosophies, Western technologies, Western Consultants, and Western Raw Materials, we shall continuously and definitely continue to suffer all these negativities. No, the real enemy is not external forces; the real enemy is our own foreign-dominated mentality (and lack of unity). The real HIPC condition is in our minds, and not external. I was truly shocked that the Honourable Minister could not, and indeed has not been able to talk about cheaper and alternative sources of energy. (Several sources have suggested that it is not really in the interest of the politician to explore possibilities of alternative domestic sources of energy because of profits they may make I importing expensive foreign crude oil into the country.) The opposition, in their condemnation of the price hikes, do not suggest alternative energy sources and innovations. I thought that a responsible and innovative press should also be able to start exploring and projecting these possibilities. (Of all the discussions that I have heard on these petroleum price hikes, not one discusses the issue of alternative local domesticated sources of energy.) Even if the politicians who should be promoting such concepts are not doing what they should be doing, I would have expected that Ghanaian Engineers as a body would be looking at such possibilities, not in the form of speeches only, but in actual real concrete terms. Unfortunately it seems as though the Ghanaian engineer is more ceremonial than functional. What we desperately need in this country are innovative Engineers who can graduate from theoretical knowledge to practical realities, moving the whole country forward in the process. (It is interesting to note the etymology of the word ‘Engineer’. It is derived from the latin word, ‘Ingeniare’ meaning ‘ingenious’). Yes, it is this extended-domestication that is the missing link in the positive-change chain. Let us investigate cheaper and more efficient sources of energy, let us charge the energy minister to render account to the people of Ghana as to the concrete efforts the ministry are making in order to investigate and actively encourage local and/or alternative sources of energy, and not simply to helplessly keep giving us reasons for inordinate energy price hikes (they will continue to rise sharply) in order to remain in office; let journalists give some regular high-profile space on the print-media and electronic-media to this all-important subject; let Ghanaians everywhere join in, in whatever way that they can, in this struggle for survival; and last but certainly not the least, let the Engineers be Engineers.

Philip Engmann
Philip Engmann, © 2003

The author has 2 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: PhilipEngmann

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