15.02.2004 Feature Article

The Cedi Millionaires

The Cedi Millionaires
15.02.2004 LISTEN

The Fun and Agony of Banking in black Plastic Bags. I usually like to write about major economic, socio-political and leadership issues in our society, but occasionally I like to write about the ordinary things that we take for granted and accept as “the way we do things here”. In organization studies, research in many societies have found that the small aspects life and concept such as “eha dee saa ara”, meaning “that is the way it's done here”, constitutes part of the silent definition of culture. Culture can sometimes cripple or break an organization, and can be a platform of assets and competencies upon which an organization or society can build competitive strategy for development. On the reverse, a weak culture can allow others to take strategic competitive advantage (SCA). Our ancestors allowed our people to be enslaved before, and we should never forget it. Sometimes the things we laugh about constitute our culture of accepting a status of pride or of mediocrity. Some of us have written about the horrible idea of urinating in public in Ghana, and have called on the government as the major body that can work to eliminate it. Despite these, let's look at money today, the Ghanaian cedi, and the currencies of the modern world. How would anybody feel if they walked to a major department store in America or Britain or Australia or Germany, and took out a brown paper bag or suitcase full of cash just to purchase a refrigerator or stove? Well, think about it. This is what is happening in our country Ghana, as also in other African countries whose currency value has depreciated so much that it takes a truckload of cash to purchase a car or a simple appliance. My pastor at Church, a white American who has lived in Ghana, was telling me a story of the shock, and laughter, when his visiting pastor from the US once found the trunk (boot) of their Church car full of cash. One can imagine the first thought in the mind of any Westerner, used to dealing in credit cards, ATMs, and checks for payment, on seeing such a huge amount of cash. We can make jokes about how one has to be a cedi millionaire in Ghana to purchase a simple refrigerator, but consider that in a country with a GDP of $8 billion, there is on every single day in Ghana, the processing by Banks and government some US $25,641,025 or C230,769,230,769 in circulation or in use in our country. There is a huge cost to this for a nation of say 5 million working adults carrying most of these in their black plastic bags, in their suitcases, purses, and by hand, to banks. This goes on every day! Think of the avoidable traffic jams we go through everyday simply to go to the Post Office to check or post mail, and to the Bank. The cost of petrol that Ghana can save alone due to such unnecessary trips to the Banks, post offices and small errands due to lack of convenient store locations in community areas, can be estimated to be about US$400,000 per day. Whatever happened to our Land Planning Departments? Think of the power of our large society that could be planned for prosperity if only we would show leadership, from the community levels, to the very top. The transfer of human value in services and products in the form of money is one of the uncelebrated aspects of our modern civilization. Within the last few weeks I have received some business proposals from Ghana, including estimates and projections. In two of them, the businessman had made simple errors in adding and multiplying, all due to the many zeroes one has to add to numbers in Ghana to give any value to our transaction. Why do we need so many zeroes anyway? This can be embarrassing for our businesspersons, and hence for our nation.

Many people in Ghana may agree that our finance ministers are, or should be men or women of good mathematical ability. By mathematical I don't mean any Calculus or hard geometry that may scare some of our Ministers off the debate. I mean simple appreciation for numbers, especially with cedi signs in front. These days a simple calculator for $10 will do the job. Ideally the Ministries should by now be using the long overdue and recommended competency of Computer software such as Microsoft Excel to do their budgeting and numerical calculations. In fact it will be a crime if any of our esteemed Ministers are still using the slide rule today. Having said this, it bothers me then that a smart Osafo-Maafo, our Minister of finance, and the NPP, continue to deceive the people of Ghana that they are all millionaires, when in fact they are not even thousannaires! (assume there is a word like that).

Inertia and Resistance to Change:

There are many reasons for a nation and any organizations to continue doing what has been inherited. There is always the cost of changing an existing system, which as some conservatives have said in American parlance, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”. Kwame Nkrumah of blessed memory, in his book, wrote of how Dr. Busia, during the 1950s struggle for political independence, had argued that it wasn't time for Ghana to obtain their political independence, since the British themselves knew when we would be ready.

In every society or in every human being, there is an innately built resistance for change. As British Scientist Sir Isaac Newton found out and postulated in his Laws of Physics, and also found in natural Laws, “everybody remains at rest or moves in a uniform straight line unless impressed forces act on it”. Western scholars of organizational behavior have identified among others three major forces that compel any society or an organization to change. These three are identified in modern societies as (1) customer focus, (2) technology, and (2) globalization. Whiles nobody can blame uncle Busia for resisting change, the forces that compel us today to change may be different than those of the 1940s. Today, we have to compete for our survival based on how fast we can transfer money across the globe, move our products from point A to B (I mean Accra to Boston or Bolgatanga). We have communication technology to help us, customers who may order our products from across the globe from the Internet and cannot wait for 4 months by ship, or American companies like coca Cola invading our shores competing to sell us ordinary drinking water in bottles.

It is for these reasons that our leaders have to realize and act quickly before our nation is completely sold to the foreigners under so-called World-Bank-recommended free-trade concepts. In 1992 a Graphic reporter, asked to interview me, stopped in the interview and told me that there were too many computers in Ghana. “Everywhere you go, they say Compuuta,, everywhere Compuuta”. Today, can anybody honestly say there are “too many computers?” This is an example of how our ways of thinking can hold us back. We have to change our ways of thinking, our ways of looking at government positions, and in general many of our ways of doing things. The men and women in the media need to change their mindset in seeking the truth and reporting news, and the men and women in the art of leadership, alias government, ought to see the need to serve society as opposed to their stomachs first, i.e., stop using the loopholes in existing inherited systems and bureaucracy to enrich themselves with per diems, interest -free car loans, etc. Summary: I started this article by taking a casual look at our currency and our financial system, how ridiculous it is for us to be carrying black plastic bags of money, and then touched on the mindset and cultural aspects of doing business the old-fashioned way. In my usual style, I have touched on many issues relating to the topic. This includes our mindsets, our view of life as members of an organization now called the global village, and our ability to compete as a nation and reach strategic competitive advantage using the tools of modern change. This article shares a sense of humor, but is as serious attempt to call on our leaders, our honorable and smart-looking Minister of Finance, the government of the Bank of Ghana, to accept to change. We must completely renumber our currency and bring the numbers in relative proportion to the world major currencies. We will go through changes, but we will save on printing costs in the long run, as also other costs relating to logistics, transportation and exchange.

Perhaps the most important of all are for the Minister of Finance, the governor of the Bank, and all the financial wizards of Ghana (1) to work together to find the formula to reduce inflation and stop further devaluation of the cedi; and (2) to set up a strategic means for fast money transfer within Ghana as well as from outside Ghana. There is a huge opportunity for our nation to reap the benefits of international financing, even from our own sons and daughters overseas who can invest in local communities if there were good communication infrastructure and small licensed community Bank networks. We can carry truckloads of money and laugh about it; but we do belong to the international community, and we cannot be seen as simply educated people who cannot apply our knowledge to solve our problems. Kwaku A. Danso, President/CEO Amtek Realty & Finance, Inc. 46350 Mission Blvd, Fremont, California 94539, USA (Feb.12,2004) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.