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05.06.2004 Feature Article

Our Petrol Politics

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Our Petrol politics is becoming hotter and noisier these days. It is tearing us apart between maintaining the correct price levels, and increasing the price of petrol from ¢20,000 per gallon, to about ¢26,000 or ¢28,000. By the latter a1ternative, it would mean that within two years, increases have been effected twice from ¢10,000 to ¢20,000 and from ¢20,000 to about ¢23,000 to make our economics, and hope thereby to make our politics too?

We are mistaken. The parity between "benign" politics and the rather harsh market economy has not been obtained yet to harmonize the two to make the political and economic climate as friendly as it should. We miss that mechanism badly.

Government's attempt to harmonize the two appears shaken and without certain future for our economic peace. To date, the forbidden subsidy, which we have hoped could create some harmony runs into 109 billion cedis a month. And the subsidy increases by the day as the world price of crude oil increases by leaps and bounds, to hit all time record level of 41 dollars a barrel. So the subsidies no longer can be sustained. And, well it is even a forbidden fruit.

Accordingly, that is how it seems to some of us, Government is hiding behind some IMF/World Bank pressure to increase petrol prices because the IMF people cannot buy for us the petrol we consume cheaply like some water in the economic system. Already, the IMF people have been subsidizing our budget with about $500 million grant annually.

While the IMF people are not going to subsidise our petrol consumption, government as a matter of its economic policy, is not going to continue to subsidising the cost to the economy of high petrol prices at the world market, currently. If it is doing so, it is for the sake of some political expediency and not anything of its economic policy. We fail to realise the contradictions here. Drink deep or not at all.

The economy should thrive at the expense of the politics of the day, which should die. It is a brewing, tragedy we appear to ignore especially where government has made its intention clear that it loves the economy more than its politics. Indeed that is what we make of the political pronouncement that nothing would be dome to whittle away the economic gains so far for the sake of "some" political expediency.

This is unfortunate. Without our politics we cannot have an economy. Contrariwise, without the Economy we cannot ½ve any politics. It is a moral problem that cues across the political and economic policies I n the system. And we may be heading towards some doomsday with the dual institutions of our current political and economic policies in our peculiar local climate where we continue to stick to one, and ignore the other.No! Government should not tie itself down with sophistry of a political policy that does not properly address petrol price hikes in the economic system, but simply passing on the increase to us. We are so poor to be in the position to sustain that. We expect our poor government to be wiser in protecting its economic interests and our raw political interests, if it does not care about hers.

And why shouldn't the government do that, especially where government does not have controls over oil production levels by our OPEC people. And we are going as the government is saying that we pay high prices where production levels are low, but continue to pay that much high when production levels axe high to demand low prices. It is too rough and too raw a policy to sustain us.

The raw politics here is ambiguous, but that of the economy is straight forward by which the poor economy would gain, but that our equally poor politics would lose. It sounds like Greek to us in practical terms, any way.

We are making the point that this type of economics is suited to rich economics in Europe and in America, and not a developing country like ours. It is one fact of our lives we omit to address much to the detriment of our politics and economics.

Well, such has been the NPP-Government policy goals we expect them to implement to save the economy and kill the politics for those political gains? It would be tragic if that ever happens for both the economy and the political there of would be lost, once again.

In that circumstance, the gains for the nation would be nil. And we would have failed to call ourselves nationalists who should save the nation for our collective good, and not for the good of any partisan and parochial interests.

Indeed such has been the fate of the notion over the years when we assumed the responsibility of governing ourse1ves by ourselves. We have been able to make it for ourselves, but have failed to make it for the nation a whole hence our anxiety with the current Petrol price politics.

For us, the 'apolitic' individuals, the nation comes first before our individual and personal politics. Our first wish has been that the political environment continues to remain peaceful, however gingerly.. We should be able to nonage peace for our continued political peace, which the majority of us are working for and praying for.

The matter of the economy, which realises for is our petrol politics has been that we ore bankrupt from head to toe. We are managing to

Exist on loans, and on grants, and some expected NEPAD boom that is likely to come our way. If such is the case, what is the lasting complimentary policy to hold us together for our continued political and economic peace.

Surely, those who are in to give to us generously are not in any position to strangle to death in the next minute. We are so poor and so sick economically and politically that any political and economic inputs put in the system wrongly would completely kill us outright, our politics economics, and all. And where would be the gains to be proud of.

Some of us would wish the debt burden to increase by due subsidy than to have it decreased, and subsequently destroy our politics. For when prices of petroleum products are increased, sooner or later, all our lives, political life, economic life, and social life would go out of gear.

It is this state of affairs we so much reject. Petrol happens to be the nerve centre of the economic life in the country. Any increases in the price of petrol are increases in fatality in our already deteriorating life span. And who saves us from certain death is both an economic and political question, which our politicians should answer now.

Our hope of striking oil in some commercial quantities has been a mirage. The famous Tano Basin Oil Fields has no crude oil but some gas deposits, so we are told. Our persistence in the effort of ever striking oil there amounts to sheer bravado. But let them try, provided the cost of it is not charged to our already bankrupt accounts.

The very notorious off-shore Saltpond oil fields continues to betray our incapacity administratively to manage the oil supposed to be coming therefrom. The expenditure we continue to incur in the process cannot be complimentary of our supposed competent selves.

We are poor, and sick indeed at all fronts.

The mass transportation buses to come to minimise our consumption of petrol are yet to come. The economic g8ins by the continued use of private cars, and tro-tro mini buses have been nil. And as we pant for breath with the use of these expensive means of transportation in respect of our daily economic activities, so does the Economy itself gasps for breath to live on, hopelessly and helplessly to fizzle out quietly soon.

In the process, we end it all by road motor accidents that cost us much tears and sorrow for all the losses we incur thereby. And there is government in place, and we are suffering so because government's political and economic goals are not in any regular alignment. And where do we go from here? - Sustaining the subsidies by our cocoa and gold gains or removing the subsidies, and be damned, No, we want to live, by the help of the subsidies in the mean time.

Such is our plea. When there is hunger at home, which has the potential to kill us, there cannot be any wisdom in saving for what development.

It is man who should live to prosecute development and not development, which should make man.

It should be this wisdom that persuades our development partners to advance us some loans and grants to support poverty alleviation countrywide. And could it happen that those behind the poverty alleviation effort would not accept to accord subsidies on petrol as another mode of weapon in the war against poverty?

We need to make a case for the subsidies along the lines and the principles that brought in to us all the HIPC gains, and therefore all the gains to realise in the war against poverty.

We need to sit up, and tell our story in plain language for practical solutions. Our political and economic circumstances differ. Solutions to them should be different including the application of subsidies where it is necessary.

Laws against subsidies, and so laws of bankruptcy have not been 'internationalised' yet where defaulters are arraigned before the International Court of Justice to show cause why sentences of death should not be dished out to them.

But it could happen imperceptibly where we become swollen headed politically and dare to take very unpopular economic decisions against poor Ghana. We would reach the gallows surely with our politics, and economic, and all. We become the losers in the long run. Beware then of the petrol politics.

Raymond Archer
Raymond Archer, © 2004

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RaymondArcher

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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