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05.01.2005 Feature Article

Ghana`s debt in Development -Do you know?

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"The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did." Luckily for Ghana, we have had all the praises for the achievements under Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) especially, in the last year.

Besides, the hoax of award to the Minister of Finance, had interestingly turned out and expectedly so, to be false in the last year. There was yet another high score from a report on January 1, that "Ghana is this year projected to rank second in business prosperity in Africa. According to a just released December 2004/January 2005 African Review Survey of executives in business and government in Africa."

All these gains are just the tip of the iceberg in real terms, and nothing to rejoice about, because Ghana`s GDP was comparable to Spain in Europe by the 60s. In the early 70s, new Japanese Subaru cars were offered to Ghanaian taxi drivers for "work and pay."

Today, can any Ghanaian dream of buying any new car in the brands of Subaru from a Baja, Forester, Impreza, Legacy to an Outback? No kidding. So where did we go wrong? Knowledge and I mean, vital knowledge based on information should be the for all and sundry.

A new Suzuki Sumurai (Jeep) on show, or think of it that a new Suzuki Jimny, cost barely ten thousand (10,000) Ghana New Cedis cash a little over two decades ago. My family could afford one for me from just a poultry business, when I was just a secondary school graduate.

What has happened to the Auto Parts Company Limited, near the Ghana Food Distribution Corporation in Accra Industrial Area? Does anyone remember when the exchange rate of the cedi to a dollar was 2.75 cedis at the Bank of Ghana? I do admit the whole world economy has changed but to the benefit of who? Notably we were already and independent nation. Could it be that we were our own enemy?

It is of the hope that after the 56th Annual New Year School, ongoing at the campus of the University of Ghana (UG), Legon would bring some closure to the shadow of HIPC for us to begin a new life more promising in 2005. I would like to ask, after HIPC completion point what next? The answer will be addressed simply in this piece and essentially as a matter of principle on economic reporting in Ghana.

What comes to mind is whether we have taken real stock in providing the right data, facts and figures which should be well documented, reported and accessible to our nationals. So that we will not have to result to mere, statements like "total government expenditure in servicing external debt reduced" or "percentage drop" of nothing, which ultimately results in nothing I am afraid.

Can anyone tell me what Ghana`s debt is please? Do you know? I am sorry, I do not know. Many of these questions are not answered to the people of Ghana and that was why a diasporian was compelled to ask, to the surprise of someone who claimed to be a better "servant" of Ghana. Such that they could hence, be likened to an "untouchable caste."

On the other hand the President showed appreciation and also admitted explicitly, that Ghana would have suffered if diasporians did not remit the vital dollars, not only to support their poor families at home, but indirectly was also a major capital injection into our economy to the tune of $2 billion for 2004.

Whereas, for 2005 under the US supported assistance from the Millenium Challenge Account (MCA) just a mere $2.5 billion will have to be disbursed to as many as sixteen countries. We are back to square one, with just a few million dollars trickling to Ghana. An amount, which can not create the necessary resource for any meaningful economic take-off to develop the country.

The matter of government expenditure on debt servicing is crucial to our development. So that when it is merely reported as "the domestic debt burden had been scaled down," every person, including our students would like to know by what amount? There should not be a debate about it and must be painfully though it may be accurately and equally be reported.

We need to ask ourselves, what would have happened? If after the recently ended elections, the electoral commission as a public institution decided to just tell the whole nation that the President won by 52.45 per cent margin of the total votes cast, without putting in place the capacity to collate the figures from the constituencies. I reckon everyone, at least those not for the New Patriotic Party will cry foul.

We may want to revisit the article from the Ghanaweb, "HIPC Initiative reduces Ghana's external debt servicing" posted on January 7, 2005 to get a sense of my concern. I suspect someone may say, if the figures matter to anyone the person can contact the ministry. It is basically this attitude of not wanting to share information freely, but selectively that I am driving at.

One is compelled to ask don`t we have a problem in Ghana? It is often mind boggling to know that certain persons of stature, in responsible positions and leadership roles tend to compounded the problems facing the country so much so that, it becomes so difficult to know where to begin to see the light in the tunnel for our development.

This is to also mention the many instances out there, you all know but please bare with me. Most of which we come across day in day out. Some of us will wait to say it only when we know we are secure and will have nothing to lose. My advise is its better be said, when it matters most than not.

In the same New School a very Eminent Professor seemed to have said, it all to transform the country into a "knowledge-based economy, with science and technology as a driving force. I will echo it, again and again but also add another dimension to it. Which is accurate data dissemination at all times by public officials. We need to build our country`s development on knowledge sharing.

That is to say, Ghana should seek a knowledge-based economy. This statement should not be mistaken for, limited to or limited to just IT, ICT, science and technology alone. But the actual information dissemination in its totalilty and in a clear manner to the citizenry at all times.

The best example of why I say this is that, most of the countries that are seen to have developed and continue to make strides rely heavily on the said principle to the extent that I can tell you the salaries and bonuses of Presidents or Prime Ministers around the world at the blink of an eye.

This includes countries like the USA, Japan, UK, Germany, Australia as far south as New Zealand, just to name a few. In short nothing is a secret because it is reported in the news on TV for everybody to hear and watch. A similar information could be accessed from the world wide web (internet). What do we see in Ghana?

In Ghana you will agree with me that members of the legislature, MPs have no "stated salary" uup to date. But everyone is made to believe that, for almost four years they have lived on either benefits or bonuses only, if any. Could this be possible?

Some said it was three million cedis in 2001 but by the end of 2004 we hear it is five million cedis and so on. The salaries of parliamentarians will be acted on by the President sooner or later by all means in view of the case with the car loans.

This disclosure some may say is an over expectation and does not fit into our culture for instance. Others will ask does that mean children should know the salaries of their parents and so on? If the child wishes to know why not, in most countries in the northern hemisphere it is sometimes a school assignment. Without knowledge could we track our revenue and tax base? The can only be a magical answer in the positive.

But to come to my point since this is not seen as part of what we know and are used to. We quickly come across a statement made on behalf of the country like this:"HIPC, had also reduced the burden of foreign currency obligation as a result of the reduced external debt servicing."

What I am asking for is, to tell all of the listening public how much is the "burden of foreign currency obligation?" It is the right of the voting public to know every now and then. Such a constant sharing of knowledge could be a motivation for hard work and a source for mobilisation for national development. We need to know where we stand.

We should not be silent on anything that has to be public knowledge, so for the Public Official who presented the paper from the Ministry of Finance with all respect. Especially so from the source that could be quoted as, "Head of the Aid and Debt Management Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning," we expected to know the amount. If that will mean increasing say remittances into the economy by our diasporians, we face it.

The presenter could not or should not have attended the New Year School to be heard without the facts and figures. If the facts therefore were given, then Ghana News Agency (GNA) should have stated it freely. The reference point for the figure will be appreciated since things keep changing fast in this global economy. Disaster strikes in one part of the world and all resources make a U-turn.

So for example, the presenter could say "as at the time of coming to this conference" and then report the figure.These are things that will matter to the reading public, who are very diverse and complex.

Otherwise, we will only be generalising and generalising without knowing where we actually are going, and we will be in constant cycle of uncertainty and therefore a recipe for corruption and speculation.

In as much as I agree that figures will change rapidly from time to time, that is the same reason but not an excuse not to feed in the figures. Releasing the data, the figures etc., only shows how up to date we are and in control of a situation. Otherwise it will seem as if people are not working.

In the same vain of not knowing at the level of the Ministry the quantum of the nations debt how can we strategise to achieve what is being suggested, "beyond HIPC, required national efforts to ensure prudent borrowing practices and maintaining long-term debt sustainability."

Consequently, my fear is answered be the person sent to face the odds from the Ministry of Finance. Hence, becomes a scapegoat only if there will be critical time available to ask the right questions at the meeting, about how much? And why this or that? In this case if it happened that the answers are not readily available. Therefore what inspiration does anyone take back home after attending such a meeting?

Probably no motivation at all, especially if the compilation of all the documents presented are not made public knowledge to be seen in bookshops and on bookstalls for interested stakeholders, policy makers and students to easily lay hands on.

It is high time we stop generalising as a people and a nation. and persons or department or office who should be responsible enough to provide the required information.

The overall result of this mishap of relegating knowledge to the background and generalising, generates furthermore such fears, when we listen to those who are charged to do what is expected from our agencies, institutions do not seem to be providing information.

The special case of say, a Ministry like Finance, could turn round to tell us that, "the country's debt sustainability efforts should not be isolated from the general macro-economic management."

One will wonder if that is not what they are supposed to be doing in the first place, if not directly, they should be advising the Minister of Finance to be do. It almost sounded as far as we have observed, it makes one to think of it as an academic gimmick. Not what has been implemented for the sake of the nation. Then it is not right, unfortunately.

It reads more like a conclusion, of what we should have been doing and know, we should have done but for some shear hardiness we postpone it to further generations. Ghanaians, could it be that there too much generalisation or the "about" tendency, is adding to ours woes towards developing.

I know that, if not many a few will agree to that semblance. But as the case may be in a more daily occurrance of such a situation is even more widespread. Take any piece of society and you will begin to see, when were told to go in the left direction instead of to turn right.

Where in actual fact it is not the, going in the left or right direction per se that was misleading. But essentially, because we hardly fix our marks, face or refuse to tell in which direction we should face before turning left or right.

I wish to say that I continue to support efforts all civil society organisations including the Integrated Social and Economic Development, and their umbrella organisations in Ghana and worldwide. Especially, those in the developing world for making their voice heard and by their work to streamline and advocate for societal justice. The voices of the many who are suffering could never be wrong, since what they all seem to ask for is the sustainance of their human spirit.

My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of the tsunami victims both nationals and tourists dead, missing or injured in Southern India, the Indonesian Province of Aceh (Banda Aceh) mainly on the island of Sumatra, Somalia, coastal towns of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar (Burma), Phuket and other resort towns of Thailand, also Tanzania in East Africa including some other countries that suffered indirectly.

Most countries are pledging aid in the millions of dollars, and for now the whole world will have to praise the US. Initially accused for being stingy when it pledged just $30 million, only to quickly multiple it tenfold to reach the $300 million. This of course includes two aircraft carriers from its Pacific fleet which is making the real difference, it includes personnel and logistics.

Japan has pledged $500 million and the pledges are pouring in and will continue to pour in with many governments marching dollar for dollar on contributions from their citizens. Whereas the death toll keep mounting and now over 150,000 confirmed dead. With the figure increasing by the day, and about the same number of people injured at the time of this work.

Let us remind ourselves that the emphasis this year of donor agencies, development aid and assistance partners is going to shift from the so-called HIPC status countries into rebuilding lives and infrastructure in the badly affected Indian Ocean countries. Should Ghana say we are lucky? Yes. Of course we graduated from HIPC last year. So no worries?

It is also true that many citizens from some of the developed countries were holidaying in many parts of the region`s resorts when the earthquake struck. I am touched by the fact that our President has set up an appeal for fund for the victims.

If we call it the "widow`s mite" then we should task the churches for once to donate since we do not have our own aid agencies. But I will decline to suggest it, because I realise every donation should be purely a voluntary affair and essentially a matter of conviction to lend a helping hand to the plight of a suffering people.

The fear is how about if the "widow`s mite" does not happen or actually became a real "widow`s mite" of a few thousand cedis? In a country like Ghana, are we going to resort to forgoing a HIPC benefit? There are tough times ahead and we need to brace ourselves squarely to the task. Its a challenge for the new government in a divided nation like ours judging from the polls. The President`s first speech or address to nation after his swearing into office probably on January 7, will play a very important role.

Besides, we all know very well, how the case of the Winners Church unfolded. It could be the chance for the churches to show their faith and love of God especially to the victims. I am quite close to the region and the stories from the great tsunami disaster are sombre.

The launching of a tsunami appeal fund and the gesture of a minute silent for the victims at Parliament requested by the President on January 4, are all well nurtured.

Furthermore, I hope after the swearing in of the President, the Foreign Ministry in collaboration with the Ministries of Defence, Finance and Health of Ghana will be seen as an African nation trying to do something in any of the affected countries if not alone with others.

The people are so dearly in need of even treated water. Stuffs such as clothing are not going to be entertained says some of the developed countries, except cash. Happy New Year to You! James W. Doe, Ph.D. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

James W. Doe
James W. Doe, © 2005

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JamesWDoe

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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