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05.03.2005 Feature Article

Ghana, 48 Years Old On March 6, 2005 (1)

Ghana, 48 Years Old On March 6, 2005 (1)
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Sunday, March 6, we all celebrated with much joy the anniversary of Ghana's independence. For it was on that day, forty eight years ago that the British Colony, then called THE GOLD COAST became independent after 113 years as a British colony.

This special day in the history of Ghana deserves special honour and it is appropriate here to review briefly the events of the past. For, a lot has happened in Ghana since that historic day of March 6, 1 957. Not all are worthy of report, but there have equally been some bright moments in our past.

However, before starting this review, I must necessarily engage the attention of all serious-minded citizens on a matter of much interest to all Ghanaians and residents in Ghana. I am referring to the recent increases in fuel prices, which appear to have overshadowed the brilliant and forward- looking budget by the new Finance Minister, Hon. Kwadwo Baah Wiredu. By his long, thorough and comprehensive, business-friendly budget, sensitive to the concerns of the people of Ghana? Kwadwo Baah Wiredu HAS PASSED HIS FIRST TEST AS Finance Minister and shown that he is indeed able and amply qualified to fill the shoes of his illustrious predecessor, Hon. Yaw Osafo­Maafo.

Also, Hon. Prof. Dr. Mike Oquaye has come out of this whole public exercise over the fuel price increases as a man who knows what he is doing and understands the issues at stake and is prepared to stick to his guns.

It is really a great shame that the political opponents of the Kufuor Administration have taken the opportunity to make political capital out of the increases. For any rational and well-informed citizen, especially if educated and in a position of leadership, should know that the increases were simply unavoidable. Why? Well, the reasons are numerous but may be summarized here.

Firstly, as Ghana does not produce oil and needs oil to keep its factories and machines, and transport moving, increases in the price of oil on the world market must necessarily affect Ghana adversely.

Even in the UK., the country that most Ghanaians are familiar with, although fuel prices naturally are not welcome by people, they have come to accept that so long as the U.K.. HAS NO OIL OF ITS OWN, IT HAS TO DEPEND ON EXTERNAL SUPPLIES WHOSE PRICES ARE FIXED PERIODICALLY BY THE CLUB OF MAJOR OIL PRODUCING NATIONS, CALLED O.P.E.C (Organization of Oil Producing Countries).To refuse to buy fuel because the prices have gone up, does not solve the problem of the inevitable hardship (Organization of Oil Producing Countries).To refuse to buy fuel because the prices have gone up, does not solve the problem of the inevitable hardship that the increases bring in their wake. On the contrary, the economic situation of the country would be worsened, as the factories, transport, hospitals and other activities vital for the smooth running of the country and its very existence, would then grind to a halt, resulting in massive unemployment.

With unemployment already high in the country, a legacy of the twenty years' misrule and bad governance of this nation by ex-president J.J.Rawlings and his cronies, it would be the height of folly and gross irresponsibility, tantamount to a careless flouting of his solemn duty as president of this republic, for the president and his government not to do what he believes and knows to be best for the people of this land.

As such, the vitriolic and venomous attacks from the political opponents of the Kufuor Administration, although absolutely unjustified and devoid of factual merit, at a fair and reasonable price for the government to pay for keeping its nerve and staying on the hard path of good governance. To cave in to the abuse, ridicule and palpable misrepresentations action other activities of the opponents of the NPP administration will be surrendering to the forces of bad governance, abuse of human rights and gross abuse of public office. Furthermore, it would mean that the government is wittingly or otherwise participating in a gigantic exercise in fraud to mislead and bamboozle the public, most of whom are sadly illiterate and ignorant.

Secondly, all talk of the government subsidizing fuel prices is facetious and grossly misleading. For if the government were to subsidise the prices, it will mean that funds meant for education, public sanitation, roads, health and road construction would necessarily be diverted from these vital fields in our national development to fund the subsidies. For as we all know, the same money cannot be used twice. One needs not be an established, top-flight economist to admit this. Therefore, all who vehemently oppose the raise in fuel prices should not merely excite the public but put forward clear alternative and viable ways and means of funding Ghana's importation of oil, without falling even more heavily on our donor or development partners.

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Thirdly, even the recent increase in fuel prices are lower than the prevailing prices in neighboring countries such as Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso. As such, the increases, whilst they bring in extra revenues for the government, also go towards bringing Ghana's fuel prices closer and in line with those of her neighbours .This should lead to a reduction in the smuggling of oil and allied products from Ghana to neighbouring countries where the prices are low enough to tempt some people to engage in smuggling.

Fourthly, in this country as in other countries, eg, the UK, USA and other countries, taxes on fuel are a means of raising funds for the maintenance of roads and other transportation systems. Otherwise, where is the money to come from to maintain the existing roads and to build new ones? Wherever the president and other ministers and leading politicians go, there is always the clarion cry for more roads and better and more comprehensive transportation and communication networks in the country, especially in the rural areas. Where is the money to come from if the users of petroleum are not prepared to pay for them?

Ghana, 48 Years Old On March 6, 2005 (final) Fifthly, as most educated Ghanaianse are aware or should be aware, we rely heavily on donations, grants and various forms of assistance from our development partners.

The latest figure I learn is about 33% instead of 40% of our budgetary support coming from outside Ghana. As the governments of our development partners get the funds that they generously give us from taxing their own peoples in various ways (taxation on fuel being one of them) it would be rather disingenuous for Ghanaian, or for that matter other African governments to be shy of taxing their own people, for fear of courting massive unpopularity but expect the foreign governments to court unpopularity in their own countries, and put their ministerial jobs on the line by raising fuel prices in their countries to fund our standard of living.

As the new Finance Minister succinctly put it in his first budget statement, nobody owes Ghana a living. We must be seen to be ready and prepared to make the sacrifices vital for our own economic and social development before expecting others to help us. The old adage, HEAVEN HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES, is applicable to all of us, both as individuals and as countries.

As such, although the fuel price increases should be seen as part of a necessary and unavoidable process in the rehabilitation and development of our economy and society. THE FEW OF THOSE OF US, INCLUDING READERS, WHO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THE HARD ECONOMIC FACTS AND ISSUES THAT FACE THIS NATION SHOULD IN OUR OWN QUIET WAY EXPLAIN THE ISSUES SIMPLY AND HONESTLY TO OUR COMPATRIOTS WHO ARE NOT AS FORTUNATE AS WE ARE.

Otherwise, they run a grave risk of being taken for a grand ride by those who, knowing the true facts, are only too happy to ignore or twist them to suit their own political agendas.

So the public demonstration a few days ago by the political adversaries of the Kufuor Government must be seen as a clear sign of the growth and development of good governance, the rule of law and democracy in Ghana since the presidency of the incumbent, John Agyekum Kufuor.

As a democrat, although I view the demonstrations as quite unnecessary and smacking rather of hypocrisy, so long as it took place or they do take place peacefully and allow people to get off their chests, bottled up anger or frustration, unjustified as they may be, they form part of our maturing process as a developing democracy.

Seeing the big smiles on the faces of some these leaders on the marches, one cannot but reflect on the fact that they were the very same powerful leaders who, only a few years ago, were gleefully ordering their fellow citizens to be shot or beaten mercilessly for exercising the same democratic rights of free association and free speech that they now enjoy unbridled in the Kufuor presidency. Such is the irony of life

Those who were lucky enough not to be shot or injured were inhumanely tortured or debasingly deprived of their moustaches and beards with broken bottles.

So far as we celebrate our independence anniversary, we should all take pride in the great strides that have been made in the past four years in the realms of consolidating the rule of law, democracy, good governance, human rights and social justice.

From the days of our independence on March 6, 1957 to the present, cataclysmic events have taken place in Ghana. First, we had the Nkrumah regime from 1951- 1 966.The highlights of this period were the great strides in developments in education, health and the construction of the Akosombo Dam, Tema Motorway, many roads and the nurturing of the African Personality and the establishment of the O.A.U.Sadly, towards the penultimate stages of the regime, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charge and for indefinite periods marred and undermined the good work that Nkrumah had done for Ghana and Africa.

Next came the benevolent military regime of the N.L.C, 1966-1969. The major achievements of this period were the resumption of our traditional good ties with the West, the freeing of political prisoners (whilst the members of the previous regime exchanged places with them in prison). Determined efforts pioneered by the well-known economist, E. N. OMABOE were made to revamp the national economy and make it more private enterprise instead of state orientated. The results were positive and note-worthy. Also, the massive corruption in the previous regime were comprehensively exposed and documented.

This military regime gladly gave up power to the freely and democratically elected government of Prime Minster Dr.Kofi Abrefa Busia. His administration had strong moral direction and focus on rural development and closer political and economic ties with the West.

Unfortunately, the Busia regime was forced to take certain harsh economic measures to restore the economy and deal with the huge debts left by the Nkrumah regime. At that time, the West were not as accommodating on debts cancellations and write-offs as they now are. This factor plus a remarkable fall in cocoa prices and the steep rise in oil prices led to considerable economic hardships. Treacherously, Lt. Col I. K. Acheampong who had been jump-promoted over others to become commander of the southern military forces, including Accra, staged a military coup on Jan 13,1972 and imprisoned without trial, all in the government and waged a campaign of vilification and accusations of corruption against the defunct government, to justify the military coup.

Yet all the exhaustive assets commissions set up by the military regime found no evidence of the alleged massive corruption. The present president and his colleagues, including me, went through a most horrendous experience, of fifteen months imprisonment, all for nothing.

Ironically, during the Acheampong regime, grand corruption and public immorality and bad governance became symptomatic of the regime.

And when the suffering of the masses went beyond acceptable levels, the regime was overthrown by its own colleagues on numerous charges of corruption, abuse of office, nepotism, immorality, damage to the economy and a host of other serious offences.

Yet the Akuffo regime that had replaced the Acheampong regime instead of putting the dismissed officers on trial, gave the disgraced Acheampong a grand, convoy ride home and appeared to condone the very crimes and sins that they claimed were the reasons for removing Acheampong.

SO THE GROUND WAS PREPARED FOR THE INTERVENTION BY FLT. J.J. RAWLINGS, with the claim to right the wrongs of the past. His attempt in May 1979 failed and whilst he was in prison, awaiting trial, Capt.Boakye Djan organized and led a counter coup in June 1979, with other officers and men, that led to the forcible release of Rawlings.

He was appointed chairman of the junta, with his liberator as his deputy. According to the captain who was my Features Editor, when I was the editor of the Ghanaian Times before he joined the army, his friend Rawlings had no hand in the counter-coup, but was made leader as the junta wanted a charismatic leader who could stabilize the situation, in the country, especially in the barracks.

This regime introduced a massive reign of terror in Ghana on a scale never before experienced in the country. The atrocities and state-sanctioned murders and executions of the short period, JUNE 1979- SEPT 1979, constitute a major and shocking episode in the sad history of this country.

Reluctantly, the regime handed over power to the democratically elected government of Dr.Hilla Limann, which had won the elections because of a major split in the Busia party, thus leaving the Limann group to slip through. For the combined votes of the split parties were far more than those of the winning party.

No sooner had the Limann administration settled in office when on Dec31, 1981, Flt.Lt Rawlings led a group to intervene militarily again. There followed a twenty year period of massive abuses of human rights, bad governance, torture, unbridled corruption and flagrant dictatorship that ranks as the worst period in Ghana's history.

Admittedly, from 1992, a variant of democratic government was introduced but the corruption and human rights abuse went on, a bit reduced in scale. Finally came the Kufuor regime after free and fair elections in Dec.2004, to be followed by the elections of Dec.2004.

Both of these were won comfortably by him and his teams. Although the jury is still out on the record and achievements of the Kufuor regime, it is accepted by most rational and well-informed Ghanaians that their achievements in the resuscitation and revamping of the economy and the consolidation of democracy, rule of law commitment to human rights and abiding devotion to the transparency in government and accountability of public officials, remain to date their legacy to this country.

So in conclusion, I wish to humbly invite readers and other fellow citizens to reflect on the fact that the Kufuor Administration, with all its faults, and shortcomings, remains the best in Ghana's history. Never in the history of this country have so many people enjoyed so much freedom and experienced so great economic and social development and progress as in the Kufuor Administrations.

The fall in inflation and bank rates, the encouragement of the private sector as the engine of economic growth, the stabilization of the CEDI AND THE HUGE RISE IN FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN THE COUNTRY, REMAIN AMONG THE MAN'S LEGACY TO POSTERITY TO DATE.

But above all, what he has done to further good governance, rule of law, promote freedom and justice and keep an abiding commitment to HUMAN RIGHTS, after the barbarities and cruelties of the Rawlings regimes, will ever remain the man's claim to a noteworthy niche in the history of Ghana.

As we celebrate the nation's anniversary, may we, with justified confidence and hope, look forward to more years of FREEDOM AND JUSTICE and economic development in the coming years.