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03.08.2005 Feature Article

Beyond The Forgiveness Of Debts

Beyond The Forgiveness Of Debts
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The recent debt relief granted to some developing countries, including Ghana, has been heralded as a major breakthrough by advocates of debt cancellation for Africa. The criteria set before a country could benefit from debt relief are worth commending: governance and rule of law among others. And by these standards, G8 Finance Ministers added Ghana's name to benefit from debt relief. Although this is not total debt relief, it is something we must cherish as nation.

At the very least, the total debt due has reduced. But to me, there is more to development than debt relief. Take, for example, an analogy of the people of God leaving Egypt of oppression and exploitation and crossing the Red Sea en route to the Promised Land.

They still had to conquer Canaan before they could posses the Promised Land-a land flowing with milk and honey. There is no need for excessive scoring of political points here. The temptation is great for the ruling government to score political points on this issue. What remains is greater than what has already gone. But we must create the conditions that will bring Ghana from its current quick sand state of beggar to the solid rock of a better nation.

It is important that we look critically at the conditions that created these debts. If we fail to do this, the same conditions which created them can still create them and every year, we would have to lobby for debt cancellation. We must get things right: We could have all our debts written off to the nearest infinitesimal zero but if we fail to sit up well, we would go begging again and later cry for debt relief. Let's look at our own Nigeria with the billions of dollars it had amassed through oil exports yet the rising cost of crude oil is still wailing for debt cancellation. The problem is that, corruption and military adventurism had caused them to regress.

The benefits of debt relief in Ghana should be used to create the right living conditions for the sustainable development of the country. This means that the government must invest in the human resources of Ghanaians. Interestingly enough, Kufour's Positive Change Chapter Two has a three-prong strategy that includes human resource development. But is this just mere political talk? If we fail to invest in the human resources of the people, we will always be reaping whirlwind. There must be paradigm shift from Ghana, depending solely on natural resources like cocoa, timber and gold and progressively moving to a service economy. Countries like England and Japan and most EU countries cannot boast of natural resources, yet their economies are like a tree planted on a river side-its leaves are green throughout the whole year.

And we go there to beg them for loans and grants every year.

Anytime there is a drop in the price of cocoa on the world market, it causes the economy to suffocate. Most recently, when the price of cocoa tumbled in the world market between1998-2000, this caused the cedi to bleed profusely. Between August 1998 to December 2000, the cedi rose from ¢ 2,500.00 to around ¢ 7,500.00 per US dollar. Up till now, this has caused irreparable damage to the economy.

When we talk about investment in the human resources of Ghanaians, we must not be deceived that enrolment in our schools from primary to university has increased, therefore everything is alright for us. History unfortunately tells us that an increase in quantity does not warrant an automatic increase in quality. There must be a complete overhaul in our educational system so that we can produce graduates who can think independently, be entrepreneurial and productive. A visit to our universities and polytechnics will reveal that the equipment needed for studies and research is either absent or obsolete. And yet we can buy a car for an Energy Commission board member costing almost one billion cedis. Beyond debt relief, we must stop the lip service which has characterized our governments and politicians as much as the rupee has characterized the Indian trader in Bombay.

Beyond debt relief, we must strengthen and sustain anti-corruption crusades both in the public and private sectors. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund paints a grim picture that corruption can reduce a country's growth rate by 0.5 percent per year. Another report by the World Bank states that corruption commonly adds 25 percent to the total cost of large government contracts. Until the National Procurement Act and the Financial Administration Act gets executive backing, they will not achieve their intended purpose. The Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) has had its budgetary allocation cut. How can we then reconcile this with Kufour's zero tolerance for corruption?

Now we have left Egypt. We have crossed the Red Sea which is our mountains of debt. But before we can enter the Promised Land, we must conquer the Canaans of corruption, tribalism and our overriding passion for imported goods of everything from rice and toilet roll to toothpicks and chalk. We must start to create jobs for the jobless and empower the powerless. Our textiles industries are folding in the self-proclaimed golden age of business. Local poultry farmers are suffering from the mass of cheap, imported products. Punitive taxes meant to curtail this have been removed, causing the poultry industries in the country to stifle.

Before the blessings of debt relief can be felt, there must be a proper co-operation between the government and the people.

We must still continue to sacrifice and tighten our belts. Indeed, the Ghanaian masses are tied up with this phrase: tighten your belts.

The irony of it all is that, anytime we, the people are asked to tighten our belts, members of the executive arm of government would be loosening theirs. This reminds me of one of the Ten Commandments in Animal Farm that "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others." We must live within our means and cut our cloth according to our individual size. Appiah Kusi Adomako is an educationist, freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel 027-740-2467 Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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