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23.08.2005 Feature Article

Cut down wasteful expenditures to subsidize Petroleum Products

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I have been waiting to hear from the [email protected] apostles since the last minimal increase in petroleum prices in Ghana but it seems they have all now gone into hybernation. This really surprises me. We all remember the fact that following the last petroleum price increases to 30,000 cedis a gallon in May, the [email protected] prophets and high priests, notably Obed Asamoah, Jerry Rawlings, Kwesi Pratt, Atta Mills (Poor Guy) and Alban Bagbin, vowed and swore by their last dishes of AFetri [email protected], kenkey and [email protected] that they will go on public demonstrations ad infinitum till the government either dropped the price increases or they bring down the government. Since then the price of crude oil has jumped from the mid-year price of $55 a barrel to $66 a barrel in mid-August and keeps rising.

Following the continuous rise in the price of crude oil on the world market, the Kufuor government had no choice but to again increase the pump price in early August. The announced increases were very modest though either because the government had no guts or courage to announce a corresponding increase or it simply decided the population could not absorb another sharp increase. I have been actually expecting the [email protected] guys to bring the country to a standstill as they vowed to do or march to the Castle and, led by Jerry Rawlings, simply demand the keys to the government house. But they have been strangely silent. I think they are coming to terms now with the realities of life. The truth has dawned on them that Kufour does not produce crude oil. Neither is he the one who fixes the price of crude oil on the world market. The simple truth is that crude oil prices will continue to rise and may hit $80 a barrel before the end of the year 2005. Since Ghana does not produce crude oil, we will have to find a way, albeit painful, to live with the effects of the oil price hikes. All right-thinking Ghanaians need to do a sober reflection on the situation and carefully consider what our options are in these very hard times. The continuous rise in the price of crude oil has the real potential of derailing our economy. If proper measures are not put in place and soon, all the economic gains that the country has chalked over the past four years will be wiped out.

The government action of always trying to appease salaried workers with slight wage increases to cushion off the effects of petroleum prices is simply discriminatory and unworkable. Statistics show that salaried workers form less than forty per cent of the total workforce in Ghana. Majority of Ghanaians are self-employed in all kinds of areas including the large mass of rural folk, the farmers, who feed the nation but get no Apay [email protected] for their produce when petroleum prices go up. But they have to pay more to transport their foodstuffs to the market centers. Government action of always trying to appease the urban-resident salaried workers amounts to robbing the rural folk to pay the urban dwellers. It is simply unfair!!. Or is it because the urban dwellers are the noisy ones who can cause discomfort to the government?

I humbly submit that there are other innovative and practical ways to deal with these constant increases in the price of crude oil that threaten to derail our economy. We should start by cutting down on government expenditure in a number of areas that can save the government billions of cedis to subsidize the prices of petroleum products. First and foremost is the expenditure on so-called Agovernment [email protected] Presently in Ghana all Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Special Assistants (and Lord there are lots of them), Chief Directors of Ministries, almost all middle level managers and other hangers-on with no special designation all have Agovernment [email protected], maintained at public expense. This practice is a throw-back from the colonial times but at independence and beyond, the new ABlack White [email protected] has insisted on imitating the lifestyle of the AOburoni [email protected] before independence. Most of these government officials have cooks, garden boys and a bunch of security guards day and night depending on the status of the official.

Let=s do a little calculation here: We have Eighty-Eight Ministers and at least two hundred and thirteen Deputy Ministers. This is because every Ministry has at least two Deputy Ministers. Some have three. There are Ninety-Five Chief Directors and their Deputies. There are at least about Fifty Senior Management Officials at every Ministry. Ministries like Foreign Affairs, Finance and Economic Planning have more. All these are in Accra alone. Multiply that by the number of Regions, count their Ministers and Deputies and other officials of every Ministry that have branches at the Regional and District capitals and your breath may cease. ALL of them live in government-maintained bungalows with all their hangers-on. Using your little [email protected] and [email protected] knowledge, add the number of Heads and senior officials of Public Boards and Corporations who all live in government bungalows. And all these are maintained at public expense! I leave the calculation of the cost of maintaining these bungalows to readers.

Let=s move on to government vehicles. Each and everyone of ALL the officials listed above drive government-purchased and maintained vehicles. And these days the craze is on Four-Wheeled drives. Every Kwaku, Kwadwo, Musa, and Yaovi who matter in government and government departments drives a 4 by 4, maintained at public expense. They are entitled to free petrol, some to as much as thirty gallons a week for free!!!.( Readers can check this out from the Public Works Department of the Ministry of Works and Housing). Some of the Ministers have about three of the 4 by 4s. Again I entreat readers to do the [email protected] and [email protected] And I want all of us to simply ask ourselves why we still need to retain this colonial legacy at a time when we can simply NOT afford the practice.

I simply submit that most of these bungalows with their large tracts of land around them should be pulled down and high-rise condos or apartment buildings should be built on these lands. These should either be rented to these government officials or sold to them. I bet if the government should have the courage to release the maintenance expenditures on these bungalows and vehicles we will all refuse to pay taxes. But that is the simple truth. Readers can recall that recently one Ohene Kofi Asante of the Energy Commission was reported to have bought two four-wheeled drives at a whooping 650 Million Cedis each!! This gives you an idea as to the kind of waste that is in the system of running and maintaining government cars and bungalows.

I humbly submit that each Minister needs just one official car!. If they need extras, they should be compelled to pay for them and their maintenance. If we can stop this practice of a few privileged few [email protected] and [email protected] for free at everyone else=s expense we could save billions and billions of cedis and even dollars (since most of the cars are bought with hard currency anyway) every year that can be used to subsidize the prices of petroleum products. The savings and the comfort that this expenditure cutting will bring will then be enjoyed by every citizen of Ghana instead of a few who find themselves in government employment. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Michael Baffoe
Michael Baffoe, © 2005

The author has 7 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: MichaelBaffoe

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