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20.09.2005 Feature Article

Chieftaincy, Developmental Ideas, and Financial Wizardry

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Recently there have been intense and very interesting debates on the GLU Internet discussion Forum. One of the finest has been the debate on the net effectiveness or value of Chieftaincy in national development of Ghana. There is a strong school of thought that suggests that the role of Chieftaincy has outlived its usefulness, is not fair in their election, Chiefs have not been accountable to their people, and hence the institutions should be banned outright. The moderate view suggests that the responsibility for developing Ghana lies on the elected and appointed elites who took over governance for the Colonialists, and have failed in their job miserably – hence don't blame the Chiefs. Somewhere in between lies the truth.

One Chief has made some interesting and creative idea and I wish to summarize and share some ideas on it today. Referring to the Ghanaweb Diaspora News of Thursday, 15 September 2005 titled: Make remittances tax exempt –Okyenhene. We read:

“THE Okyenhene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, has appealed to governments across the developed world to grant tax exemptions to private outward remittances”.

As an engineer by training and licensed Real Estate Broker and executive of a financial services company in California, issues of development and of fiancé draw my attention. I live in the most expensive state in America, and I'd like to add a few ideas on this tax-deductible proposal. I personally think our leaders in Ghana have not understood finance at all. We have failed to control inflation and allowed our currency to drop some 3,000 times since the 1970s. I hold the opinion that the financial Ministers have miserably failed us due to their low skills and experience levels. Negotiating with the West as in this idea of Okyenhene, is one of the best ideas that has ever come out from a Chief, and hence needs further review and discussion. Here are a few points to add. If Kofi Broke makes say $70,000 and is in a bracket where he pays 28% for Federal income tax, it implies the net taxable income in the US is less and Kofi saves some money just for giving to any organization or family in Ghana. It's a neat idea to consider. We wish our Chiefs had started creative ideas earlier. Perhaps the Europeans would not have taken the juice out of us and left us with such a work force that does not even seem to feel they are working for their own country of which they are a part. See the chart for more examples and note that taxes are progressive, i.e. the more you make, the higher the percentage of tax.

I don't think this will be agreed to easily by the Western nations, since it is taking food away from their mouth, so to speak. With diplomatic negotiations, it can be done. It will also help them monitor monetary remittances as part of the fight against terrorism (of course terrorists will not bother asking for tax exemption and hence for you to monitor them).

However, this idea from the Okyenhene is the most brilliant idea that a Chief or anybody in public service has ever come out to help solve our economic problems of budget deficit and also perhaps can be taken further towards rural development. Let me explain – please see the chart included here. I think the idea can come from any commoner, but I think it carries more weight coming from the Chief. As suggested by one Doctor who knows the Chief, the Okyenhene is well educated. Personally the only reason their level of respect has not been enhanced in the society is because of past misbehavior and lack of accountability. Failing that, who cares to abolish Chieftaincy so far as the Chief is not bothering him? The only person we should worry about are the people with control over our public coffers who are taking so much taxes and duties, VAT and NHIL, as they did to many of us coming home, at the ports. If you pay $5,000 [C45 Million] or $15,500 [C140 Million] as I paid, and you still don't see what you are getting from government, and have to buy your own generator for electricity, water tanks and reservoir system for water, and the roads are major hazards, then it is time for serious activism that can lead to a revolution! I am sure some of you may not feel the pain others express till you go through this outrage yourself.

Let me remind you all that the success of any society like America, if you don't mind the analogy, comes from (1) the lessons they learn everyday and every year, (2) improvements they make based on Scientific knowledge, and (3) good accountability of money they collect for the public. All these are part of good leadership. California is already learning from the Katrina hurricane disasters of September 2005, in emergency preparedness. Then other areas will learn from California in the effects of smoking and environmental effects on health, or housing and road design to withstand earthquakes, just to name a few examples. Can we in Ghana do the same? It seems our Ghanaian culture shuns the idea of organizational sharing. I remember what I went through on Okyeame discussion Forum a few years ago when one guy who knew me in the 1970s asked me what I had done since I left school and I gave a little bit of my profile. Right after I became a target of criticism. Some people started attacking me that “Ahwene pa nkasa” translated as “good beads don't make much noise” [our version of the common saying in the West “Silence is Golden”]. Since then I have been teaching as much as I can about this negative effects of our “closed” culture, and explaining to the younger ones that it is the same Ahobrease (humility) culture that can also limit their ability to be viable as a Manager in American industry! In American industry “aggressive” individuals are appreciated, and in fact the word often appears in many advertisements. The people of “let-it-be” or “soft” people, climb much slower or never on the corporate ladder here. This does not imply you are not to be diplomatic, but Americans like people who push ideas, who move fast and aggressively to achieve goals. Even if you make a mistake, they like the fact that you did it fast! I know this may conflict with cultures in even some parts of Europe, such as France. I recall my uncle's statement to me when he came here and worked with me in my business for a few months. It was a shock to him how aggressive I had become in competing with the Americans.

The point at issue is that we need a cultural transformation for our global competitiveness, but we can tailor this to one that works within the global context, as Okyenhene is doing, using his skills and leverage to propose such new ideas. Perhaps I should remind our Chiefs that job creation is the key element that most Western leaders are judged on. If unemployment rate is high, interest rates are high, and people are suffering, even noble-sounding leaders like Jimmy Carter of America lose elections and become one-time Presidents.

For Diaspora Ghanaians, it is left to the rest of us [if we sincerely care] to find means to push our leaders, traditional or elected, to work towards the development of our areas and our nation. The constitution calls for local empowerment. It is left to us. These ideas from Okyenhene may not be new, as one Professor Ed cited, but implementing any ideas takes some dedication and time that many don't have. Leaders must take into consideration the people paying the money. That part our societal leaders seem to forget or ignore. Ask Okyenhene and he may not even have an idea how to help his people return home. He assumes they are better off in Netherlands, and fails to realize the pain and suffering these young people go through to make money and make remittances home. Most Ghanaian would love to be in Ghana if they could find comparable jobs to earn a decent living without having to live off government tax coffers like the elected and appointed officials are doing. The bad example started when perhaps a few envious among the P/NDC boys claim they wanted “their share” of the money, since they claimed they stayed home when the going was tough. The reality it that Dr. Botchwey and the gang failing to understand economics in practice, created the 1989/90 Super-sales tax of 500% on so-called luxury goods, and ruined Ghana's economy. This system that I called the “Robin Hood” taxation system, has ended, but the mindset has been left in our Ghanaian psyche that Ghanaians overseas make money “on trees”, as a common Ghanaian saying goes. It was a bad idea that has stuck to our nation to tax people 40%, 50%, 100%! Ridiculous in any part of the world except Ghana and perhaps some other parts of Africa! No nation can survive if they think they can simply tax individuals coming from overseas and spend the money! It won't be long before the bad idea comes home to roost as children of Diaspora Ghanaians don't have the same obligation to Ghana as we did growing up in Ghana.

Human empathy is not only financial wizardry of money coming from overseas. This statement may not be fair, but in Ghana a high proportion of the people don't even seem to think those overseas work hard and can even get ill, a cold, and lonely sometimes. A friend from Togo told me there was a time even his own parents call and don't ask how he and his brother in California are doing. “They only ask for money”, he lamented. One may humbly ask: What have Okyenhene or/and Asantehene done to attract people born in their districts and constituencies come back home from overseas to settle, and establish businesses? Any incentives we should know about? As a friend told me recently, “the people back home don't want us to come home”. He was talking about the NPP hierarchy, but it applies to the whole Ghana. I was told in the mid to late 1970s when I wanted to return home that Ghana was “not good” to return to at the time, so to wait a little more. It's been 30 years now!! When will Ghana be good enough for Ghanaians to return to? What did President Rawlings do for us? What have the Chiefs done for us lately? What has President Kufuor done for us lately?

Of course as President of GLU, I ask: What have you all done lately to demand performance from your leaders?

Cheers,

Kwaku A. Danso, President, Ghana Leadership Union, Inc. (NGO) Fremont, CA. 94539, USA; www.GhanaLeadership.com AMTEK REALTY & FINANCE, Inc. www.AmtekRealtyandFinance.com Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Kwaku A. Danso
Kwaku A. Danso, © 2005

The author has 105 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwakuADanso

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