Our stunted growth and development can be put at the feet of very poor leadership and corruption cent pour cent. Too often we have had leaders who lacked visionary and critical thinking, settling for mediocrity. The jury is still out on Mills, but if the first 100 days is any indication and predictable data, we should not expect to see any breaks in the trend. We have had leaders who cannot apply what they have learned at the classroom to real world situation - leading others to label them as lacking in "Efie Nyansa" (chew, pour, pass, and forget academicians). Some farmer told me our leaders can be likened to poultry chicken. As compared to the free range house chicken, the former lacks initiative and would starve to death when the food is not placed at its beak, whereas the free range house chicken is very self-reliant and can fend for itself.
100 days and counting Pres. Mills has not come out with any policy positions that can overhaul our moribund economy. Everything is 'wonkyeni' (freebies). It is no plan, no calibration, and no revenue mobilization but freebies policy positions. I would cite one example. Pres. Mills is set to bankrupt the NHIS with his once in a lifetime premium payment. Before you go cheering for him just ask yourself how he is going to fund such a program? Nobody gets sick once in a life time. Even God collects tithes every Sunday, at least my church does, so I can confidently say that a time would come when you would go to the "free hospitals" but you would be forced to try the private clinics because there would be nothing in the government hospitals. Meanwhile the nurses and doctors would have to be paid every month, plus the infrastructure would have to be built and maintained. All these against the backdrop that less than 3% of the working population actually pay INCOME TAX as we know it in USA, Canada, or Europe.
The path chosen by all past governments have been to compromise our independence by making our country perpetually hooked to western donor aid, because they are so incompetent in collecting tax revenue, and yet still wouldn't shy away from giving freebies. Listen, we cannot grow rich on welfare and dependent on western aid. We are the second largest producer of cocoa in the world and second largest of gold in Africa, yet Obuasi is no Johannesburg after 100 years of gold mining. Actually Kufour went outside to London to buy gold chains for his self-imposed awards whilst we have some of the best goldsmiths in the world. Ashanti is nicknamed Kingdom of Gold; I do not think the Osei Tutus had to outsource designers of their ornaments to outsiders. If we do not refine our gold and diamonds, how in the world can we make Ghana, a Golden State, the Switzerland of Africa in terms of bracelets, gold, and diamond watches and jewelry to bring wealth and employment to our people? Do we even have a faculty in any Ghanaian university to study the fine arts and skills of jewelry making? Like fools we export our gold to Switzerland and elsewhere unrefined and re-import them in the form of finished jewelries unashamed. Ghanaian business people go to Dubai - a desert kingdom to import gold chains into Ghana. We even import toothpicks; that is how silly we are. It is about time the government speaks truth to power by making every working adult accountable to tax.
My thing is, not until we can make the people fully accountable to their tax obligations, they in turn would not be woken up to put pressure on governments to perform and be accountable. It should be a push-pull symbiotic relationship or social contract. In the absence of that we shall continue to have so many square pegs in round holes. Up till now we kind of have appropriated the wealth of the cocoa, coffee, shea-butter, and other cash crop farmers by paying them far below world prices a la government monopolies, and diverting the margin to support and subsidize unhealthy lifestyles in the cities. Accra-Tema alone consumes about 70% of the GDP, whereas the rural dwellers that produce about 80% of the GDP are short changed with 20% budgetary expenditure. The question is why should the "bush people" subsidize Accra and Tema? Why should they continue to drink dirty muddy water plagued with guinea worms and bilharzias? All in exchange for what; just disdain and insults like "habansifuo" (bush people)?
We need complete overhaul of government, decentralization and devolution of powers to the districts with real capacity to mobilize their own resources and funds for development. It must start with direct and 100% election of DCEs and MCEs as well as all the members of the district assemblies. All mayors or DCEs should have the power to appoint their own District Chiefs of Police or Commissioners to take the bite out of corruption and criminal activities. If the mayor could appoint or dismiss the police commissioner, we shall see dramatic change in combating corruption and crime.
Our economy is still rain-fed agrarian economy, very unreliable and prone to the volatility of world prices and the generosity of farmers. Now if we continue to cheat the farmers of their wealth, they would sooner stop producing cocoa and other cash crops and divert to things like cassava and maize. At least in this regard they can take their own stuff to the market and negotiate their own prices, instead of the present situation where cocoa farmers cannot even afford to buy chocolate unless they are on admission at hospital or elsewhere. The people who produce the cocoa do not eat it, and their children do not even get scholarships to go to schools. Rather because of the sub-standard education in the rural areas, many of these kids cannot pass the exams to go up the ladder into higher education. Less than 1% of kids from the rural areas ever get to university; they become perpetual laborers or dog-chain sellers, shoeshine boys or kayayos in the cities. There is a clear indication of the presence of absence. Presence of absence in that the failure of rural folks and kids to climb up the social ladder, go to university, polytechnics, and other tertiary institutions, and land good jobs, is indicative of the presence of poor educational resources, poor infrastructures, poor leadership, poor planning and unbridled corruption from the detached, disoriented and disconnected governments holed up in Accra. All the best schools are in the coastal belt, and the misguided fools amongst them have the nerves to come on this forum to call the real people, on whose shoulders the economy depends, bush people. God stay where you are!!!
Right now all things look like Atta Mills has put the economy on pause and can't wait for the oil money to start flowing to go on another binge of freebies to mask his inadequacies and competence. What is going to happen, the neighboring countries would export their poverty and problems to us, and smugglers would export our oil and goods to these countries. Why not, ours are going to be heavily subsidized by the limited vision governments that we keep voting into power. A better way to combat smuggling would be to reform our tax policies. You let the people pay for the goods and services sans subsidies, and return their money to them via TAX RETURNS. You kill two birds with one stone. You eliminate the incentive to smuggle as prices across the region - i.e. Ecowas region, would be at par, and then you are able to give real economic relief to the Ghanaians who deservedly worked for the wealth of the country. Of course we need the national identification card and social security numbers to begin with. With a tax-expert as president, I hope Mills begins to apply his knowledge.
By Eric Kwasi Bottah, alias Oyokoba. [email protected]