Forgive Us Not Our Debt Revisited
Each and every time that I think I've heard the worst from my dear continent, come news that leaves me totally flaberwhelmed (contraction of flabbergasted and overwhelmed).
It is with great sadness and anger that I read the government and the opposition in Ghana trading accusations over the new gargantuan debt the government of Ghana has incurred.
Even as Ghana Inc. went back squarely into the Stone Age with no water, no light and no gas, we are told that our national debt has climbed to GHC25.8billion, representing about 46% of our recalibrated GDP.
Without that recalibration, we would have been talking about a whopping 138% of GDP!
For one who have spent close to three decades chronicling the woes bedeviling our beautiful continent, this is indeed very sad news. Cry the beloved country; but where does one even begin to shed tears?
As things stood now, we are in very deep hole.
Whatever our elite say, the economy is in dire straits and the road to a recovery are not rosy at all.
These are some of the reasons: since we are indebted to our noses, we lack the money now to pay for our imported fuel bill.
This means that we shall continue to have power outages. This in turn means that factories and other businesses will continue to struggle; which means that less revenue, in the form of taxes, will accrue to the government.
As government internally-generally revenue dwindle, it means that it shall lack the wherewithal to pay for fuel bill, which means that we shall continue to have power outages. It is vicious circle.
The traditional donors we have relied upon over the years to lend helping hands are themselves struggling, and are unlikely they will lent a helping hand.
Whichever spin our officials try to put on it, we are royally screwed for the foreseeable future. Amidst our unfathomable woes, the elite continue to behave as though nothing is amiss.
As the hoi poloi groan under unbearable economic hardship, our parliamentarians asked for and got GHC50, 000 as housing allowance each.
That is despite the fact that almost all of them have houses in Accra. That is in addition to the US$50,000 they will get as car loan. We do not talk of basic salaries and other allowances yet.
And the government has just announced that each MP will get free internet-equipped Laptop.
Pray, how many MPs today do not have personal laptops?
Pray, what function do the MPs perform to warrant them those stupendous upkeep from the national kitty?
How many of them have made any meaningful contribution since the dawn of the Fourth Republic?
Despite the deprivations we are forced to endure, our Presidents has not deemed it fit to announced a very DRASTIC cut in the number of the bewildering officials Jeeps that drive us off the roads with their sirens.
It is sad, indeed sad that our elite cannot even deign to be seen to be making some sacrifices despite the huge sacrifices they call upon us to make.
What is most galling to a social critic like myself is that no one needed a crystal ball to know that we were digging ourselves into a deep morass.
It does not require a genius to see that our penchant for compulsive consumption is not matched by any appetite for productivity, and that it was only a matter of time before the day of reckoning beckons.
One needs only to have a look at our roads to know that there is just no way we shall not go bankrupt by the number of expensive jeeps on our roads.
Even German roads do not boast of as many number of expensive jeeps as we see on our roads, and Germans are the most productive and inventive people on earth. As things stood we want to have our cake after eating it.
Rather than build factories, employ people and produce more wealth, our noveaux rich will hasten to buy the latest designer jeep in order to impress his neighbors. Never mind that the roads leading to his house if un-motorable.
Maybe it is time our elite are forced to read the book, “Capitalist Nigger.”
It in indeed incredibly how we in Africa fail to learn anything from history. Few years ago, I wrote a piece, “Forgive us not our debt,” I am re-publishing it here:
Reports that Ghana's debt has climbed above the seven billion dollars range is both worrisome and disheartening.
Yours truly was among many who, few years back, wrote angry polemics against the onerous debt burden Africa was forced to carry.
Believing that our woes are finally over, we heaved sigh of relief when the movers and shapers of the world finally agreed to write off some of these debt.
Meeting in Gleneagles in 2005, the conscience of the G8 leaders were sufficiently pricked for them to agree to write off 80 per cent of Ghana's debts.
Believing that we shall finally begin to use our resources to develop our economy and improve our people's living condition, many of us danced with joy.
Alas, our rulers are made from a different genetic pool from you and me. That few years later, we are back to square one is very sad, indeed.
So, those that charged themselves with managing our affairs have apparently learnt nothing!
They kept on mis-managing our resources and keep on spin-doctoring the mess they are creating!
Are we, in a few years time, to begin going around the world with our begging bowl pleading for our debts to be forgiven once again?
Money doesn't grow on tree as our leaders, who keep living beyond their means, obviously are unaware of.
One way or the other, these debts have to be repaid. And with our country on the verge of joining oil-producing nations, no one will listen to us if we ask for debt forgiveness.
So, we have actually mortgaged the nation's posterity with our fiscal irresponsibility.
Many economists argue that borrowing money in itself is not such a bad idea, if the borrowed money is invested properly to yield enough dividends to pay back the debt and get something more in return.
Rescue me if I am wrong, but I do not see any enterprise our rulers set up that will enable us to pay back these debts.
Within the last few years, Ghana's internally-generated revenues have increased to historic highs. Our people have been saddled with every description of taxation. Talking is no longer free in our dear land as our brilliant rulers have decided to impose air time tax on our mobile calls. Makes me wonder why they have not dreamt up the idea of taxing the very air that we breathe!
Yet, with all these money accruing to the government's purse, our debt has risen to historic proportions?
The saddest thing is that we have utilized all these funds apparently for recurrent expenditures, as there is still no visible industrialization taking place in our land.
We certainly must be the only species of humanity that has absolutely no qualms whatever about borrowing money to build a presidential palace!
A better idea would have been to borrow the money and build, say, a rail line from Accra to Kasoa.
The generated revenue from such a project would have been sufficient to pay the loan back, build our presidential palace and we would still have our rail line – win, win situation all the way.
Makes you wonder whether not our over-compensated elite are doing any thinking at all!
Ours is a poor nation, yet our elite continue to treat our treasury like war booty to be devoured at great speed.
We have managed to turn our Executive Presidency into an Imperial one.
The expensive cars in our President's motorcade are among the most numerous in the world.
And why on earth should a HIPCed country such as ours be giving cars loans to our parliamentarians remains a great mystery to yours truly?
Come on, these fellows are already rich before they got there!
Our Ministers are a class unto themselves. We are not only paying them salaries and other emoluments, we give them free cars, free fuel and we are helping to pay their housekeep!
I repeat what I've written elsewhere here: The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands travel without pomp or pageantry, and he lives in HIS OWN HOUSE.
Not even the Monarch of Holland, a rich country by all the standards known to statisticians, travel around in expensive motorcades.
Those nation that we today look up to as 'advanced' didn't get their by pure chance. They were led there by leaders who see their offices as a call for national services.
They were leaders who put their nation's advancement above their personal aggrandizement. We learned from their biographies that they were leaders who prepared and equipped themselves intellectually before putting themselves forth.
In his book 'Why Not the best?,' President Jimmy Carter tells us about the preparations he took before embarking on his journey to the White House.
And with all that they are collecting from the state's kitty, our elite still continue to loot the little that's left in the pot.
Corruption in today's Ghana is at all time high, despite all the presidential pontifications against corruption.
The alleged misappropriation of 443 billion old Ghana Cedis (over $46 million) in 2007 is just the latest in a long string of malfeasances at high places.
Nowadays, we no longer mention corruptions in the millions, it's now strictly multi-billion.
As my editor at the Daily Dispatch, Ben Ephson, once put it: “In many cases, the unwritten rule of corruption in Ghana is chop, but chop big.
For the uninitiated, chop is pidgin English for “eat,” so if you're going to be corrupt, the thinking goes, take huge sums of money.”
And how low our lots have sunk as a nation can been seen in the fact Ghana is now routinely mentioned among drug trafficking nation.
All these would not be a problem if our rulers are solving our developmental challenges, and making the quality of our lives better.
I don't know about you, but I, for one, do not think that things are better in today's Ghana than they were eight years ago. The cost of living is literally and figuratively killing us.
And gallingly, amidst the general impoverishment in the land, our elite continue to spend money as though it's going out of fashion.
With the exception of Tema, no city in our dear land has a decent public toilet. Our elite cannot, in their collective wisdom, think of building public libraries, parks and swimming pools where ordinary folks can chill down some of the stress of their impoverished lives!
It's still my contention that until we Africans become passionate and agitated enough, our errant rulers will continue to take us for sweet rides and continue to treat us like colonial subjects.
Election is coming up next year and what do we have but the same cabal of rotating politician making the same obstreperous noises.
Or would one point to me where to locate Professor Mills (RIP) detailed plan for Ghana on education or Nana Akufo Addo's detailed thoughts on how to revamp Ghana's Agriculture, or the other candidates' thoughtful ideas on regional integration, health, defense and the grinding poverty in our dear land.
All that we are saddled with are more than useless party manifestoes – apparently copied and pasted with little alterations here and there.
We citizens should all strive to leave our society better than we met it; it is a responsibility we owe to posterity.
And I believe that our civic responsibilities go well beyond casting votes on election days. It should involved letting those that are mis-ruling us and wasting our resources realize that we are angry, very angry.
It involves those of us who can write to keep writing; those whose abilities lay in music to keep singing- we all should get involved.
Ghana does not belong to the political class alone; it's our patrimony.
It also involves our demanding transparency at every level of governance.
The yearly budget speeches are too obtuse even for the most educated among us. We should compel our rulers to publish our income and expenditure in PLAIN LANGUAGE and to put it on the internet.
We can then inform ourselves where the leakages are. Details of every contract awarded by any department should also be made public, so that we can see the hanky-panky that's going on.
And these should be done at all levels of government – from District Assembly to Regional and National.
Our rulers pretend to hold power in our behalf; I do not see why the records of our resources are not in the public domain.
Another thing we should seriously look at is our vast expenditure on our rulers. If, as they pretend, our rulers are really servant of the people why should they use the state's resources to live at levels that are stratospherically higher than the rest of us?
No Master would give his servant a car and house when he sleeps on the street and transport himself in the jalopies we call tro-tro.
It shouldn't the responsibility of the poor tax payer to give car loans to Parliamentarian or pay the telephone bill of Ministers.
It's unconscionable for our rulers to keep asking us for sacrifices they are unprepared and unwilling to make for their nation.
With our God-given resources, we have absolutely no business being hungry, being without decent shelter, without electricity and we need not be HIPC.
“Any economy theory that impoverishes people is doomed to failure.” Professor Adebayo Adedeji.
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