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05.03.2005 Press Review

EDITORIAL: Another Year, Another Petroleum Price Politics

By Public Agenda

Petroleum price increases have become an annual ritual with the accompanying social and political upheavals.

This year, like previous years, has had its fair share of the politicking of petroleum price hikes, which culminated into a demonstration on Tuesday, organized by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and other minority parties.

Led by Kwesi Pratt Jnr. and other radicals, the demonstrators lamented the 'growing subservience of the NPP government to the prescription and conditionalities of the IMF and the World Bank”. Kwesi Pratt and his team, also explained that they were holding the government accountable to its fundamental obligation to make life bearable for Ghanaians. That's fine.

A lot of commentary has gone into the numbers that turned out for the well-advertised demonstration. Public Agenda is least bothered about the numbers. That notwithstanding, we question what anybody stood to gain by organizing such an event. To start with, this newspaper is against high taxation in all its forms, especially taxes that go to worsen the precarious situation of the impoverished.

But looking at the issue of petroleum prices dispassionately, Public Agenda, is of the view that government should not continue to subsidize petroleum for the affluent to fuel their fleet of cars. In principle, this paper supports the removal of subsidies on petroleum, provided the billions of cedis saved from the removal of petroleum subsidies will go into providing social amenities-schools, roads, hospitals, anti retroviral drugs for HIV patients and roads for all Ghanaians and not for the privileged few. What the demonstrators should have been concerned about is how all Ghanaians should monitor the government to ensure that the money is put into productive use.

Public Agenda suggests that part of the reserves that would accrue from the new petroleum prices should be used to import more buses on the roads, so that Ghanaians who cannot afford private cars have access to public transport. In fact, the time has come when government has to make it a disincentive for more people to drive private cars to the disadvantage of hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians. The sight of crowds of workers in both private and public sectors struggling to get transport to their work places is certainly not good for a country that aims to become a middle income earning country within the shortest time.

Many countries in the west and Asia made it to where they are because of improved public transportation. In fact, in countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, it is more of a disincentive to put a private car on the road. This is because fuel is very expensive, not to talk about the payment of congestion and parking fees. In Ghana it is rather a punishment to travel by public transport, if it exists at all.

In short, all Ghanaians must wake up to the reality that Ghana does not produce oil and those who use oil must pay the right price for it. It does not make sense for government to use the taxpayers' money to import oil, refine it with the taxpayer's money and sell it cheaply to foreign oil marketing companies to make huge profits, which they repatriate to their home countries.

Those who doubt that a large amount of Ghana's oil is smuggled across the borders only need to travel to the borders towns and see things for themselves. A few unpatriotic Ghanaian smugglers have built castles from smuggling fuel. Is that what Kwesi Pratt and his ilks want the taxpayers' money to be used for?

What they ought to be protesting against is the rising cost of milo and cholcolate, which are made from locally produced cocoa. Once we do not produce oil, we can least expect to be paying cheaper prices for petroleum products. In collecting the taxes government must however, honour its social contract to the public, especially the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. Any demonstration against government's failure to provide the most basic necessities of life-water, schools and drugs for HIV patients etc will have the full blessing of Public Agenda.

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