Ghanaians are poor. But, are they getting poorer? Yes, if you believe all the radio phone-ins from people who could not afford to own a mobile phone just a few years ago. No, if you take a critical look at the real factors of involuntary poverty. For example, while a falling rate of inflation does not mean that prices are falling, what it does, however, mean is that the rate at which prices are rising is slower than previously.
A simple meaningful way to make practical sense out of the statistics is to measure the consumer price index – the level of price increase of consumer goods, for example - against wage increases over the same period. That is basically how you determine whether your standard of living is rising, falling or static.
What are the facts? Cumulative inflation rate between 2000 and 2005 was about 130 percent. But, the minimum wage has increased more than double the rate of inflation for the same period. This, for almost 20 years – between 1981 and 2000 – was never once the case. In fact, the statistics show that never once under Jerry John Rawlings did Ghanaian workers enjoy a wage increase greater than the rise in the prices of consumer goods.
Yes, petrol prices are up and so are other prices too, but use your own circumstances as a measure and compare your salary today to what it was six years ago. You don't need a Kwesi Pratt or a Kweku Baako to tell you how terrible or wonderful your own life has become.
Now, let us also look at the facts and figures presented by the organisation dedicated to the interest of the Ghanaian worker, the Trade Union Congress. According to a TUC report, salaries of Ghanaian workers have enjoyed “significant changes” since 2000, when the basic salary in the public sector was below $1 a day.
“The basic salary in the public sector was only $17 per month in 2000. It increased to $22 per month in 2001 and to $24 in 2002. It reached the one-dollar-a-day benchmark in 2003 and increased to $41 per month in 2005.” What it means is that even in dollar terms the nominal value of the basic salary of workers went up by 141 percent over the period. Inflation, mind you, is cedi-indexed, not the dollar. In America, workers have seen a cumulative rise of less than 25 percent in their wages since 2000.
And, this study by the TUC was before last week's 20 percent salary increase announcement which took effect from the beginning of the year. The TUC figures show that the 60 US cents value of the d aily minimum wage which the NPP inherited has now risen to more than $1.60. There is no doubt that poverty in Ghana is naked and brutal. But are the opportunities to escape broadening or narrowing?
There is more than enough evidence to suggest that the former is the case. The basic opportunity avenue is education. Since 2000, intake in most of our tertiary institutions has doubled, even though facilities are yet to enjoy a proportionate jump. The Capitation Grant and the school-feeding programme have ensured that the average annual primary school intake has shot up from around 100,000 pupils to 638,000, with the three northern regions registering a 50 percent increase. The NHIS, despite teething problems, continues to make access to health affordable for those who care to register to the scheme and their families.
Where Government is still struggling to radically enhance the creation of economic empowerment opportunities is in the area of vocational training. Every country, from the most advanced to developing, rely mostly on trained artisans, who constitute the bulk of the work force. More certainly has to be done here. Attempts also to get more young people into farming must not be treated with the kind of shallow pocket treatment which has seen many such promising schemes stilted.
Moreover, even those lucky enough to have job security may still struggle for decent shelter. The scheme to provide affordable accommodation for urban workers is one of the most socially-responsible initiatives of this forward-thinking administration.
But, it has been slow in coming and can be generous in application. A typical example of this government's responsible governance is the non-partisan way that the $500 million from the Millennium Challenge Account is to be dispersed. Ghanaians cannot fail to notice that this is a government that is actually risking the wrath of its support base by putting a line under the old free-for-all kind of nepotism that kept party loyalty high but country poverty high, too.