Editorial News Mon, 31 Jul 2006

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Editorial: Govt, Ghanaians And Petroleum Price Decrease

SOMETIMES, IT is amazing how governments can engage in acrobatic displays. It makes one wonders if politicians do not quite often in their attempts to deceive the masses end up deceiving themselves.

It is on record that this Government told Ghanaians in no uncertain terms that with the coming into existence of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), and through the de-regulation policy, it will no more be responsible for the fixing of fuel prices in the country. In short, Ghanaians were told that the price fixing will rest on the oil marketing companies (OMCs), in collaboration with NPA.

Indeed The Chronicle had pointed out that the setting up of the NPA, and its level of involvement in the fixing of petroleum prices, clearly was rather ushering in an era of full regulation.

It was clear to the clever Ghanaian that all that government was trying to do was to hide behind the NPA, to escape the heat that is often generated by fuel price increases, particularly, since over the last couple of years it has become increasingly clear that fuel prices would keep soaring.

When the recent new fuel prices were announced, this paper and other highly placed Ghanaians, including some influential Members of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) Government, expressed their misgivings about the increases, accusing the Government of being insensitive to the plight of Ghanaians.

As usual, the spin-doctors and even some Members of Government justified the increases. The whole justification was given a presidential blessing, when the President, Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor stamped his authority on the increased prices, at a Women's Aglow rally held at Kumasi. At that rally, the President made it clear to Ghanaians that with the world market price of crude oil soaring, his Government cannot do anything but to increase the cost of fuel in the country to avoid the dislocation of Government's economic and development agenda. All pleas to the Government to take a second look at the various taxes within the petroleum price build-up, to cushion Ghanaians were a rebuffed.

So it became a surprise when at a hurriedly arranged press conference last Friday, even before Parliament had considered an amendment before it, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Kwamena Bartels, who by all indications seem to need a lot of orienting himself, announced a reduction in fuel prices.

In seeking to play to the gallery, he announced to the public the removal of the ad valorem tax in the petroleum price build-up without any constitutional basis - when Parliament had not given its approval.

Even the Vice Chairman of the Energy Committee of Parliament and the Ranking Member of the Minority on that Committee had no idea that the Minister of Information had announced a decrease in the petroleum prices.

The message that Mr. Bartels sent out there was that all this while, what government has been saying about its non-involvement in petroleum price fixing is a hoax. Indeed he made it abundantly clear that the power to increase or decrease fuel prices - after all following his announcement, which was a government decision, Parliament only had the easiest job of just voting to endorse it.

But the statement by Mr. Bartels suggested also that Government had taken the decision to reduce the fuel prices with a heavy heart. Bartels' statement showed that in actual fact, Government was not prepared to reduce the prices but somehow were forced.

If it is not so, why should Mr. Bartels say that "A critical review of the situation revealed that, quite clearly, the Government was being forced to take the unwelcome decision to cut back its development programmes in all sectors of the economy and that it was a painful choice which we (Government) have to make".

What a statement from the Minister of Information!

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has come out unenthused about the percentage of the fuel price decrease and is requesting the Government to repeal also the social impact mitigation levy of three cedis on petroleum products to enable petrol to be sold at ยข32,000 per litre in the country.

The Chronicle would task the Government to further do something about the current levels of the prices of petroleum products to mitigate the suffering of the masses.

Source: Ghanaian Chronicle

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