A Better Subsidy Agenda

Mon, 18 Feb 2013 Source: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

Critical News, 17th February 2013

Sydney Casely-Hayford, sydney@bizghana.com

Last Sunday night, Government announced increased fuel prices 15% to 20%. No proper announcement and no formality. We woke up, some to Church, others to play a sport or two, others to write a column. Stopped by the petrol station only to be told that the pump prices have gone up. Calibration not yet in place, prices not displayed, you depended on the attendants to calculate on a piece of paper and you were told how much to pay. This did not include jet fuel, of which there is a strident shortage. Someone most likely got a tip-off and gouged some profit and the rest of us idiots were left in the dark.

In the run up there had been a lot of noise about lifting fuel subsidies again and a repeat of all the arguments to do and not to do. I heard a very novel argument by Kofi Bentil of Imani at the CiTi Fm radio show. He offered that, though he was a strong advocate to remove subsidies, because he and many other Ghanaians could not trust that Government would put the “savings” to proper use, leave the subsidies in place.

Of course, National Petroleum Authority Chief Executive, Alex Mould has been consistent with his stand that the subsidies must be removed. We spend between $120 and $150 million a month doing this. That is the same we have estimated to generate from the oil fields.

Minister of Finance Seth Terkper has always been for removing subsidies and he added his voice to Acting Central Bank Governor Dr Kofi Wampah to once and for all remove the subsidies. Truth is we are doing foolish things. The subsidies support the better off more than the poor, but the arguments do not reach the Unions and consumers clearly. We subsidise pre-mix fuel 236%. How many fisher-folk are there and why are we particularly subsidizing their business? Why is my consulting service not directly subsidized by paying a percentage of my staff salaries? The operators are the middlemen and they make the money.

Tarzan Wereko Brobbey also waded in and argued, the term subsidy is a misnomer because, if I understood him well, the levies, cross subsidies and taxes imposed on the final fuel prices were made on the people’s pocket and so if Government is using some of that money to artificially prop up the price of petrol, they should not call it a subsidy, it is from our pockets and thus no additional money from anywhere. Makes sense, but it does not decide the policy. A fine academic point, but without the nip to prime the downstream flow into my petrol tank.

It is getting tiring and Government has to make a policy decision. We either politically prop up the prices, because that is what it is; a political decision, or we remove the subsidy once and for all and use the money for purpose. If you follow Mr. Bentil’s logic, you might be misled. Truth is, if we remove the subsidies we would not need to go beggar-bowl borrowing so much of the time. If we lift subsidies tomorrow, we will immediately find enough money to pay VRA its $550 million owed, and serve the people better.

Our Better Subsidy Agenda, for which over 5 million people voted, is for lack of transparency in Government and the corruption we cannot trap because we do not have any check mechanisms. Except for the fourth year when Government scrambles to make promises for re-election, we face a three-year period of intransigence, which does not shift, because politicking picks it’s timing cunningly. We are occupied for three years carving a hard living; our politicians spend full-time concocting and plotting all manner of schemes to insult our intelligence in year four.

Take the Woyome case. Now challenging ECG for on-today, off-tomorrow, we take a light view of the ECG dum-so nonsense, because we see no end in sight. Can we afford that Agbesi Woyome walk because the AG cannot find a witness? Newly appointed AG Marietta might be compromised. Didn’t she work in Tony Lithur’s office, which happens to be the legal defense for Mahama and the NDC in the past and present? Surely if we thought through this properly, we could strike her out with a conflict of interest. The NPP boycott, for whatever reason has not helped the wheel of justice. This is how most corruption gets entrenched. It starts with close relationships, then cronyism and then a justice system that is compromised.

And sole Commissioner, Justice Apau is getting frustrated? The civil servants tell him that documents in archives are too difficult to retrieve and he has to deal with that mediocrity? Where is his big stick to beat them into order? Public servants tell him they cannot find documents, which we have paid them to keep intact and ensure that we can produce a trail of events as and when required? In my world that is defined as shoddy work, laziness, lack of planning, lax controls and plain inefficiency. If he cannot “force” them to retrieve the information he requires, then he should find a way to jail someone. These are not politicians; they are civil and public servants. This whole thing stinks and has been stinking for too long.

Then we have the weakest CHRAJ commissioner ever in the history of that office. Nothing is forthcoming from Ms. Lamptey. So how do we pressure the courts to deal with the AG’s office to attend to that case and ensure justice? Martin Amidu has filed a case with the Supreme Court on behalf of the people of Ghana, stating that the Woyome transaction was illegal from the beginning. When will the Supreme Court hear the case and shouldn’t CHRAJ be playing center forward for Ghana?

The election petition case resumes on Tuesday. I am still trying to understand what the EC produced last week. A list of names and numbers that has created more confusion. Let’s deal with this in detail next week, there is too much at stake to just do a cursory overview.

Ah, Reverend Owusu Bempah saw the death of President John Mahama and decided to tell the world. Previously, he had revealed something about Archbishop (I have a problem with these Charismatics who create titles and ordain themselves through their own churches), his holy-ship, Duncan Williams, which gave him some leverage, must be akin to a subtle hold of sorts, because even though the Archbishop had mentored him, Duncan Williams apparently does not have a spiritual eye into the future. From all that was said, neither does Bishop Agyin Asare. So Owusu Bempah took on some bragging rights and pitched camp at radio stations to let Ghanaians know that Duncan Williams is fully aware that he is beneficiary of his (Bempah’s) intercession prayers to the almighty to protect Duncan Williams from something. We don’t know what it is. But really, such brouhaha about some prediction, which he then went on to say, such death could be prevented with prayer. This man can thwart the course of man’s destiny? What are we waiting for? JDM should create a Ministry of Future Destiny and together with the Aglow crowd, we can sort out all the problems through Owusu Bempah. We could have won AFCON 2013.

Made me remember the days when I studied the mating habits of the Agama lizard. As an aside, the Agama agama species in Ghana, is polygamous, and males hold six or more females in their territory for breeding. When you see the male bobbing his head to impress the female, it is a courtship ritual and females also initiate courtship by offering their hindquarters to the male and then running until he is able to catch up. I observed and documented territorial marking of the reptile, genus Agamid, as a subject. If I had the time, I could get back in academia and port this knowledge across to religion. My dissertation, “Charismatic and Orthodox Christians: A Contemporary Study of Primal Congregation Mapping”. Could be interesting.

In the Melcom Plus mall on the Spintex road, for the owners there is no ambiguity between who is staff and customer. Posted in the male bathroom, is a very clear message to users. “Please lift the toilet seat before urinating and put it back after you have finished”. In another post-it-note, there is a warning to staff to use toilet paper economically and not abuse the privilege, else no more paper will be provided. In times past when there was no toilet paper, we used Daily Graphic (the only paper allowed) and cement paper. I think some people still do.

Ghana, Aha a ye de papa. Alius valde week advenio. Another great week to come!

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney