Confronting Ghana’s Main Problems: Demystifying Government -Part III

Sun, 13 Dec 2009 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

December 8, 2009

Whatever faults we may find with Rawlings’ style of governance, we must be honest to admit that his efforts brought government to the door-steps of the people and raised political consciousness. Although the PDCs and WDCs (later converted to CDRs) under the PNDC had some long-lasting negative effects (in terms of indiscipline) on the society, it is undeniable that they subverted the traditional perceptions of government and brought government closer to the door-steps of the people.

The fact that ordinary people could have a say in the decision-making processes leading to official actions that affected public and private life in the society was important at the time. Unfortunately, the excesses of the period overshadowed the benefits of such an effort to demystify government. The CDRs may be consigned to the dustbin of history but their role in demystifying government cannot be treated with contempt.

We must be honest enough to admit that through the PNDC government’s efforts, especially in institutionalizing the District Assembly concept and translating it into the Local Government system (Act 462), Rawlings stands tall above all others in helping the mass of the people to relate to government at all levels. The three-tier network of this Local Government paradigm is admirable. It has empowered the people to determine their own fate at several levels even though more has to be done to actualize other critical aspects of this system of governance.

The self-help spirit under Rawlings was in full swing but the massive promise-making escapade by politicians opposed to Rawlings, especially during the previous electioneering campaign periods, reversed the trend. Thus, the politicians presented themselves as the “solvers” of the people’s existential problems. By this reversal, government became mystified again. The trend has continued and made the government the “Father Christmas” that the promise-making politicians have conceived and presented it to the people.

Thus, we see or hear of delegations of chiefs and people trooping to the seat of government to plead their case for assistance or provision of development projects. This perception of government as the provider of life-support has empowered government functionaries to the extent of seeing themselves as the Godfathers of Ghanaians. This posture won’t help us and we must kick against it. We need a workable system of governance. The current one (which we have copied from the United States, excluding the Senate part) is good only in terms of the political shell it provides for politicians to fill and announce themselves to the world as Ghana’s democrats.

If we had a workable system of government, the people would not sit down for Kufuor and his NPP cabal to squander tens of millions of dollars on celebrating Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary only to turn round to send an S.O.S. message to the international community to donate 14 million dollars to help Ghana solve its hydro-electricity generating problems! Kufuor would not have wasted over 100 million dollars on the Taj Mahal he called the “Jubilee House” for the President!! All at a time when school children still go to school under trees and almost every sector of human life is crumbling on the people!! It is sickening.

We lack the economic foundation for our democracy to thrive. That’s where our problem lies. Not only have we failed to streamline operations in the sectors that generate revenue for the country but we have also failed to institute and enforce rigidly the regulatory aspects. This failure has created innumerable loopholes that unscrupulous people (especially those with political connections) exploit to the disadvantage of the national economy.

Take the Internal Revenue Service and our tax system, for instance. I have already berated the IRS for not streamlining the tax system to eradicate the loopholes but also for not widening the tax net. In the current situation, although workers pay income tax, at the end of the year, no one knows how much the worker has paid nor is there any way to refund anything to the income tax-payer (as is done in the United States, for instance). Keeping the tax-payers in the dark and using the security services to tyrannize those not wanting to pay is all they know. Prosecuting defaulters is the last option, which is the exact opposite in other countries.

Citizens will willingly pay tax if they know how their tax money is being used. For instance, in the US, the citizen pays tax at several levels without taking umbrage with the system because that citizen knows clearly how the tax money is used to provide the much-needed services. A salaried worker in New York, for example, pays tax to the Federal Government, State of New York, and the City of New York at the end of every month. Those earning income fortnightly also pay tax as such. One may grumble but has to live with that arrangement. That’s the law. What do we have in Ghana?

Again, in the US, the citizens pay Value-Added Tax on everything they buy, including fast food and medicine at Walgreens, for instance. In Ghana, the retrogressive politicians (especially those of the NPP who banded themselves into the rogue Alliance for Change) would do all they can to disrupt efforts to regularize the system. The NPP led senseless demonstrations against the VAT but turned round to use that very avenue as a safe haven and even added a two-and-a-half per cent to it. These are Ghana’s democrats!!

The financial regulations must be enforced to ensure that those entrusted with public funds don’t have unlimited access to it for use anyhow. In other countries, oversight responsibility for spending of public funds is strictly monitored and enforced. It should be difficult for those who are entrusted with public funds to dish it out anyhow. We must streamline financial control measures and punish those who abuse the trust reposed in them.

I have been wondering why the Internal Audit sections of many institutions don’t detect and raise alarm over financial irregularities there until an external audit is carried out to expose the rot. Shouldn’t there be more control upfront to prevent embezzlement, misappropriation, and all other financial malfeasance that the country is perennially saddled with?

Some of us are not happy that our country is stagnating despite all the resources that it has. We need drastic changes in government business to get us going where other countries are today.

Unfortunately, those who should be spearheading the effort to effect change are not doing so, apparently because they know how to take advantage of a mystified government apparatus. These are the thieves and liars who know that for as long as they keep their empty, loud, and deceptive rhetoric on nationalism going, they will blindfold the people and get the chance to improve their own lives by fleecing the country. It is pathetic.

I am disappointed that those in power today are not different from all those we've had so far. They are as disappointing as you can't imagine. I will not be blinded by my political persuasion to overlook their inadequacies. I have already taken President Mills and his government and Rawlings himself to task in previous articles and will continue to do so if they give cause for concern. Let us be bold enough to tell them straight to their faces whenever they misbehave.

The problem is that Ghanaians appear not to take these politicians to task. Of course, the entire system of governance is rotten, which those politicians know and take undue advantage of. Otherwise, why are the MPs, for instance, not spearheading any move to clean the legal system so that new laws could be enacted and enforced to meet present-day needs of the country?

In my subsequent articles, I will touch on those issues and try to agitate the minds of the people for us to fight against all those who work hard to keep us underdeveloped. They are our problem in our own country. Mine is just a yeoman's job.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.