Critical News: We are heading for trouble

Sydney Casely Hayford Economist

Mon, 23 Sep 2013 Source: Sydney Casely-Hayford

I made a trip to the airport during the week, just to see what Tony Lithur had been able to do since his appointment on Tuesday 17, as Board Chairman of the Ghana Airports Company. After Doreen Owusu Fianko was sacked by the Board and Mahama was irritated enough to retire the entire Board, who had served their term anyway, and reward Tony for all the services he performed during the election petition, we are in for a load of trouble.

This is a job of perks. I am sure you get a Board stipend of sorts, (ah! If only the Freedom of Information Act was in place, I might tell you more of the compensation package. For now, let me speculate) you could get a VIP pass, access to all parts of the port, customs and security waivers and most definitely some freebies for air travel, since all the airlines will be lobbying for your attention.

All told, he might recover his legal fees plus more, but I cannot say that was the intention. Tony is a good man, busy round the clock, and I am not sure how he will make the time to manage the Board. But hey, society sees it only as a reward for petition services; ask Joe Public if I am mis-thinking.

A host of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) arrived KIA to get a taste of our dripping ceilings, non-uniformed security guards, no signs for wandering visitors, poor air conditioning and toilets that do not flush and stink to hell.

The Mormons are in town in full force. They arrived with double suitcases, each sporting the usual “kwaa kwaa lobite” suit and tie, wearing full walking boots, hard leather tops with articulator rubber soles, thickened and mold-ready for the long walks and trekking they do. There were plenty of them. So plenty they were ushered to one side of the arrival hall with placards. They must have hired the Delta Airlines flight that day.

Recently, I met a few in Kade and Asamankese and I was surprised at their tenacity, recruiting Ghanaians and preaching stories of Joseph Smith, prophet of the gold-plated tablets.

I was not worried about the invasion; I knew something they did not know on arrival. They neither sing nor deliver evil spirits and our creed in Ghana, you have to cast out demons before we wear our white cloths, pick up our handkerchiefs and TB Joshua holy water bottles and come chasing after your sermons. Their temples are too much like offices and the protocol you engage before you enter the inner church is too much for the open arm expectations of the Ghanaian Christian. And then there was the motorway incident.

You did not hear. On Friday, the Accra-Tema motorway was jammed from way before the tollbooth from the Accra end, all the way to halfway point. I did the trip up to Tema earlier and an articulator had spilled two container loads on the road, a crane was on duty occupying two lanes, trying to lift the containers and traffic was piling up as I drove past. Two hours later on the return, you could not see the end of the motorway. Jammed, no relief in sight.

So watching the Mormons file past, I wondered silently, “are they heading for Tema? It would be an uncivil welcome, but a memorable one for the four-hour journey of inefficiency”.

Electricity tariffs are going up at least 50%, following the average 20% transport fare increases last week. We are complaining, but to whom? We are threatening strikes, but who cares? The cost of living will go up yet again, once fares are up and with an average harvest it will cost more for a basket of tomatoes, which do not reach the urban centers because the feeder road network does not help the farmers.

In Accra the shopping experience is different and better? If your affluence jabs you on a Friday afternoon, you head to the plush Marina Mall, walk into the Saville Row shop and order a tailored suit without asking the price. It is bad taste to ask and it reveals the depth of your pocket. But I popped into the KFC, ordered two pieces, large fries and a coke, very bad for my cholesterol and diabetes, but hey, Ghana is struggling and a little cheer every now and then? Suffer to suffer again later. Basking in the sunlight-seated air-conditioned cosy comforts, I am smirking over the car park, watching a very vigilant attendant discipline every parking within the lines. She is doing an excellent job, despite the two young ladies who can’t stop criticizing her style and efficiency.

Anyway, the expats are buying, trooping in with the 4x4’s and hired taxis, filling baskets with ease despite the ridiculous pricing in the food market and other shops. Accra is expensive now and the regular Ghanaian is finding a means between the high-end Lebanese and Chinese restaurants, the Frankies-type pizza and ice cream offers and the moderately priced Papaye rice and grilled chicken.

Suddenly, my large fries is finished and I am still not full. A New York offer would have left me pushing my plate away to quietly sip my watered-down king size coke for one-third the price. And as if to throw it in my face, a group of Chinese (could they be Galamsey types?), bags overflowing with purchases, laughing, walking towards their large Toyota Land Cruiser, driver trotting to meet them and handle as many of the bags as he can, obedient in his anxiety for reward points in food or the thrown bone of leftovers later in the day. Such it is in Ghana now.

The National Health Insurance Authority re-branded on its tenth anniversary, a nice new logo and a committed pledge to excellence. I think it is great that we are focusing on good health insurance and care, but really, all they need do is pay service providers on time, reduce the claims processing times and cut the payment delays to a month in arrear instead of the current backlog of four months. This is what private medical practices need to gain confidence in their cash flow and deliver quality care. And it will come if the Government can fix the economy and statutory payments are not diverted to GYEEDA and similar corrupt organs.

But we are heading for trouble. The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of Ghana held its “of no consequence” policy rate at 16%. This politically determined rate really has no impact in the economy, it serves as a good event and media announcement, but more importantly, when bank base rates are hovering in the mid-twenties, you cannot run your business on debt.

By April this year, our expenses had exceeded revenue by 3.4billion cedis. By July the gap had grown to 4billion and as at September, the BoG’s report puts the shortfall at 5.6billion. Interest payments alone amount to ghc2.6billion and we continue to borrow our way out of the crisis. Revenue collection has fallen short of the targets, expenditure is held down because there is no cash to pay for much. The Government wage bill is ghc400 million above what we planned and continues to run free.

In all this, the bitter pill is what to do to stimulate the economy, create jobs and ensure that we can close the deficit gap. The MPC statements, as intentioned, are complicated in analysis and the delivery can be complex, and made more so from mistakes and errors in the report.

The Ministry of finance website reports the half year figures for the two quarters in 2013 as narrated above. A glaring line of “discrepancies” always jumps at me when I look at the numbers and Government is telling us that because of poor accounting, they do not know how to record ghc460million of expenses. A poor case of cost control and anathema to any principled accountant.

Sadly, Prof. Kofi Awoonor was murdered in the Nairobi shopping mall terrorist attack. A sad casualty of a religious war gone rogue and a victim of some other’s sectoral vendetta. There is an irony here lost with history. Sometimes nature throws a curved ball of sorts and from that you realise that the 20th century philosophers of existentialism understood more of life than our “wassup” and “facebook” generations.

A couple weeks ago I praised ECG and Ghana Water for stepping to the challenge and giving us good supply. As I write now, I might have been premature with my praise. I have no water and no power. I am running on battery and reserve water supply. Shame. Now I have to start clocking them all over again.

But Efyia was due to release her new album this weekend and the Black Stars have scheduled their match with Egypt’s Pharaohs to the 15th October. The nonsense surrounding the GNPC drill ship still continues, and instead of all these grown up men producing credible paperwork to back up all they are saying in the media, we live with the “I said, you said”, characteristic of politicians spinning lies.

And as a result, someone sacked Nana Asafu Adjaye as CEO of GNPC with no reasons. Another Amidu-type dismissal? Is Nana brave enough to go public? I challenge him.

I watched an interview with Osibisa’s Teddy Osei on TV Africa, went to look for my recordings and lo and behold, “we are going, heaven knows where we are going ….”

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

Columnist: Sydney Casely-Hayford