Critical News: Woven Stories

Mon, 30 Nov 2015 Source: Sydney Casely-Hayford

I am sitting on a bar stool in a really posh place in downtown Osu. I had been invited by a very dynamic lady, who had intrigued me with lots of “Occupy-like” statements at a previous meeting, and curiosity peaked at its highest, I arrived early to catch the atmosphere and observe some youth.

A couple catch my eye, sitting at a private table not too far. I can’t hear what they are saying, but it doesn’t matter.

Eva (not her real name at all) is doing the scene, lips close to his ears and clearly saying delightful things he wants to hear. Her manner is intense and at its flirtatious best and her agenda is evolving with every whisper and delight on the face of him.

She brushes her lips softly against his ear lobe and caressingly licks his cheek as she continues with in between softly engaging words, which he can’t but gasp gently in anticipation of whatever she is promising.

I pay strict attention to this, caught in the love play and wondering what could she possibly be saying to capture him so totally.

Skillfully, she crosses to the other cheek and carries on the whisper dance, mesmerizing him with the manner and intensity of a horizontal expression of a pending evening.

She slowly meanders to his lips and with gentle touches of long manicured fingers, magically closes his eyes with soft kisses on lips and neck, reaching the tip of his nose and sending shivers even down my spine.

Slowly, she pulls away, but he stays eyes closed in anticipation of the next exciting carress. He doesn’t see her pull back from the table and pick her bag and shawl, and even as she stands and drifts off ever so quietly, his eyes are shut and he neither sees nor hears her leave, and except for the slight quiver on his lips, he is statuesque and content.

A full minute later he opens his eyes but she is long gone.

I am smiling quietly, party to a story so cleverly woven; watching and now wondering what did she tell him? How did she end this event, a full minute of suspense while she shadowed through the bar door and blended with the outside.

What was the “End Game”? Then my date is here.

So these past weeks we have heard many stories. I called one such story that went on for more than two hours a “Kwaku Ananse Story”. Mr Seth Terkper’s 2016 budget that I now find rather amusing as I read the detail brings a chuckle to my lips. Not a caressing story, but a hard tale of an economy gone rogue.

I have selected a couple of topics, one out of the mainstream public talk, just to make a point of the stories I say we are told on a recurring basis in Ghana.

In the 2013 budget, this is what then finance Minister Dr. Kwabena Duffuor had to say to the Parliament of the people of Ghana as part of the ongoing story to find credibility for stunting economic development.

“Mr. Speaker, in fulfillment of government promise of improving the conditions of service and productivity in the public service, the NDC government undertook to implement the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS); an obligation that was bequeathed by the previous Administration on the very eve of its departure from power. Nonetheless, in the interest of social and industrial harmony the government proceeded with the rollout. Government was mindful of the need to stop the continuing exodus of quality staff, improve salary levels and attract critical skill to enhance productivity. The demands and pressures that came in the wake of the implementation of the scheme compelled government to shorten the 5-year implementation stretch. This has created the situation where compensation to public sector workers grew overnight to 72.3 percent of tax revenue (including oil) as at end December 2012: a figure that is in fact higher than the 60.9 per cent in November 2012 as cited in the State of the Nation address. This outcome has crowded out the fiscal space for spending on critical social intervention and other infrastructure programs.”

When Terkper came back in 2014, he shifted the blame, not stating that it is they the NDC Government who accelerated the payments to less than five years, but as if someone else had imposed it.

“Compensation for public sector workers: While acknowledging the positive aspects of the SSPP in retaining public sector staff and improving their productivity and incomes, the SSPP is imposing severe fiscal strain on the Budget.”

And the SSPP thing has been this Government’s key story for a derailed economy since then.

But let’s talk about WAMZ Convergence. Little emphasis in the public space, but this constant note in the National Budget provides good comparatives for why this Government has failed totally with its economic policy.

In the 2012 budget statement;

“Madam Speaker, for the first time since the WAMZ program was instituted, Ghana was able to satisfy all the four primary convergence criteria as at end-June 2011, compared to the three criteria satisfied at end-June 2010. Ghana achieved single-digit inflation (8.6 per cent), external reserves in months of import cover (3.6 months), fiscal deficit excluding grants/GDP ratio (1.9 per cent) and central bank financing (zero per cent). However, there was no improvement in the performance on the secondary convergence criteria. Ghana’s performance compares with 4 criteria achieved by Liberia, 3 by The Gambia, 3 by Guinea, 3 by Nigeria and 2 by Sierra Leone.”

In the 2013 budget;

“Mr. Speaker, Ghana‘s performance in both the primary and secondary convergence criteria deteriorated in the first half of 2012 as a result of the economic challenges the country went through in the first half of the year, and the subsequent losses in the value of the local currency against the currencies of our major trading partners. Consequently, Ghana was able to satisfy one primary criterion as against 4 obtained in June and December, 2011. One secondary criterion was achieved during the same period. In respect of the primary convergence criteria, Ghana achieved the single digit inflation criterion, but missed the target on external reserves in months of import cover, fiscal deficit excluding grants/GDP ratio and central bank financing of fiscal deficit as a percentage of previous year‘s tax revenue.”

These are measured against our neighbor’s, virtually same exports and commodity profiles and just as underdeveloped as us. But we missed all, amid all the promises of great achievements.

Now in 2015;

“Mr. Speaker, overall, the macroeconomic convergence criteria ratings of countries in the WAMZ deteriorated from 79.2 per cent in June 2011 to 62.5 per cent in June 2012. None of the six member states was able to achieve all the four primary convergence criteria. Four countries, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria achieved three criteria, while Sierra Leone achieved two. With respect to the secondary convergence criteria, countries‘ performance was even worse. Out of the six criteria, four countries were able to satisfy two of them, one country satisfied one and one other country could not achieve any of the six.”

Notice the country that gets no mention? Not one criterion met.

The main challenges identified as facing the countries in the zone are:

Persistent high inflation in some member states;

Escalating budget deficits in some member countries;

Rising wage bill;

Declining public investment from domestic receipts;

Rising domestic interest payments;

Declining external reserves in months of imports;

Infrastructure deficits;

High cost of doing business; and

High non-performing loans in the banking system.

This list must read familiar. For those of you who follow the economy, you should read Ghana in each of the lines.

Our budget deficit is 7.3%, inflation is 17.6%, Gross reserves is 2.8 months, Central Bank deficit is far in excess of 10%, our public debt to GDP ratio has already exceeded 70% and the cedi has been varying at about 24% this year.

And there is your story. We are way below par and there is no chance in Tumu we can catch up in a short time. It is all these macro indicators our Government records that tells you we are on a steep downhill journey. Woven stories.

Ghana, Aha a y? din papa. Alius atrox week advenio. Another terrible week to come!

Columnist: Sydney Casely-Hayford