(Part 1 of 2) Finance Minister Osafo Marfo is being hailed by the IMF as their choir boy now, and that is interesting indeed, since he is not in jail yet. Our previous Finance Minister Kwame Peprah is in jail. In an editorial by Public Agenda, the paper said the award by the IMF is intrusive of Ghana?s affairs. The report quoted the government controlled paper, the Graphic, as:
The report in the Daily Graphic of Wednesday October 6, said: ? The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Yaw Osafo Marfo, has received the covetous award of the Best African Finance Minister of the year at a World Bank / IMF sponsored reception in Washington, USA.? The report cites Ghana?s attainment of HIPC completion point and the accrued debt relief from that achievement as a factor that visibly influenced the decision of the Bretton Wood Institutions. Ghana is not the first but the 14th country to have attained HIPC completion point. The question is, how many of the Finance Ministers of the 13 previous achievers were accorded such laurel?
A few years ago a man who was my old scholarship mate to America, and Finance Minister, was sent to jail. He was a powerful Minister, who had gained a reputation as being arrogant, under former Chairman and President Jerry Rawlings? PNDC and NDC. The previous Finance Minister before him, hailed by the World Bank, is not in jail yet, but he had supervised a regime that left Ghana with over $6 Billion in unpaid debts when he resigned. Roads for which most of this money was procured, are now death traps today as this writer has reported extensively in publications on Ghanaweb. The man in question, who was also hailed in the 1980s as the wonder Minister, Lawyer-turned Finance Minister Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, was hired to work at one of the institutions at Harvard in Boston, USA. He came back in 2003 to seek the nomination of the NDC to run for President. He was that confident, bragging that his short stay in America had earned him a life-time retirement income.
Forgiving in our Society: One may question: Is our society that forgiving, or simply that anybody in public becomes a celebrity, irrespective of real performance? Botchwey, reputed to know finance, and expectedly how businesses operate, could not even survive in his own country, and now has taken a job in Canada. Did anybody in Ghana investigate where he got his money from? If staying in America for only a few years earns a man enough retirement income for life, why are the many well-educated Professional Ghanaian Doctors, Engineers, Accountants, etc., still toiling away for decades? Americans themselves are still working till old age of 65, and may retire in poverty and sell their properties to live in retirement flats. Isn?t it strange also that a former President was able to send his kids to College in Ireland and pay for them overseas, with gifts of Toyota Landcruisers and Mercedes cars to add?
Many people claim they are Christians in Ghana. God-worshipping and Church-going has become not only a fashion, perhaps it is the largest and most profitable industry in Ghana today in 2004. However, nobody really knows the hearts and minds of the people who are given the absolute and excessively over-centralized power to serve the people! Osafo Marfo has the power to write government checks for everybody and for every project in the nation. Spending three months in Ghana after my return home in July 2004, paying excessive taxes, duties, vehicle licensing fees, etc. to the government, and then meeting to challenge many government Managers and Directors for expected service, has really opened my eyes. Government officials in the inner circle of power do not even think of the people. Period! Government pays every single bill for these inner core people, but a simple mail in Ghana can cost C60,000 to the US, car registration C1.2 million, and phone bills can be as much as C4 million per month. This is in a country where a Medical Doctor from Harvard may be paid less than C4 million per month! Come on! Is that the economic climate to brag about where foreigners now own phone companies and government thinking of selling other utilities so government officials? I consider myself a born-again Ghanaian now. Now I have full realization why our country is not growing economically in all spheres.
Taxation: Economists agree that excessive taxation kills business development. I am not complaining about taxation and duties, but for God?s sake there is what is called fairness and equity in life. On a modest used 4x4 vehicle I purchased for about $6,000 in the US, I had to pay bout $9,000 to the government. On a Salvaged used Van purchased at an auction for about $2,200 I had to pay about $4,000, in addition to duties and taxes on my other personal goods and appliances. (Note that original receipts are not accepted because the government considers every one of us outside a liar). These charges included not only VAT but the new health Insurance premiums at 2.5% of all value. Did the government give me any Insurance Card to show that I had paid about C3 million on this premium, and hence deserved some consideration if I got ill in Ghana? No!!
For sure there is too much taxation on a few in Ghana, but the point is that enormous power is vested in the hands of one man and perhaps a few people to decide the lives of 20 million people. It is a power to potentially do good, but also to do evil due to sheer pressure and negligence. In addition, there is no feedback to those in power. These Ministers have insulated themselves from public criticism or comment, since nobody can get any of them on phone. The few public opinions are aired on a few spots on Radio talk shows. How many of us write to CHRAJ? There is virtually no means for the suffering people to complain or seek redress. CHRAJ is not enough for daily complains or ordinary people!
Complaining in Ghana makes one look really like a foreigner just arrived. I recall the long laughter at the other end of the phone line when I called the Ghana Water Company one evening in July 2004, to complain my water had been cut off. Perhaps the officer thought I was crazy to be complaining when it was ?ordinary water? that had been cut off. East Legon is not a cheap area, I said to myself. In Ghana, it did not matter whether you can pay or not. One man decides who gets money to buy equipment for water pumps. Does Osafo Marfo even know people live in the city without simple water service to their homes? Failing to allocate financing, now the government is thinking of inviting some foreign investors to take over Ghana Water company. Is it so the insiders may be able to squeeze some commission during the negotiations and bidding? (You know what I mean). Obviously the Hon. Minister does not see it fit to invest any of the moneys collected in taxes to serve the people. It seems our leadership has run out of solutions. What a shame! (To be continued ? see Part 2 of 2)