Is the government really insensitive? What for?

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, July 21, 2014

Folks, there is much tension in the country, apparently because of the street demonstrations by various interest and pressure groups and other acts or utterances that touch raw nerves and muddy the waters. Many comments have been heard to the effect that the government is insensitive to the plight of the people. Is the government really being insensitive? What does it hope to gain from being so, anyway?

As organized labour gears up for its demonstration on Thursday, the impression being created is that the Mahama-led administration is implementing policies that are worsening living conditions. The 23% hike in the prices of petroleum products by the National Petroleum Authority, leading to a 15% increment in transport fares, as well as the rise in tariffs imposed by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission seem to be the main factors provoking discontent among organized labour. Added to that provocation is the government’s imposition of taxes and other measures that seem to be pushing the citizens into a tight corner from where those belonging to identifiable groups are now springing to take on the government through these street demonstrations and wanton condemnation in public utterances (on radio and in other forums).

In effect, the workers want to express their frustrations about the worsening socio-economic conditions in the country. They are doing so at many fronts:

• The President of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr. Kwabena Opoku Adusei, says workers can no longer cope with the present economic situation where utility tariffs are placed on an automated adjustment system while salaries remain static. According to Dr. Opoku Adusei, the state of affairs of the economy has rendered workers poorer as their earnings cannot take care of their upkeep due to the rising cost of living, coupled with the continuous dwindling value of the Ghana cedi against its major trading currencies. He described government as being insensitive to the plight of Ghanaians though workers have made several appeals to government to come to their aid.

• The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) has hinted of embarking on an industrial action over the non-payment of their book and research allowance.

• Members of the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG) have since May 2014 vacated the lecture halls in protest over government's delay in the release of their book and research allowance, which has forced the institutions to announce a nationwide shut down to date.

Some of the factors are not labour-related but reflect what is generally known about development projects. Residents of some communities have also taken to the streets to protest at the state of affairs in their localities, especially deplorable roads and other services.

Clearly, these agitations and threats of street demonstrations point to one issue: Is the government really being insensitive to the plight of workers and the citizens, generally? What for? Or is it facing challenges that have forced it to act the way it is doing only to be accused of insensitivity and incompetence?

Given the diverse groups that are rising up against prevailing circumstance es in the country, it is obvious that the tension will heighten, especially if some politically mischievous groupings infiltrate the ranks of those now flexing muscles and manipulate the situation to foment trouble. We already know of some street demonstrations by such groupings and their insistence on painting the government black. Others have been propagating the dangerous message that President Mahama is incompetent and should either resign or be removed from power. Too unbecoming in a democracy; not so?

The fundamental issue, though, is why the government would choose to be insensitive to the plight of the people by imposing hardship on them. What will the government hop to achieve by doing so? Can it be said that the government’s recourse to removing subsidies from the petroleum sector, shifting cost to consumers, and the raising of tariffs by the PURC are genuine efforts at raising revenue to support the government’s agenda regarding national development? If so, should the government come across as insensitive? Or are the critics of the government more concerned about how public funds are being spent than anything else, given the rumpus over projects such as GYEEDA, SUBAH, etc. that were characterized by theft of public funds? If so, then, where will we take governance to?

The essence of governance is that those wielding political power will use it for the good of the country and its citizens; that they will use the resources of the country to improve the lot of the people. In a democracy, it is imperative that in using that political power, the rulers should be influenced by the exigency of the situation so as not to impose needless hardships on the people and incur their displeasure. Of course, a judicious use of that political power should improve governance itself, promote good citizenship, and lead the citizens into a brighter future.

In our Ghanaian situation, governance over the years has proved to be difficult, apparently because of how political power is used. We recognize the fact that the fight for independence from the British had a noble objective—to empower the indigenes so they could determine how their country should be governed; hence, the birth of the First Republic. Dr. Nkrumah’s successes and failures are still evident. The story of the Second and Third Republics is still being woven and told. That of the Fourth Republic is still unfolding right in front of our own eyes. These are political eras in which political power was willingly given by the electorate to the rulers.

Not so for the other crop of rulers who entered political office through the barrel of the gun under various guises—“National Liberation,” “National Redemption”, and “People’s Revolution”. For good or bad, these military toads have also left their footprints on the sand of Ghanaian politics. Their successes and failures can’t be glossed over.

But our main focus should be what is unfolding right in front of our eyes because it suggests many twists and turns that reflect many troubling tendencies. The spate of agitations and street demonstrations won’t easily bring about any solution to the problems motivating them; but it will create the impression that the government isn’t serving the needs of the people. It will also help the government know where it is failing and probably redirect it toward doing things in a more resolute and purposeful manner, especially as it assumes a pointed political momentum.

The government claims that it is implementing policies that will allow for a more judicious use of resources for national development; but those agitating now (and those swallowing the bitter pill in a silent protest) see things otherwise. What is it that the government knows which the citizens don’t? And should the government’s determination to use resources the way it considers it useful for national development pit it against the very people who will turn out to be beneficiaries of these measures?

Has the government set standards that are at variance with the expectations and interests of organized labour and political opponents, hence this collision course on which they are? What will the government hope to gain from being insensitive to the plight of the people? Indeed, our democracy is being tested. How we handle all these challenges will go a long way to determine its success or failure.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.