One John Too Many

Fri, 3 Dec 2010 Source: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

By Sydney Casely-Hayford, Sydney@bizghana.com

We are in a leadership crisis and it should not take a wizard to realize this. Last week the President called on religious leaders to come to his side and help him fix he moral fabric of the country. In his own admission, pastors and mallams have more clout with the congregation than he as President. It was a passionate appeal and his wailing call was felt all over. So much that he was nominated “Tornuu” of the week on JoyFm ‘s Weekend City Show.

Yesterday, 30th November, Vice President John Mahama joined the rest of Ghana to limply complain about the utility companies and their poor service, especially in water and electricity. His whining call did not sit well with Ghanaians, because really, “na who cause am?”

Successive governments have stubbornly refused to call MD’s and utility boards to book over the years because they are political appointments. The water shortages and electricity interruptions have been with us for as long as I matured into teenage forty-three years ago. Both Managing Directors of the utility companies have stated publicly that they are hampered with outmoded equipment and they are severely cash strapped. Government is the biggest culprit when it comes to paying its bills to contractors and service vendors and the finance policy of starving the economy of cash at the expense of macro indicators and pleasing the IMF statistics is the end result of the crisis in services.

But who is to blame? President Mills seems out of touch with the everyday running of affairs in the country and John Mahama is all over the place locally and internationally.

We have lost a certain focus and purpose of direction. It is not clear whether we have just initiated a class-assault budget or whether we have truly ushered in a pro-poor poverty alleviation program.

This country sorely needs to raise its tax revenue base and rope in much required revenue to meet recurring expenditure. We must also shrink the size of government and reduce the burden on the national coffers. One thing is very clear Ghanaians are not getting value for their tax cedis. Missing from the budget is the potential revenue from State Enterprises that could have been divested. The changes in Real Estate tax exemptions favored one company, STX. That change alone deprives Ghana of a possible $750 million in taxes over the next 5 years (calculations available on request from Sydney@bizghana.com). If Government really wanted to encourage low cost housing why could we not have either held the tax exemption or even increased it for companies providing low cost housing, valued to the public at say Ghc25,000 or less?

Without pre-empting the issues on VAT and Stamp taxes, these omitted details from the budget suggest that Government was testing the waters to gauge the backlash in the country before introducing further taxes. The stamp taxes will go up and the impact will only affect the more financially vulnerable in society.

I don’t know too many rich people who spend their money on sachet water and yet Government talking heads are desperately trying to convince us that the changes in sachet water packaging is also a pro-poor agenda.

The crux of the problem dovetails into oil revenue management and our capacity to absorb the oil dollars as we realize cash. The argument currently being made is to isolate the oil revenue and manage it independently of Government. This implies that if we should discover platinum or iron ore in large quantities, say 10% of GDP, we will treat that separately as well, so Government can come to us with a failed agenda and blame the independent body of not supporting its agenda fully and thus the underdeveloped infrastructure.

This suggestion gives Government an excuse not to be accountable. The wealth of the country is trusted to the government in power to demonstrate to us as a people how they will cater for our needs and improve our status. A Government should ride or fail on its planned programs and execution of such. We cannot successively carve out revenue territory and tie Government’s hands. However, we must devolve laws to guide and control what Government does, hence a Revenue Act that is clear on Government’s limits.

This country is not ready to absorb an injection of so much cash. True, we have an infrastructure shortfall, but before we go throwing more money at projects on the development board, someone please account to me for all the money we have borrowed over the years and that which we have been gifted. Where has it really gone? I don’t see it around me.

If you want to see a project that is going well in this country and is visible to everyday life, take a look at the Millennium Account project road from Obetsebi to Mallam junction. Government does not manage this project. Then if you want a face up with chaos, take a trip to Mallam junction any morning at 6.30am for the “3-mile jam”. It should be a tourist attraction. The irony here is one of them requires cash, the other only needs common sense and that has become an expensive commodity in Ghana.

We are spending our time on issues of fear and panic and complaining about the politics of insults. We have laws against libel, slander and defamation of character in this country. What more?

With so much “basaa-basaa” all over the place and rather than complaining about the perceived abuses of press freedom and insults and lack of services by government institutions, the two Johns could flex and use their authority to fix what their ministers are not doing, if they want to do some work. We are in a leadership crisis, because our topmost two leaders are in a quagmire.

Maybe this country has seen too many Johns in office. From Jerry John, to John Kufuor to John Mills and if we are not careful John Mahama?

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney