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Opinions Mon, 2 Dec 2019

Property taxes and the rich, famous and powerful in Ghana

Indeed, this insanity of not taxing Ghana’s rich, famous, and powerful enough must stop now or we are screwed!

Not a day passes in Accra, on my travels from Adjiringano to Accra Central, without an encounter with the sirens, the flashing lights and police escorts of a minister of state, a member of parliament or a mega-church owner, zooming past and forcing me and other ordinary mortals on the road to give them way, so that they could whiz past to their more important duties than ours!

For the record, for all the 25 years I spent abroad, living in cities like Houston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, this arrogance of power has never been shoved into my face the way it is done here in my beloved Ghana! In those cities, hardly do you get reminded of the existence of such powerful personalities unless you see them on TV or hear of their names on the radio. Sadly and interestingly, this class of rich, famous, and powerful persons in Ghana have adopted this same arrogance of power when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes, proportionately and equitably, towards the development of our country, while we the masses are currently paying a disproportionately large chunk of the taxes!

To a very large extent, this class of tax-avoiders or evaders are the same people who own significant real estate in Ghana - residential, commercial, and industrial properties as well as large tracts of land in various areas. Most of these well-to-do and large-living persons reside in the best or the most affluent enclaves in our capital city: Trasacco, Cantonments, Labone, Ridge, Airport Residential Area, Dzorwulu, Airport Hills, and the Ambassadorial enclave of East Legon. Ask any of these “powerful” people how much property tax they pay on the multi-million dollar mansions they occupy, (in Trasacco, for example), and you should be shocked if they are honest enough to tell you the truth about their property tax bill!

Interestingly also, these are the same people who see absolutely nothing wrong with imposing huge taxes on even the phone calls we, the ordinary Ghanaians, make or the data we use in our messaging. They pretend that it is a tax on the profits of the Telcos, when they know too well that the Telcos will definitely pass on those taxes to the poor and vulnerable masses, who earn the least income in our society. Not only our phone calls - they won’t spare the fuel used by our trotro drivers to transport us to our various workplaces and social functions. Check your fuel prices and see what component of the one liter price constitutes tax to the government!

Again, while jealously protecting their turf on the properties they own, some of these people in positions of authority and decision-making are happy imposing outrageous import duties on all vehicles imported into our country, and all the food and drinks imported for our nourishment. It is these same people who have the resources to be building high-rise apartment and office buildings in the Airport Residential Area, Airport City and Ridge. Ask them how much tax they pay to government after these projects are completed and sold, and you will be shocked if they are honest enough to tell you the truth!

I am absolutely certain in my mind that this very smart, bright, intelligent people, who form the ruling class in our society, are definitely aware that LAND IS A GIFT FROM GOD ALMIGHTY TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE. Land is the most basic community resource provided by nature, to which every human being has an equal right. We all know that land is fixed in supply, and the few who are lucky enough to buy and own land or property join the wealthy class to enjoy exclusive rights to the land and its benefits, while alienating the poorer majority of us from its ownership, and therefore forcing us to pay rent to them, current land and property owners, in order to access this necessary resource. As we may notice, the collection of rents by property owners allows them to increase their wealth without contributing anything much to the productive efforts of society.

As the population grows, so too does the demand for land or property, therefore, forcing rents and property values to rise ever higher. In addition, increases in property values, resulting from publicly-funded infrastructure developments, such as roads, street lights, sewerage, drainage and public transport systems, unduly benefit property owners at the expense of the community at large.

Such unearned gains from property ownership encourage speculation in land and property, pushing prices ever higher, while exposing the economy to inflationary spirals. This is why economists recognize that a land tax or property tax is definitely an economically efficient and more equitable way to redistribute the revenue mobilization efforts of government. And this is where all the 16 Districts and Municipal Authorities in the Greater Accra Region, in particular, have their work completely cut out for them to reorganize and re-energize their property tax collection divisions to rake in the revenues they truly deserve from all the land and property located in their various jurisdictions for the orderly development of the much needed infrastructure in their various districts.

Indeed, if we have to form citizen vigilante groups to make sure that the rich, famous, and powerful who shove us off our roads on their way to their seemingly more important duties ALSO PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE OF TAXES ON THEIR LANDED PROPERTIES, so be it! We should all be visiting our various municipal authority offices to ensure that this is being done religiously, without any fear or favor, to generate the necessary revenues needed for fixing the roads, supporting the health facilities and helping educational entities in our various neighborhoods, as well as providing world-quality drainage systems and street lights that should make our lives a whole lot better.

Therefore, Accra Metropolitan, Tema Metropolitan, Adentan Municipal, Ashaiman Municipal, Ga East Municipal, Ga South Municipal, Ga West Municipal, La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal, La Dade Kotopon Municipal, Ledzokuku-Krowor Municipal, Ada East District, Ada West District, Ga Central District, Kpone Katamanso District, Ningo Prampram District, and Shai Osudoku District, here is your call to duty: Tsoooobooooiiiiii!!!

BY Peter Atsu Tsikata

CEO, Millennium Properties Ltd, Adjiringano, Accra

Columnist: Peter Atsu Tsikata