Sitting Ghana Down Around the Common Fireside

Sun, 17 Mar 2013 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

I think the time has come for Ghana to organise a conclave in which the good and mighty of this country will be locked in a dark room until white smoke, signaling the solution to our problems, comes out of the chimney. This thought struck me with such force last Tuesday, and because it was my birthday I went all mystical and began to believe, prophet-like that it was a divinely inspired message from God. However, divine or not, I think we ought to convene a Grand National Convention or Ndaba, as such gatherings are known in Zulu and its related languages in Southern Africa.

I had planned an idyllic evening - watching football with a glass of chilled something - without thinking of the rather fragile state of electricity supply in the country, and naturally my area was plunged into darkness at the most inopportune time. I decided to listen to Citi FM, which normally relays a very lively football broadcast from the UK, but on this occasion the station was re-broadcasting a Roundtable on the budget which it had organised in the morning. I am happy I listened to that instead of the football match.

The Citi FM programme brought home to me vividly two related notions that can no longer be denied. The first is that this country is not in a good shape, and two is that no one party or group of people can dig us out of the current mess; it needs all of us in a major national heave-ho to get us to where we want to be. Any further denials, recrimination, politicization and blaming will amount to a death sentence without reprieve. I kid not; neither am I exaggerating. The Citi FM discussion brought together the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, his opposite number in Parliament on the Minority side, as well as civil society and research groups. As expected, Dr. Akoto Osei, the Shadow Minister tore into the budget and wondered how the huge deficit posted in it can be filled. The frightening bit is that the Minister did not appear convinced by his own words that things can get better soon.

There comes a moment in history when the normal ways of doing things are no longer sufficient and extraordinary measures are required because the nature of the beast requires it. We have reached such a point. To be able to reach such thinking demands rigorous jump from one set of beliefs to another, possibly one that is the exact opposite of the creed into which one was born. This is what is normally referred to as a leap of faith. This is now a requirement of our politicians if they are to be relevant to our purposes at the moment. The budget presented recently by the government shows a huge deficit created mostly by fiscal overruns and a huge structural tilt towards salary payments and other forms of recurrent expenditure, but the evidence is all around and has been for quite some years now. For example, probably no government ministry, department or agency has been paid anywhere near two-thirds of its budget allocation for the past several years now, and the problem has become worse with some departments not having received any operational funding for about one year now. In simple terms this means that people are being pad without working. The problem appears to have been worsened by a situation in which departments and agencies that have no accountable outputs have been shown to have swallowed large chunks of our national income at the expense of areas we would rather spend the money on such as health and education.

As we have known since 1992, the budget deficit rises every election year and reduces within the next three years until the next election cycle begins. The trouble is that the deficit as a percentage of the national cake grows every time and shows no sign of slowing. To make matters worse, until this last election year, the previous deficits were accounted for by capital expenditure, that is, “projects” such as new infrastructure and repairs. In that sense, it could be argued that the election years deficits brought some physical benefits to communities in the country. This year, the deficit has not brought any such infrastructure but appears to have been gulped down by the rapacious appetites of recurrence, that is, salaries and allowances.

The single spine salary structure has been fingered as the single biggest villain of the plot, but this is an absurd charge. The amount of money required to pay for the single spine was not a secret, or was the government not aware of its potential impact? Therefore, although it is reasonable to blame the new salary structure for the rise in the cumulative sum the government has to pay in salaries and allowances but it cannot be blamed for the budget overrun or the election year deficit. Now, no matter where the blame lies, the issue can no longer be swept under the carpet; to fall on another cliché, we need to tackle the bull by the horns.

How are we going to do this? The conventional wisdom is to heap the blame on the party in power and leave it to find a way out of the crisis. In this scenario, the opposition, however it is defined, will not play any constructive role but will snap at the heels of the government hoping it will stumble and fall. In normal times that is par for the course in any democracy. We are not in normal times. The other route is to call on all forces to get together to try and find a way. This is how governments talk but not how they walk. The task facing all of us is to get everyone to walk the talk of unity and cooperation. We know in advance that any proposal for a serious national convention will be rebuffed by the NDC because no party in power will accept that there is a crisis. The NPP may also reject the idea because any honest effort to meet the challenges together will mean sharing their ideas instead of undermining the government with them. This means that the national convention must be organised by civil society, including the media, community organisations and faith-based groups. The rationale for calling for such an Ndaba stems from the reasonable belief that among our 24 million Ghanaians we ought to find solutions to our problems. I have to explain that I am not calling for a Union government – that term leaves a bad taste in many mouths; I am calling for a convention in which citizens come together to think about specific problems in specific contexts without any preconditions and prejudices.

No one political party is responsible for the mess because its trail goes deep into the thinning recesses of history. No one party or group alone can resolve it. Indeed, we ought to remember that political parties do not have a monopoly of solutions and the current situation is too critical to leave to politicians alone to resolve. During these difficult times even a dedicated ostrich will have to admit that the inside of a hot pile of sand is no place to hide one’s head. It is better to come out and face the music. SHELF LIFE

JUJU, MAGIC AND WITCHCRAFT IN AFRICAN SOCCER – Myth or Reality is a book written by a man who is vocationally qualified to explore this intriguing theme. The author, Francis J Botchway is both an ordained Presbyterian Minister and a trained journalist. He is now the editor of the Presbyterian newspaper, the Christian Messenger. For this book he interviewed scores of people from inside football, including players, coaches and officials and the foreword is written by veteran sportswriter and former Deputy Minister of Sports Mr. Joe Aggrey. The book is available in several bookshops and also from the autor (0275 480 441)

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Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi