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Tears from the north: A letter to president Mahama

Wed, 9 Jul 2014 Source: Ziem, Joseph

BY Joseph Ziem

Dear Mr. John Dramani Mahama, I write to you as a concerned citizen of the Republic of Ghana, of which you are privileged to be the President. I beseech you to kindly take some few minutes of your time to read this letter, which carries grieving concerns of many of your northern brothers and sisters back home.

Mr. President, it will interest you to know that of late many northerners are not enthused a bit about you and your government. The reason being that life has suddenly become unbearably difficult as a result of rising prices of basic commodities such as milk, sugar, cereals, beans, gari, vegetables, utility tariffs, school fees, rent charges and medical bills. For instance, a small paint container of fresh tomatoes which used to sell at GH¢5.00 is now GH¢10.00 whiles a bowl of gari is selling at GH¢6.00 in the Tamale market.

You are also aware, that motorbikes are the cheapest means of transportation in northern Ghana. But, many citizens detest it whenever there is artificial fuel shortage or periodic increase in fuel prices which usually trigger increases in utility tariffs and prices of food. Following the nationwide fuel shortage, a gallon of petrol in Bole now is about GH¢45.00, Tamale GH¢25.00 whereas in Bolga a beer bottle of petrol is also GH¢10.00. A tractor service for an acre of farm has increased from GH¢30.00 in 2013 to about GH¢60.00 in 2014 as a result of high cost of fuel and spare parts. The farming season has just begun but not all farmers can afford tractor services.

Also, as at the beginning of this year, a motorbike with clutch was sold between GH¢2,000.00 and GH¢2,500.00 whiles a clutchless motorbike was between GH¢1,500.00 and GH¢2,000.00. A few months down the line, a motorbike with clutch is sold between GH¢3,000.00 and GH¢5,000.00 whereas a clutchless motorbike goes for GH¢2,500.00.

Moreover, even before polytechnic teachers return to the classroom from their protracted strike, there are fresh reports that another 35,000 trainee nurses and midwives have embarked on strike because they have not been paid their allowances for several months. The Christian Health Association of Ghana has also directed over 180 of its members nationwide to turn away clients with health insurance because your government owes them. This further compounds effort by government to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates which are the highest in northern Ghana.

Mr. President, currently in Tamale where I reside, you will be amazed and shocked to know that people just hate to hear your name being mentioned while others mention your name with such disdain at the least provocation. I am sure every misfortune in one’s life now is blamed on you. Incidentally, this is supposed to be one of the strongholds of your political party where you garnered more votes in the disputed 2012 elections to win the presidential bid.

Subjectively, the only persons who appear to be happy with you and your government are those who are closer to you and get to eat well. Often times, they are those who shout loudest during radio and television discussions on murky issues in your government. They will defend every decision you take no matter how economically unfavourable it will be to the majority of us Ghanaians whose suggestions you will not get to hear.

Mr. President, you are very familiar with the economic conditions in the north than any of your predecessors because you grew up here. You are aware that a greater majority of citizens of the Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions live on less than a dollar a day. As president of this country, when you watch millions of the tax payers’ money being mismanaged by state agencies such as GYEEDA, SADA, to mention just a few, whiles penury continues to stare you in the face each time you visit the north, how do you feel as a northerner yourself?

You have been in politics for long and thus have the experience to take citizens of this country to the land of opportunities no matter the difficulties and challenges that come your way. Unfortunately, since the inception of your government up till date, many of us northerners have completely lost hope because we are not sure of the future. Corruption did not start in your regime, but it has been popularized and glorified by some of your appointees and their cronies. Mr. President, how then do you complain when the blame is heaped on you because you refuse to take drastic action against an appointee who is accused of corruption? Seriously, northerners will find it hard to forgive you since you are the reason why we are being insulted by others.

I am a Christian just like many Ghanaians and many northerners. My religion teaches me to pray for leaders such as the president, chiefs, government ministers, legislators, district chief executives, pastors and all those who take major decisions on behalf of the majority. It is citizens’ obligation to pray for their leaders for God’s protection, guidance and direction in order that they (leaders) may take wise decisions even if they are faced with opposition within and outside their government or organisation. I doubt if there is anything contrary to this in Islam. However, Mr. President, it appears God has done his part but you have just decided on your own or may be through bad counsel from others who do not care, to bring hardship upon Ghanaians and for that matter already suffering northerners who are yet to reap any benefits from the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA).

Truth be told, you know that northern Ghana is one of the cheapest places to live. A woman in Savelugu or Lawra district can trade with GH¢50.00 and be able to take care of her family members. But sadly, Mr. President it is now extremely difficult if not impossible, for many women in Northern Ghana to come by GH¢50.00 or more to invest in Kulikuli and shea butter processing or pito brewing business. The salary of each of your ministers which is reported to hover around GH¢9,000.00 including other per diems as at 2013 can be a startup capital for about 180 women in Nandom-Piiri where I come from.

Mr. President, I know that human as you are, you are fallible and despite your fallibility, you can repent by judiciously using our resources entrusted in your care, and also take stern actions against any of your appointees who misapply state resources. A classic example is the manner in which the outgoing Minister of Youth and Sports Elvis Afriyie Ankrah is reported to have used resources during the ongoing 2014 World Cup. Kofi Humado, also a former Youth and Sports Minister and currently Minister for Agric is another example. He allegedly supervised the signing of contracts between the government and Zoomlion and other private companies in his former post and they later turned out to be bad contracts. Every right thinking Ghanaian is calling for their heads but ironically, only you Mr. President, still finds it prudent to reassign each of them.

The gripe among many northerners now is that, “John Mahama is spoiling the chances of other more competent northern politicians who are in the queue to contest for president in future”. Mr. President, have you suddenly forgotten of the smeared campaign that your opponents used against you in 2012? Our sages of old have a saying that “He who has been bitten by a snake before runs away each time he sees an earthworm”.

Going forward, I will like to suggest that the thousands of farmers back home are waiting for you to address the problem of expensive tractor services so that they will be able to farm this year and not be consumed by hunger at the end of the season. In addition to this, they wish that the annual fertiliser subsidy programme will be implemented early enough in order not to cause any crop failure like it happened to many farmers last year.

Mr. President, you will also have to discontinue with social intervention programmes such as school feeding programme, free school uniforms, free shoes to pupils and the now infamous free sanitary pad for girls in basic schools. Please, you are making a lot of parents lazy and excuse me to say, irresponsible. You can pass a law that will force every parent to send their children to school instead of using food to entice them to go to school. What northerners want from your government is empowerment. We want your government to make available more tractors, irrigation facilities and tarred roads and electricity linking farming communities. When this is done for us and we farm and transport produce to the market for sale, we can afford school uniforms, sandals/boots, nutritious meals, exotic sanitary pads and learning materials for our school boys and girls.

There is also an urgent need for you Mr. President to compel any of your appointees who finds himself or herself in any kind of corruption allegation to resign immediately and allow investigations to be conducted. This is what Ghanaians want from you and not you reassigning the person simply because he has been good to you in the past, otherwise you allow many people to think that you and that person are partners in crime.

Mr. President, there is also an urgent need for the problem of fuel shortage currently in the country to be addressed without further delay. Ghanaians and for that matter northerners deserve better. If subsidy is the cause of government’s indebtedness to the Bulk Distribution Companies, then scrap the policy because after all those who are supposed to benefit from it are not benefiting.

Finally Mr. President, your government ought to cut down on excessive borrowing. I understand the country’s domestic debt is more than our external debt or is it the other way round. Whichever way it is, that is too bad. Please prioritise what you intend to do in your first and perhaps last term, and collect more taxes from foreign companies that are enjoying tax holidays. Widen the tax net to capture many of the untaxed in the informal sector of the economy. Also block all loopholes in places where taxes are collected and punish those who attempt to fleece the state.

The writer is a journalist based in Tamale. Views or comments may be sent to him via ziemjoseph@gmail.com.

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph