Feature Article of Sunday, 20 December 2009
Columnist: Gausu, Mohammed
It is a fact that most Ghanaians do not base their Election Day decisions on the content of a party’s manifesto or the promises made on the campaign platforms. They will vote for the party even if it does not present a manifesto. However, this empirical fact did not stop the parties from making all kinds of outlandish claims of what they can do to make the citizens “have life and have it more abundantly”.
I wonder if there was anyone in this country who believed that because the Vice President famously asked voters to dip their hands in their pockets and see if they would find money, it meant that the NDC in power would convert our pockets into mini-size ATM machines. Or that the President was going to be able to keep his promise to reduce fuel prices “drastically”, even if he wanted. I also did not believe that the NPP was going to be able to keep their promise to make secondary education free; at least, not within the first 4 years after the 2008 elections. Yet we went ahead and voted for them anyway.
That being said, there are certain promises that are so basic that it smacks of an insult to our collective intelligence when a political party makes them and can’t keep them. For instance, I cannot understand how difficult it is for Professor Mills to be “President for all Ghanaians” as he promised in his inaugural address. Why is it necessary for the President to “direct” that all his appointees “make space” for NDC “party functionaries”? What about the rest of the population, who also count themselves as Ghanaians and Prof. Mills as their President? What about the millions of NDC voters, who are not necessarily “party functionaries”?
The President came to power promising to be “father for all” and “care for you”. But a few months down the line, he has in both deed and word, classified the citizens of Ghana into “beloved” and “forsaken” children. “Some” NDC functionaries are the beloved and the rest of us are forsaken. Even the Rawlings side of the “beloved citizens” is seemingly disappointed in the “father for all”.
Apparently, the President’s campaign slogan: “I care for you” was only half of what he really meant. He actually meant to say: “I care for you, but I care for me first”. Most actions of the President have shown that he has stopped reading his party’s manifesto and pointedly refused to review his platform rhetoric. Otherwise, he should have known that it was dishonest (to put it mildly) to reduce fuel prices by 5% and then increase it by about 40% (cumulatively) in a matter of less than three months. Frankly, I feel insulted (I believe most Ghanaians do) when in the wake of such clear dishonesty, the government’s PR machine attempts to make us believe that, government is doing us a favour. How can anyone convince Ghanaians that when the international price of crude oil went to US147 in 2008, the highest we ever bought a gallon of petrol was GH¢5.10, but at an average of US$70 in 2009, we have to endure the price of petrol at GH¢5.20. This defies any kind of logic, even if the exchange rate for the US Dollar has depreciated somewhat.
During the 2008 campaign two occupations that attracted the sympathy of the President were, the drivers because of “high fuel prices” at GH¢5.10 a gallon of petrol and the fishermen, because of paired-trolling. But since coming to power, the Government has not only taken the price of petrol to GH¢5.20, they have also increased the fee for vehicle examination by 100%. Even the fee for examination of Agricultural equipment (mechanically propelled) has been increased by 100% in the 2010 budget, what is worse, the fee are now payable bi-annually; making it an effective increase at the rate of 300% per annum.
In my view, this increase in the examination fee for agricultural equipment by a whooping 300% renders the government’s claim that the re-imposition of taxes on imported rice was meant to boost local production of the commodity insincere at best. More like giving the farmer with the right hand and taking the same away with the left. Stories about the shortage of pre-mix fuel during the peak of the fishing season are already well documented. Suffice it to say that government’s handling of the sector was less than impressive to say the least.
A cursory study of the budget shows that statutory transfers to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) fell short by a whooping 48.6%, while transfers to the District Assemblies Common Fund and the GETFund fell short by 36.9% and 29.6% respectively below budget. Meanwhile, the budget for the Presidency has been overrun by a whooping ¢43 billion in nine (9) months. I might add, nine months in which the President apparently did not engage in any frivolous and “profligate” global sight-seeing. Clearly, this should tell Ghanaians where the priorities of the government lie. Indeed, “I care for you, yes, but I care for my self first”. For all the talk about the economic plight of the ordinary Ghanaian, it is the presidency that is getting the long end of the stick, the rest of us are left carrying the can.
The government has not missed an opportunity to bemoan the appalling conditions in the police service. They have given the impression that since assuming office, our police service has suddenly become an angelic lot; clomping down on crime and facing armed robbers squarely. The “shoot-to-kill policy” adopted by the police administration to deal with the alarming spate of armed robbery, received overwhelming endorsement of the President at a recent police graduation ceremony.
Alas, when the President got the opportunity to show to the Ghana Police Service that his words of endorsement can be matched by his financial commitment to the service, he failed miserably. Only GH¢5.4 million is allocated in the 2010 budget to “complete” 38 police housing units across the country. This amount is 4% less than the GH¢5.6 million “spent” on the renovation of less than 90 bungalows for Ministers in Accra alone. Clearly, the government’s priorities lie elsewhere. Yet it is in the allocation to the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) that the Governments half-hearted commitment to its promises is most glaring. The President promised in his state of the nation address that SADA was to be established with an initial seed money of GH¢200 million in the first year. In subsequent years, it will be allocated GH¢100 million per annum from state budgetary sources. In the end, only GH¢25 million was allocated in all in the 2010 budget. This is 87.5% short of the promised GH¢200 million seed money and 75% short of the GH¢100 million annuity.
Whichever way one looks at it, this is woefully inadequate, and given that 1 in 3 NDC members of parliament, including the Majority Leader are from the northern part of the country, it is an appalling show of contempt that none of the concerned MPs were told the reason for the cut in funds. Mr. A.S.K. Bagbin was justifiably enraged about the development and had to publicly reprimand the President for it. Not that his public rebuke of the President changed the fortunes of SADA, but at least, it gives opportunity for the President to know that when you make promises, reasonable people, even within your party expect you to honour them. After all, what is the “integrity” of a man who does not honour his promises?
Budget deficit has become the new monstrosity in town. Government bemoans the “huge deficit” left by the previous government. According to the IMF/World Bank staff report of 30th June 2009, Ghana’s budget deficit in 2008 was 14.5% of GDP. Of course, this is a large deficit which is problematic if not placed in the proper context. In 2008 we were still building a presidential palace, which has now been converted into a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We (Ghanaians) paid for 4 stadia, hosted the Ghana 2008 African Cup of nations’ tournament, conducted parliamentary and presidential elections, including a run-off and also held an African Union Summit. Above all, we paid US$147 a barrel for crude oil.
One could always argue that some of these expenditures were not inevitable. But when compared with the 10.2% of GDP expected deficit by the end of 2009, considering that no major expenditure activity has taken place this year, besides the inauguration of the President, it looks reasonable. It is difficult then to argue against the 2008 deficit given the series of major activities that accounted for it, vis-à-vis the deficit for 2009. One cannot help but wonder what the deficit would have been if the government had undertaken similar activities with large capital outlays.
If I had the opportunity to advise the President, this is what I would say: “Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity. Well, my honest view is that, you would do yourself a lot of good if you would go easy on some of the promises. Since you won the elections, you have been making new promises. Never mind that you can’t even remember the old ones, let alone fulfill them.
“The majority of Ghanaians would be happier if you would only keep your focus on a few promises and actualize them. That way, there will be something the people of Ghana will remember you for. People will not remember you for the number of promises you made to them, but the number of promises you kept. And Mr. President, whoever advised you to announce in Tamale that you would be running in the 2012 elections made you look desperate indeed.
“It was like a footballer of a losing team who takes a penalty kick before the referee has blown his whistle. No matter how spectacular the goal, it’s never going to count. Besides, it made you look weak in your own party; as though if you did not say it and someone else did, you were going to be outdone. As if you wanted to announce before your founder might anoint another like he did you at Swedru. Whatever it was, it made you look selfish to begin seeking re-election when you have not begun fulfilling the promises you made to the people of Ghana. More like, ‘I care for you, but I care fore me first’”
Mohammed Gausu C/o Buipewura’s Palace Buipe, N/R