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General News of Monday, 20 January 2003

Source: The Independent

How Kufour Wooed Religious Leaders On Fuel Prices

When the going gets tough, it is no longer the tough that gets going, rather you consult God. So it came to pass that last Wednesday, January 15, President Kufour and a section of his Cabinet met a cross section of religious leaders to solicit support for the new fuel prices.

The Independent Osu Castle sources told them that President Kufour flanked by Veep Aliu Mahama and Senior Minister J.H. Mensah poured out his heart to the religious men and sought their intervention. The Government objective was simple: to inform the religious leaders about the impending increases in fuel prices and also to impress upon them to explain the issues involved to their various congregations. The meeting, according to information gathered by The Independent saw the Government side explaining all the issues involved in petroleum pricing to the religious leaders.

But perhaps the most interesting charge that is alleged to have been made to the religious men at the meeting was said to have come from Attorney General Nana Akufo-Addo. Nana Akufo-Addo is said to have told the religious men: “We want you to explain the issues involved to your congregations, just like you are able to explain to them the need to pay tithes and other obligations.”

The religious group, according to our sources, was effectively represented by renowned men of God like Bishop Duncan Williams of the Christian Action Faith Ministries, Bishop Agyin Asare of the Word Miracle Church, who is said to have made a powerful opening prayer, Dr. Sam Prempeh of the Presbyterian Church, Maulvi Wahab Adam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Representatives of the Muslim Council and other religious groups in the country.

The Independent was reliably informed that Bishop Duncan Williams for example made a suggestion that commercial vehicles should not be affected by the proposed fuel price increases for the sake of the poor. This suggestion was however effectively countered with an explanation that price discrimination will lead to all sorts of problems. Other suggestions by some of the religious leaders pointed to the fact that Government functionaries should also sacrifice a bit.

Presby Church Moderator, Rev Dr Sam Prempeh among others raised an issue about the late start of the meeting. The meeting was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. but it was not until 6 p.m. that President Kufour and Veep Aliu entered the meeting room. Until then, Senior Minister J.H. Mensah held the fort citing the potential of a United States strike at Iraq and other global trends to buttress the need for the increase in fuel price. One issue of discontent that The Independent learnt was circulating freely among the religious leaders was the fact that a letter that was sent to them inviting them for the meeting had no agenda.

The meeting, perhaps unprecedented in the history of this nation, saw the religious men literally put a way their cassocks and other religious garb to pose questions that can be the envy of many social commentators and media men.

The Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Turkson of Cape Coast for example, is on record to have asked the Government side for a guarantee that there will not be any increases in VAT and the utilities with an increase in fuel prices. Senior Minister J.H. Mensah is reported to have quickly agreed to this but President Kufour aware of the implications of a pact with men of God, quickly intervened on the grounds that it is too early yet to make such a promise.

The meeting, which was attended by the top men of the various Christian and Muslim groups in the country, took place at the Cabinet Room, of the Osu Castle. Our sources told us that the meeting, which was held in a frank atmosphere devoid of any intimidation, saw the men of God also exhibiting high level of frankness in their reactions.

Efforts to speak to some of the religious men who were said to have attended the meeting before we went to press were unsuccessful. In the case of Bishop Agyin-Asare, this Secretary told the paper over the phone that he was in a meeting and will reach us immediately he finished. However, as at press time, no call from that end had been received. Efforts to reach Bishop Duncan-Williams on the same issue were also unsuccessful before the paper went to press.

The Independent however learnt that the Government has within the last few weeks deepened the consultative process, meeting with stakeholders to share the ‘gospel’ of the imperatives of the fuel price increases.

Students leaders from the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) and the Ghana National Union of Polytechnic Students (GNUPS) were to have their turn last week whilst labour and other organised groups like the Civil Servants Association have had their turn.