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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

President Mahama Must Be Sensitive to Plight of Ghanaians

That fuel prices went up in Ghana two days ago is indefensible. That ordinary Ghanaians are already suffering because of a poor economy is enough reason for government to reverse course. According to government sources, the prices of petrol, diesel, and liquefied petroleum gas went up by about 15 to 20 percent. The government’s position regarding the price increases is that the approximately GHC 2.4 billion that it had been paying as subsidy to maintain prices at their former levels was no longer feasible.

The Tema Oil Refinery, which had refined imported crude oil for many years, is said to be working at less-than-optimal levels, which had forced government to purchase more refined oil products than it had envisaged. But Ghana, even before it became an oil-producing nation, always paid a subsidy on petroleum products to lessen the burden on the general population, so why now? Why are we removing this important subsidy even though we are now an oil producer? Can government not maintain the subsidy with profits from oil exports? What are we doing with the proceeds from oil exports?

A few months ago, members of the legislative and executive branches of government proposed large salary increases for themselves, although equally important sectors, such as health, were still struggling to get government to honor promises it had made to them regarding salary increases. Why should medical doctors, for example, resort to a walkout before promises made to them by government are honored? Do we not have honorable people serving in government today?

We live in a country where priorities tend to be misplaced, in a country where self-seeking men and women, after getting elected to serve in Parliament, are unable to discern and fulfill the needs of the common people. As a result, our leaders continue to implement myopic policies year after year, with nothing to show for our self-rule since Kwame Nkrumah was forced out of office in 1966. What irks this writer more than anything else is the senseless clamor by legislators for houses and cars as soon as they get elected to Parliament, as if getting into Parliament were for personal gain, rather than about the business of ordinary citizens.

With more than 90 percent of the Ghanaian population living in abject poverty, the government’s insistence on removing the subsidy on petroleum products will only worsen the plight of the ordinary man and woman. Why has President John Mahama made such a reckless decision? Is this what Ghanaians voted for – to be forced deeper into poverty and helplessness? If we survived with a subsidy on petroleum products long before oil was discovered, why do we have to remove the subsidy after we have begun to export oil? Once again, what is going on with our oil revenues? Who is responsible for rendering an account of the oil revenues to Ghanaians? I call on government to rescind the price increases now.

Ghana should have made some real progress 56 years after independence, but what do we see today? We are still living in cities where there are no drainage systems to clear the streets when it rains. One rainstorm and our principal streets are flooded. What about our health care system? We have Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals that are nothing more than infirmaries of death. These flagship hospitals are so poorly equipped, the nation’s leaders are unwilling to place their faith in the hands of doctors working at these facilities. What does that say to the ordinary man and woman who cannot raise $5,000.00 to travel overseas for medical care? Visionless leaders I call them because they lack the foresight to know that we cannot call our nation modern unless we have well-equipped and well-staffed hospitals to take care of our pedestrian and serious health care needs. How much will it cost us to purchase modern medical equipment for our hospitals? My heart bleeds for my nation.

Well, it gets worse. We have poorly funded schools that produce semi-literates each year, yet government functionaries are driving around in expensive vehicles on roads riddled with potholes. The country needs to build more highways, feeder roads, and frontage roads that reach our farming communities, to increase the likelihood that farm produce and harvested crops will get to our cities as quickly as possible. Is anyone in government thinking about these things? What types of infrastructure do we need today? What about in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? We need to plan, plan, plan!

I call on government to immediately revert to the old prices of petrol, diesel, and liquefied petroleum gas, if it truly cares about ordinary Ghanaians. After all, the consequences of an increase in the prices of petroleum products should not be lost on anyone! If the government is withdrawing the subsidy because a few notorious people keep smuggling our petroleum products to Burkina Faso, Togo, and Ivory Coast, then the government is leaning on a pillar of straw. What rather needs to be done is for government to increase security at border crossings to help arrest the smugglers and lock them up.

If John Mahama cannot empathize with poor Ghanaians, then he needs to reorder his priorities as president. If John Mahama has never lived in poverty, then he needs to visit poor Ghanaian communities to see how his fellow citizens are barely surviving. If John Mahama cares about ordinary Ghanaians who depend on their worthless salaries to get to and from work, to purchase food and medicines, and to pay their monthly rents, then he will reverse the increase in the prices of petroleum products. Enough is enough – Ghanaians need a break from the sweltering heat of poverty and poor governance.

© The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is a doctoral student who also serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the same university. He is a member of the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration in the U.S.A. He may be followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce. He invites the reader to join the pressure group “Good Governance in Ghana” on Facebook.com, which he superintends. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.