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Opinions of Saturday, 29 March 2014

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Both Messrs. Akoto-Osei And Ametor-Quarmyne Are Wrong

On Economic Panacea, Both Messrs. Akoto-Osei And Ametor-Quarmyne Are Wrong

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

At an economic-development forum sponsored by the Daily Graphic, the country's leading government-owned newspaper, and the Fidelity Bank in Accra, a former Finance Minister in the Kufuor administration was widely reported to have suggested that in order to sustain Ghana's fragile and fast-declining economy, the Mahama government needs to promptly suspend "portions of the single-spine pay policy which takes about 70-percent of the wage bill" (See "Job Cuts Not The Panacea To Salvage Economy - Ametor-Quarmyne" / 3/12/14).

His proposal may be reasonably based on practical reality, but the fact of the matter is that scapegoating the single-spine payment policy is absolutely no constructive approach to resolving the country's current economic crisis. Rather, it is the abject lack of progressive and innovative initiatives on the part of the executive leadership that has engendered this crisis. In sum, what the country needs presently is an exponential expansion of its employment capacity, in both the public and private sectors. And this can be effectively done by balancing our extractive and/or primary industrial capacity with manufacturing jobs of the kind that add considerable value to our primary agricultural production, for example.

As a major producer of cocoa, for instance, we need to train a large number of workers in the skill-intensive sector of the confectionary industry. This is one area in which the government has a great chance of attracting foreign investment. The same innovative policy initiative could govern the area of food production. In both preceding sectors of our economy, much more needs to be done than currently prevails. In tandem with the foregoing, also, is the development of high-end storage facilities, to ensure that distribution is effectively controlled throughout the year and economic stability maintained.

In other words, establishing cheap political point-scoring mushroom universities is highly unlikely to do the trick. Rather, our existing polytechnical institutions and universities ought to be upgraded and expanded with satellite campuses all across the country and their curricula made relevant to the sociocultural and economic needs of the country. Suspending portions of the single-spine pay policy would be decidedly counterproductive, while members of the three traditional branches of government continue to be relatively overpaid.

Then also, laying off public-sector employees would merely amount to the egregiously shallow strategy of shifting the current crisis from one sector of the economy to another - it is strikingly and unwisely akin to robbing our proverbial Peter to pay Paul. There could, however, be imposed a disciplinary freeze on public-sector hiring until such time as the latter sector becomes viable enough to readily absorb more workers. Indeed, our tax-collection system may leave much to be desired, but it clearly does not reflect the enormity of the problem. How the little that is collected gets allocated or prioritized is what is wrong with the system.

Which, of course, is not to suggest that both the revenue-collection net and the re-distribution of the same could not be remarkably improved at the same time. Then also, maybe Dr. Akoto-Osei needs to be alerted to the practically inescapable fact that the single-spine pay policy is pointedly about economic justice and not sheer philanthropy on the part of the government.

Mr. Ametor-Quarmyne may also be only partially correct in observing that laying off more public-sector employees would be tantamount to "political suicide." Unfortunately, though, what we are dealing with here far transcends party politics or tactical patronage and electoral advantage. Rather, it squarely is about the long-term survival of the country at large.

Thus if in going the way of the legendary Okomfo Anokye the country ends up the primary beneficiary of a new lease on life, then, of course, such political suicide would have been more than worthy of the price.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
March 13, 2014