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Opinions of Friday, 14 March 2003

Columnist: Annobil, Ato

Looking To Ourselves ? The Issue Of Remittances etc

It was abundantly demonstrated that , the majority of Ghanaians greeted the victory of the NPP with positive expectations.

Even those who were not particularly known to be friends of the NPP saw at least the chance for the country to experience a different approach to dealing with our myriad of problems.

Two years have come and gone and eyes are now slowly but eagerly focussing on the next elections. From some quarters we hear of a success for the government which deserves to be offered a second term , whilst from others it has been no better.

Luckily, I am yet to hear of any side which favours a return to the past, not even the NDC seems to support such fatalistic tendencies .

I therefore see us gradually moving towards the more productive direction of recognising whichever party is ruling as ?OUR GOVERNMENT? instead of ? government of party X,Y,or Z?. That way we can criticise and praise without necessarily considering our personal inclinations to this or that party.

The government has been heard from all platforms praising Ghanaians living abroad for their remittances home and even recognising it as among the top sources of foreign inflows of currency into Ghana. The last time I read it stood at 1.4 billion US dollars, a pretty sum indeed.

What I am yet to see or hear is any concrete and convincing attempts by government to increase this figure. Bluntly put , I think the government is doing hardly anything to encourage Ghanaians abroad to send more money home. This stems from the premise that practically , no Ghanaian living abroad sends all his or her extra income or savings home. From a small survey , I have gathered that whatever remittances are sent home, are the remainders after the person has deducted all his personal savings etc. So Ghanaians are saving money in foreign lands which are given under very uncomfortable and immoral conditions as loans and grants to Ghana. Why cant the government get this money from its own people under more humane terms?

Even though these remittances indirectly help the economy, they are mostly sent directly to help projects being undertaken by the senders or their relations. Very little is made directly available to government and banks.

I read a story about a deputy minister assuring Ghanaians of government trying to put in place a system to make it possible for Ghanaians living abroad to help pay for the country?s debt. This was his feeble response after a Ghanaian group in North America has proposed that Ghanaians abroad should help pay the country?s debts.

Many have been those who criticise the president for spending so much time and money jetting around the world. His government tries to justify these trips as necessary to bring in foreign investments into the country be it HIPC , IFC and co.

So why should the President run around foreign countries to beg foreigners, foreign banks and foreign governments to invest their money in Ghana when his own people have the same money?

My humble suggestion is for the government , through the banks to work out secure, effective and mutually beneficial schemes to encourage Ghanaians abroad to at least keep some of their savings in Ghana.

I am sure some readers will quickly attempt correct me that there exists the possibility for Ghanaians living abroad to open foreign currency accounts in Ghana , but let them ask any one who has tried to do that in the last few years and they would tell how cumbersome it is. What with the condition of providing an existing account holder to introduce the prospective one to the bank; the high bank charges on the accounts and withdrawals, and no interest? All these notwithstanding the alarming stories of embezzlements and other financial crimes committed in the banking and insurance sectors.

The catchwords I insist on here are security, efficiency and mutually beneficial.

When these points are worked on with a lot of professionalism , I bet we would see a massive inflow of money into the formal system . As extension , I believe when similar methods are employed , Ghanaians living abroad would be encouraged to buy shares in companies and projects in Ghana.

It is estimated that over a million Ghanaians live a broad . Lets say that on average each one can put aside a dollar a day to be saved in his account in Ghana. Most of you out there would agree this is a very conservative estimate. Multiply that by 365 and one can have an idea of how much extra capital would be made available to the banking sector in Ghana per year!

Wompe wei , na wope dien?

Another issue which bothers me is the collection of student loans. Last time I went to Ghana I decided to pay what I owe.

Again, putting it bluntly, I had to provide evidence that I owed the state before given the right to pay.

We are constantly reminded of the several billions of cedis outstanding in student loans and the difficulty to increase the loans for present students to meet part of the ever spiralling cost of education in Ghana. Yet we don?t seem to be eager in collecting what is owed. I understand people working in Ghana are made to pay back the loans through their contributions to the social security schemes. These are the same people who cannot live on their income even if nothing is deducted . On the other hand I am yet to meet a Ghanaian living abroad who can honestly claim they cannot afford to pay back their loans; for most , these are peanuts. The sad part is that their inability to pay means the loans are deducted from the pension benefits of their guarantors when they retire

Why cant we have a system through our embassies and high commissions where Ghanaians abroad can check the accounts of their student loans and make payments? There should also have mechanisms in place for penalising non-payment., for example when Ghanaians need services from the embassies or at home.

I have heard of the Otumfuo Education Fund . This is a very laudable project but it seems the message is not going far enough. I expect that , as supplement to Valco Trust and others , there should also be a national educational fund run by state-appointed private professionals , for Ghanaians living abroad to contribute to the improvement of education in the country. I am confident that Ghanaians living abroad are prepared to make pay backs for what the country has done for them and also to contribute more effectively towards the better Ghana they would like to return to. I therefore implore the government to give them the chance to do so.


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