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Opinions of Saturday, 8 January 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

My 2011 guide to Oman Paradise

George Sydney Abugri

President JEA Mills spent nearly half of his first year in office under siege by striking teachers, nurses and doctors. Slowly, surely and inevitably, the scenarios that led to his predicament have started playing out all over again, Jomo.

Four days into the New Year, petroleum taxes took a thirty percent hike in the close wake of a rise in world oil market prices and amid widespread grumbling across the republic.

In Ghana, increases in petroleum prices are typically followed by impromptu welter weight bouts fought in the streets between drivers of public transport buses and cabs who respond to the price increases by unilaterally increasing transport fares, and city commuters determined to protect their paltry incomes from unauthorized plunder.

This time round, the national road transport unions quickly announced an 18 percent hike in transport fares on Tuesday in a bid to avoid such conflicts but loud words, fist cuffs and a few bloodied noses there were nonetheless.

The government knows the rest of the now only too familiar scenario. It is all elementary economics really: Increases in transport costs lead to corresponding increases in the cost of nearly all goods and services, which in turn erode the value of incomes. Soon, the famous “choi boi” chant in demand of corresponding wage hikes goes up among the ranks of organized labour.

The last thing we want in 2011 is a striking workforce but then, the acidic corrosion of personal incomes started even before petroleum prices went climbing hills all over again: Recent electricity tariff increases have already taken such a great toll on the finances of Ghanaian businesses and industries.

Ten Ghana Cedis worth of power units purchased for a pre-paid meter was enough to supply electricity to one Accra trader’s down town shop for more than a week. Since the last tariff increases, power purchased at the same price lasts for only two days. A thieving ghost apparently comes along every night and poaches the power.

Before this week’s petroleum price increases, the new electricity tariffs had already led to substantial increases in the cost of producing goods and services and manufacturers, hoteliers, caterers and others had already began passing on the added cost of production to us consumers.

All the same, Jomo, even unrelenting cynics have their occasional flashes of optimism, so here I am with a loose manifesto of hope for 2011. It is one based on the conviction that we can reach Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s planned Utopia for the people he led to independence if we are courageous enough to confront some tough truths about the factors impeding progress.

For example, we need to enforce more vigorously, a system that rewards good behavior and ensures that people do not find it easy to get away with indiscipline. The epidemic of armed banditry across the nation which we have had to endure and misbehavior of motorists in the absence of adequate law enforcement on the roads, illustrate the point.

There is road construction going on at the far end of the Accra-Tema Motorway. Arterial routes empty large streams of motor vehicles from Achimota, Abeka, Santa Maria, North Kaneshie, Nii Boye Town, Awoshie into this section of the road. As a result of the construction work in progress, the chaos along this stretch of the route is often total during rush hours.

This is where you get to see one of the grand mothers of traffic jams in the capital. Motorists along the route react to the jams in two distinct ways. Some stay on the road, moving across a distance of a few meters every ten minutes or so at a time.

The second group of motorists appropriates a section of the asphalt and the whole shoulder of the road to itself, creating in the process, an unauthorized second lane on the single-lane route. Motor vehicles move much faster along the illegal lane, throwing up clouds of dust from the bare shoulders of the road as they go.

The motorists using the illegal lane gain an advantage over the law-abiding motorists in terms of travel time and convenience. It is all symbolic of a system that ignores patriotism and good conduct and rewards lawlessness. This rank nonsense which is replicated on many roads in the capital, will hopefully engage the attention of traffic cops in 2011.

The year 2011 should be for standing our weird sense of national priorities back on its feet: I would gladly swap a few white elephants in and out of town and across the republic for a couple of hundred kilometers of good roads and a few new hospitals, clinics and rural health centers. Not least on the list of those added in recent years is a presidential mansion. My buddy Jack wants a presidential jet on the list.

It is not that we do not need the mansion or the jet. It is just that precedence should be given to more pressing national needs affecting the lives and welfare of our people.

This year should be one of national revival whose goal would be to equip us to keep pace with global standards and progress in all areas of human endeavour.

Pardon me if I am wrong, but methinks we are keeping the bar of qualitative assessment of performance in all areas of human endeavour so low that mediocrity is actually rewarded as excellence.

In 2011, our younger generation of musicians will do well to take its music beyond the strange lyrics usually rendered senseless and meaningless by forced rhyming words contrived for rhyming sake to higher levels of decency and international appeal.

Most lyrics are nothing but verbal pornography rendered in a curious mix of millennium pidgin and English of a variation of indeterminate origin.

There should be improved business practices in Ghana in 2011: Some so called entrepreneurs are plain-faced cheats and daylight unarmed robbers no less mean than their weapon-toting counterparts.

There is for example this company which imports and sells electronic junk otherwise called used computers. It advertises so copiously in the media you wonder whether it is the case that this distributor of used computers grows hard cash in his backyard.

A friend of mine went to buy a piece of the electronic scrap the other day. It was a stuffy and dusty place, Jomo, more like a mad hatter’s display room:

All manner of electronic junk was strewn all over the room. Pentium three, please! Sorry, no Pentium three, only two. Hey, you said in your advertisement that you had three and four as well. Sorry, all sold out. Alright, I will take the two, says my friend. GHc 140. Hey, in your advert you said GHc 120! Sorry, it is GHc 140!

Back at home my friend discovered to his horror that there was no keyboard. Back to the place he went and returned hours later with a black keyboard for a cream PC!

We need to hold four national symposiums in 2011: One on how to bring down the heart-rending statistics of daily road accident fatalities, the second on how to ensure an affordable and sustained supply of electricity, the third on a renewed war against armed banditry and the fourth on how to avoid chaos in 2012. Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com Website: www.sydneyabugri.com