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Opinions of Saturday, 24 October 2009

Columnist: Appeadu, Charles E.

Oh Ghana! – Let’s start to do a few things right!

I have lived in North America since 1987 and during these 22 years, I have learned a lot. There are many Ghanaians who hold the view that blacks are inferior to whites and that the black man cannot manage his own affairs. I have heard this even from very well educated Ghanaians. Although I strongly disagree with these individuals, I do not blame them because the evidence is overwhelming in their favor. I hold a strong view that development is a result of visionary leaders doing certain things right and motivating those they lead to follow in their footsteps. Those who are privileged enough to be called upon to lead in any capacity should constantly seek to improve the lot of those they lead. In this short piece I will select a few areas in which I think we can easily make improvements.

SSNIT: I think SSNIT should provide all contributors with annual statements of total contributions to date and an estimate of their retirement benefits, if they were to retire in the current year. This annual statement should also provide estimates of how much the contributor’s dependants will receive from SSNIT if the contributor were to die that year. This information is critical as it will help SSNIT contributors plan for their retirement. Individuals who judge their estimated monthly retirement income to be below their expectations will probably look for ways to enhance their income by saving more or engaging in some other side business. These efforts will contribute to economic activity in our system. Why is SSNIT not doing this simple thing? Could it be that SSNIT is afraid that it may not be able to pay the amounts promised/estimated to the contributors and that it is better these contributors are kept in the dark so that they cannot question any amount given them at retirement? This is the wrong way to think about this. Here in the US, the Social Security Administration provides information on its ability (or inability) to make the full promised payment in the future. If a shortfall is expected in the future, this information is made known well in advance so the nation can find solutions before that future date arrives.

NHIS: The National Health Insurance concept is a laudable idea and superior to the cash and carry system. However, as in any major undertaking, there were issues that needed to be addressed to minimize abuse and to ensure the long term sustainability of the scheme. In March 2006, I emphasized to some NHIA board members the need for a national identification card that should be issued to citizens at birth. I intimated to them that one of the greatest threats to the survival of the new system would be unintended access by nationals of the neighboring countries. If a small percentage of Nigerians, Togolese and Burkina Faso citizens decide to access the system by paying the same heavily subsidized amounts that Ghanaian citizens pay, the system will be overwhelmed. Sometimes, I don’t know why certain things take so long to do in Ghana. The NHIS system should also be carefully monitored and providers who are caught abusing the system should be punished severely and publicly. Well qualified individuals of integrity with knowledge and experience in actuarial science, finance, insurance, and medicine should be employed to run the system. These appointments should not be politicized!

Oil and Infrastructure: Like many other Ghanaians, I prayed for many years that oil will be discovered in Ghana. However, I also prayed that God should raise up leaders of integrity before the oil is discovered. The mere fact that we sometimes see oil discovery as a curse to a nation is in itself very sad. How can more money be a curse, except it is put in the hands of greedy and evil people? I suggest the government scurries the entire globe for accomplished Ghanaians of integrity to make up an oil commission which will be the trustee of revenues we receive from oil. These individuals, carefully selected from all major ethnic groups in Ghana will be charged with the mandate to use the oil money for the development of much needed infrastructure like drainage systems, roads, gas pipelines to residential and commercial areas, water and electric power. In addition, the oil money should be targeted towards improving our health care system and education. The commission should appear before a parliamentary committee at least once a year to discuss development proposals. All regions, especially the Western Region, should get their fair share of these development projects.

Per Diem and Corruption: The concept of per diem was put in place to ensure that workers who are sent to work outside their cities of abode don’t incur additional expenses in rent, food, transportation etc. The idea is good but it can be abused. One unintended consequence of giving monetary per diem is the occurrence of unnecessary travels by executives and other staff. Many nations have minimized the potential abuses while still upholding the principle of “no additional expense”. I suggest that any department, ministry, or agency sending a staff member outside his city of abode should make the hotel reservations and make the payments directly from the department. Then, a standard amount can be given for food, if food is not provided for by the hotel. There is no justification for a per diem to be paid to any official, including the President, if all related expenses (accommodation, transportation, meals) are catered for already. The official is paid his salary whether he works at his regular office or outside his home city. We should work hard to stem all forms of corruption.

Ghana can easily quadruple its per capita income in the next five to ten years if we begin to do the right things. I am not calling for difficult things to be done – just the obvious. We should strive to create an environment of law and order and put in place measures to stem corruption. In my article published here on Ghanaweb on January 6, 2009, I urged our then President elect to fight against corruption by punishing corrupt officials, especially those from his own party. I reiterate this in this article – Mr. President, please fight corruption for the whole nation to see that you mean business! I wish to use this platform to call on my generation to do all we can to put Ghana on the path towards development.

Charles E. Appeadu, Ph.D., CFA, FRM