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Opinions of Thursday, 14 April 2005

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

The Ailing Back Of The Disasporan

Like Daniel in the lion?s den and Jonah in the belly of the whale, a lot of diasporans continue to winter the brutish life of living away from home in a bid to better their lot. The spring doth come but it too has its own set of problems. To date, it is estimated that about 1-2 million Ghanaians continue to toil in the West and other environs. Most of the folks in question are those who left Ghana because they want to better their lot and could not stand the deplorable conditions that disabled them at home. They?ve chosen slavery overseas over same at home, if that means having enough to eat and sharing the love by extending cash benefits to family and friends. The diasporan, as exemplified by the Ghanaian, continue to show strong interest in a country whose leadership is lacking.

True to form, the diasporan has become a workhorse for family, friends and the politicians. A lot of us help, even if with a glower, with school fees, medical bills, cars, rent, home improvement and any other funding that is outside the meager salary of our kith and kin at home. We, in essence, are picking up the slack for some of the things our government should be spearheading. For a lot of these personal gigs, we do as a way of giving back and upholding the Ghanaian tradition of taking care of our own. Also, diasporans are helping with investment and non-profit initiatives at home. This helps in the end, to create jobs and keep the sputtering economy afloat. The remittance of the diasporan alone has and continues to keep Ghana on an even keel, if even below the poverty line by international standards. I also know that there are a lot more diasporans who want to do more in cash and kind to help fix home so we can return to or at least point towards with some pride. We are very grateful to those countries that opened their doors to us but we have never given up on returning to our birthplace. After all, there is no place like home and a guesthouse can and will never replace home.

As soon as president Kufour won his first term, he embarked on what I now know to be either phony or not well reasoned out crusade aimed at convincing some of our best and brightest to return home. The purpose of the latter was to help build Ghana they lied. Like Dick Cheney, and the neoconservatives, Kufour was all over the place erupting lie after lie and painting all kinds o f erroneous pictures. Some of us were still sympathetic and enthused by the daring move, even though the president?s conviction did not shine through. Others were outright skeptical and did not want to know. You mean leave my job in a country where the light really comes and stays on and head for struggling Ghana? Leave everything that I have slaved for and return to a country where there are no jobs to start with? Once bitten, twice shy some said. To some, this unsolicited invitation posed many a sleepless night. Should I or shouldn?t I? To make the mental torture worse, charades, camouflaged as conferences, were organized in Ghana to show how serious the president was. Additionally, initiatives like the skills bank, launched by the Ghana Embassy, made me a flinching believer. Not to the extent of hopping on a Boeing and going back to Accra, I am smarter than that, but at least to seriously contemplate planning toward some kind of transcendental return to the motherland. Voluntarily, I submitted my resume to the skills bank and it is the last of which I have heard of an idea that is alleged to have been plagiarized from a fellow Ghanaian.

Lately, I have been focused on one of many projects that I hope to pull off in Ghana. So in my calculations, I thought it would be wise to get a nice ride and ship home so I will be better equipped to carry out my errands when I visit annually. So, I innocuously invested in a 1998 Toyota Camry V-6, with a 3.0 engine. My rude awakening crash-landed when I called Ghana to make sure that I was doing the right thing. A more serious and unpardonable offense on my part was not investigating fully before buying the ride. As is the case with any request in Ghana, I had to wait a few days to get a quote on how much it will cost to pay duty on my latest catch. I nearly fell off my chair when the verdict came in. With furrowed brows, I yelled ?five thousand three-hundred and eighty dollars ($5,380)?, just for duties? Well, how much did I pay for the car? Just imagine the kind of fees that one has to deal with just for shipping a car home. Ecowas fees, health insurance fees, IRS fees, Ghapoha Fees, handlings cost, VAT and cost of shipment from the USA to Ghana. The blue book value of the car in question is in the range of $6,500-$8000. Now, I asked, ?why must it cost me this horrendous amount just to ship a car to Ghana, my country of birth? What kind of inhumane and ham-handed policy is this? I hope this NPP government is hoisted by its own petard.

What really is the rationale behind this wicked policy? If the assumption here, I suppose, is the environment, because this better not be another senseless tax scheme based on car engine size. Now, if the environment assumption holds true, what bloody business does the government have in buying all these petrol guzzling SUV?s? Keep in mind also that, the taxpayer does not pay for my petrol or maintenance, unlike these corrupt good for nothing lazy lout politicians who suck the dwindling blood of the tax payer dry. So besides greed, envy and arrant stupidity, what else motivates this bankrupt NPP government to adopt such regressive policies in the face of such grave economic need for vitality? These creeping and biting increases in taxes are not the best way to spur economic activity.

Here is a country that does not produce cars, yet will not allow its own citizen to ship a car home at affordable prices? No wonder corruption is boon at the harbors. Is this why some custom officers are larding and putting up mansions with such ease? A clerk at Tema Harbor for instance makes more money under the table than someone with an MBA overseas. If you think I am lying, go see for yourself. With such high and wicked duties, who wouldn?t want to find a way around it? So, I asked my friend for the make up of the estimate. ?Have you heard of VAT? he is said? ?Yes, I have?, I said. What about health insurance tax? I said, ?for who?? I already have health coverage so I don?t need coverage from Ghana. He said, ?no my friend, this is to help fund healthcare for those of us living in Ghana?. At this point my blood was boiling so hot that any wrong move could have landed me in the hospital. Talk about health insurance huh?

My friends, the diasporan is willing to help but balancing mother Ghana on the ailing backs of Ghanaians living outside is a policy move that should bring the NPP and any government for that matter, down. Here we are, poor diasporans, without a vote, yet we have to pay these torrid duties? Then there is the ECOWAS fee. Oh my gawd! Yes, I am for African unity and all the rhetoric but where does this bilking stop? By the way, how much Ecowas money have we collected and who did we pay it too? Is anyone really counting? These duties or taxes are so discriminatory! I mean people living right there in Ghana do not pay ECOWAS fees yet some diasporan hustler is obliged to bellyache such tax for all the rich folks in Ghana? I mean what kind of regressive balderdash or fatuity is this? Prattle, prattle, what a stink!

As if the above is not enough, I have shipping charges to content with. Granted that environmentally one could make a strong case for having cars with smaller engines, but these cars that smoke right out of the containers, are 1.8 or 1.6 liter engines only in name. They pollute the environment more than my clean 3.0-liter engine ever will, so what really is the point? Instead of clamping down on these cars that smoke with reckless abandon right there in Ghana, we have carved out a clever ploy to extort money from innocent Ghanaians whose only offence is to live outside the country and help endlessly. What a creative way to say thank you. Why not have emissions stations at the harbor to check on rotten cars for a fee? It is as if the politicians do not want any hard working Ghanaian to bring in cars that appear half way decent relative to the taxpayer funded landcruisers that they ride for free and buy for cheap when they leave office.

Now, I want somebody to convince me that a landcruiser is easier on the environment than a Toyota Camry? If it is not the environment, then what is the rationale for this engine size canard? Is this another way to tax diasporans who are believed to be rich? Where really did the latter myth start? These politicians see it fit to spend taxpayer money buying Pajeros and V-8 landcruisers yet they force others to buy small engine cars with such wicked and ill-intent policies? Even so, the duties and levies on small cars have also crept up. Just recently, I learnt it will cost about 20.2 million cedis, about $2,200 in duties for a Honda Civic. Yes, a 1.6 liter Honda Civic!! You can buy a Honda Civic in the USA but Ghana, in a pig-headed and obstinate way, will still calculate the cost of your car with Japanese Yen considerations. These days, it will cost you anywhere from 18-20 million cedis to clear a Honda civic or Toyota Corolla with a 1.6 liter engine! That is smoking or not! I mean what did we do with our senses? Damn it!! Did you know that an Opel Astra or one of these Korea Cars with a 1.6 liter engine cost a bit less to haul out of that stinking harbor? I am told that because a Honda Civic is a much more durable and relatively expensive car in the 1.6 liter engine class, it attracts more duty. Folks, if this is not a convulsed policy undergird by pure lunacy, I don?t know what else it. Something ought to give soon!!

Mr. President, some of us work very hard for our money. We are not dealing drugs or living on per diems. We do not enjoy exemptions nor are we inclined to use taxpayer money to buy luxury cars. So where do you get off picking our pockets for wanting to send home a durable care? What specifically are these taxes, duties and levies for? What is the justification for making it impossible for us to transition home? Why should I pay for health insurance for others when some of our brothers and sisters overseas do not even have health insurance? In the meantime, high level politicians like the former speaker do not even use the medical system at home. So, this is how the former speaker?s medical bill was funded huh? The wife of the vice president too huh? What about other ministers who were flown outside for medical care? No wonder you are being equated to the notorious Ataa Ayi. You Mr. President have no clue and are a huge disappointed to the diasporan. The wickedness that this NPP government continues to visit on Ghanaians and its attendant hardships is beyond description. We are at our limit of endurance!

So the way you fund political privilege is through highhanded car levies from unsuspecting Ghanaians huh? How many cars have you confiscated and kept for the castle? These duties are so high that a lot of people abandon their cars and then like vultures and pot bellied maggots, party functionaries buy these same cars off the auction block for close to nothing. If auction is good for Ghana, why not discount it for the owner? Or keep the title till it is paid off? This kind of ?nyansa kronu? against our own brothers and sisters must stop. Robbing Ghanaians of their hard earned efforts must never be a part of our national policy. Whenever a government becomes a band of thugs, mugging its own citizens, and abusing individual rights, the pillars that hold democracy begin to give way. I am told that in certain instances, people shipped their cars back to the country of origin because it is cheaper to do so that than to leave their cars for the castle thugs and vultures. This, Mr. President, is what you?ve done and continue to do to hard working Ghanaians trying very hard to provide transportation for themselves and their families. Yes, the same folks that you literally begged to come home. Why would anyone want to help a county that puts them through such hell?

Folks, if there is any policy in Ghana now, which needs to be revoked immediately, this is it. Of course the current tax hikes on petrol ranks right up there with this one. We need a reasoned fair approach that does not have as its intent, financial mugging and arrant meanness to well-meaning citizens and non-citizens alike. A policy that is easily comprehensible and a win/win for all parties involved. If the NPP government sees value in the help that diasporans continue to seamlessly offer to their country, it should seriously consider revising its import duty policy on cars and I am sure many other items. You can?t tell people to come home and help and then turn around to enact contrarian policies that make it impossible for honest and hardworking Ghanaians to send a car or their personal property home. Ghana is on record as one of the most difficult and expensive countries to ship anything to. The very cars they can?t send home are the cars that politicians ride recklessly at taxpayer?s expense. It is also not lost upon us that, allegedly, the use of government cars for private business is on the rise since the NPP came to power. At least, there is a perception among some, that the NPP government is bent on exploiting diasporans to fund their exorbitant and profligate lifestyle. The wrong-headed policies that this government continues to pursue, lack consonance and is defeatist at best.

For now, I refuse to ship my Camry and will not pay any such amount to line the pocket of this government. I have since shipped a civic but will not forgive this government for its asinine policies. The NPP leaves some of us with no option but to work assiduously for its demise. Don?t tell me about the NDC because I doubt if they can do any better. Unfortunately the Nkrumahist family is in disarray, so wherein lies our salvation? On this issue alone, I am willing to endorse a party that will promise a more reasoned policy that will free Ghanaians from this untold hardship. After all, we are not asking for handouts. All we are saying is this, let your words reflect your deeds Mr. President. Be reasonable and recognize the fact that, most diasporans work hard for their money. The diasporan is catching heat on all sides and we need a break!

In fact, we deserve a break for we have and continue to pay our due.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman MSC. ABS, B.A. Bus Admin. Dip Public Admin???

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.