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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

The government’s irresponsible behaviour hurts…

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Folks, even though some of us have supported the decision of Parliament to raise the VAT rate by a further 2.5%, we are not happy at developments related to this move.
First, taking cognizance of the NPP Minority’s boycott of deliberations leading to the raising of the VAT rate, we are persuaded that the NPP people were just being mischievous in intents and purposes.
Here is why: At one point they complained about the procedures used in passing the law and, at another point, they complained of the tax rate increase. As is already known, they didn’t suggest any alternative measure for raising revenue. Theirs is dirty politics for its own sake.
But their protest has a ring of the familiar failings of government to it. And on this occasion, the government’s failure to do due diligent work hurts. True, the NPP people accused the government of insensitivity and the Parliamentary Majority of breaching Parliamentary proceedings by not informing the Minority on the proposed increase.
The Majority side went ahead to pass the bill into law, increasing the rate. The i8mpression might, then, be created that the VAT rate was increased without Parliamentary consensus. But the Majority carried the vote on the occasion.
In pursuit of their resolve, the NPP Minority on Friday walked out of Parliament just before the Bill was passed into law and went ahead on Monday to hold a press conference at which they called on organized labour and Ghanaians, generally, to kick against the new VAT law.
However, Communications Minister, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, says government is ready to engage labour in the implementation of the controversial 2.5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) increase.
He said unlike the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government, which increased the rate in 2003 without any deliberation and consensus from labour groups, the NDC will engage with the groups until an amicable solution is reached.
Dr. Omane Boamah expressed surprise at the reactions of the minority and told Kojo Asare Baffuor Acheampong on Asempa FM's Ekosii-Sen Programme that the minority must be bold enough to tell Ghanaians exactly what their concerns are in relation to the new VAT Law.
We note two aspects of the developments: The NPP Minority accused the government of insensitivity and the Parliamentary Majority of breaching Parliamentary proceedings by not informing the Minority on the proposed increase.
This accusation holds good, and I agree with the Minority, which brings me to the point concerning the government’s irresponsible behaviour as far as lack of consultation over its policies and programmes is concerned.
Of course, we will continue to blame the hawk for terrorizing the chickens; but we will at the same time blame the chickens for not playing it safe and, thereby, making themselves vulnerable and open to the hawk’s swoop/foray.
The government doesn’t know how to do politics to neutralize its opponents’ damaging “book politics” and allows itself to be undermined at will. In many cases that it has opened itself to damaging attacks by its opponents, it has failed to capture the moment to do politics properly.
More often than not, the government springs surprises on the people with policies and programmes that annoy them. The perennial increases in utility tariffs, for instance, and the withdrawal of the TUC from the Board of the Public Utilities Regulations Commission (PURC) in protest could have been avoided had there been some transparency in the government’s dealings with stakeholders.
Taking this VAT issue as a case in point, one wonders why the government wasn’t bold and responsible enough to involve all the known stakeholders in discussions prior to mooting the bill for increasing the rate on the floor of Parliament.
How much would it cost the government to broach its intentions and engage organized labour, for instance, in discussions toward settling on an agreeable line of action? Had the government sought consensus-building as a better approach, it would have engaged the stakeholders to use dialogue and negotiation to settle the matter and disarmed its main political opponent (the NPP) from twisting matters for political leverage.
The NPP’s penchant for rushing to the stakeholders and seeking their support to subvert the government’s moves is clearly based on lack of consultation. Its leaders know that the government lacks the capacity to involve stakeholders in discussions concerning its intentions, which is why it waits impatiently for something to come from officialdom only to rush to the press to condemn it and blow it out of all reasonable proportions to do political damage.
If the government can act responsibly and open up its intentions for discussion among stakeholders, it should be possible for it to flatten anything hatched by the NPP.
Over the years, the different NDC governments have not been able to take advantage of consensus-building and the NPP has manipulated that weakness to create problems for them by either misrepresenting the governments’ true intentions or by creating needless public panic with their own distorted versions of reality.
The governments suffered negative backlash but haven’t learnt any lesson to behave better. They still play themselves into their opponents’ hands to be toyed with.
The governments have only come out to do some belated damage control—reacting vainly to the avoidable mishap. Isn’t it long overdue for them to learn any useful lesson from this kind of flip-flopping?
After all, what is so secret about the VAT as to warrant its being shrouded in maximum secrecy until laid bare on the floor of Parliament to be so robustly distorted and repudiated by the NPP Minority? Couldn’t the government have announced its intention to raise the rate and sought negotiated settlement to avoid the panic situation that its political opponents have begun creating?
You see, folks, our democracy may be gathering years to suggest that it is growing; but in reality, it is not maturing at all. It is deceptive to assume that it is giving us the kind of governance that we need to move the country forward. We are stuck up and not making any progress because nothing is changing to give us better approaches to governance.
Such a sterile democracy is doomed to fail, especially when the people’s patience wears out and they resort to acts of sabotage and unrestrainable indiscipline in a mistaken belief that it would give them the clout they need to determine how national affairs should be managed.
Considering the continued break down of law and order against the background of worsening economic situation and living standards, I won’t be surprised if tension builds up and the people take the law into their own hands to show the government where naked power lies. Is that what we are sacrificing our lot for? I don’t think so.
I shall return…
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