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Opinions of Monday, 27 August 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Traditional Healers, Taxation, and Progress

“Prof” Aridu Sabo Azeez, who says he specializes in eradicating witchcraft and traditional healing, told the Accra-based “The Statesman” (11/08/2007) that “he treats people who have been cursed by a disease or bad luck by witches and those who have acquired the powers of witchcraft themselves using it for deviancies or crime.” More remarkably, Azeez, 45, is quoted as saying “he has cured three million people.”
In money terms, that’s could be pretty much dough. But Azeez, part of the expanding informal economic sector, is hugely distorted and un-refined in Ghana’s development process.

According to Ghanaian health researchers, there are over 45,000 traditional healers/workers like Azeez Ghana-wide against 51,910 formal healthcare delivery workers. While the 51,910 formal healthcare delivery workers pay taxes from source, there is no record of Azeez and his sector from the informal economy paying taxes from their income, a good number very lucrative, despite the fact that over 85% Ghanaians access their health care from the informal traditional medicine system. Generally, part of the shortcomings of the Ghanaian informal economy is that, like Azeez and his group, they are not factored in suitably when serious national economic planning are being made and this sector of the economy, according to experts like Marilyn Carr and Martha Chen in “Globalization and the Informal Economy” (2001), is growing rapidly in the face of economy predicament, pursuance of capital-intensive growth, “high tech” growth, “economic restructuring,” and the increasing “globalization of the world economy.” The central argument is not that the average income in the formal is higher than the informal economy; the key thinking is how citizens like Azeez and his sector can be fit into the formal economy in the context of the informal sector as a whole “accounting for a significant share of employment and output.”

Already, hints from the well-connected Accra-based “The Statesman,” quoting the World Bank, says the informal, private sector is “a disappointing clip.” But Ghanaian planners can do better. In broader developmental thinking, given its rapid growth and multiplicity, Ghanaian policy-makers, bureaucrats and consultants have to use Azeez as a unit of analysis to look critically into the increasing relevance of the informal sector for national development planning. This approach, too, will help them refine some of the inhibitions within the informal economy for the greater progress of Ghana.

It is from such thinking that a few months ago that Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development issued a directive to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to tax traditional healers/exorcists/fetish priests/workers like Azeez in their respective areas. The directive reveals the emerging developmental thinking that not only real progress starts from within the traditional Ghanaian values but that the informal sector is yet to be accorded the right attention and detail in the overall progress of Ghana. Still, the Ministry’s directive also indicate how for almost 50 years Ghanaian policy planners and consultants are yet to tap decisively into the informal economic sector so as to make Azeez and his sector brought into the formal economy and contribute meaningfully to greater progress. Part of the reason why such omission has occurred is not only because colonialism suppressed the informal traditional values but those post-independent Ghanaian elites’ inabilities to think holistically in this area, especially areas like Azeez’s that are the real engine of growth of the Ghanaian economy. From the traditional small-scale economic practices to traditional medicinal/pharmaceuticals to agricultural, Ghanaian planners are yet to tap fully into these traditional economic values in order to open and unearthed them for progress.

The Local Government instruction, remarkable policy thinking, also reveals Ghanaian policy-makers and bureaucrats emerging from years of slumbering as directors of progress - “The decision to tax the fetish priests stemmed from the ministry’s conviction that their professions were businesses.” The Ministry’s directives, once again, shows Ghanaian policy-makers and bureaucrats tinkling with their traditional cultural values under a cloud of heavy Western structured and functionally imbalanced system. An act of balances will open the informal values for progress and show the importance of cultural continuity in the development process and not any “returning to some pristine traditional cultural milieu,” as a critic wrongly asserted.

For almost 50 years, there have not been any credible attempts by Ghanaian policy-makers, bureaucrats and consultants to correct the developmental distortions that have come about because of colonialism’s suppression and demeaning of the informal economy, driven heavily by traditional Ghanaian values. The distortions have occurred as result of the de-linking of Ghanaian values, openly, from colonial and Western values instead of mixing them. One of the tricks Ghanaian policy planners can learn from the Japanese is how they were able to tie their traditional values with that of the Western ones and opened the floodgates for their impressive progress.
Such situation has come about because Ghanaian policy-makers, bureaucrats and consultants either because of the formal education system that does not help open up
the informal economic values or colonialism suppressing Ghanaian values for long time, Ghanaian policy-makers, bureaucrats and consultants have not being thinking holistically from within traditional Ghanaian values in their midwifing of Ghana’s progress. This has made most Ghanaians in the informal sector, like Azeez, unknown to them, not paying taxes for progress despite the fact that they undertake fruitful economic practices. This means, as the Local Government Ministry has demonstrated, national policies minted from the centre – that’s Accra – should be tailored down to the respective local areas, whether “varied or heterogeneous,” informed by the informal economic values of the local areas in order to move the development process in a holistic manner.



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