Opinion: Highlights of Akufo-Addo’s 2019 SONA – Part 4 by Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD

Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo/Photo: The Impact Group

Still on the economic front, Nana Akufo-Addo poignantly observes that Ghana has become the foremost recipient of Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) in the West African sub-region. He did not, however, provide any elaborate comparative statistical figures to buttress his claim, perhaps because the SONA is more of an executive summary of government stewardship and general performance during the previous year. But even more significant, according to the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF), is the need for stringent fiscally responsible policies in order to minimize unnecessary wastage of taxpayer funds and maximize the country’s development resources. It was for this reason why the President established the Paul Acquah-headed Fiscal Responsibility Advisory Council (FRAC), whose terms of reference border on assisting the Central Government to maintain a recurrent deficit level at not more than 5-percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. It looks to be a very good policy initiative, if only the Government could strictly hold onto its promise of trying not to splurge in election years.

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Indeed, there is an imperative need for the Government “to be mindful of the next generation, and not merely [mindful] of the next election,” Nana Akufo-Addo declared in his SONA-3 parliamentary presentation. Of course, it cannot be gainsaid that taxes, both business and income, still need to be remarkably brought down to bearable levels. Which means that import taxes must be appreciably brought down, which also means that revenue mobilization ought to be innovatively diversified and expanded to encompass sectors of the economy that have been perennially ignored and not blame the progressive reduction of import taxes as singularly being responsible for the considerable difficulty that the Government may presently be having vis-à-vis the appreciable uplift in the quality-of-life of the average Ghanaian citizen more palpably and/or meaningfully. On the preceding score, of course, it goes without saying that tax exemptions enjoyed by members of the diplomatic corps is a global formality that ought not to have been made a major talking-point in President Akufo-Addo’s 2019 SONA presentation to Parliament. This aspect of the former Foreign Minister’s presentation was simply too embarrassing.

The fact of the matter is that it is an inexcusable turnoff for the bulk of Ghana’s revenue collection system to be so inordinately predicated on import duties or taxes, as it pertained to the Medieval Empires of Ghana and Mali, and later Songhai. That is tantamount to an untenable rip-off. Rather, the overwhelming bulk of our development revenue ought to be based on the country’s industrial productivity and also property taxes. Preventing bona fide Ghanaian-born citizens resident abroad from being able to massively repatriate their properties and belongings home to their country of birth is simply not a savvy policy initiative, more so when most of the items and properties being shipped in are not produced in Ghana. Which is why I could not have been more disappointed to read the following plaint from the President’s 2019 SONA presentation: “If we continue at this rate, in less than 16 years, half of Ghana’s revenue base will [have been given] away as tax exemptions.”

You see, massive corruption of the kind witnessed under the watch of former President John Dramani Mahama, in the form of ministerial double salaries and judgment-debts, as well as the ethno-regional-oriented scam such as SADA, GYEEDA and SUBAH could have more than made up for the government’s chronic revenue shortfalls. As well, the signing of massive giveaway contractual agreements in the name of the hardworking Ghanaian taxpayer, without any meticulous undertaking of due diligence, such as was scandalously witnessed in what infamously became known as AMERI-SCAM. You see, blindly making a revenue-collection policy out of the blistering scamming of Ghanaians resident abroad at our ports is inexcusably alienating and none the least bit savvy. At the very least, such a fiscal policy seriously undermines the sense of patriotism of the Ghanaian resident abroad. Such deviously calculated scabrous act of mischief does not a healthy nation build.

While, indeed, it may seem quite impressive on paper, nonetheless, the recently proposed salary increment of 11-percent for civil and public servants is not nearly as impressive as it is intended to be as, traditionally and invariably, such increments are almost always immediately swallowed up by the astronomical increment in the prices of consumer goods on the market, thereby resulting in the unintended consequence of kicking up the inflationary rate. Rather, what ought to happen is the year-round stabilization of the prices of foods and other consumer items by the construction of adequate silage facilities to ensure that our markets are evenly supplied with consumer goods and other related items throughout the year.

On the National Youth Employment Front, however, the figures are quite impressive, with the Government’s having employed some 107,000 able-bodied and talented and hardworking young men and women last year and a projected 125,000 youths to be employed in the current year (2019). We, of course, clearly recognize the imperative need for the labor market to be expanded even more widely by the creation of long-term sustainable jobs at livable wages and salaries. Then also, the establishment of the 10 state-of-the-art Technical and Vocational Education Training Centers is an idea whose time is, perhaps, long overdue. Here also, perhaps, at least 16 Vocational and Technical Education Training Centers are needed, now that Ghana has 16 regions or administrative centers. Then also, the Government’s decision to establish a Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI), to be headed by the globally renowned and distinguished Ghanaian scientist and former Head of the Biological Sciences Division of the Washington, DC-based Smithsonian Institute, Prof. Edward Ayensu, could not be more opportune.

As well, the hitherto unprecedented Tertiary Education Policy Bill, aimed at bringing all public universities under one umbrella or common Administrative Law, in order to make the administration of our institutions of higher learning more coherent, could not have come at a more opportune time. Indeed, I can already foresee an American-type Mega-University System with one Chancellor and Presidents, instead of the current system of Vice-Chancellors, on each and every one of our 8, or so, major campuses, and perhaps Deans and Rectors at the various satellite campuses. Very likely, this new and long overdue, albeit visionary, education policy initiative instructively came out of the student disturbances that erupted late last year on the main campus of Ghana’s second-largest, second-oldest and second most prestigious tertiary academy, namely, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

Then also, the decision by the Government to upgrade the basic professional qualifications of our Basic Education Teachers by the awarding of Baccalaureates, instead of the traditional non-graduate Diploma Certificates, is a jaded policy initiative whose time elapsed by the turn of the Twenty-First Century. But that it has taken so long to bring it to fruition, dispiritingly reflects poorly on the caliber of the country’s postcolonial leadership. But, of course, we, all of us, are also mindful of the fact that it is never too late to implement such indisputably progressive policy initiatives.

The pathological political space-hogging “Revolutionaries” of the erstwhile Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), and the latter’s ideological and political progeny, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), have done our great and beloved nation unspeakable criminal mischief. Indeed, by my own very conservative temporal estimation, the four-year Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, as basic requirements for every elementary and secondary school teacher in Ghana, ought to have been implemented at least as far back as the year 2000. Teachers with 15 or 20 years of teaching experience must be provided with short causes, lasting about 12 months, and have their Diploma Certificates upgraded to Baccalaureates.

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