Do we ever cut our coat according to our cloth in this country? Ever? I’m just befuddled and need some serious answers. I’m worried. No, upset. Well, I actually think I’m darn peeved at goings-on! What the bloody hell is going on? Do we lack things to do with the taxpayer’s money? A country with 2,417 schools under trees [261 at the kindergarten level; 1,167 at the Primary School level and; 989 at the JHS level] according to the Ghana Education Service?; one which, in 2020, had an under-5 mortality rate of a staggering 47.5 deaths per a thousand live births?; one in which just about 23% of our road network is paved with about 61% of those tarred roads themselves in bad shape per 2019 data?
I’ve just been reading random stories from some ancient editions of the Daily Graphic newspaper. Two of them piqued my interest. From Friday, January 1, 1971, one talks about how Prime Minister Busia, who was then at the helm of affairs, had warned members of his government that he would be ruthless “in the coming year” in enforcing discipline and uprooting corruption from the society. Well, corruption in leadership today, coupled with indiscipline, is very much alive! Heck! Those twin demons have even set up thrones among us. Everywhere you go, in all facets of our lives, indiscipline and corruption have taken centre stage!
The second story, also from 1971, is from Wednesday, May 26. In that piece, Ghana was mounting a six-week low-cost housing exhibition to encourage Ghanaians to put up their own houses commensurate with their economic means. Yet, year after year and decade after decade, we have embarked on affordable housing drives – that have led to nothing in terms of alleviating the yawning lacuna that needs to be filled. Very recently, in this very month of July, we heard of how the Council of State was attempting to speak to industry players on the high cost of goods and services. Yet, looking at the cost of land, of putting up even a simple two-bedroom structure even on the outskirts of town or in the suburbs, you would see how history exposes just how futile our socio-economic developmental drives in this country have been!
Even right here in Africa, other countries are making great strides in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. But, unfortunately, in our Motherland, the gap just keeps getting wider and wider.
Let’s chew on some data now, if you will. This might rub you raw, so get ready!
According to recent Oxfam data,
¶ Oxfam estimates that just one of the richest men in Ghana earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years!
¶ The wealthiest 10% of Ghanaians now share 32% of Ghana’s total consumption – more than is consumed by the bottom 60% of the population combined, while the very poorest 10% of the population consumes only 2%.
¶ Despite significant progress, large inequalities in health persist. Less than 2% of the poor are covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme. A child born in Ghana to one of the wealthiest families is three times more likely to make it past their fifth birthday than a child born to a poorer family.
¶ Nearly a third of the poorest children in the Northern Region have never been to school, compared to just 5% of the wealthiest. Girls, in particular, are losing out on a chance of a better life, with the poorest girls from the most marginalised regions facing the greatest challenges.
And what were Oxfam’s conclusions on this all-important matter? “These disparities in income, consumption and wealth are NOT AN ACCIDENT. They are DRIVEN by fiscal and socio-economic policies pursued over the years that are not doing enough to tackle economic inequality. They have, in fact, often REINFORCED IT. To tackle inequality, GHANA NEEDS A HUMAN ECONOMY.”
Note that in 2019, more than 2.4 million Ghanaians, representing about 8.5 per cent of the population, were living in extreme poverty, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s seventh Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS). The number was said to be living below the World Bank’s global poverty line of $1.9 spending a day. That is how bad the situation really is! Yet, we recently upped our National Daily Minimum Wage to what? ¢12.53, a 6% increment on the 2020 figure of ¢11.82?
Let’s assume you have no family, no dependents, no utility bills to pay but only have to transport yourself to work and back – on minimum wage. Considering the recent spike in fuel prices and transport fares, would you have enough to even go to and fro as well as eat? Ask yourself that! But that is the fate we’ve condemned many millions here to! That’s the stark reality! So why would a system like ours not foster corruption and nurture it like a long-awaited baby? Leaders, politicians, especially, are stuffing their accounts with money like there’s no tomorrow – because they can! So we say one thing and do something completely different in leadership. That’s why!
Like Oxfam said in its 2018 Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, “Tackling inequality does not depend on a country’s wealth, but on political will.” Let that sink in!
Wealthy, we are, as a country. However, it is the poverty of our minds and our leadership that has left us where we are – in a desperate pecuniary quagmire where even 55% of the very young, per what Child Rights International revealed recently, see no positive prospects for the future!
In that research, conducted between June 2020 and April 2021 and involving over 11,000 children aged between 12 and 17 from across Ghana’s 16 regions, it was revealed that 55% of children in Ghana had plans of leaving the country – and that another 11% would either stay in the country or leave. Have our leaders seen that report? What exactly is being done about it? Maybe absolutely nothing! Maybe, just maybe, something is being done. We shall never know, likely! But do we care? Are we concerned that even children as young as these are, so to speak, giving up on our Motherland? Do we realise what that implies for the future of our country?
These are why the wanton spending of the arms of government leave me in utter shock – not to mention disgust! Do our First and Second Ladies require north of a whopping GHS 30,000 per month to get by? And that’s not all – we even want to backdate it? Ebei! Do they need these gargantuan sums which can pay, every month, up to about 127 Ghanaians on minimum wage? We are a beggarly country [not for lack of resources] whose leaders like to be treated as though they were rulers of some of the wealthiest countries on the planet. Yet look at us! We live in penury and squalor and disease and vermin!
Historically, especially in the 4th Republic, we know that some expenses of spouses of the President and his Vice in carrying out their expected functions have been funded by the Office of the President – and that this convention came about under the Rawlings administration. But the point to be made is that all of it still fell within the budget of the Office of the President! So why must we now have such monumental sums doled out – all in the name of facilitating the work of First and Second Ladies?
Rather curiously, though, not even in the United States, the world’s wealthiest country, are the spouses of the President and Vice paid! The reasoning is simple: they are unelected officials! So I checked out whether the spouses of the leaders of the world’s top 10 economies get paid anything. The answer, as far as my research reveals, is A BIG NO! We have Article 71 of our 1992 Constitution as a guide – yet we seem to be egregiously circumventing the very guidelines we have given ourselves for the governance of our country.
As for our Members of Parliament and members of the Council of State, what can I say? $28 million [almost a $102,000 per MP] as loans for cars? And for those who have been in Parliament time and again – and for the “repeat customers” on the Council of State [CoS members are getting a separate $3.5 million] is the time ripe for more “monetary stockpiling”? And I guess their reasoning – “What is good for the goose [the other arms of government] is good for the gander” – makes some sense. After all, in a country where “chop-chop” is the norm, who would want to be left out?
I’m not unaware of the talk making the rounds that the money supposedly comes from a bank as direct loans to parliamentarians. Therefore, it is only being “facilitated” by government. Until we are given proof of that, though, I shall remain in the corner of the disbelieving. And, by the way, even assuming this whole shebang of a “bank loan” is kosher, what happens when parliamentarians default in making payment? In 2017, for example, we witnessed some of exactly that. So, when that happens, does the State step in?
The reality of our national situation, financially, in addition to the fact that what Parliament is claiming is an age-old practice of doling out these loans is in reality not true, should guide us to do better. Is this our national priority? Is that Parliament’s priority? Do well for the people, and they would, themselves, push for more for you. Otherwise, you can amass everything but, someday, when you are called to account, whether here or in the hereafter, you will be found sorely wanting! There is a God, you leaders! There surely is!
Leadership in this country, rather than aid, reverse the trend I pointed to earlier in this piece – of the rich getting richer and the poor digging even deeper into poverty – rather decide to serve as catalysts to the woebegone process of economic disempowerment! We’re #Bleeding! Until when will such a system prevail? I am not saying it is only now that this is happening, mind! But it is coming into even sharper focus now, especially as we all wallow in Covid-19-induced economic hypnosis. Covid-19 has exposed us in myriad ways – one of them, the glaring inadequacies of our economic system and job-creation drives.
But we still fail to learn from history. You see, as it once was said, “Someday the poor will have nothing else to eat – but the rich!” I’m not socialist, but there’s a lot to be said for countries that try to create that socio-economic equilibrium where all can strive, survive and thrive – in dignity! The monkeys, too, need to rise – not just the baboons whose girth is already outsized!
May God continue to bless Ghana and make her truly #Strong and #Great!
Ma no asi!
Benjamin Akakpo is a patriot and host of the AM Show on Joy News.
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