As the country enters 2023, ushered in by high inflation, debt restructuring and economic challenges, how does the government make life a little bit better for ordinary folks? For most Ghanaians, economic recovery should not mean a return to yesterday’s “normal,” but an opportunity to make a fundamental shift in addressing the “disorder” in our development paradigm, to repurpose and shape the values that will make Ghana a fair and inclusive society.
As this paper will establish, reorienting the economy to make it inclusive and fair would require an expanded view of policy priorities. Rather than focusing primarily on price stability, the government should also prioritize the passage of a skilled trade and vocational occupations Act to effectively regulate occupations such as electricians, auto mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, hairdressers, and masons to integrate them into the formal economy and to enhance accountability, and public safety.
For the most part, trades and vocational occupations have been treated as either a vestige of the rural economy or a “peripheral” economy in urban centres rather than an essential part of the formal economy. As such, the unscrupulous and shoddy conduct of skilled trade professionals have flourished to alarming and dangerous levels, killing many start-up and small businesses in Ghana.
Given the magnitude of economic challenges in the country, the economy should remain the government’s priority. However, prioritizing macroeconomic stability alone is inherently flawed and devalues the importance of providing the necessary environment for skilled trades and vocational occupations, which are intrinsically linked to the formal economy, to succeed. It is true that macroeconomic stability is necessary for job growth. But the perennial economic crisis, which finds its roots in low productivity should remind us of the importance of modernizing our business practices and widening the tax base by integrating skilled trades and vocational occupations into the economy.
To place the premise of this article in its proper context, let us consider “Kojo the eager beaver” story. Kojo left Ghana for the United States shortly after graduating from Opoku Ware School. For decades, Kojo was one of the biggest names in brain surgery in the United States. Having received undergraduate and medical degrees from both the University of Southern California and Yale School of Medicine, Kojo received many awards for his talent and achievements, but his dream was to build a modern surgical medical facility in Ghana to serve his people.
After retiring from a very successful medical practice at 55 years old, Kojo took all his savings and relocated to Ghana to build a medical facility. To make his skills useful to Ghana, Kojo secured employment with the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Kojo knew traffic would be bad, but he preferred to live in Prampram. This meant, however, Kojo had to wake up as early as 4:00 am each morning to beat the traffic to get to work on time.
After a while, Kojo realized that he needed extra income to support his hospital project. So, he decided to build a hotel to generate income to support his other projects. With the help of his high school buddy, Kojo purchased two pieces of land and started to build both the hotel and the hospital. Kojo’s fortunes, however, changed when he decided to take his vehicle to a mechanic for regular servicing. Unbeknownst to Kojo, the mechanic did not properly connect the hose from the water tank to the engine. As a result, the engine of Kojo’s brand new $70 000 Nissan Armada was wrecked.
Eight months later, Kojo got his vehicle back on the road, but he had to import the parts from the US before he could fix the car. Kojo discovered that he could not find the parts in Ghana because spare parts dealers are not required to package and label their wares. Further, cursory research
showed that Ghana does not have a Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations to compel used spare parts dealers to properly label their wares. In absence of effective labelling and a database, car owners and mechanics often spend weeks looking for car parts to fix their vehicles costing the nation billions in lost productivity.
As for the building projects, Kojo finished the hotel, albeit after sacking several workers and others absconding with his money. One year into its operations, the hotel’s roof began to leak badly. Kojo had run out of money to re-roof and refurnish the hotel, so he decided to sell the property and cut his losses. As for the medical facility, land guards had taken over as ongoing litigation over ownership of the land ran into its fifth year.
Although innately powerful, dreams are made possible with the help of others. Unfortunately, in Ghana, unscrupulous and unregulated trades professionals operate with impunity and have killed countless dreams and businesses. Kojo could not sue the mechanic and the carpenter for their shoddy work because none of them carried professional liability insurance. Also, Kojo could not verify their competency prior to hiring them or institute disciplinary action against them because skilled trades and vocational occupations in Ghana do not have any regulatory body.
With his dreams killed and his life destroyed, Kojo abandoned everything and went back to the USA to start all over again. Kojo’s experience is all too familiar for many investors in Ghana. And yet, all too often it is the victim who gets blamed for being naïve while the rotten system that kills many dreams and destroys many businesses continues unabated: hence, the cry for Dr Bawumia to intervene and fix these problems.
Armed with his proven record of expertise, passion for creative solutions, and stamina, Dr Bawumia is the man who can work with Parliament to enact new laws and standards to modernize skilled trades and vocational occupations in Ghana. The government has invested significant
resources in technical education, but what is required now is the establishment of regulatory bodies to oversee trades and vocational occupations in Ghana. The benefits of regulating skilled trades and vocational occupations include: (1) the development of Codes of Conduct and Standards of Practice to regulate members; (2) the maintenance of a public register which contains information about registered members and their disciplinary history; (3) the creation of a body to investigate complaints against members and discipline them as required; and (4) the imposition of mandatory obligations on members to carry professional liability insurance, pay income tax, and participate in professional development.
The next step is to design an electronic tax compliance platform to cover all professions including lawyers, doctors, auto mechanics, plumbers, hairdressers and carpenters. For example, through softwares such as AutoLeap, Esilaw, PcLaw, auto repair shops, lawyers, surveyors, architects, and doctors will have access to the tools they need to run highly efficient businesses.
With this management and accounting software, these professionals can operate cashless systems, save valuable time, and improve the quality of the client’s experiences. The government must, therefore, make these software mandatory so that GRA can properly track revenues of these professions for income tax purposes.
In conclusion, as Nietzsche said, “he who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster.” In other words, to fight monsters one must typically act like one to be able to combat the monster, at least temporarily. The indiscipline and disorder in our markets and in the skilled trade and vocational occupations have reached alarming levels because successive governments have been afraid to tackle “the monster” due to the political repercussions.
Dr Bawumia has, however, proven that we can make these difficult decisions: for example, through his leadership, our ports have paperless clearance operations reducing the incidence of corruption at the ports. Also, through his initiative and efforts, we have digital property addressing system making it easier to locate properties without having to use landmarks. Dr Bawumia has the knack for making the impossible possible, but for the long-term growth of the economy, he must add regulation of skilled trades in vocational occupations in Ghana to numerous and impactful achievements.
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