Last Thursday, Ghanaians embarked on a nationwide demonstration to express their frustration about the prevailing high cost of living.
A handout circulated among the protestors said since the beginning of the year, Organised Labour had used different platforms and avenues to call on government to fix the declining economy.
This year, workers commemorated May Day on the theme ‘Ghana’s Economy: A concern for all,’ to demonstrate their concern.
Organised Labour stated that Ghana’s economy has been seriously weakened and failing, adding that the economy was not working for the majority of Ghanaians.
In the document, workers said “a significant number of citizens have been compelled by the prevailing difficulties to cut both welfare and necessity consumption whilst businesses and industries suffocate.
Organised Labour said times are very hard for the majority of citizens and there is a limit to what citizens can endure.
Unions insist that the government of President John Dramani Mahama has a constitutional duty to implement urgent and appropriate measures to arrest the economic decline.
Government must also assure citizens against price hikes and review prices of petroleum products and a halt to the lazy and facile reflex of simply increasing the prices of these products as the cedi depreciates due to the mismanagement of the economy and poor fiscal policies.
The document asked for immediate and effective policy measures to ensure that the Tema Oil Refinery operates at full capacity.
The workers called for concrete measures to ensure that the railway sector is revamped and the plight of the workers are addressed while government and the National Pensions Regulatory Authority address the challenges in the implementation of the new pension scheme.
They demanded immediate action to stop the attempts by government to impose a pension trust on public sector workers and introduce effective measures to address the widespread perception of corruption in high office, which has reached unprecedented level.
The document said government should prosecute all persons against whom there is evidence of gross anti-social acts, irrespective of the social or political status.
The nationwide demonstrations by over 20 unions, including a critical sector like the Ghana Medical Association, is a clear sign of despondency among Ghanaians.
Coming events, they say, cast their shadows. If the nationwide demonstration is anything to go by, then it is in the interest of government to act on these suggestions to avoid a possible strike action that has the potential to cripple the economy further.
It is said that the power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.
The Economic and Organised Crime Organisation (EOCO) has a mandate to investigate economic and organised crimes against the state, and in the process, it has the power to freeze individual and corporate accounts. What it cannot do is to freeze press freedom, because that is not part of its job.
Unfortunately, we are drifting into a situation where, like heads of other public servants, His Highness, Biadela Nortey Akpadzi, who heads EOCO, thinks he can cow the media by using the courts. Lai-Lai, it would never happen!
For the past few weeks, l have watched in silence Akpadzi’s attempt to cause the imprisonment of the Editor of the Ghanaian Times and his reporter for publishing something that EOCO has done. Even though the said publication was not false, because it was something that happened in court, EOCO, under Akpadzi, rushed to seek judicial assistance in a bid to put fear into the Editor. That is not what we expect of senior public servants.
The story that was published simply said EOCO has attempted to arrest someone whose case the courts had determined and found to be badly treated by the organisation. There was no lie or misreporting because the story was true. But because the organisation has the power, it tried to use it to teach the Editor a lesson.
What is painful is that Akpadzi has a long relationship with the Ghanaian Times. He may not remember my name, and perhaps has even forgotten how l look, but he is someone that Ghanaian Times reporters of my generation (over 20 years ago) know very well. Akpadzi is fully aware that, in days past, he would not have dared to mention the name of the Editor of the paper anywhere. It is for this reason that his attempt to use the power he wields today to punish an Editor of the same paper for doing nothing against EOCO breaks my heart. He is not alone; there are many heads of some public services who think they are above the law and should never be reported on when they do the wrong thing.
Some of these heads, given the opportunity, would kill off press freedom at the least perceived provocation because of the power that they think they have. EOCO’s 'Rambo-style' action against the Times gives me cause to believe reports by some aggrieved persons that they have been wrongly treated by EOCO. The organisation may have the mandate to do certain things; what I believe the law does not allow them to do is to use this 'Rambo style' to push their way around.
Somehow, one can excuse Akpadzi because in his days with the Public Tribunal, things were done in a different way and he is finding it difficult to adjust to the new dawn that has broken. Those were the days that no journalist had the right to question anything that happened within the Tribunal system. I know this very well because l covered the Tribunals and saw many things wrong but had to keep silent. There are things that l witnessed that make me feel like crying today.
A good example is the trial of two brothers who claimed they were innocent of a crime that they were charged with. Throughout their trial, one remained asleep because he had been so beaten, and in spite of his protestation that he was innocent of the charges, he was brought on trial. During one brief break, this young soldier told me, “I know they just want to kill me; let them hurry up with the trial and let me die.” We heard all these but had no way of reporting them. Today, the Constitution guarantees the right of the media to report accurately. That is what the Ghanaian Times did with their story on EOCO. Sadly, Akpadzi, who may still be living in the past, does not want to see the new change and wants to use the powers conferred on him to intimidate the media.
Thank God the good judges have not agreed with his dreams. If they had, Akpadzi would have set a wrong precedence in this country, where every public servant would drag journalists to court for spurious reasons. Akpadzi’s behaviour has given me cause to try understanding EOCO. What exactly does this organisation do? Is it achieving what it was set up to do? These are questions that many people would like to ask, because what exactly is this organisation doing that the Police CID or BNI cannot do? Is it another of the parallel organisations that we have in this country? The National Identification Authority (NIA), for example, is engaged in biometric registration of citizens whilst the Electoral Commission is also registering citizens in the same way. In the case of EOCO, I believe that the CID has the personnel qualified to do the job that they do. Given the opportunity, I think the CID would perform in such a way that no one would accuse them of using 'Rambo-style' tactics. Somehow, one can understand that if any organisation does not properly understand its role, it may need to apply some force to make people notice them.
Maybe that is what Akpadzi has tried to do with the Ghanaian Times. For some of us, this is not the right way to go. No one has the authority to hurl any Editor to court simply because you do not like the truth that has been written about you. If the paper had reported falsehood, EOCO, and for that matter Akpadzi, has the right to demand that the appropriate thing be done. It could be the option of a rejoinder or perhaps a report to the National Media Commission.
By ignoring these refined options and hoping that the courts will side with him to jail the Editor, Akpadzi has proven beyond all doubts that he only wanted to show his powers. That is not what is done in democratic societies. Sometimes some of our senior public servants need to be reminded that the offices they occupy are not theirs for life. They have just been placed there because someone must be there and also that they are paid from the public purse to protect the public interest.
Those who understand their proper role in the offices they occupy are those who do their jobs in silence and go away without much fuss. They, however, leave behind legacies that speak volumes. I have seen a number of these people. For those who make the noise, no one remembers that they ever warmed the chairs in the offices that they once occupied. Since Akpadzi has been around long enough, he may remember some of the people who made noise in this country but whose names no one remembers today.
In case he finds my piece very critical of him, it is because he has brought out some of the training l had from Christian Aggrey, one-time Editor of Ghanaian Times, who Akpadzi knows well and would not have crossed at all. And since he wanted to get an Editor to jail at all cost, l guess he can take me there to satisfy his desire to have imprisoned a journalist in his lifetime. Perhaps that would add to his achievements in life!
The rate of suicide among young Ghanaians is setting off alarm bells.
Once again, a 14-year-old Junior High School (JHS) student has allegedly committed suicide at Penkwase, a suburb of Sunyani, because her mother seized her mobile phone.
Last year, the Eastern Region alone recorded a total of 26 suicide cases.
The figure is a sharp increase compared to 14 suicide cases recorded in 2012 in the region. The ages of the deceased range from 13 to 60 years.
Statistics compiled by the Network for Anti-Suicide and Crisis Prevention reveal that 531 youngsters aged between nine and 19 killed themselves within a year.
The reasons cited vary, though social workers seem to agree on at least one finding. The silence surrounding suicide – and its prevention – is digging a grave for youth in Ghana.
It was the classic study of Emile Durkheim on suicide in 1897 that exposed the subject matter to many people in the world.
The academic piece categorised the subject matter into egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic suicides.
According to the theorist, who was also a renowned sociologist, suicides of all sorts were blamable on the society, explaining that society pushes individuals to commit the act.
Anomic suicide reflects an individual’s moral confusion and lack of social direction, which is reflected in dramatic social and economic upheavals and includes extreme economic failures or dramatic economic fortunes.
Fatalistic suicide is common when a person is extensively regulated, when their futures are pitilessly blocked with oppressive discipline. It occurs in oppressive societies such as prisons, because the person is denied of his/her freedom.
Some also have the feeling of being a burden to others, feeling humiliated, having intense anxiety and panic attacks.
More so, losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure, insomnia, becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family, and others are all signs to tragic incidents.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that at least five people commit suicide each day in Ghana.
Even though there is no scientific statistics of suicide in Ghana but advocates agree that the trend is increasing in the country.
Traditional support systems have become weak in the country, especially as economic and social nobilities are becoming supreme.
Government should introduce social protection policies to assist the less privileged in the society to overcome their problems.
Insurance policies must equally be introduced to aid the people.
The classification of suicide as a criminal offence must also be relooked, while government should concentrate efforts at improving social relations and the living standards of the people.
Ghana cannot afford to lose precious lives through suicide, and something must be done without delay.
We refer to our lead story yesterday and call for proper investigations into the circumstances leading to the expiration of medicines at the Central Medical Stores (CMS).
In the first place, distributing such medicines to patients has serious health implications.
Certain medications have narrow therapeutic index and little decreases in the pharmacological activity can result in severe consequences for patients.
Expired medications may become toxic and cause poisoning in some situations, and keeping expired medications may cause you to potentially take the wrong medication.
Medications, just like food, have an expiration date and it is important to understand the risks associated with consuming such expired medications.
Drugs have a shelf life that is preserved when proper light, heat, temperature, and moisture are provided.
Drugs contain complex compounds and ingredients which will break down over time and render them less effective or useless.
Although they lose their potency, they still have the capability of producing toxins or causing a negative reaction when consumed in conjunction with another medication.
Some expired drugs can result in deadly consequences. Nitro-glycerine tablets, which are taken to prevent chest pain and heart attacks, decompose very quickly and are no longer effective once their shelf life expires.
If expired nitro tablets are taken, the result could be lethal. Epinephrine is a drug that can be self-injected and is used for bee stings or for people with severe allergies. Injecting an expired dose could prove hazardous and possibly result in death.
Once drugs have expired, it is important to understand the risks associated with ingesting them.
If you take drugs for life-threatening illnesses or conditions such as insulin for diabetes or nitro-glycerine for chest pain or heart problems, it is critical that you do not take expired medications.
Aside the health issues, the waste of money in these difficult times raises serious concerns. The Finder commends the immediate past Minister of Health, Ms Sherry Ayittey, for inviting the Economic and Organised Crime Office to investigate the circumstances that resulted in such huge losses to the state.
In the letter, EOCO is to determine whether the medicines were supplied with the standard shelve life of 18 months as required by policy.
In addition, EOCO is to investigate whether quantities supplied at the time were based on any scientific quantification in consultation with CMS.
EOCO is also to investigate if there were operational lapses which prevented the staff of the CMS from identifying the locations of the expired medicines.
According to the letter, EOCO is also to determine if there were wilful acts of omission or commission by individual staff resulting in the expiry of the medicines.
Ms Ayittey also requested EOCO to investigate the indebtedness of creditors to CMS of over GH₵18 million.
It is the hope of The Finder that persons found culpable of contributing to this mess will be punished as the laws of the land recommend and stricter procedures instituted to save the country from similar losses in the future.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Ghanaians economy. It, therefore, came as a surprise when the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana and Small-Scale Women and Men Farmers in Ghana indicated that they are alarmed at government's silence on the release of subsidised fertilisers for the 2014/2015 farming season.
According to the farmers, they have gathered that there has been almost a 100% increase in fertiliser prices since the season started in April. This, according to them, has made it difficult for small-scale farmers to purchase the product.
The fertiliser subsidy programme was established since 2008 and aimed at helping farmers increase their rate of fertiliser application as a means of increasing crop productivity and also to increase the country’s fertiliser application rate to at least 50 kilogrammes (kg) per hectare (ha).
It said it became necessary after statistics showed that Ghana’s fertiliser application rate was one of the lowest in the world, standing at 8kg/ha compared with 20kg/ha in Sub-Sahara Africa, 99kg/ha in Latin America, 109kg/ha in South Asia, and 149kg/ha in East and South East Asia.
It said the low application rate of fertiliser in the country was attributed to, amongst other things such as: “The high level of poverty among small-scale farmers, low profit margin and high cost of fertilisers.”
Even after government subsidy, which reduced the price to 50%, small-scale farmers, especially women, were still finding it difficult to purchase.
Today, 50kg of NPK is selling at GH¢95 while Urea also goes for GH¢95, with Sulphate of Ammonia also being sold at GH¢85.
A farmer needs a minimum of about two bags of NPK and one bag of Urea for one acre of maize.
Farmers need two bags of NPK, one bag of Urea and one bag of Sulphate of Ammonia for one acre, all depending on the location. Ploughing one acre of land costs GH¢100.
It is important to note that agriculture provides employment to about 50.6%, that is 4.2 million people of the labour force in the country, and still had the potential of addressing the problem of unemployment, stabilising the cedi and putting the economy in good footing if conscious efforts are made to tackle the bottlenecks in the sector and link it up to industry.
Government has a responsibility to help solve the challenges in the agriculture sector, which included extension service, mechanisation service, feeder roads networks, irrigation facilities and climate change, which were more important and had an impact on the Ghanaian agriculture system.
Additional incentives to small-scale farmers to enable them lead comfortable lives to continue to supply the country with food.
The farming season is almost over and government must act now to avert any possible food shortages in the coming years.
Whinging does not bring about any change. If it did, Ghana would have been a land flowing with milk and honey because we are a people who do that most. Sometimes we have to die a little to bring about the desired change, but this may be difficult when we see some people in leadership positions leading ostentatious lifestyles. For this reason, we have remained a country that does not seem to use its experiences to help develop ourselves.
The truth is that, like human beings, countries go through both hard and good times. When things look bad, the wise person takes some time out to assess things around him, and in some cases make the needed changes or improvise.
For instance, if it was the consumption of continental breakfast in restaurants that brought the hardships, strategies are put in place to, perhaps, turn to "Kooko" without bread or “kose.” Around the globe, countries use hardships that they go through as challenges and look for ways to develop. Not in Ghana. What we do is to whinge and force governments to take decisions that have no long-term benefits for us. We have become a people who want to be satisfied at all times. This is the bane of our problems.
The only way we can change our circumstances as a country is to pause for a while to see how we can use our hardships as a call for us to find ways that can make us develop in a way that we do not have to look for outside help.
We should change the history of never trying to use our resources to improve our circumstances. Throughout our history, anytime that we fall into hardships, all we do is to continue to ask for things that we do not produce ourselves instead of finding out if we can use local substitutes. Our governments also must learn to ignore the whinging of the people and try to do the right things. It is sad that people in government only try to satisfy the people, and for the fear of losing support, simply look for the easy way out. This cycle must stop!
I do recall in the 1960s when older people used to talk about the shortage of milk, sardine and the likes in the country and these culminated in the 1966 coup. After his overthrow, there were stories that the late President Nkrumah said if he knew all that the people wanted were milk and sardine, he would have provided them to keep them satisfied. This was a man who had long-term plans for the country and therefore spent his time to build a country. The legacies he left are all there for us to see. It goes without saying that if he had provided the milk and sardine, there would not have been the motorway; we would not have the Akosombo Dam and the many good things that the country continues to enjoy.
Those who overthrew him because he was not providing what the people wanted, the National Liberation Council, were themselves not spared when the shortages and hardships started. The same for Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia, who tried to devalue the cedi because there was the need at the time; again, he, like those before him, paid with the overthrow of his government. His departure did not end our hardships and the military governments that came after suffered the same murmurings. We have gone through days of “essential commodity rationing” under the National Redemption Council and later the shortages and “kalabule” days under the Supreme Military Council. In all these, it was our murmurings that led to the changes.
From January 1, 1982, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had sleepless nights when the shortages started. In the end, he had no choice but to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out the country. Those were the days when the leadership provided what we needed to bring about the change that would have developed the country forever. If we had just had a bit of patience, perhaps the mood of the times would have given us the strength to rebuild the country like others did.
Those were days when Ghanaians said they were ready to walk because there was no fuel; students decided to go into the field to carry cocoa for export because the crops had been locked up in the hinterland for long periods of time.
All it means is that given the right leadership, Ghanaians are prepared to rebuild the country on their own. The success story of “Operation Feed Yourself” is a clear example. Therefore, it is important that our leaders find out what they can do to get the people on their side so that we can develop without whinging. In order to do this, those in power must move away from living ostentatious lifestyles in order to get the people on their side.
If you drive luxury cars and ask the people to use Metro Mass transport services, they will not listen. If you decide to wear expensive suits and preach that local fabrics must be used, the people will laugh at you. If you prefer the serving of foreign cuisine at state functions, the people will not take you seriously when you campaign for the eating of locally produced rice. This is simple logic: that we want to follow the footsteps of those who preach to us.
The reason why some countries have been able to build their economies is that their leaders have provided the guidance by doing what they preach. We will not be complaining if we see that whatever sacrifices we make today is for a better future. Ghanaians will be ready to soak gari for breakfast, eat beans for lunch and perhaps take whatever we are able to produce for dinner. What they would not tolerate is to see their leaders take them for granted. South Africans used the period of apartheid to develop fuel out of alcohol. They were able to sustain their economy by improvising in so many ways.
We can use our research facilities to lead in turning our local resources to produce things that can make us self-reliant. The time has indeed come for us to get out the research files to see things that we can produce locally. In addition, we need to get our policymakers to start thinking of how to bring about serious changes in the country. It means looking at whether we need to use more cement in building our houses and facilities or providing local alternatives like pozzolana. There are many more things that we can do which will bring about the required changes we all wish for.
If we do not change, the consequences could be fatal. We would continue to whinge and whine, and this will lead to changes in governments forever without getting the desired results. We will also keep going to the IMF for bailouts and our economy will never see any change. There will be HIPC and this would never end our poverty. We would be forever praying to God to bring about the changes that we require and nothing would ever happen.
Daddy Lumba said in one of his songs that “money is blood,” and for that reason anyone who takes so much money from another under any guise should be considered as a blood sucker. And that is exactly what the small-time money lenders in the country have become. Like Draculas, they continue to suck the little money out of poor people to enrich themselves. It is like the love of money has blinded some people in society to the point that they have lost every sense of decency that should prick their conscience to know that it is not right to over tax the poor who approach them for help in time of trouble.
What has allowed the situation to grow is the sad fact that what affects the poor hardly attracts the attention of the authorities. The big companies and the rich in society always talk about the high interest rates that the banks take from them and yet the voice of the very poor of the people in the country have never been heard talking about the killer loan arrangements they suffer daily. It is not that they are not whispering, and with the large number one would have expected the authorities to take notice. That is not to be because the poor must not be heard.
Consider a situation where every month a substantial part of your salary simply goes to service the interest of a loan you have taken because you cannot raise money to pay the principal that you borrowed. It is painful to know that a large number of our people are going through this ordeal, with no one taking notice.
One fact that has contributed much to the suffering of the poor is the refusal of the banks to open their doors to the poor and vulnerable in our society and this has given loan sharks room to operate under very harsh terms, inflicting pain and misery on many. These are not the so-called microfinance companies that have suddenly sprang up all over the country but rather the individuals who offer loans to people.
Perhaps we have forgotten or we are just pretending that they do not exist, and by this attitude, they have been allowed to operate without any regulation; consequently, they have also taken the opportunity to behave like the real money sharks that they are. Last week, l met an unfortunate victim whose story put tears in my eyes. This young man needed money to pay for his rent allowance, and since his bankers would not give him a pesewa, he approached a money lender for a loan of GH₵1,000. Under the terms, he was to return the principal in whole, or in default pay an interest of GH₵200 at the end of every month that he defaulted to return the principal. The poor young man has paid GH₵200 for the past six months and may continue to do so for God knows when, if he is not able to get the principal.
The sad truth is that the young man earns GH₵350 a month, and one wonders how he is likely to raise the GH₵1,000.
There is another story of an Accra worker who had a horrifying experience when his father died a year ago. “When l lost my mother, l needed money to help pay for the funeral expenses. With nowhere to turn to, l had to take a loan and l turned to one of the several loan companies that had advertised on posters all over the Accra.” For him, that was one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made in his life.
Following the instructions in the advertisement, he dialled the phone number advertised on one of the poster and a voice answered. The one who answered the call asked a few questions after which he gave the directions to a meeting place. He refused to give the address to where their offices are and that was it. “Even though, he did not give the address to their offices, this loan operator took every details he needed from me and arranged the loan within an hour.” The payment terms are the same, for any month that you default in paying back the principal, you are slapped with a huge interest.
This is the story of many poor people in our society; unfortunately, the loan sharks do not have any institution regulating their activities. For this reason, they would continue to fleece many poor people. The well-off would never use their services, and so it is only the poor and vulnerable who fall victim.
A Bank of Ghana official once told me that the only form of law that exists is a century-old ordinance that simply allows these loan sharks to register, and that is all. The truth is how many of them even bother to register? These are people who operate from the comfort of their homes or in offices; so how would the authorities even know who is operating as such? Those who use their services may not even know that they have to register.
A couple of years ago l met some officials of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on what they were doing to help workers who have become victims to these loan sharks who claimed they were doing some research into these activities. Sadly, nothing has become public on what exactly the TUC found out and how they intend to help their members who are suffering silently.
It does look that the time has come for something to be done to clean up the work of these loan sharks. If a law is put in place to regulate how individuals give out loans and the level of interest rate they demand, poor people would be saved from the claws of the sharks. Admittedly, like every law, implementing a loan law like this might be difficult; at least, it would serve as a guide to those who are looking for loans.
Again, the law would prevent the loan sharks from operating in anonymity, which has enabled them to cheat. The transparency would enable those who are looking for loans to be able to know who is offering what so that they go get the best deal. As things stand now, it is not possible to know the terms that are on offer until you approach any of the loan sharks. The government is also likely to benefit because they can tax these people who are currently making so much without paying anything.
As the two largest economies in West Africa, the relationship between Nigeria and Ghana is a crucial one for the region.
Nigeria and Ghana are the largest and second-largest economies in West Africa respectively and are also the two biggest oil producers in the region, although the difference in output between the two is immense.
The latest report by the Ghana Investment Promotional Council ranked Nigeria as one of the top five biggest investors in the country after a substantial investment of $1.5 billion made by Nigeria into the Ghanaian economy.
Ghana and Nigeria control over 60% of trade of West Africa, which is quite understandable because the two countries represent 70% of the West African population.
Nigeria has also been a very important source of investment in Ghana. In recent years, for example, several Nigerian banks have set up shop in Ghana, as has the Nigerian telecommunications company Globacom.
Trade ties are particularly important, and Nigeria’s high levels of liquidity serve as an important source of capital for Ghana. However, a recent dispute between the two countries concerning the status of Nigerian traders in Ghana is a reminder of past bilateral tensions that have occasionally worsened political and economic relations, although the two countries have since moved to resolve the row and their governments have not heeded calls to sever ties.
However, relations between the two former British colonies have not always been so rosy. In 1969-70, Ghana expelled large numbers of Nigerian residents. In 1981, at a time when Ghana was reliant on Nigeria for around 90% of its petrol requirements, Nigeria suspended oil exports to the country in response to the coup of that year, and then went on to expel around 1 million Ghanaian residents in 1983 and a further 300,000 in 1985.
These sporadic outbursts had largely died down, but concerns over competition among market traders – and more particularly the loss of business among Ghanaian traders – have allowed them to flare up once again. The most recent argument centres on the government’s plans to enforce the 1994 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act, which mandates foreigners to employ a minimum of 10 Ghanaians and invest at least $300,000 in the capital of their business in order to act as traders in the country – a provision that has often been ignored.
A report by Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a US-based newspaper, that officials of the United States of America and Nigeria are investigating Ghana’s Saltpond Offshore Producing Company on suspicion that it is being used to tranship and smuggle stolen Nigerian crude to Europe is a cause for concern.
Evidence adduced in the story calls for thorough investigations by National security apparatus of both Ghana and Nigeria and culprits made to face the law to avoid any diplomatic row.
Few expect calls for the cutting of ties because there is too much at stake and, in spite of the occasional disagreements between the two countries, they are as closely intertwined as can be.