Tomorrow the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Ghanaian equivalent of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) will be holding a nationwide strike to protest the economic conditions in the country. These workers will be voicing their displeasure with the depreciating currency, higher fuel costs, higher living costs, and the government’s ineffective policies to address these problems.
The TUC is prepared to go ahead with the planned strike despite calls by the police and the Minister of the Interior not to proceed because of inadequate personnel to oversee the strike.
Protests have already begun. Joy FM reported earlier this week that over 500 members of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) protested the challenges — inadequate power, depreciating cedi — that businesses are having as they try to operate and increasingly difficult economic conditions. Businesses in Tema, an industrial city neighboring Accra, are threatening that if conditions continue then up to 20 businesses may close down by the third quarter of 2014 resulting in up to 4,000 lost jobs.
Anecdotally, I have heard that private businesses have either stopped paying their workers for up to 7 months or have reduced payments to workers rather than sacking them. If you ask anyone, there is a perception that the government leaders neither understand the reasons for the economic conditions nor lack the wherewithal to lead the country out of the current situation.
I am not all that impressed by the government’s utterances.
Sanitary Pads Free from the World Bank
Earlier this month, the government announced it would use part of a $156 million World Bank loan for education to provide sanitary pads to underprivileged girls in secondary schools. The majority of the loan will be used to construct schools in rural Ghana.
As the Minister of Education, Jane Naana Opuku Agyemang, explained this was an urgent issue and was part of an effort to keep girls in school rather than dropping out. She explains:
“The girls seem to be in school up to about class three and four and they begin to drop [out]. A lot of theories have been expounded as to why this is happening. So the issue of girl’s sanitation is not a laughing matter. It’s a very serious issue.”
The relationship seems spurious but I am more concerned that the government is spending borrowed money to fund something that will be consumed immediately and will offer limited long-term benefits. The World Bank did not give away this money; it loaned the funds and I expect that they will want to be paid back.
In February of this year, the government announced that they would begin providing senior high school for free. During the 2012 campaign, the NPP’s, the challenging party’s, main promise was “Free SHS” while the incumbent/current government claimed that such a policy was too expensive. Now, the current government is saying it’s feasible. You can imagine how the public is skeptical of this reversal. The government hardly seems able to fulfill its own promises during the campaign much less the opposition’s.
More than a few people have noticed that the President has a penchant for leaving the country. In January 2014, a fellow NDC man noted:
It would be recalled that President John Mahama travelled to Dubai for Christmas holidays and within two weeks of his return to the country junket back to same place to attend a conference before arriving in Davos, Switzerland to participate in the World Economic Forum.
Before this, the President had visited countries like US, Turkey, Nigeria, Japan, South Africa among others, and he is currently in Ethiopia attending AU conference.
These numerous foreign travels, Kwasi Poku noted was needless especially when he can delegate some of trips to his vice President or the Foreign Affairs Minister whiles he turns his attention to the numerous domestic challenges.
Shockingly, whiles some functionaries of government in some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in a month make as many as three or four foreign travels for very ridiculous reasons; their counterparts in the state-owned enterprises hotly pursue them with between five and six overseas trips at the costly expense of the taxpayer.
Taking extreme delight in foreign travels as if it was an antidote to the numerous problems facing the country, these MDA capos; even in activities that can be done using telephone, through emails or by the use of social media, at the expense of the state’s scarce resource junket abroad at the least opportunity and bringing with them little or nothing home in return.
Investigations have uncovered that in some instances, some of these persons, particularly the female public officials, who fly business class ostensibly on national assignments all the way to places like Brussels, London, Paris, New York among others only end up having skin and facial treatment.
Ineffective Bank of Ghana
I’ve commented ad nauseum over the free fall of the cedi. This week I learned that Dr. John Ephraim Baiden has filed a suit against the Bank of Ghana. As GBC Ghana explains,
The plaintiff who has lost wealth through foreign exchange rate losses is urging the Supreme Court to issue an order of mandamus on the Bank of Ghana or its Governor and the Board of Directors to provide a stable currency and a change from a floating exchange regime to a reasonable adjustable peg regime.
He is further urging the Court to order the BOG to abrogate the present dual exchange rate or multiple exchange rate system to a single exchange rate system.
The Court is also to decide on Dr. Baiden’s call for an order directed at the BOG to provide Ghana a one is to one or nearer relationship with the leading global reserve currency as occurred in 2001.
I’ve been assured that Mr. Baiden is aware of ludicrous nature of his suit. Nonetheless, he seeks to highlight how the current monetary policy cannot continue.
Summarizing two years of administration with a few select examples is not necessarily fair. Nonetheless, I believe using a loan to pay for sanitary pads, the reversal on a campaign contention, free fall in the currency, and an administration seems more interested in being seen than tackling the tedium of every day government makes people concerned whether there is a captain at the helm.
Tomorrow these protesters will come out to protest the economic conditions embroiling the country. Many Ghanaians believe that the government can fix their problems; the average person has a communist/socialist concept of the role of government as a provider of jobs, healthcare, education, and security.
Though I don’t necessarily share that viewpoint, I do believe that the government can set policies that will make the country more attractive to foreign investment and both local and foreign business. I hope the protest tomorrow alerts the leaders to the plight of average Ghanaians and will spur the government to focus on essential policies for economic growth.