Ghana: Promoting Local Produce Against Cheap Foreign Imports Is One Sure Way of Survival
Accra — Tomorrow is budget day. In times past, budget days held special attractions for traders and businessmen who had eyes on a few extra cedis. Most shops and retail outlets used to close down. Their owners had learned over years of studying the system that the reading of budgets corresponded to increases in goods and services across board.
They also gave indications about how the military would react towards governments in power. During the Second Republic, the rundown to the overthrow of the Busia regime started the moment Finance Minister Joseph Henry Mensah had read the budget of 1971, and announced the devaluation of the cedi.
The inflation trend triggered by the devaluation, gave then Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and his co-plotters enough reason to move troops. It is interesting to note that one of the major reasons given for the overthrow of the Progress Party regime was: “The few amenities we were enjoying, even under the Nkrumah regime, had been taken away.”
When Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings curtailed the People’s National Party administration of Dr. Hilla Limann and classified it as the worst in the history of this nation, he premised his submission on the spiraling cost of living occasioned by the 1981 Budget presented by Prof. George Benneh, who was the Ghanaian equivalent of the Chancellor of Exchequer in Britain.
When Dr. Kwabena Duffuor takes the dispatch box at Parliament House tomorrow, the economic fortunes of Ghana would be outlined from proposals in the briefcase. Over the years, I have wondered whether the state has a specific briefcase for budget presentations. If it is, then the colour and mode have gone through a bit of change.
Whatever the colour, it would be unrealistic to expect the Minister to mount the rostrum and announce drastic changes in the fortunes of this nation, in spite of the over-flogged notion of this economy rising higher than any on the globe.
What magic wand has suddenly transformed our economic fortunes, when most people at the centre of the earth cannot afford a single decent meal a day? Whatever it is, we should stop tickling our selves and bursting into laughter. If the economy of Ghana is doing that well, we would not need foreign consultants to tell us so. We would know from our ability to sponsor our children’s education and our living standards overall.
We are being told that this nation is now among the top 10 destinations for tourists in the whole wide world. I hope no one is playing on our intellects. In 2006, I was in Egypt for the African Cup of Nations. Ghana was based in Port Said. I took some time to visit the harbour, which is the entrance into the Suez Canal. I marveled at the number of fully-loaded luxury boats arriving from the Mediterranean Sea.
On the day Ghana played and lost to Zimbabwe, some of us arrived at Ismailia very early. The large Olympic Complex in Ismailia overlooks the Suez Canal. For more than three hours, I sat at the complex admiring the number of boats entering the canal with the rapidity that was the equivalent of tro-tro vehicular movement in Accra. I have visited the pyramids and seen how busy it is with tourists.
In Europe, I know of how the ordinary holidaymaker suntans at the beaches in Spain and Portugal, as well as the Mediterranean enclaves of Italy, Greece, Malta, and the former Yugoslavian societies. Talk of the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, China, Soviet Union, the Asian Tiger nations, South America and Australasia. I doubt whether Ghana would place 20th among tourism destinations in Africa, let alone the whole wide world.
I have chosen to enumerate these examples to show that it looks like we are building an economy of make-belief, instead of accepting that our economy is not flying, in spite of all the natural resources, and resolve to improve on our lot. We may advertise ourselves as the gateway to West Africa, because with the problems in Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria still contriving to get its economy wrong in spite of all its huge potentials, the authorities in Ghana believe an additional cedi added to the economy makes us the fastest-growing in the world.
In some way, they may have a case. If you have one, and you manage to add another, the growth rate is a hundred percent. But, if you have 100, and you add 20, you have grown your figures by only 20 percent. Maybe that is why we are still happy with being told that this economy is either the fastest or among the fastest growth rates in the world.
Some of us are looking at ways and means of making the average Ghanaian eke out a decent living, as opposed to brilliant growth in Dr. Kwabena Duffuor’s briefcase that would amount to nothing in real terms. That is why, instead of rattling figures about economic indicators that would not exist in real form, the budget should give direction on what to do with the vast natural and human resources available to this nation.
Instead of being told that suddenly, this nation of impoverished 24 million Ghanaians is now flowing with milk and honey, when dust is all we have on our streets, we would like to be told pragmatic means of building the economy.
I must be honest, one of the things I detest most on our streets, is the sight of vendors hawking apples and grapes. People change our cedi into dollars and import items this nation could do without, in the process of which we collapse the cedi and put money in the hands of farmers in South Africa and other countries exporting these products.
I am looking forward to a national budget that would make it a dis-incentive to import these produce. I am afraid we are losing the battle to keep our indigenous food. Now, thanks to uncontrolled advertisements in the media, our kids are getting hooked on foreign foods like noodles and rice in its various forms. In most homes in tropical Ghana, children are being raised on these items, imported at great cost to the nation.
There is a particular advert that keeps my pressure up anytime it is aired. A little girl, barely four, is able to spell nutrition, apparently, because she is fed on noodles. Has anybody cared to know the harm that kind of advert is doing to the future taste of our kids, and the raid it is having on our economic circumstances?
I am looking forward to a budget that would discourage importers from bringing in noodles. Without noodles, our kids would develop the taste for plantain and yam, for instance. I am looking forward to a budget that would stimulate growth in local agricultural produce, instead of the open sesame given to importers to flood our markets with cheap foreign foods.
Not too long ago, when an attempt was made to cushion local poultry farmers against imports of produce from Latin America and Europe, the Breton Wood institutions and foreign partners came hard on us. Since the attempt at subsidising our local produce was abandoned, we have a free reign of cheap imports on the market. Some of the frozen chicken and beef, for instance, have spent close to a quarter of a century in the fridge.
I am looking forward to a budget that would safeguard the run on the cedi as a result of cheap imports from abroad, from tooth-picks to matches. Our economy is still steep in a third world setting. We cannot, and must not try and compete with Western industrialised nations. But we can guard against the little we have.
We must encourage the truck-pushers at Kantamanto and the Kayayie to return home. That would mean making it possible for our agricultural produce to be patronised. I am looking for the promotion of Ghana and the Ghanaian from this budget.
The theory of an economic miracle should be on the sidelines. We have reached a stage when we must decide on what to do with our natural resources. We cannot give our minerals away for cheap, and continue to attract the negative effects of mercury and cyanide spillages which appear to be our main reward for opening this nation up for foreign multi-nationals to plunder our natural resources to enrich their colonial enclaves.
In the last edition of waiting for the budget tomorrow, I will take a look at what can be done to gain more from our oil fields and minerals exploitation. I shall return!