Empowering the people of Ghana…is it possible?

My presence on facebook has somewhat reduced over the past six months. I’ve been more of an observer than a participant. I guess with everything on my mind these days, posting a comment is last on my list of priorities.
I do like to read up on the Joy FM posts however. I like to read up on what is going on in Ghana, and the public opinion on it (from some of the comments from the people, it doesn’t surprise me that the country is as messed up as it is). I say this because on one of the posts, I read that the Ghana Investment and Promotions Centre (GIPC) announced they had revised the Act in an aim to ‘empower the people of Ghana’. The revised Act says, amongst other things, that Foreign Companies must cede 30% of their business to a Ghanaian national. The capital required for Foreigners willing to engage in retail trade has increased from 300,000USD to 1million USD. Finally, foreigners cannot operate a restaurant, sell on or stall or petty trade.

Great, sign me up for that 30% stake I say. On paper, it sounds great; Ghana is coming back to Ghanaian’s. In reality, it sounds like an Act which was written without any type of logical thought put into it. I don’t know what exactly it is meant to achieve to be honest. The world over we have Chinese, Italian, Indian (the list goes on) restaurants. It brings in revenue to the country and it creates jobs for the people of the country. They bring a variety to what could be a very dull country if we stuck to our same old foods when we went out. From a dietary perspective, they are not always the best. We are turning into a nation of fatties but I’ve spoken about that already. The issue with these businesses in this country is 1. Nobody is enforcing the existing laws, foreigners are opening business and they are getting away with avoiding taxes or paying very little. So they are becoming very rich very fast but nothing goes back into our mother’s coffers.
The second issue I have is the treatment of staff. The worst thing is to go into a restaurant and find the person waiting on me so dejected from being told basically that they are a pile of shit and thus treated like that from their slave master, I mean line manager. This resulting in me not getting quality service because the poor sod hates his job with a passion and takes it out on me, will shutting this foreigners business help? I doubt it very much. The flip side is that this waiter, this cook, and this cleaner being out of a job. What should happen rather is that the wonderful existing laws should b fully enforced, we should set up Agencies which go around making sure that taxes are paid and that the standards of the employees are to the correct standards. Oh yeah, that’s right we do, but they are just sitting in their ivory towers, and when they do come out to play, a back hander means that they will look away.

Now to the 30% rule, nice one, a Ghanaian must own 30% of retail businesses. Now to the reality, 60% of the population is either illiterate or barely made it through secondary school. That leaves 40% who have the ability to buy into this 30% stake. However, let’s look at the facts; the majority of that 40% are living well by the average Ghanaian standards. They have a decent roof over their heads. They can afford their children’s school fees to a decent school. Both mother and father have a car, they can afford to buy certain goods from the Shoprite in Accra Mall and buy a take-out once a week, but let’s face it. They are most likely living in a rented accommodation while they build their house, meaning every two years they will write a letter to HR requesting a loan (as you have to pay rent one or two years in advance). Alternatively, they have a mortgage which means a large chunk of their salary and the average salary for a professional is around 1,000 – 3,000 (£350 – £1,000) a month. It is very difficult to get to the top rung of the corporate ladder especially in a multinational as they are occupied by expats. Ever since I took the mortgage out on my house I have not been able to go back home to London, I just can’t afford it, my salary just doesn’t allow it, because it is just not possible (with all goods pegged at the ever increasing rate of the dollar). Some are able to, how they get that extra cash only God knows, but if you are like me, relying on just one income, even a holiday abroad once a year is difficult, let alone buy a 30% stake in a foreign owned business.

So from my analysis, this revise law takes out probably 90% of the population. That leaves the 10% with money, the politicians, drug dealers and the small percentage of ‘businessmen and women’ who travel back and forth between Ghana and Dubai or China (with or without drugs). Will this revision empower Ghanaians? I take the 5th on that, what I will say is that I am sceptical on the matter.

Is this going to empower the Ghanaian people, probably it would benefit a very small percentage of them, but the rest of us 90%, it is just literature.

If we really want to talk about empowerment of the Ghanaian let’s look at Education. Let’s look at setting up Adult Education Centre’s whereby Abena can go and learn how to read and write and gain some basic certification so that she will not spend her days going from one place to the next cleaning for a very minimal salary. Let’s look at empowering our youth, so that they stay in school and not end up pregnant at 16. Let’s look at sending our youth into the job market, encourage them to find holiday jobs so that they have a little something to help them further their education. Let’s look at the minimum wages at all levels. Foreign companies think that in so far as they pay you more than the minimum wage of less than $1 an hour, you should be grateful that your salary is a three figure sum. I could go on and on, but it would not be so great for your eyes and my blood pressure.
Telling foreign companies that they cannot trade in certain areas, or that they must give up a stake in their business really isn’t the key to solving the issues we have in the economy, it’s just a crack pot idea which is doomed to failure. Even if it were to be passed, just like the Labour Act and the Tax Laws, really, which person is going to go around and make sure that the law is being enforced? Just like the laws before us, nobody is going actually go to the Chinese Restaurant in Osu and check that it is not owned by the Chinese, and even if once in a while somebody does get up from behind his desk to go. A payment to turn a blind eye will send Mr Asare back to his office with and Mr Asare will write a letter to the boss saying he went round and checked all the restaurants and retailers and everything was above board. Mr Asare will do this because his salary barely pays his children’s school fees and well, who really cares. There’s laws which should in effect stop the illegal mining and fishing by the Chinese, but they still do it, so what does it matter if the Chinese Restaurant is still owned by the Chinese.

If the aim is to truly empower we the Ghanaians (i.e. 100% or a high percentage rather than the lowely 10%), I think that the decision makers need to go back to the drawing board because I don’t think this is the way. Unless the aim is to be like our neighbours in Nigeria, empowering the rich. Well we already have major energy and water inefficiencies. So yeah, that would work.

About efiasworld

A British Born Ghanaian navigating her way through life.
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