Tough Economic Lessons From Ghana

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Friday, April 26, 2019  08:47AM / Op-Ed by Tope Fasua 

 

Though I may have been to Ghana, Nigeria’s closest English-speaking nation up to ten times now, there are always lessons to learn at each visit – good and bad. I will start from the airport.  

So we have opened our own version of Accra’s new international airport in Abuja, and ours is much larger, one is usually touched by the serenity of Kotoka Airport. The people of Ghana are just a touch better organized. Or are they just slow? We shall look at that later. I needed to change some money into their local currency and was referred to a money exchange in the same airport building. The money exchange was manned by a single lady. The entire environment had a relaxed corporate feel about it.  For us here, we are now scared of our own shadows. Also, though Ghana is as diversified culturally as Nigeria, there were no stragglers around the airport asking if you wanted to change dollars. There weren’t a horde of beggars and hustlers or street traders at the airport too.  

Lesson two, and still within the airport: As the taxi sought to exit the airport, there was an electronic barrier on which the driver had to scan a prepaid card. I asked how much they paid for parking, and it was around 20 Ghana Cedis per day (about N1,400). He said it was much higher for private cars – at least 50 Ghana Cedis for two hours (about N3,500). Here in Nigeria – at least Abuja that I use more frequently, private vehicles pay N200 or N300 to park all day, and big men go for free, especially if they have a long convoy with sirens. All cars with some government sticker on them also park for free. That is part of why we have too many loafers around our airports. All sorts of people who have no business there simply go to ‘hustle’ and source for unstructured ‘daily bread’ at the nation’s very gateway.  

Let’s leave the airport. There is a surfeit of Daewoo Matiz (tiny cars) in Accra. Most of the Uber cars in Accra are that small. Sometimes you get a Rio or Corolla. Most of them have no air-conditioning and it seems that is not a big deal for them there. A typical Nigerian will complain, about the heat and the size of the car. There are a couple of lessons here. Each Daewoo Matiz car costs about 19,000 Ghana Cedis or a little less than $4,000. This is like N1.3million. But they are new, and effective. There are no ‘keke Napeps’ in Accra. There were a few bikes used for transport in some rough suburbs but none was noticed in the whole of Accra City. Because these small cars are purchased new, Uber easily prequalifies them.  There is a sense of contentment and modesty about people here. Nigerians are very aspirational and nothing can hold us down.   

However, I am unsure if our insatiable craving for luxury when we actually produce nothing will augur well in the near future.  Nigerians love big things, but we are incapable of making the smallest of things.  Anyhow, Keke Napeps go for as much as N700,000 each in Nigeria, meaning that with the price of two, one could purchase one these Daewoo cars. It must be a special arrangement they have because things are expensive in Ghana but one cannot find any new car in Nigeria for N1.4million. The cheapest Innoson car when I checked online, is N7.6million. The smallest Kia here could be as much as N2.5million.  It takes having a vision for a people to create this opportunities. However I don’t think we should proliferate Keke Napeps in our cities and make them a permanent feature in our future. I see small smart cars in the future of smart cities full of smart people. 

 

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The neatness of Accra city is always touching. Nowhere did I see any refuse dump on any road; not even in and around the notorious Makola Market. I have been to some really bad ghettos around Accra, though I understand many of them are now evacuated. I see a people that take themselves seriously. But it wasn’t all rosy. I had cause to get to Kwame Nkrumah Circle, trying to make my way – out of curiosity - to West Hills Mall Weija (which they claim is the largest in West Africa). The total chaos at the roundabouts was quite annoying, and after an hour we had to turn back. I felt that African leaders should begin to subscribe to 100% performance in everything they do. Service Excellence should be a state policy. Actually I humbly run an Institute so named (Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance), which tries to promote these issues. The idea is that except you set service targets beyond 100% you could never attain 90%. By not having any standards at all, sometimes service falls to negative region. 

African leaders need to implement things like Six Sigma performance models in all spectra of governance. The fundamental mindset that must be attained is to note that all human beings are important and are deserving of excellent service, and that there is no excuse for perennial and perpetual failure in any part of a system. There is a thick layer of classism and discrimination running in our governments in Africa. We would rather create things like VIP Lounges to try and patronize people who have money while leaving the vast majority in the lurch. But we forget that we could get so much more money from the international community if we treat our people like proper human beings. Kwame Nkrumah Circle should be manned 24hours a day by traffic controllers. I could say that what I saw there that day will not be permitted even in Nigeria (apart from traffic created by churches at some times in the month), because we complain a lot.  We have youths in great numbers in Africa. We should use them to organize our societies.  

 In the hotel where I stayed, there were elaborate brochures detailing tourist sites in Ghana. Another brochure focused on investment opportunities. These guys left nothing to chance. God help Nigeria. Even the immigration form we completed was more practical, made of better, mat paper material and looked more respectable. And it is still a wonder that even within Africa , Nigeria is the only country where no one does any biometric capture of visitors. In Ghana, your iris is scanned, and your fingerprints taken as you enter and depart the country. This is the same in the African countries I have been – Liberia, Rwanda, Zambia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Benin Republic, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya. This biometric capture at the airport gives even visitors a sense of security and seriousness.  It’s a certainty that the contracts would have been issued out here, with the proceeds ending up in the foreign accounts of some oppressor. Ghana was organized and is trying to organize more and more. They are targeting tourist money, business money, and of course money-miss-road money. 

 

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What about the local products? I was shocked when I saw the packaging of Zobo drink by one Mensdo Limited. They called it Bissap – from Hibiscus. The packaging in glass bottles will sell the product anywhere in the world. That is what we need in Africa. The palmwine product we found in a restaurant was less well-packaged, but the product itself was wonderful. I doubt if one could find palm wine in any upscale restaurant in Nigeria. Things like packaging requires a certain presence of mind. One of our problems in Nigeria is that we put the money first. Everyone is encouraged to get into entrepreneurship for no other reason than to ‘hammer’. Someone wishing to simply ‘hammer’ is likely to let slip on some quality issues. Yet I know that Nigerians appreciate quality when we see one. I believe there are many things we should be innovating and pushing to the world because we have the abilities to so do. 

 

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I am writing this travelogue for two reasons. The first one is to address a viral message about Ghana moving into a production-driven economy as against a tax-driven one. This was the theme of Ghana’s 2017 budget actually, but it’s only half true.  In the first place, one should ask if we cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Can we not have an efficient tax system AND also drive productivity? If taxes were well used, infrastructure will develop rapidly and businesses, production, and productivity, will certainly thrive. The second reason is to compare our two countries and see what can be learnt from one another. 

Ghana is, and has always been a high tax environment. As regards their VAT, in 2017 they ‘reduced’ the 17.5% rate for small businesses to 3% Flat rate in what is known as the VAT Flat Rate System (VFRS). The idea is to make tax collection more effective and to jack many little businesses into the tax net. Many small businesses who never filed VAT are now forced to pay the 3% flat.  The idea is certainly not to reduce government tax revenue, but to increase it. The focus of the so-called reduction is on retailers. Manufacturers still pay at 17.5%. The sophistication of tax administration in Ghana tells us it is a high tax system anyway. The 17.5% is usually administered on a net basis. What do I mean? Every business keeps records of VAT paid during the year, and backs this out from VAT received. The government gets the net. With this new 3% flat rate, the government is not interested in entertaining any deductions. Every retailer simply pays government 3%, no begging. It’s more like a sales tax. Nigeria’s 5% VAT is often a Sales Tax too, as most people do not know that they should back out input VAT. The FIRS takes 5% on sales from many SMEs every month. Only large companies try to deduct the VATs they paid in the course of their business.

 

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Meanwhile at Buka Restaurant in Osu where we once had lunch, the final bill came with the following taxes; 1% Tourism Levy, 2.5% GETFUND (Ghana Education Tax Fund), 2.5% NHIL (National Health Insurance Levy), and 12.5% VAT. This is 18.5% in all. Please don’t believe the hype.  I imagine Nigerians will hit the roof if half of these kind of taxes were introduced at our retail level. The usual complaint is that government mismanages what they collect. While this is true, we must be careful not to be moving round and round in circles. Chicken and egg. Which one goes first? There is also corruption in Ghana even if not at the level of what we have here. The elites and middle-class especially should stop demanding for things from government before paying their taxes – or paying their dues to society. Our country is ours to build. Someone must bell the cat. I will want to say that I believe Ghanaians are overtaxed and beaten down though. The tax system has made everything very expensive and I don’t see their indigenous entrepreneurs thriving. Nigeria is however too free, too cheap, too disorganized, too deluded about its oil wealth and too wayward. We need to meet somewhere in the middle.  The other day I stated that the VAIDS program was too early. We need some serious enforcement, discipline and education first, sustained over a period of time, before we introduce voluntary compliance and offer people ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ cards. 


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Meanwhile petrol sells for one dollar per litre. That is 5.18 Ghana Cedis or N360 per litre. This is however not an excuse to justify the frauds, inefficiencies and corruption that we have suffered in the hands of our leadership here. The subsidy idea has been all too fraudulent anyway but that is a talk for another day. I have maintained that Nigeria’s budgets are too small and that we can generate multiples of our current revenues.  For instance a car tax was introduced recently in Ghana which mandates taxes as follows under the Luxury Vehicle Act, 2018 (Act 969), : vehicles with engine capacity ranging from 2.9L to 3.0L are charged GH¢1,000 (N70,000 equivalent yearly); capacities ranging from 3.5L to 4.0L are charged GH¢1,500 (N105,000 yearly), while vehicles with engine capacity of 4.5L and above are levied GH¢2000 (N140,000 yearly. Nigerians will riot if this happens. We too dey flex. 

Also, I believe Nigeria can easily generate a lot of money from areas such as excise duties (cigarettes and alcohol are probably cheapest in Nigeria than anywhere else on earth), property taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes and a raft of existing levies, duties, fees, fines, rents, rates, which are mostly ignored in Nigeria simply because our leaders are not ready to lead by example, and they have an anti-collective development mindset which they have infected the rest of us with.  

Come back with me to Kotoka International Airport. The other day it was Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde who complained that it took N72 to buy one Ghana Cedi. Just like the illusion of our new N30,000 minimum wage which is equal to $82 at the current exchange rate of N360, when N18,000 was once equal to $150 (when exchange rate was N120), the ‘strong’ exchange rate of the Ghana Cedi is a great illusion today. Ghana cannot be used as a lightning rod example of how to run an economy because the country still has many of its own problems. The old currency was 9400 to one Dollar when they redenominated in 2007 by removing 4 zeros. The new Ghana Cedi became 0.94 to one US Dollar, thereby becoming ‘stronger’ than the dollar. Since then it’s been a one-way devaluation traffic that has no end. Today the Ghana Cedi is 5.18 to the Dollar. In other words, the currency has devalued from 9,400 for one Dollar in 2007, to 51,800 to the same Dollar in 2019! Forget redenomination. I wish this government luck though because it seems to listen to the worst advise.  

One last thing at the airport. At the gate, one is approached by a nice lady, Rahmatu, whose parents hail from Tamale in Northern Region of Ghana.  I’ve always wondered about how Ghana’s north to south seem better integrated than Nigeria’s north and south. John Mahama is from the north of Ghana. The way Ghanaians speak you will never guess that there were different indigenous languages in that country. Anyhow, Rahmatu’s duty today is to administer a detailed questionnaire on the experience of every foreigner who visited Ghana. The questions were businesslike and targeted. I took pictures of each page. I wondered what it is they do at NTDC or Ministry of Culture and Tourism. I hear we scrapped the ministry of tourism. Meanwhile Kotoka International Airport Free WiFi is one of the fastest in the world. The airport sitting area is very friendly and they obviously planned it with the comfort of passengers in mind.  

So much to learn and unlearn. I think Nigeria will do well to study Ghana’s more strategic approach at development, even though we should continue to encourage our youths to dare. We should however reduce the focus on money for money’s sake. We should be more systematic in our revenue drive. Every can of drink sold in Ghana had a tax stamp on top (in QR codes). Retail items cannot be sold without this code, and penalties for noncompliance is steep. So long as Ghana is more responsible around its spending, that country may emerge before Nigeria into a proper developing country. With their parliamentary system of government combined with an executive president who is not an MP, I see this country moving fast at some point. They should however ensure the indigenous people are empowered else the Chinese, Lebanese and Europeans will keep cleaning out the country. My fear though is that Ghana is like UK’s guinea-pig in Africa. Everything they do in UK is often replicated in Ghana. Even personal income tax rate was increased to 35% for people earning a mere 10,000 Ghana Cedis (about N700,000 monthly). In Nigeria, our personal income tax has an upper band of 24% the last time I checked.  While this means a very frugal, tax-driven society, there is a need to think about the poorest and most disadvantaged Ghanaian. As for Nigeria, I hope our luck continues to hold up. There is a reason many are relocating from here to other countries and a lot of that has to do with governance or lack of it. 

 

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About the Author

Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian businessman, economist and writer. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. He was the 2019 presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), which he founded. He can be contacted via e-mail at ceo@global-analytics.co.uk

 

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