Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Bold Directions In Import Policy Needed

Kodwo Mbir Bullard

"If the existing measures which have been tried before by past regimes did not work and do not presently appear to be working the PNDC should be honest and bold enough to admit this and try other measures".
The purpose of this analysis is to comment on two notices relating to some aspects of Ghana's import policy which appeared towards the end of 1983, and to argue the need for altern- ative policies.

The first notice was issued by the Information Service of the Ghana High Commission in London (West Africa, 29th August, 1983). This notice bans the importation of cars into Ghana by certain categories of Ghana- ians. The rationale given for the ban is that such cars deprive commercial and public vehicles of fuel. A close examin- ation of the fuel situation in the country would show that this rationale is a piece of window dressing. Private cars are not getting fuel anyway. Most of them are stranded nearly perman- ently at the petrol filling stations await- ing petrol that may never come. In the 5th September 1983 issue of West Africa it was reported that the face value of all categories of petrol ration coupons had been halved by the Government!

To address the issue more directly, the ban is simply untenable and must be withdrawn. If Ghana's public transportation system were reasonably adequate, there would be no need for any further imports of private cars, and it would be fairly legitimate to ban car imports. But in the present situation when close to 70 percent of the vehicles in the country is off the road for want of spare parts, and another 15 percent is grounded because of lack of fuel, I fail to see how imports of additional cars into the country can harm the economy of Ghanaians in any way. Banning certain categories of vehicles in an attempt to standardize vehicle use in the country, as was attempted by the AFRC is one thing. That is very commonsensical and therefore highly commendable. But banning car imports by certain categories of Ghanaians is something else.

The second notice concerns the baggage concessions that were granted to passengers arriving in Ghana from abroad. The list includes among others 12 tins of milk, 18 cakes of toilet soap, 6 bars of pale soap, motor vehicle spare parts of single items or sets not exceeding C825.00 in value, two quarts of brake fluid and one gallon engine oil. Incidentally this list was published as an afterthought to the famous 1983 Budget in which the above goods and others were subjected to ridiculously high import duties and surcharges ranging from 100 to 999 percent! It was apparently realised that the original provisions were indefensible. Even so, this latter concession is still unjustifiable. The items are too few and too small.

In a situation where virtually everything is in short supply, and transportation has broken down (humans have become cargo and travel in articulated vehicles meant to carry cocoa beans!), where people are starving to death, and the sad and hungry look on the hollow faces of hapless Ghanaians makes one's heart bleed, it is heartless to impose such limits on imports of any kind. By all means, impose a 1000 per cent surcharge on imported Mercedes!

Since the Government does not have the foreign exchange to import food and other essentials in large enough quantities for the entire nation, it just does not make sense to prevent people from bringing home goods which they have bought with their hard earned foreign exchange. There is more glory and honour in allowing goods bought by Ghanaians abroad into the country than government begging for food from abroad.

These two notices, seen in their wider perspective, complement the catalogue of the very exasperating conditions which the PNDC has been creating to add to the misery of Ghanaians not only at home but also those who have been abroad. The latest is the physical threat to life and property that those who have been abroad face at the hands of thugs, the so-called PDCs, who are allowed to stop cars in the streets in broad daylight and dispossess the rightful owners of their cars (West Africa 5th September, 1983).

It appears that while the Government is shouting from the rooftops that Ghanaians trained abroad should return home to help rebuild the shattered economy, the same Government is systematically and actively undermining the very conditions which will make it possible for these nationals to return home.

This letter is an appeal to the PNDC to let such common virtues as charity and humanity underlie their policies. The collapse of the 1983 Budget should teach the PNDC that budgetary measures, regardless of who made them, are not sacrosanct. People, no matter their credentials which may be impeccable, no matter how erudite or articulate, and this includes holders of Ph.Ds and Secretaries for Economic Planning and Finance, do make mistakes.

It is important to recognise this fact when enforcing these budgetary measures that have been translated into legislation. It is idle to pretend that just because they are laws, they are necessarily good. The PNDC should sit down and examine the impact of these measures which they are mindlessly and ruthlessly enforcing. They should then ask themselves if they have any right to impose these hardships on Ghanaians. Since the heady days of "Work and Happiness", Ghanaians have been given a raw deal. They need a break!

For a start, I would recommend that, since the goods are not in the country and the economy is proving incapable of producing enough to meet the country's needs, Government should lift the ban on ALL imported food and other essentials for a period of say 9 to 12 months. Since the Government needs revenue for imports to improve the roads, run services and maintain important institutions like the military, nominal essential duties ranging from 5 to 10 percent CIF could be charged.

I am positive that this simple measure applied across the board will reduce the artificial constraints that have been imposed on the economy through unrealistic policies. The resultant flooding of the Ghanaian market of these imports will perforce bring down prices. In the meantime the PNDC can turn its attention from needless harassment and enforcement of unjustifiable laws to organising the country.

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