By Palgrave Boakye-Danquah
The exigency of the times we find ourselves demands that as a people, we desist from seeing and doing things in the same old manner when we were in normal times. There is this catch phrase, ‘new normal’, which has come to be associated with the deadly pandemic Covid-19 when it plagued and continues to torment the global economy.
It is therefore imperious and ideal that we join hands together and work to elevate ourselves out of this world crisis. The minority in parliament must as a result, in the spirit of nationalism and patriotism, stop the adversarial antics against the 2022 budget and support the revenue mobilization innovation (e-levy) in the 2022 budget statement. It is not as if they have an alternative means except to suggest an IMF bail-out which they trumpeted even before the budget was read in parliament on November 17, 2021.
Consequently, selflessness and collective effort from their quarters would be the sure way to go in this era of new normal. It is not the stint to exhibit apathetic, pessimistic attitudes and sentimentalities, but to always express and embrace optimism, possibilities and hope and to assure ourselves that there is light at the end of the tunnel if only we are willing. It will shock us to learn that we are out of this dire situation even before we know it, and that we will start seeing things as it were before if only we will all resolve to put our shoulders to the pulley.
The phrase ‘new normal’ implies that we brace ourselves up to adjust and adapt to the new ways of doing things if we really need to survive in this unpredictable global business environment brought about as a result of the corona virus pandemic. By adapting and adjusting, we will see and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new normal. Whereas the threats therein would also be avoided. In this new world, our mindsets and perspectives as a nation requires to be renewed to avoid becoming an economically stagnated country.
Times and world trends are constantly on the run – we have to chase it up. It has even become too obvious in this period of corona virus pandemic. The world is not waiting for us (Ghana) to catch up with the rest (other countries) before they can carry on with their economic development agenda. In a covid business environment, behold, all things have become new, old things have passed away. But if we do not realize this to see the need to change our ways, it will become very difficult for us as a nation to thrive economically. The proposed scrapped road toll is enough evidence that government wants to do things anew in order to be effective and efficient. We should remember that change is not all the time a bad thing but how we see it to be. The e-levy will help offset the GHC78 million scrapped road toll per year and even add more; let’s support it.
I have said this somewhere, I will repeat it here and again elsewhere, that the survival of nations’ economy in this new uncertain global business environment depends on how best these nations can creatively and innovatively mobilize resources to strategically position themselves to champion their economic forward march; otherwise, it will be a very difficult adventure trying to survive without a coherent plan. Normally, countries do not have much of control on the external business environment – they manage the circumstances whether good or bad.
However, on the contrary, the internal environment (territorial integrity) is fully under the control of governments. So, usually, the prudent thing to do all the time when countries are hit by crisis in the external environment is to look within to capitalize most on their internal strengths while they work to improve on their weaknesses so long as it is done in accordance with global standards. When this is perfectly done, it will become visible the external opportunities to take advantage of and at the same time, the threats there are to avoid.
Even before covid-19, Ghana’s economic administration was beset with a lot of challenges and inefficiencies. But then, practical efforts were being made to reverse and to correct the situation. There was a very huge informal sector which had proven not to be healthy for our economic growth for the simple reason that people constantly evaded taxes. And even as we speak, they are still evading taxes because their activities whatsoever could not be traced nor identified; making it extremely difficult for successive governments to mobilize the needed revenue for development purposes. Successive governments have mostly resorted to borrowing; which is the easy way out and have overly relied on aids, grants and other forms of foreign support to finance the nation’s economic activities.
Now, on the threshold where we stand, borrowing has become unsustainable. A sovereign nation like Ghana cannot forever rely on aids, grants and handouts; hence, the Ghana beyond aid vision. Production levels are so low. In effect, there is an imbalanced relationship between our exports and imports; creating trade deficits at all times on the country’s current accounts – a situation government is relentlessly working to correct because it is economically unsustainable.
We therefore have to determine to do something for ourselves irrespective of how difficult it would be. Come to think of it; the aids, grants and handouts that we constantly receive from our benefactors were equally raised from the taxes of our benefactors. We do not even know how these countries raised these funds to be given to us – but we accept it when it is given to us. Why can’t we also do same to become a blessing to others? From what I know, ‘’blessed is the hand that giveth than the hand that taketh’’. It is Ghana we are building and are therefore required to take some necessary difficult paths – since most easy ways sometimes lead to perpetual destruction.
Ever since 2017, government has introduced policies that is geared towards making revenue mobilization difficulties a thing of the past in Ghana. Government has actualized the National Identity Card system, rolled out Mobile Money Interoperability system, the Ghana Post GPS system and now, the digitalization drive; look at the coherence and the policy interdependence.
All these policies were being implemented or worked at long before the global crisis (covid-19) came about; policies the former president said did not make any sense to him. These same policies are what have become the corner stone for our economic survival in this covid-19 era. Government is now seeking to leverage on these assets to disentangle the nation from the global economic hardships brought about by the pandemic and same is being kicked against by the same person and his cohorts. Is it that they do not understand the strategy? Or they are just politicking?
The E-levy is part of the new normal rebuilding strategy. Let us support it rather than to castigate against it. Vice president Bawumia speaking at the launch of NPP manifesto on Saturday, August 22, 2021, intimated that government is looking at the time when your NIA card number will become your Tax Identification Number (TIN).
This is the move to formalize the economy in order to help minimize the difficulties that is associated with tax revenue mobilization. This also means that, in the new normal, one will by all means fall within the tax net threshold. The tax net will automatically be widened. The vice president at the same event indicated that about sixteen million cards had been issued as at then. And even went further to state that ‘’sixteen million population is just enough for an economy’’. Understandably, it is a well thought through strategy, unless you don’t get it.
Again, in his recently held lecture at the Ashesi University on digitalization, the Vice president was able to link digitalization to the economy and even portrayed how the economy would become worthless in few years to come without digitalization, especially in this era of the new normal. Therefore, in my candid opinion, the E-levy is not a scheme by government to over burden citizens with taxes. After all, what would be the benefits of that apart from what government would do with the tax revenue for the betterment of all?
Instead, it is part of a grand strategy to move the country up economically to be prosperous, confident and self-reliant. It is not the delight of government to just tax citizens. In the old normal, government would just go on borrowing to finance projects. But in the new normal, government seeks to devise innovative ways of mobilizing revenue aside borrowing. From where we stand currently, borrowing is not even a lucrative business to venture – our debt to GDP ratio is not a favorable one. In effect, let us see the need to support this effort by government and stop the partisan propaganda communication around the e-levy conversation.
Point of clarification: the E-levy is not only about mobile money as it is being described. It is about every commercial service rendered online in the new normal. As we are all aware, almost every service, public and private is going online or becoming digitalized. This what the critical thinkers have analyzed to see where the country can cash-in. It is also where those with critical eyes are looking to position Ghana appropriately. Are the critics of this E-levy policy proposal suggesting that the e-services should be tax free because they are done online?
The conversation around the e-levy proposal must rather come in to help fine-tune it to be better and acceptable to all than to brand it to look monstrous in order to get rid of it entirely. The over concentration of the conversation on mobile money services is what is causing the seeming public outrage on the e-levy proposal. Let the discourse center on the broader perspective rather than limiting it to just mobile money just to cause public disaffection for government. After all, it is about the wellbeing of Ghana and not about any individual or group of individuals. And if government wanted it to be solely on mobile money, it would have said so; it was named e-levy for a reason.