Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Atta-Mills flares up at IRS, but to what end?

On a visit to the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) office in Tema, Atta-Mills chided the Internal Revenue Service, another government agency, for failing to collect enough taxes. In his tirade against them, he alluded to the avalanche of posh buildings springing up in the country as well as the number of people driving expensive cars. To him, this hinted at the fact that a lot more money could be raked into the general coffers if the IRS were more vigilant. I find this speech interesting for two reasons:

1. Even though Atta-Mills was once the chairman of IRS and is a professor of tax law, he has shown very little innovation for revenue generation in his administration so far.

I criticized Atta-Mills's strategy for revenue generation when the budget was read last November: Instead of putting measures in place to tax operators in the so-called informal sector as well as enforcing the existing tax laws in order to discourage defaulters, his budget only proposed an increase in taxes on those who were already paying. It is ironic that while he thought it proper to chastise the IRS, he has not found it necessary to examine his own policies and his lack of leadership on this issue.

2. His language was rather caustic and uncharacteristic of him even though I don't think there was any provocation to justify his tone.

When Anas Aremeyaw Anas's expose about the corruption at CEPS was released, we saw an angry Atta-Mills storm the Tema port to chide the workers for their lack of patriotism and criminal behaviour. At that time, I was sympathetic to his strategy: As a father concerned about his aberrant children, he gave them a good dose of admonishment in the hope that they will heed and repent. I thought it was more than a symbolic gesture and even thought analysts like Dr. Nii Moi Thomson were being too severe when they demanded more concrete institutional changes in order to be convinced of his seriousness. I thought it went without saying that those measures were going to be put in place, considering this uncharacteristically angry tone and almost palpable determination to dealing with the problem. To wit, I thought they should have cut him some slack because he knew what he was doing, but I was wrong. It turns out the president may be making a ritual out of his occasional tirades even though he is unwilling to take any action to solve the problems at hand. He should work hard to change this reputation of his.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The political temperature in Ghana today

I am back after a long and eventful break. Quite a bit has happened in Ghana and the world, but I hope other bloggers have dealt with the issues so that I don't have to revisit them.

The biggest story that unraveled while I was away was that of Mrs. Rawlings resigning her position as vice chairman of the NDC in order "to respond to numerous calls on her to contest the flagbearership of the NDC when nominations are opened." Observers of Ghanaian politics were not surprised at this development. In fact, I wrote about this four months ago and would have been surprised if it hadn't happened.

If she decided to contest (as opposed to just threatening to do so), it will be the first time that a sitting president has been challenged from his own party. Ordinarily, this should not cause too much of a stir---after all, other people with good ideas for how the country should be run should be given the opportunity to contest the presidency. But Mrs. Rawlings is not ordinary.

Mrs. Rawlings is a former first lady, the wife of Flight Lieutenant Jeremiah John Rawlings who was head of state for Ghana for almost 20 years. The NDC was founded at the time when he wanted to transform himself from a military dictator into a democratic leader and so the party has an unusual history in that its founding was rather unnatural and inorganic. This has forced it to learn many difficult lessons rapidly beginning from when it was relegated to the opposition after Rawlings left the presidency.

Many of those who contributed to reconstructing the NDC as a formidable political front in the country feel entitled to reaping the benefits of their labour even though it is clear the Rawlings's still maintain their charismatic grip over a substantial section of its followers. This is the heart of the battle in the NDC, an issue about which I will say more later.