14 August 2014

Ghana: Area of Waste IMF Must Trim

There is an Augean Stable in the public waste chain that The Chronicle wants the International Monetary Fund to address at its earliest convenience, shortly after it assumes the Chief Internal Auditor's seat at the Ministry of Finance & Economic Planning.

It is in the area of allocation of vehicles and the fuel-coupon system in use throughout the Office of Government Machinery. This OGM is nothing less than an octopus: It is said to include the Office of the President, a junior octopus, office of the Vice-President, the Council of State, over 80 Cabinet & Non-cabinet Ministers and their deputies, 137 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives, 'uncountable' directors at all levels of the machinery of Parliament and of the Judiciary, and the independent constitutional bodies amongst others.

Most, if not all of them, are allocated at least one fuel-guzzling V8, 4-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser or similar brands. Of course, Ministers often go on official treks outside their base stations and 4-wheel drives are the appropriate vehicle to use, especially when the trips are beyond the regionals capitals into the rural areas, where the roads really shake the bones of travellers.

The beef of The Chronicle, however, is with the use of V8s by government officials for intra-city travel, from home to office and back home. Such abuse of V8s should be banned because it comes at great cost to the state. Currently, according to research reportedly conducted by Ransford Gyampo, a political scientist at the University of Ghana, Ministers get 45 gallons of free petrol weekly while deputy Ministers and Chief Directors get 30 to 35 gallons for same duration of time.

The number of gallons decreases pro-rata down the chain. Now a gallon contains at least four and one-half litres of gasoline, thus giving a total of 202.5 litres weekly for Ministers. At current fuel-pump rate of GH¢3.3 per litre, a Minister consumes about GH¢668.3 litres of fuel a week, GH¢2,673 monthly and GH¢32,076 annually.

This is a colossal waste, if most of it is consumed in the traffic in Accra and the other regional capitals. It ought to be drastically reduced to the minimum that would enable the Ministers perform. The IMF can easily determine a cut-off point. There is also the maintenance cost of the land-cruiser proliferation to be considered. If we recall correctly, it had occasioned a judgment debt against the government in the past after which the maintenance bills were decentralized to the sector ministries and their agencies. But it is still paid for by government.

The Chronicle believes pooling the land cruisers will further reduce the weight of the cost of maintenance on the public purse. The vehicles should only be released for trips into the hinterland. Ministers and government officials should be restricted to the use of salon cars in the city where they are stationed.

The cost of the civil and public services on the Consolidated Fund is grossly understated when it is limited to the public payroll. Imagine a Minister who earns GH¢8,000 per month, consuming more than three times his salary on fuel for just one vehicle. Whatever Ghana's reason for going to the IMF - bailout, technical support or policy integrity -its officials should be begged to find time to rigidly trim to size the total financial cost of the OGM to the Ghanaian taxpaper before they depart back to Washington DC.

Government employees cannot be seen to be enjoying the same perks as their private sector counterparts. Same qualifications do not factor. The career paths are different and come with different rewards. And no one is restricted to either. Private sector costs are paid from operational costs and profits while in the public sector it is from the blood and sweat of compatriots. Under no circumstance should it be frittered away on the self-aggrandizement of a few!

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