Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, has explained that citizen responsibility, expressed through social consciousness, tax contributions and the protection of the national purse, is what will drive development and Ghana Beyond Aid, rather than hand-outs from development partners.
He was speaking at the Danquah Institute Forum on Friday at the College of Physicians in Accra.
In the developed world, citizens are largely responsible for the economic and social development of their economies. What sets these countries apart is the demand of their citizens for accountability in the contributions they make to enhance their society, whether through their tax contributions or responsible social behaviour.
“Across nations that have achieved economic and social greatness, we see average, responsible citizens call their representatives to order, demanding their due where the leadership in their democratic experiment has veered off the collective course”, said Ken Ofori-Atta.
Reminding the audience at the Danquah Institute Forum of NPP’s historical understanding of the need to encourage Ghanaians to participate in the country’s development process, Ken Ofori-Atta quoted an extract of former Prime Minister Busia’s statement to parliament in 1969: “It is upon individuals like you that the country’s progress depends. Do please offer your contribution. Everyone can be useful. Let us show brotherhood in action”.
For a deeper social consciousness
Pleading for deeper a social, economic and environmental consciousness, Ken Ofori-Atta’s speech was emphatic about the fact that the success of the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda will depend to a high degree on citizen responsibility. This consciousness, he believes, should be expressed in the way Ghanaians contribute through taxes and social awareness.
In a concise example showing the interconnection between attitudes, environmental safety and the protection of the public purse, the Minister for Finance said: “Citizen responsibility […] is questioned when a Ghanaian citizen drops waste on the street, leaving it to eventually join millions of other plastic waste choking our gutters, causing floods, threatening human life and costing the country millions of Cedis in what could have been used to enhance our health infrastructure”.
Advocating for a stronger taxpayer culture and the building of a public purse protection tradition to ensure Ghana reaches the next phase in its development, Ofori-Atta posited that “the mindfulness engendered by citizen responsibility does not only embolden us to protect our resources, it also helps us save money and saves us the shame of going to our Development Partners, cap in hand, to beg for money that comes from their own taxpayers”.
“In all our travels abroad we marvel at the well-maintained road networks and public housing, the clean cities, structured drainage systems and beautiful public parks. These are mainly the handiwork of their taxpayers,” he said.
On taxation and external loans
He explained that public services, which Ghanaians take for granted, “are funded mainly by taxes, loans and direct service charges” in the Ghanaian context. But loans are antithetical to our development because it is the only option out of the three [taxes, loans, direct service charges] that must be refunded with interest by the other two.
“The picture in 2018 tells the story. We raised GH¢37,784.2 billion in tax revenues and spent GH¢21.1billion to service our loans – and by that I mean, interest payments alone,” he clarified. “The reality is that the less revenues we raise the more we will have to spend because arrears and interests accrue and our maintenance culture suffers.”
Defending the development of a robust tax culture, as opposed to loans, Ken Ofori-Atta captured the importance of taxation to the economic and social development of the developed world through the words of former US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Taxes, after all, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society”.
“For us here too, taxes give us good roads to the farm gate; streetlights and police on the beat to keep our communities safe; access to healthcare and public schools for the masses; sports amenities and public libraries to keep our kids busy and public transport to take us around” Ofori-Atta said.
The Finance Minister was quick, however, to point out that while taxation is of prime importance “this government believes that Ghana’s entrepreneurs are the engine of our economy and their participation in the sector, unlike increased tax or government interest, creates multiple opportunities for value add through job creation and increased local private sector investment.
“This Value add isn’t achieved if the government through its attempts to increase its own activities inadvertently squeezes them out,” he said.
Attitudinal or mindset change
But citizen responsibility, where every Ghanaian contributes their fair share, by way of taxes and social consciousness, can only become a reality with the right attitude.
“While taxes hold a cardinal importance to the development of every country, the most powerful element needed for growth, whether economic or social, is the right mindset of its citizens. So, with every Ghanaian contributing to shaping our development, our national character is defined by our individual attitudes,” he said.
Achieving the goals of the President’s vision of a Ghana Beyond Aid compels Ghanaians to adopt a mindset that is “hinged on strong engagement from all Ghanaians as agents of our very own development, independent of our political, social or religious backgrounds,” said Ken Ofori-Atta.