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WHY GABBY OTCHERE DARKO SHOULD KEEP HIS BUSY FINGERS OFF THE KEYPAD

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On June 7, 2021, a website called Africa Eye Report (https://africaneyereport.com/ghanas-mobile-money-transactions-jump-in-value-by-gh%C2%A251-billion/) reported that mobile money transactions in Ghana in 2020 alone amounted to GH¢ 571.8 billion (USD 99.67 billion).

www.ghanareaders.com

By all indications, this is a humongous amount of cash moved by the private sector in Ghana, using the telecommunications networks.

Right off, therefore, it can be said that whether we like it or not, there is a significant amount of raw cash at play out there in the Ghanaian economy.

Now, the fact that this amount of money was pushed around by electronic transfers, as against the banking system, may be indicative, but not conclusive, of the fact that a very significant number of Ghanaians remain unbanked.

One day, when cool heads are reigning, we must ask ourselves how and why so much raw cash left the banks and landed on electronic transfer systems.

We must also ask the Bank of Ghana whether it should reclassify its definition of financial institutions to include the telecommunication companies offering financial services. Is MTN a bank? Is Vodafon a bank? Why shouldn’t they be registered and classified as banks, when they possibly control, manage and shift around sums vastly larger than what normal banks do?

We should also ask our banks how they managed to sit on their hands in their air-conditioned comfort until such a significant part of what should have been their services, ended up in the hands of near illiterates operating on tables. Maybe too much education is not such a good thing.

It must have occurred to somebody, that if we had managed to keep even a quarter of the GH¢ 571.8 billion within the vaults of our banks, it would have constituted investible, loanable income. It means that the banks could have invested these funds, through loans, in projects that would ensure good returns overtime. Government could have borrowed some. Indeed, even today, if we were to begin attracting this money back into the banking system, we could tap into it in a few years. The question is, how we failed to do this type of thinking, if we were thinking, that is.

The first time I saw news of how much was being shifted around in the mobile money system, was a report I saw some months back, on www.myjoyonline.com, and I realized that what most of us had seen as insignificant, was quite a significant operation. I have suspicions that the mobile money transfer business is much bigger in terms of value, than the banking system. How much is the total cash value of our banks? Without doubt, in terms of base and coverage, the mobile money system is far bigger. The statistics suggest that registered mobile money accounts exceed over 30 million accounts in Ghana. I have no doubt that we do not have as many bank accounts. And as many interactions.

With the operators taking in one percent (1%) of the total revenue, that would amount to about 5.718 billion Ghana cedis in revenue, in 2020 alone, for the operators.

If we were looking at taxes on these operations, can we look at how much was paid by these operators in terms of taxes on this revenue? Has the Bank of Ghana asked the question? Has the Internal Revenue?

Looking at the volumes, it is easy to realize why government wants in on the action. However, if government wants in on this action, then it should ask itself certain very necessary questions. At current rates, if government manages to impose its proposed 1.75% tax on mobile money transfers (using the 2020 statistics as overall transfer base), it would bring in about 10 billion Ghana cedis (give or take a few millions of cedis). However, this would come at a cost. It would mean that government is also sucking ten billion cedis out of the economy, and out of circulation, and out of the hands of the people who own that money. In ten years, that is a frightening hundred billion Ghana cedis, with no sign that this money would be put to good use, and not questionable use, like buying fleets of luxurious, hih-end vehicles, which is a regular cost item by the government of Ghana. I hesitate to cite any further glaring examples of waste and profligacy, but we know these as well.

Secondly, government would be taxing money whose provenance is unknown. By provenance, we do not know whether, and would never know whether, the money being transferred are gifts, salaries, revenue or capital. Revenue is to be taxed, but what if it has been taxed already? If it is capital, then what we would be doing, is putting people out of jobs. For a significant number of people who use the mobile money system, what they shift by electronic transfer, is capital. If a person shifts a hundred cedis a day, it may not be that the person has three thousand cedis a month, but that the person is operating with hundred cedis a day. He takes goods, like oranges, eggs or vegetables worth hundred cedis in the morning, sells, and pays by momo in the evening. He is not rich; he is just a pauper hanging on desperately with his or her finger nails. Our policy makers should be told that some people have been eating Fan Milk sachets and stale meatpies as dinner, for months on end. Often, they are forced to feed stale beans and banku left unsold to their families in the evening, so that they can transfer the little money they have to the seller of cereals in order to get the next supplies to cook, so that they can reserve the next batch of stale food for their families. These people exist in our economy, by the millions, and the wiseacres sitting on radio with their smartarse comments and the wise guys like Gabby Otchere Darko with their busy fingers better take a care, because we are talking about over thirty million account holders, many of whom vote in elections in Ghana. They are the people whose monies we are about to touch. And as we all know, nobody likes his money to be touched.

We are being told today, that we need to have the E-Levy, because we need development. It is true that we need development, but we must ask, genuinely, what has happened to the billions of cedis already borrowed and unpaid for by all of our governments?

It is true that we need development, but it is hard to explain to the man or woman who has to transfer a hundred cedis a day in order to stay alive, why it is necessary that we take their two cedis for development.

Before I go, I believe that one of the most ill-advised policy interventions we have had in this country, was the decision to get rid of the road tolls. It is an ill-advised, ill-considered and rash decision, and should be reversed. If the problem has to do with the so-called collection contracts, then, by all means, let us review those contracts. The existing contracts for the collection of the tolls amounted to daylight robbery, and the public officials who signed them should have been rounded up and given life imprisonment sentences years ago. If the problem was the inconvenience caused by the regular traffic pileup at the tolling centres, we could have easily increased the number of gates by buying land on both sides to ease traffic.

Instead of scrapping the toll, we should have increased the number of points that are tolled, and accompanied them with the necessary amount of integrity.

I believe that there is a reason for the desperation for the E-Levy. Maybe, we have a genuine revenue shortage and gap that needs to be bridged. If that is the case, then government should cut back on certain expenses.

We can look at free senior high school, and refine it to reduce the cost. We can cut out and demobilize the dozens of useless agencies like the spurious development authorities that our government introduced. Hell, let us reduce the size of the presidential convoy. And many more.

We should be looking at cutback and cutdowns, so that Ghanaians would know that we are all suffering together.

What we should not do, is allow people with smartarse mouths and nifty fingers to be polluting the air and further aggravating the people who would do the paying.

 

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