• Saturday , 21 July 2018

Gold Watches And Autonomy

watch-gold-2015Ghana’s Central Bank, Bank of Ghana, was in the news quite a bit last week. News was that its managers were proposing to spend over $500,000 on imported “Swiss Gold Watches”, as parting gifts to 72 “deserving” members of staff who have spent at least 30 years in their employ and are due for retirement.

They call this “end of service benefits” and say there has been a tradition of paying end of service benefits since 1970. Gold plated wrist watches were introduced in 2012. So what were they getting until then? Why the introduction of gold wrist watches? And who is making these recommendations on what to give long service retirees? Can others also come up with their suggestions next year?

I don’t know that any government agency should be buying “long service gifts” in the form of gold plated wrist watches for employees. Its a bit of a strange and expensive choice at over $7000 per watch, even if for sentimental value. What else do government agencies spend taxpayers money on that we are unaware of? Frankly without the latest hullabaloo, I would not have imagined gold plated wrist watches as an end of service expenditure line item. But it’s happening. It’s part of a culture of using public money freely and without much attention.

Managers of many government agencies essentially pay themselves huge salaries, drive expensive cars, renovate their homes for hundreds of thousands of dollars, embark on expensive air travel and enjoy a host of other benefits. When they’ve finished paying for their lifestyle, they decide on “something” for government the shareholder. And who’s the government? You and I. The people of Ghana.

I really wonder what is happening in other government agencies. The practice of making different kinds of payment to managers and other employees is most probably more arbitrary and rampant than we think. Only God knows.

This is a poor country by all standards. Not a middle income country as we continue to delude ourselves into thinking because of a calculation of sorts. Hard currency is almost permanently in short supply. And the Central Bank more than any other institution should be leading the crusade to spend it only on the most critical and necessary needs.

Surely if you must, there are several other ways to reward long serving staff (including simply giving them a cedi cash payment so they do as they please with it) that don’t require the use of scarce foreign exchange, most of which is generated by the cocoa farmers of this country who are paid in cedis whilst those who manage the business they do, spend on themselves in dollars. Really? How come we haven’t bought similar gifts for hard working and deserving cocoa farmers who have spent a lifetime contributing the biggest chunk of this countries foreign exchange ?

By the way, why do we so easily buy from outside? I can’t see the Chinese or British Central Bank, paying hard currency to a Ghanaian company to provide gifts for outgoing staff? But, who thinks about Ghana these days?

I listened to the Central Banks defense of its actions. They say it’s part of their policy. So what? What kind of policy is that?

Then they proceed to inform us that no procurement rules were breached. You see how the law is an ass? As long as you go by it, you can do anything you like.

Then they proceed to tell us it was done before the current governor took office as if all of us are interested in playing politics.

I’ve also heard the strange argument made on ‘ownership’ of the cash used for the controversial transaction. It basically says the money used is not from the government budget but from the banks own trading operations. Presumably, since it’s “their money”, they can do as they please with it. By the way, it is NOT their money. It CANNOT be their money. I have a sneaky feeling that this “our money” business is driven by the notion of autonomy that many government institutions aspire to these days. Because they don’t rely on government to run, they can do whatever they like with taxpayers money. Such institutions should publish their financial statements for shareholders – citizens of Ghana – to see how their money is being used. Yes, they share the information with government and it ends there. Government is just happy to receive its share without asking any real questions. Board members are all benefitting from all manner of perks and are often more likely to remember the rule “scratch my back and I will scratch your back”. So many of those in charge of government agencies are having a field day at the taxpayers expense. Our expense.

The managers of the Central Bank are there to run the bank in our interest. The Central Bank is for the people of Ghana and not the people who work there. Yes, we hire managers for it and give them some autonomy to take decisions on our behalf but that does not include irrational decisions that do not serve our collective interest. They cannot spend money any way they want. Which private company in Ghana does that? Will their shareholders allow it?

And for the Bank of Ghana to argue that this has been the practice since 2012 and is done every other year to save costs is an insult to our intelligence. How come such a practice was introduced in the first place? Answer: because we don’t get to see what’s happening in many of these institutions. That’s why the publication of their financial results is important. We would have seen this in 2012 and put a stop to it before the next time around.

How it can be argued that it’s “their own money”, when the taxpayers put up the initial capital for these agencies and organizations to start with, baffles me. Many so called autonomous agencies are on a spending binge. Frankly, people are getting away with murder, let alone financial malfeasance in this country.

One final point: When government agencies finally run into difficulty, bailouts come from the people. And the people have to give up something to save them. Governments come and go. The indebtedness of government institutions lives on. If not, we would not still be burdened at the fuel pump with Tema Oil Refinery’s debt. What the people of Ghana are paying towards retiring that debt, could have been used for their benefit.

People, surely we agree on this: public money should be used wisely.

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