Roughly, about six months ago I unwittingly launched the opening salvo of a titanic battle. It is not a sanguinary war, but a war of letters, which has turned out to be a struggle for the hearts and minds of economically minded Ghanaians. I hope I will not be accused of arrogance if I argue that it is a mini side show, which can determine the economic philosophy of the nation. Its import is so prodigious; perhaps, it is the invincible force that keeps my keyboard clattering even when I am extremely exhausted. It is by chance that it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the death J B Danquah, which engendered a plethora of articles on mostly the electronic media. Quite obviously, both sides have got quite a formidable battalion engaged in lethal sniper attacks of their own. I am quite sure this is a very important subject that needs constructive inputs from all and sundry. I personally don’t see Mr Francis Kwarteng as an enemy, but an intellectual adversary. I love what he does, though; I am diametrically opposed to his ideas. In other words, it is the motor behind the strides of progress. To those who are against my position, let us not perceive this as a war of attrition to vanquish each other. Let our intellect reign supreme and not our emotions. I will entreat my admirers to churn out their words positively to foster productive discourse. This is too vital to be reduced to petty insults.
Due to my extremely tight schedule, when I finished reading the rebuttal of Mr Francis Kwarteng to my last piece I decided that I was not further going to waste my time on the topic. The fact is, until they have their Damascus experience convincing those Nkrumahist is an effort in futility. However, I was shock to the bone by one of the comments to Kwarteng’s article by no less a person than a university professor. If what he wrote was written by some roadside demagogue it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. The title of his comment is: Baidoo torn into smithereens! I nearly lost a heart beat after reading the comment. I couldn’t gauge the magnitude and density of his ignorance. He was so fascinated by Kwarteng’s tripe it galvanised him to further talk about the virtue of the Moslems not practicing usury. God help Ghana with these people as our opinion leaders. So I decided no matter how long it takes I will answer all their amateurish ideas they masquerade as professional opinion. Even if I have to write a paragraph a day to counter this demagoguery and grand standing it is worth the effort.
Mr Kwarteng’s obsession with mixed economy has compelled me to devote this piece and the next to address the misconception he has been preaching. Before I proceed I will have to make this clear once and for all. My beef is about the creation of wealth, and not how the wealth is distributed, though the latter is another bone of contention, but that is not my headache now. With the little knowledge I have gleaned, during my inconspicuous time on this celestial body we call home, I have come to the conclusion that there is no true perfection of anything in this world. Currently, it appears the whole world is gravitating towards democracy, though it is not perfect. Winston Churchill once satirically described it as the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. Everyone is advocating for democracy not because it is the best, but the fact is, a true democrat will not abduct his opponent in the middle of the night and murder him. This is the freedom that many are willing to purchase at the price of inefficiency and wasteful option of democracy. It is all about trade off. And, of course, the question is, are you prepared to lose your life under dictatorship if you are a fearless critic?
My objection and revulsion to Nkrumah’s socialism is based on practical experience that cannot be captured in text books, or any literature on the subject. Even as you read this narrative it is impossible to relive the experience you are about to digest. There is an Akan saying that in every town there is someone called Mensah. It is a very simple wisdom, but its implication is very profound. It means that even in the land of the sinners you might have to search very hard, but you can always find a saint. Likewise, in the land of the saints there are bound to be sinners. Governments all over the globe are inherently very bad in the management of the creation of wealth. On the other hand, there are always flashes of brilliance in the midst of the pathetic gloom. And since this debate began I have read about lonely examples like the 85% government owned EDF in France being touted as what a government can do. And one other example is the Ethiopian Airways, which is government owned whereas Ghana and Nigeria are defunct. Those that survive does so on national prestige, but not based on sound economic efficiency. For every well managed government owned enterprise there are scores that are failing. And with most government owned businesses, their survival is based on government monopoly. The U.S. postal service survives, because it is even illegal to put a letter in the letter box of a U.S. citizen, which was bought and paid for by the owner. I deliberately used this example, because Mr Kwarteng lives in the United States and obviously might have experienced my claim. Their services are so bad they themselves prefer to use private couriers when important documents are delivered.
I am going to recount three of my personal experiences, which have made me a sworn enemy of socialism. I was educated in a government primary school. Though, I was at the top of my class, when I went to secondary through common entrance exams, I was found wanting as I started competing with students who were trained in private primary schools. Their knowledge of history and language, such as English and French, were impeccable. It took me a whole academic year to catch up through sheer determination and hard work. The magic as I found out later, when after sixth form I went to teach in Datus preparatory school before coming to England, was simple. The difference was discipline, and the level of productivity demanded by the proprietors of the private schools. When you begin to do serious analysis it’s even shameful, because most of the teachers in the private schools are not trained, and they are paid less than the public sector. So where is their alibi?
My second eye opener occurred when my little three pound brain started connecting dots. I grew up in Tema, and when I was a kid some of my mates rebranded the now defunct State Fishing Corporation as State Selling Corporation. It is possible that it might have come from one of my friends eavesdropping on some elders having a conversation. For the essence of this piece, the veracity of its source is immaterial. What needs to be told is that dreadful behaviour of the workers became public knowledge. They will fill the corporation’s trawlers with diesel, which is paid for by the state and go on normal routine fishing. You would expect them to come back with fish, but they only to sell their catch on the high seas, and come back to port with empty vessel. You know what, this cancerous behaviour do happen in a private enterprise; however, the difference is that it will be nipped in the bud in a short order. Sadly, in State Fishing Corporation, it carried on until the whole business collapsed. The depressing irony is that it was more than obvious. Even if children knew what was going on at State Fishing Corporation why couldn’t the authorities know about it and do something. This is socialism for you.
The third experience which got me thinking seriously about the harmful limitations of socialism was my debut journey to London by Ghana Airways. When I bought my ticket, for some inexplicable reasons, the travel agent couldn’t book my preferred date. After speaking to him at length in his office the only option was a flight in a week’s time. I was devastated. With desperation and frustration written all over me, on second thought, he advised that I should go and pitch my luck, because from experience the reality is quite different from the information put out by the bookings office of the national airline. Without hesitation, I went along with the hunch of the agent. I couldn’t contain my shock when the flight left Kotoka half empty. The excitement which is the hallmark of such journeys was drowned by that despicable experience. I wouldn’t let it go, so I started snooping around for explanation. I found out that it was the courtesy ticket, a common practice used by most airlines, which was the culprit. This is how the abuse was taking place. When the ticket is allocated to an employee he doesn’t use it personally, but it is sold off at a discount to the public – mainly to a rich friend. And here is the catch. The ticket is kept open until it is finally used. The worst scenario is that a ticket will be booked for a scheduled flight, however, the passenger, the supposed buyer of the ticket, will not turn up. Yet, the ticket will be valid for another flight. Now, one of the empty seats created by one of the ‘untouchable passengers’ is what I got per chance on my maiden flight to London. If you look at the larger picture it is possible that the worse case happened on that my first flight. On the other hand, if there are flights with unfilled ten, fifteen and twenty privilege tickets here and there what does that amount to? It eventually ends up in collapse. These are, at least, some of the numerous managerial lapses, which are pulling Ghana down like a lead ball tied to a drowning man.
The last two stories can be echoed by most of those who experienced the collapse of all the GIHOC companies that litter around the length and breadth of the country. A corporation like Ghana Airways had management plus management accountants. The reality is that the month to month or year to year survival of the corporation was not dependent on the bottom line of their balance sheet. Even when they didn’t make profit they were still paid. Most of the Chief Executives were government appointees, and even when they fail they are rewarded with another job. These are some of the rot about socialism that it will take more than Mr Kwarteng and his thoughtless articles to make me think otherwise.
I will sign off here for now, but look forward to the second part of the mixed economy in the series. Thank you for your time.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr