Austerity Fights Profligacy

HUSTLING, THOUGH a difficult thing, is one of the best teachers outside of the classroom. Oh yes, you learn things you have not thought of learning. Indeed, it is not imposed on you. Sometimes one needs to learn and practise certain things to survive. At other times, what you are learning may not be new, just that this time around, you pay particular attention to it and understand it better.

As a hustler in Obodo in the very early 1980s, before the criminal and abominable coup that toppled the legitimately elected regime of the defunct People’s National Party (PNP) led by the late Dr. Hilla Limann, I struggled through life in Nigeria then under President Alhaji Shehu Shagari. When another soldier in the person of Gen. Muhammed Buhari, replicated the madness that had occurred in Ghana in 1983 by toppling the Shagari regime but with more civilized relations between the military and the civilian population, the military government instituted ‘AUSTERITY MEASURES’. This was to deal with the supposed Nigerian economic crisis allegedly left behind by the Shagari administration, “as a result of its profligate spending”. 

An understanding of the word ‘austerity’ is appropriate.  Austere is defined as ‘being severely and strictly moral, having no pleasure or comforts, very simple and plain, without ornament or comfort’, in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. The same dictionary defines ‘profligate’ as, ‘recklessly extravagant or wasteful, shamelessly immoral’.

Now back to the Nigerian story. The Buhari government instituted austerity measures to deal with the economic problems of Nigeria. In fact, it tightened money supply to the point that even people with monies in their accounts at the banks could not withdraw as much funds as they would have wished at one particular time.  The change of the Naira (not redenomination) followed after. Who told you there is nothing good even in the worst policy? 

All of a sudden many Nigerians had accounts with the banks. Many of them also became rich overnight. How?  Many debtors, who could not honour their debt obligations, blamed it on the banks’ unwillingness to honour the face values of cheques presented by clients. So if a man’s girlfriend asked of funds for one activity or the other, and he could not find the money, all he needed to say was, “ I do not just know wetin dey happen for Nigeria today, I go put cheque for ?100,000.00, the Bank just give me ?5000.00, a whole me. This money no fit settle my beer for house. Ah, na wa o.” 

Others would use the change of currency as an excuse for having lost so much money. These are people who did not have anything even prior to the implementation of the policy. They are so rich all of a sudden, but still cannot have access to their monies. Creativity by environmental circumstances! Austerity and profligacy are direct opposites; therefore anybody who makes promises needs to be cautious. 

The strange thing about our government is the fact that in its campaign pledges, the NDC embarked on drastic profligate promises; putting monies in the pocket of people, creating jobs for all, wiping away armed robbery completely, making pre-mix fuel free to fishermen, you name them. When they got the power however, they changed to austerity, using a so-called profligate expenditure of the previous government as an excuse. 

Hmm, when President Clinton once visited Ghana, the government at the time commandeered railway coaches to transport people free of charge from all over the place. Cloth specially designed to contain the images of President Clinton and ‘His almighty Jeroboam’ John Rawlings, and T- Shirts were printed with the tax payers’ funds to celebrate a less than a 12-hour visit. The cost of that was not made public. That was not a profligate spending. Then came the year 2007, another American President, George Bush, was in Ghana. No cloth with the images was made, no billboards were mounted, and no T-Shirts were printed. The man stayed in the country for over 36 hours. That government was profligate. 

Then in 2009, another American President, Barack Obama pays a less than 24-hour visit and a cloth with images of the two Presidents and T-Shirts galore explodes again along with billboards. That government is austere. By the way, how much was spent on the Oguaahene’s palace? Remember it was the tax payers’ monies that went into renovating the palace. I hope in future when the President of   the Union of African States (UAS) visits Ghana, he pays a courtesy call on my omanhene at Lower Dixcove so that his palace can be renovated at the cost of the state. I am sure if Obama had visited the Asantehene at Manhyia or Ofori Panyin Fie, and some structural works had been done on those palaces at the expense of the state, those who have axes to grind with the Asantis and the Akims would have raised hell. Since it is the Oguaahene, it is normal. A bunch of hypocrites and unrepentant tribalists hiding behind national unity!

By the way, is the shortage of pre-mix fuel part of the austerity measures of the government?  With the School Feeding Programme, the contractors have fed the pupils for 65 days; but have only been paid for 10 days. Is that austerity in action?  Freeze on employment into the Public Sector in spite of the already existing joblessness? Is that austerity?

Ironically on a visit to Takoradi by President Mills, a Goil Filling station next to the Jubilee grounds had just taken delivery of gas, and I bet you, there were more taxis and individuals struggling to purchase gas than there were NDC supporters at the grounds to welcome him. Austerity at its best! Senior High Schools are going on vacations earlier than scheduled because of lack of funds. 

The cost of transitional tea at GH¢ 113,000.00 can also be calculated as austerity expenditure. Is a sitting allowance of GH¢ 300.00 per person per day also austerity when so many workers do not even earn that per month? In this era of everything ‘AUSTY’, I am informing all and sundry, particularly the daughters of Eve who parasite on me to note that times are hard and everything must be ‘austeritically’ done.

Couples should practise austerity in their ‘bedmatical’ operations so they can reduce expenses on PAMPERS. Anybody who takes two bottles of beer and three pieces of ‘Muntakar’ in the evenings would be engaging in a PROFLIGATE lifestyle and must be brought before a Commission of Enquiry to answer questions.  

From Kwesi Biney