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A matter of ‘what we feel in our pockets’, and Adongo’s wheat issue

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

I’m coming to the conclusion that although it’s transport operators that people blame for worsening the cost of living crisis by their escalating fares, those in commerce are equally guilty, if not more so. 

Despite the economic disruptions that the Covid-19 pandemic is causing globally, aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine war, clearly some traders are getting away with profiteering at customers’ expense.
One can understand that the rising cost of fuel will impact on prices but, for example, should old stock in stores be given new, inflated prices?

Evidently customers are disadvantaged because, as summed up last week by Vice-President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia himself, chair of the Government’s Economic Management Team, “the economy is what we feel in our pockets”.
Dr Bawumia made this memorable statement on April 7, at Kasoa, Central Region. It was at a forum organised by the Tertiary Students

Confederacy (better known as TESCON), of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in collaboration with the Danquah Institute, a political think tank also aligned to the NPP. Dr Bawumia’s keenly awaited address was on ‘The State of the Economy’.

The transport bodies at least give the public fair warning ahead of reviewing charges, but do customers get the same consideration from traders benefitting from a cheating windfall?

The problem is that there seems to be no consumer protection system working in Ghana, so the consumer is at every trader’s mercy! They can charge whatever prices they like, take it or leave it! It’s only when one has the inclination, and the time to go round and compare, that one might be lucky enough to find a reasonable price.

Even before displaying new stock, some of the traders rushing to take advantage of fuel price rises have immediately changed their prices to arbitrary new stock prices. They are in such a hurry that in some cases, the price on the shelf, and what their shop attendants know, is different, higher, when the product is keyed into the till.

There’s an argument that the traders charge higher on the remaining old stock in order to be able to afford the new, more expensive, stock. But doesn’t that amount to cheating customers all the same? After all, they will have to pay the new price when the new stock is in.

The following are examples of some recent shocking price changes in my neighbourhood:
A jar of dietary supplement which was quoted at GH¢117 over the phone, suddenly jumped to GH¢186 at the checkout!
Wine priced at GH¢30.00 on the shelf, turned out to be GH¢40.00 at the checkout.

Furthermore, it seems that the small neighbourhood stores are the worst when it comes to profiteering!
A 300 ml Sasso insecticide spray, has jumped to GH¢35 from GH¢17!

A GH¢17 one litre bottle of a cooking oil brand, is now GH¢35! Meanwhile, at an air conditioned supermarket, that same oil is GH¢22!
If the supermarket, which presumably has more overheads, can sell it for GH¢22, why should a small store charge as much as GH¢18.00 more for that same oil?
And, of course, flour products too are affected. A loaf of brown bread which used to be GH¢8.00, is now GH¢10.00; and the kooko (porridge) seller’s doughnuts, sold at 50 pesewas each, are now three for GH¢2.00.

Curiously, apparently, Dr Isaac Adongo, the National Democratic Congress MP for Bolgatanga Central, finds it untenable that the cost of wheat importation featured in Dr Bawumia’s lecture.

In fact, I thought I had misheard Dr Adongo’s reaction until I read the Peace FM transcript of his interview with Citi Eyewitness News, which confirmed that his criticisms were even more perplexing.

As reported on April 8 by Peace FM Online, Dr Bawumia said: “The increase in commodity prices has been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Russia and Ukraine together account for 30 percent of the global wheat export. The longer the conflict the greater will be the disruptions to global food supply ….

“According to the (African Development Bank) the price of wheat has shot up by 62 percent since the war began … The price of maize is up by 36 percent … Russia accounts for some 30 percent of Ghana’s imported grains, 50 percent of flour and 39 percent of fertilizer. So we are directly affected by the Russia-Ukraine war.”.

Commenting, Dr Adongo in the Citi interview, reportedly stated the following, directed at Dr Bawumia: “This is a man who says that the main reason why food prices are up is that Ghana imports 30 percent of its wheat requirements from Ukraine. When was the last time you ate any food prepared from wheat? Is wheat our staple food in Ghana?” (Emphasis supplied.)
What mind-boggling questions!

Nevertheless, wheat is milled into flour for bread and pastries! Even discounting pastries, what about the role of bread in households? Or, is Dr Adongo saying that he’s not aware that wheat flour is a main bread ingredient?
In fact, I was confused! Was it the same wheat Dr Bawumia spoke about, that Dr Adongo was referring to?! Does Ghana not import wheat, flour?
Dr Adongo’s questions make one wonder whether he means: he doesn’t eat bread; or he doesn’t know anybody who eats bread.
Bread may not be in the same league as fufuo, kenkey, yam, rice or banku, but it surely ranks high in the Ghanaian diet.
So, Dr Adongo doesn’t know that in the average home in Ghana, and in institutions, bread is an essential item on the menu, especially breakfast?

Also people of a certain age will certainly remember that during the famine of 1983, Ghanaians even learned to use wheat, donated by America, as a substitute for rice; thus in some homes, ‘wheat-and-stew’ became a regular dish.
But maybe Dr Adongo simply got carried away in his haste to attack the Vice-President’s comprehensive, incisive presentation – and engaging delivery.

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