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E-Levy storm: tug of war, game of chess or ‘politricks’?

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

The humourist who composed the following witticism seems to have summed up perfectly the E-Levy headache of President Nana Akufo-Addo and Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta:

“Welcome to Ghana, a country where more than 75 percent of its population don’t pay tax, but want development.

Introducing a new tax, the Electronic Transaction Levy (E-Levy) in the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy in Parliament on November 17, 2021, Mr Ofori-Atta said:

“The new E-Levy will be a 1.75 per cent charge on all electronic transactions …. (However), the E-Levy will be waived for transactions that amount to GHC100 or less in a day. A portion of the proceeds will be used to support entrepreneurship, youth employment, cyber security, digital and road infrastructure, (among other things).”

He pointed out that fewer than 10 percent of Ghana’s population of 30.8 million pay direct taxes.

Mr Ofori-Atta emphasized the need to “share the burden so that every adult Ghanaian will contribute to the delivery of critical infrastructure, social services and improve lives.”

Judging by the extremely heated opposition mounted so far against the E-Levy, including alleged fisticuffs in Parliament, one wonders: is the E-Levy storm, a tug of war – to see which party is stronger; or a game of chess – to see which party can outwit the opponent; or just ‘politricks’ at play – including lying to gain a political advantage? Well, I believe the answer is ‘all of the above’!

Successive governments have tried to widen the tax net, however, no practical, workable strategy has emerged – until now.

Even in my ignorance about economics, it appears that the E-Levy has the potential to make more people pay tax, meaning more money to solve a lot of the developmental problems we all complain about. Thus the E-Levy should be seen as a necessary evil.

I doubt if people anywhere in the world enjoy paying tax. It’s a fact that in the advanced countries the taxes are really biting, and, as someone pointed out to me, “they tax everything”.

Moreover, the grants and other support Ghana receives from donor countries is surely from the taxes the citizens in those countries pay.

Why should we have a problem if now there appears to be a way to cast the tax net wider so that we don’t have to depend on funds from other countries’ taxpayers?

Like many people, every month I pay electronic transfer commissions to send money home, the commissions going solely to the telephone company and its agents. The convenience of the transaction far outweighs my resentment at having to pay a commission.

Why then should I refuse to pay a similar commission to my own Government, which needs that contribution from me for development?

As for those who question why the Government needs to introduce the E-Levy, what the Government has done, or is doing, with the loans taken and Ghana’s earnings, the question to them is: “Where have you been, that you have never heard of the social interventions the Akufo-Addo Government is implementing?”

But, as the saying goes: “There is nothing more difficult than waking someone who is only pretending to be asleep.”
The Government is always being castigated, notably by the NDC, for borrowing too much. Yet, now that it’s introducing a system to generate domestic funds, there is fierce resistance!

Among the E-Levy opponents are some Mobile Money agents and other activists, with the NDC leading the charge, notably Minority Leader in Parliament Mr Haruna Iddrisu.

The NDC, claim they’re opposed to the E-Levy because it will inflict hardship on Ghanaians. If indeed it would bring hardship, then would that not make President Akufo-Addo and his party unpopular, resulting in the NPP being voted out in 2024? And if the NPP were to be voted out, who would benefit? Wouldn’t it be the NDC?

So actually, the NDC should be praying for, and enthusiastically supporting, the speedy passage of the E-Levy!

Curiously, Mr Alban Bagbin, the Speaker of Parliament, previously an NDC stalwart, despite his current ‘neutral’ position, is one of those warning the NPP about the suicide they’re about to commit by introducing the E-Levy!

While addressing some former Parliamentarians on Thursday, December 23, 2021, he reportedly said: “We always vote ourselves out of power, which my colleagues in the NPP are doing now … It is very clear if this (NPP) E-levy goes through, you have lost the (2024) elections.”

Why on earth does the NDC, seemingly, want to help the NPP stay in power, by advising them to withdraw the E-Levy? Puzzling!

Most bizarre of all, is a passage circulating online, said to be part of the NDC’s Election 2020 manifesto, about their intention then to introduce an electronic tax: “The next NDC government will introduce a uniform transaction fee policy to guide the electronic payments industry.” What is one to make of that?!

Still, as reported by the Daily Dispatch newspaper of January 31, 2022, an intriguing interpretation of the NDC stance has been offered by the NPP Member of Parliament for Nhyiaeso Constituency, Ashanti, Dr Stephen Amoah. Speaking on Akoma FM, Kumasi, Dr Amoah reportedly said that the NDC’s fierce opposition to the E-Levy should be tolerated.

He quoted the French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.’ Dr Amoah, a member of the Finance Committee in Parliament, asked, “if NDC believes that the E-Levy will make the government unpopular, why are they not supporting us to dig our own grave?”

In Dr Amoah’s opinion, “the passage of the E-Levy will keep NDC in opposition for a long time, because it will propel the country’s development and raise the living standards of Ghanaians, hence the NDC’s consistent propaganda and opposition to it.”

Given the NDC’s continuing animosity towards the E-Levy Dr Amoah’s assessment appears to be a shrewd one; and, more and more plausible.

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