‘’We told the police in the constituencies that when they see you carrying an operation they should not disturb you because when they do, you have powers at the highest level. So we told them this for them to know that you are a cornerstone of the party. Apart from robbery there is nothing we cannot do. When we attend national meetings we always receive praises.’’
— Commander Azongo, Northern Regional Commander, Invincible Forces.
Last Wednesday in this paper, I enjoyed immensely the article written by renowned pathologist and politician Professor Agyeman Badu Akosah with the catchy title: ‘’Impunity and hypocrisy’’ and sketching in graphic terms, our continued and consistent worship of these negative attitudes and practices in our country. Thank you Prof., for hitting the nail right where it should be hammered.
Later that very Wednesday, the chairman of the board of directors of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) released a statement on behalf of the corporation on the next steps of the brouhaha surrounding the recent decision of the GBC to collect the television licensing fees. The fee has been fixed in the sum of ¢36 per annum for our television sets, of which a substantial percentage of this would be used to continue the operations of GBC.
Under normal circumstances, I would have vigorously opposed this new additional levy on the harassed citizenry of this country. Except I have a sneaky feeling that looking at this brouhaha as a mere example of the tax and waste policies of our central government, agencies and parastatals, is not the right way to appreciate what is happening.
First, there are obvious facts of lack of knowledge and ignorance by central government officials which is very difficult to believe or accept as reasonable. Second, I would have thought a government formed by the allegedly most democratic party in this country would have baulked at the enforcement of a legislative instrument passed in 1966, a year which saw two undemocratic governments, one civilian and the other, military. Third, GBC is a national asset, just like public education and health are, and funding for its activities must not be their responsibility but that of central government. Remember the weird announcement in the last budget that private donations to help fund Free SHS would be welcomed?
But what got me rethinking my normal position was when I recalled the shrill narrative of debts, mismanagement and unprofitability that preceded the sale of Ghana Airways in the time of President Kufuor. It turned out eventually that the debt which was hampering smooth management and profitability was a paltry $2 million. At the end of the day, those who bought some of the assets of the divested Ghana Airways included ministers in both the NPP governments of Presidents Kufuor and Akufo-Addo.
The impunity and hypocrisy here is the fact that just a few weeks ago, pro-government Ghanaians resident in the United States got our courts to compel compliance of the Electoral Commission to enforce ROPAL, in the face of the real and insurmountable difficulties of funding and the reach of our domestic laws. Why should citizens of Ghana be compelled to fund the voting rights of a Ghanaian who chooses to live in Albuquerque or Timbuktu, failure of which my valid vote right here in Ghana can be challenged? Because, as they argued successfully, the law is in our law books. It is really a variant of the same ROPAL argument. Consistency is a virtue in human affairs.
I ask myself, what really is happening? Because we have heard the name and identity of a rumoured proposed new deputy director-general, a lady who left GBC in the time of the previous government, and whose partisan leanings are not in doubt.
What put my doubts about the real intentions behind this contrived brouhaha are the identities of those who are proclaiming loudly their opposition to this licensing fee.
The entertainer A Plus, and Occupy Ghana, pro-government media communicators and others are not non-partisan, or opposition figures or groups. Even more telling, such opponents of the fee never fail to remind us they prefer the programming of foreign television stations, obviously sent to Ghana through DSTV and other external cable channels. And the principal reason these people watch foreign television programmes is because of European soccer. The premium monthly fee for DSTV is around ¢360, which translates to an annual fee of ¢4,320.00 as against the annual GBC TV payment of only ¢36. What then is the basis for this contrived fury which has led the board to abandon for now, the prosecution aspect for non-compliance?
I submit that the grounds are being prepared for the eventual divestiture of GBC to private interests led by surrogates of the ruling party. Anyone in the media will tell you that GBC has two very major assets which would be of interest to any investor, national coverage and national character. Savvy marketing professionals in the industry would salivate at the thought of owning or managing this mega media giant for private profit. GBC has had the machines to manage this feat since 1965.
However, there are costs to our national character from privatisation. I can imagine, perish the thought, the cancellation of Nzema and Dangbe programmes, for being too restricted in their usage nationally, for example.
All this is not to say GBC has no problems worth addressing with a television levy of this nature. It is absolutely stupefying that the marketing department of GBC is in a state of perpetual comatose, bereft of ideas, innovation or ingenuity. If they had, they would rather be paying us some monies every year as a demonstration of their profitability.
The aim of the touted competent is to manage things better, not to prepare the public for the eventual divestiture of public assets, through a convoluted route littered with unpaid fees and levies, unaware governments and blatant encouragement to deny public support of essential services. It is our constitutional rights to free speech and unfettered exchange of ideas which are at stake in this brouhaha.