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Fifi Kwetey kicks against fuel subsidies

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

A Minister of State-designate for the presidency, Mr Fifi Fiavi Franklin Kwetey, has kicked against fuel subsidies, saying it is a drain on the national coffers and does not benefit the poor at whom it is targeted.

He said instead of subsidising fuel products, the government should use the money to expand infrastructure and improve upon public transport.

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Mr Kwetey stated these when he appeared before the Appointments Committee of Parliament Thursday.

If approved, Mr Kwetey, 45, will be in charge of financial and allied institutions at the Office of the President.

The portfolio will put him in charge of institutions such as the Divestiture Implementation Committee, the State Enterprises Commission (SEC), National Pensions Regulatory Authority and the Internal Audit Agency, among others.

He said because in many cases monies were borrowed to subsidise fuel products, it created huge debts for government and inflation.

The subsidies, he added, cushioned a few people in the urban areas, did not benefit the poor and vulnerable and created more problems for the intended beneficiaries.

Subsidies, according to him, denied the country huge sums of money which could be used to improve roads, electricity and other social amenities, adding that there was the need for a bi-partisan approach to the issue.

He said across the political divide, there was a clear understanding that fuel subsidies was an issue that needed to be tackled head-on and “we must have the courage to address it.”

Mr Kwetey said between 2008 and 2012, fuel prices in the country hardly went up because the political decision makers thought it would be suicidal to raise the price of the product in an election year.

While government refused to raise the price, he said, the cost of crude oil on the world market kept rising. The situation, coupled with the depreciation of the cedi meant that government had to pay more for the product on the world market.

Government’s refusal to pass the cost on to the consumer, he said, meant that the entire nation was saddled with huge debts which hindered development.

He said if the government had allowed the consumer to pay realistic prices, it could have saved huge amounts of money and used it to embark on developmental projects that would impact positively on the people.

The nominee said Ghana had done a lot of harm to itself since 1993 because of the failure of governments to allow people to pay realistic prices.

He was of the view that issues such as fuel prices and public sector wages were very important issues that the nation needed to deliberate on and added that any discussion on the issue should be devoid of partisan political considerations.

Asked if there was really subsidy on fuel prices in Ghana, he replied in the affirmative, saying fuel subsidies had existed for long.

On what was the biggest challenge that faced Ghana, Mr Kwetey noted that it was the myriad of developmental challenges and the lack of resources to address them.

He said lack of finance would continue to be the bane of every Finance ministry in Ghana until the nation crafted strategies to create more inflows.

Another important problem the nation needed to address, he said, was  youth unemployment, adding that there was the need for a “mental re-orientation of the youth to make them believe that they could become very successful entrepreneurs instead of relying on the government for white collar jobs after school.

“Nine out of ten of our youth think that after school somebody should provide them jobs. We must train our youth to identify the opportunities and turn those opportunities into successful enterprises,” he said.

On borrowing by the government in the last four years, he admitted that government had borrowed “quite a bit” but said those loans should be considered “investments” .

Borrowing should not be an issue but rather what the money was used for and whether it would be used for the purposes for which the loans were acquired.

Part of the $3 billion Chinese loan, he said for example, was to be used for gas and energy infrastructure development, and in his view, that should be considered an investment from which the country would benefit.

Alhaji Limuna Mohammed-Muniru

When it got to his turn, the Minister-designate for Human Resource Development and Scholarships at the Office of the President, Alhaji Limuna Mohammed-Muniru, called for effective co-ordination and harmonisation of the various scholarship schemes in the country to promote national development.

He said quality human resource development was critical to the nation’s forward march and must be given all the attention it needed.

He explained that although many institutions were involved in the development and acquisition of skills and knowledge, there was no single platform for co-ordinating and aligning them towards determining the human resource needs in critical areas.

According to him, by elevating human resource development to a ministerial portfolio, President Mahama was demonstrating his government’s commitment towards developing the critical mass of the human resource with the capacity to provide relevant and intellectual response to the changing trends of globalisation.

Alhaji Mohammed-Muniru further indicated that the only way the country could ensure compliance with the local content policy as well as affect priority sectors was matching human resource development with the pace of development in specific sectors of the national economy.

He said since 1960, the award of scholarship in Ghana had not been reviewed and added that he would explore the possibility of decentralising the award of scholarships in the country and also ensure a fair and equitable distribution.

The nominee, who also served on the Hajj Board in the past, said the best way to deal with the problems associated with pilgrimage by Muslims was to establish a permanent secretariat along the lines of those that exist in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Alhaji Abdul Rashid Pelpuo

The minister designate for the presidency in charge of Private Sector Development and Public Private Partnerships (PPP), Alhaji Abdul Rashid Pelpuo, told the committee that his schedule at the Presidency would be to oversee private sector development and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) deals.

He said there was the need for a legal framework on PPP in the country which would define how the private sector would operate and how it would relate with the public sector.

He said, if approved, he would ensure that such a framework came into being.

Another minister designate for the presidency, Mrs Comfort Doyoe Cudjoe, was before the committee at the time of going to press.

Story by Mark-Anthony Vinorkor