As indicated in the 2021 National Budget and Economic Policy, government will be embarking on a transformational digitisation agenda this year, linking data of citizens to the various sectors of the economy, as part of measures to improve revenue mobilisation and sustain our development.
As we would recall, decentralisation as a tonic for enhanced development was a pivotal factor in the erstwhile Provisional National Defence Council’s Economic Recovery Programme, Structural Adjustment Programme and subsequent strategies for the nation’s economic success story. It was also the beginning of effective partnerships with the global business and development communities.
Back to our roots
Those major steps resulted in the re-engineering of the then Internal Revenue Service and later Customs Excise and Preventive Service to deliver under the new Ghana Revenue Authority, with the different revenue generating sectors of the state being unified in their operations for purposes of attaining holistic national revenue goal.
Unfortunately, while we were spot on in identifying decentralisation as a tonic for monitoring, revenue generation and higher public and private sector productivity, our local government agencies failed to deliver in mainstreaming the informal economy, which is now almost 80 per cent of the working population.
Putting names to faces
With over 45 per cent of our working population in the agriculture sector and actors moving about freely – most of them without space or face and address – a national identification system was an inevitable cure.
That is why we commend government for the initiative aimed at identifying people and supporting their activities under clear social protection programmes, while we ensure that they meet their obligations as citizens in paying taxes for national development.
Government’s plan to identify every citizen is therefore a laudable measure aimed at effectively getting the citizenry to meet their tax obligations in an economy where most actors are currently floating and without addresses.
Unfortunately, while we have been able to identify the problem as far as the PNDC era, the cogs in the wheels of our machinery of decentralisation, which really are the local government agencies, have been ineffectual.
It is a fact that our metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies have desks for relevant sectors such as agriculture, trade, revenue generation, tourism, sanitation, among others.
But the gap between this state actor and the informal economy actors on the ground in terms of engagement, implementation of policies, inclusive governance, attaining sanitation goals and ensuring social stability and security, among other obligations, have been narrowing. This is in spite of the good intentions we have nurtured over the years.
For instance, we still have compound homes without toilet facilities; we have culverts perpetually choked with solid waste; we are assailed with the eyesore of slums in business districts and residential areas; and we have our beaches still infested with sights and sounds of poor sanitation.
That is aside of poor packaging systems in our markets and lack of preservation facilities for fruits and vegetables. Additionally, we still tolerate cash transactions among producers and buyers, which is the reason we have buyers being attacked on their way to farm gates and traders buying on credit and absconding all over the West Africa sub-region.
It is not enough, in our opinion, for metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to surface only when we have Farmers’ Day events, picking potential winners of awards; it is not enough for buyers and traders paying market tolls that do not enter the national kitty anyway and its not enough to have life-savers on our beaches during holidays.
It is time for the sector to come down and collect basic property rates, properly assessed and promptly paid. It is time for maize or rice or tomato producers to mediate in transacting business on farm gates and recording cargo volumes and revenue levels; monitoring actors and road safety along highways and ensuring food safety and proper sanitation in our markets. And here, the market associations should be made part of data collection and the revenue generation business.
That is basic formalisation. And considering the numbers in the informal sector, we would not only be generating revenue and having our data system right, but we would also be generating jobs and having enough to fund our development efforts.