Dishonesty Bleeds Poverty

Honesty is a critical human virtue not very common with us the black race; yes, you can insult me on racial grounds, but remember I am a typical black Ghanaian. Until we accept our everyday weaknesses, Africans and the black race, for that matter, will never progress. In Ghana, many of us who engage in dishonest means to survive turn round and raise our shoulders high and brag that we are smart chaps. I am not portraying any angelic feature, but as a people, honesty is lacking in us as long as we benefit from those dishonest actions.

The dishonesty in us makes it difficult for people to entrust us with valuable assets or property, which when well taken care of, could help us in the long term. Dishonesty makes it equally difficult for even the best of friends to pull resources to engage in economic activities for their mutual benefit. Even relations in the diaspora can no longer trust their family members to execute projects they fund from far away foreign lands.

The lead story on the Front page of the Daily Graphic of Wednesday, October 4, 2017 screams ‘MASLOC confiscates 350 vehicle, Owners default in paying loans.

The story reads ‘More than 350 commercial vehicles, mostly taxis, have been confiscated from individuals and groups who failed to repay loans they contracted from the Micro Finance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC)’. The story goes on with other explanations and that the search is still on to track down other beneficiaries of the MASLOC facility who have defaulted in payment.

The MASLOC programme was initiated by the President J.A. Kufuor administration in 2006. Prior to that, the NDC under President J.J. Rawlings introduced the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF). Indeed, prior to the PAF and MASLOC, the Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD), had been established to cushion the vulnerable in society who were bearing the full blunt of the Social Adjustment Programmes (SAP) and the Economic Recovery Programmes (ERP) this nation went through at the instance of the Bretton Woods institutions in the heady days of rebuilding our economy. The object of PAMSCAD, PAF and MASLOC programmes were to help the very poor in the society, particularly women and the youth to be able to do something economical for themselves. In the case of PAF, the amount was not that big, it ranged from GH¢100.00 to GH¢500.00 at the time of its introduction.

To some people, that amount of money was or is too meager to alleviate the poverty of anybody. You are wrong. Just look at those in the very low grades of economic activities in the country – women who roast plantains on the road side and estimate the cost of their equipment (capital assets) and how much they need as working capital to operate and one would agree that that amount is not too small in real terms and for the target groups. Look at the ‘koko’ sellers, those who sell cooked eggs, oranges, banana and groundnuts, iced sachet water, add to them and it is very clear that the starting capital for these businesses are not that much.

Add those women intermediaries who trade in cassava, plantains, pepper, tomatoes and those other ingredients on the peripheries of our markets and the communities, a GH¢100.00 can be a starting working capital. These were the category of people the Poverty Alleviation Fund was meant to assist. The truth of the matter is that the funds were not meant to be free; the beneficiaries were supposed to repay with a minimum interest of about five percent at the time and on completion of payments, could access bigger facility going forward.

Almost all the beneficiaries of the PAF did not pay back. When I assumed office as the District Chief Executive for the Ahanta West District in 2001, the list of beneficiaries who had defaulted was that huge. Without proper addressing systems and controls, it was very difficult to trace the beneficiaries and retrieve the monies. Thousands of Ghana Cedis had been given out and they never came back. The beneficiaries could not be traced, they were either dead or had re-located.

The other truth is also that, the Fund was politicized and made to look like, in the minds of those who got them, rewards for being faithful to the party. Under the Kufuor administration, not much had changed. Even though the disbursing Banks attempted to ensure that the beneficiaries went through certain processes before they had the monies, politics did not allow the Banks to do what they had to do professionally. Some applicants took the monies to solve pressing but short term problems, like paying school fees, funerals or even rents as it were. These were not income generating activities that would bring monies and enable them to pay back the loans.

The system was therefore abandoned, and in its stead, came the MASLOC facility which had much bigger disbursements in terms of what went to the beneficiaries.

MASLOC therefore began disbursements into so many sectors and divergent target groups with the agreement that the beneficiaries of those disbursements were going to pay back the monies so that as a revolving fund, new applicants can also benefit from the facility. Unknown to many of us, the beneficiaries were not paying the monies, or should I say some of them? No serious efforts were made under the Kufuor administration to get the beneficiaries to pay, and no good conscience also pricked the minds of the beneficiaries to pay back the monies.

When the NDC assumed power in 2009, just as it has happened now, many of those who took the loans, particularly those who used the fund to purchase vehicles had the vehicles confiscated. I remember an NPP member in Sekondi approached me to help him financially to pay off his indebtedness to MASLOC so he could get his taxi cab back. Of course I did not have the money to offer him and do not think even if I had, I would have done so.

Today, MASLOC has come back on the same issue of defaulters of loans meant to help the poor in the society to make economic and social progress in their lives. Dear reader, going through the recent historical account of interventions various governments had given out with the aim of helping the poor and the outcomes the nation and the interventions had recorded, what conclusions can anyone draw as far as the attitude of the Ghanaian is concerned?

Some of the interventions our governments have put in place were borrowed from other jurisdictions, particularly in the era of widespread SAP and ERP in both Africa and Asia. In what later became known as the Asian Tigers, as low as US$50.00 were given to poor women in particular to engage in economic activities. They used the funds prudently. They paid back in the form of our local ‘susu’ system to institutions and agencies which disbursed those funds. Their lives, I believe, improved.

Ghanaians do not have the habit of paying back what they have taken from others in their times of need. Even among us, individuals, when we are in need, we rush to friends, relations and associates to seek their support. In the time of need, we make all the assurances to pay back. Indeed, even when we are asked to bring the birth certificates of our grandparents as proof of our relations with them, it becomes much easier to do that. But once we have taken the monies, it becomes more difficult for us to honour our side of the bargain.

In some instances, the debtor may go to the extent of even fighting and saying all manner of unprintable words against the creditor.  The very otherwise proverbial sayings ‘kafo didi’ has been twisted to suit the minds of dishonest people in this country. Our dishonesty is not limited to state interventions. Even in the formal financial sector, we do not want to honour our commitments to financial institutions.

These attitudes make it difficult for those who want to help us get out of poverty. Honesty is a critical key to progress, let’s inculcate the habit of honesty.

From Kwesi Biney