Between E-levy errors & safety of journalists: the mess in govt’s response



The government in the last few days has been caught in a public relations nightmare over two issues it wished wouldn’t have clashed—the error-ridden implementation of the e-levy and the release of the Press Freedom Index.

Masters in drowning controversies and scandals, President Nana Akufo-Addo and his band are struggling to ward off the mob of public opinion ready to literally lynch it over the two issues.

Ghanaians are angry about the deductions that accompany the E-levy with some even in the exemptions bracket paying the levy. Journalists and their sidekicks in advocacy are mourning the deterioration in the safety of journalists in Ghana.

The government’s responses to what many consider legalised pickpocketing (E-levy) and the country’s disastrous outing on the annual press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders expose the level of insensitivity on the part of some government officials.

Two outrageous things caught my attention during the day— a five-page statement released by the Ministry of Information trying to explain away Ghana’s performance on the global ranking.

The Ministry of Information was desperately trying hard to justify our position on the ladder by blaming it on the methodology. The same methodology that pushed up Sierra Leone. Same one ranked Burkina Faso, a country led by military dictators, ahead of Ghana.

The government sought to suggest that it did well everything within its control on the list of the new methodologies the SRF employed. However, the country flunked the only thing that lay outside its domain and in the hands of  journalists and media owners.

“It is worthy of note that Ghana’s dip in ranking was largely influenced by two of the new parameters, namely the Economic and Safety of journalists where the country scored 47.22% and 62.25% respectively.

The country comparatively performed better in guaranteeing safety of journalists (62.25%) juxtaposed to the economic factors that influence media work (47.22%) underpinned by poor salaries for journalists and the lack of financial sustainability of some media houses, making a number of them economically less viable,” the statement said.

What it, however, failed to acknowledge is that, in media circles in Ghana, walls have ears. The subtle threats to media houses that the government will boycott their platforms and withdraw advertisements also threaten independence of the media.

As our elders put it, “You can’t bite the hand that feeds you.” The dozens of media houses that depend on the advertising pie means they virtually have to look the other way when the government misbehaves.

The suggestion that journalists and media owners should own up for the country’s fall, however subtle it was put in the statement, is repulsive and should not be coming from the Ministry of Information.

Again, the government shot itself in the foot when the Deputy Minister of Information, Fati Abubakar, seemed to suggest that the journalists assaulted by security personnel had done something wrong.

Hear her:

 “Acts of some overzealous policemen in handling cases of some journalists suspected to be involved in crimes are not the doing of government,” quoted her as saying.

How sad.

In 2019, investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was killed after a key member of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kennedy Agyapong, displayed his pictures on Net 2 TV, inciting the public to attack him.

Ahmed Suale: Two years on, no closure yet - Graphic Online
The killers of Ahmed Suale are yet to be found                          Credit: Graphic Online

Ahmed Suale was later shot and killed by unknown gunmen, but nobody has been held responsible for his killing to date.

In January 2022, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), Mensah Thompson, was arrested, detained and charged by the police for alleging on Facebook that the president’s family had used the presidential jet for shopping. This was after he apologised and retracted the comments.

In February this year, Kwabena Bobbie Ansah of Radio XYZ was also arrested, detained and put before the court by the police for making disparaging comments about the president’s wife, Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo.

In June 2019, national security operatives allegedly tortured editors of Their crime was that they had published negative reports about the minister. Their equipment and phones were seized in a  raid, and as of 2021, the gadgets had still not been returned to them.

On May 4, 2018, a member of the New Patriotic Party, Hajia Fati, slapped Ohemaa Sakyiwaa of Adom FM in Accra. The journalist had gone to cover an event at the party’s head office in Accra.

Unprofessional Adom FM reporter' resembled onion seller - Hajia Fati defends assault - Graphic Online
Hajia Fati (left) said she mistook Ohemaa for an onion seller

In these instances, what was the criminal motive of the journalists involved? Comments like Fati’s numb the seriousness the government should attach to dealing with those who see journalists as punching bags.

In trying to shield itself from blame, the government can’t run away from the use of national security operatives to oppress journalists. Most of these operatives are party boys, taking directives from party men. Even if they aren’t, the national security minister is appointed by the president.

Fati Abubakar admitted that the “government, however, acknowledges that these events negatively affect Ghana’s ranking, has instituted the coordinated mechanism for the safety of journalist, ran by the National Media Commission so that some of these issues can be addressed.”

It would have been nice to add the success story of this mechanism, which is only on paper.

The only thing to clap for about what she said during the event commemorating World Press Day is one of the most repeated lines about “Government is putting in the necessary steps including taking inputs from technocrats and industry experts to facilitate the passage of the Broadcasting bill.”

It’s another skeptical promise. But it’s better than none.

Away from the press freedom ranking, the government began legally picking our pocket from Sunday through a tax regime that virtually leaves some of us double taxed.

But in trying to encourage people accept the tax—or is it to instill fear?— the deputy minister of finance, John Kumah goofed.

Speaking on Neat FM, he sought to suggest legal ramification for people who refuse to accept mobile money payment as a way of avoiding the E-Levy.

Social media was deep frying him on Thursday. Before he starts screaming that he was misquoted, I went looking for audio recordings of the interview.

While rallying the public to pay the levy to support the government’s development agenda, he also warned mobile money vendors that the law would deal with them if they are caught defrauding people.

But his faux pas came when he said ” those who refuse to accept momo and infringe on the law will be reported.” This is to mean that their refusal to accept momo as a form of payment means a crime of a sort has been committed.

A rejection of mobile money transactions isn’t a rejection of a legal tender. A business can choose to operate a mobile money account or not. There is no law binding any business owner to running a momo account. For most business owners, the convenience of customers informs their decision to accept mobile money payments.

For instance, almost every day, we patronize the services of a fruit seller who visits the office. The value of the purchases are less than GHC 10, most people pay by cash. This lady is kind enough to accept momo. I said kind because she is under no obligation to receive payment via momo.

Is the deputy finance minister saying this woman can be dealt with by law if she refuses to accept momo?Will the owners of Heavy Do Chop Bar, the Managing Director of the Palace Mall or Shoprite,or the investors the president is luring into the country via his luxurious travels be arrested for opting out of mobile mobile payment options?

The thing about misinformation is that when the enlightened recipient receives, he or she get revulsed by it.

I was. I went scanning through the law to educate myself.

Perhaps it could be a useful arsenal when the attendants at Goil refuse mobile money.

Before doing this, however, I was damn sure the deputy minister was misinforming his audience or publishing fake news. A few journalists have ended up in police cells for what won’t even earn the deputy minister a slap on the wrist.

As I checked it out, it turned out, the man who the Ghana Revenue Authority will be accountable to had his own version of the law. I don’t know if it was meant to instill fear in the public but it backfired. Public anger is swelling on social media.

It is to be expected that the government will be in denial about the two cases.  But the magnitude of the response, especially from these two deputy ministers leaves one wondering if they really understood the magnitude of those words.

It is obvious this administration has ticked the box of naysayers who say that in a typical African country, ordinary people don’t expect much of politicians, because people get tired of repeated empty promises.

Again, in a typical African country, people have no delusions about what politics means to politicians. It has become a norm that those who have power have it for themselves, their friends and families.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the idea that the state is a tool for people’s growth is a Western concept, only copied by the Asian Tigers.

In Africa, we have a different script. Our leaders aren’t democracy ‘giraffes.’ They don’t copy from the originators. They remain happily Africans and are happy to serve or rather be served the African way.

It is ironic that the two deputy ministers are in the government of Dr Mahamudu Bawumia whose chorus in 2016 still rings loud in my ears when issues of our economic woes come up for discussion:

teachers are suffering,

nurses are suffering,

doctors are suffering,

traders are suffering,

journalists are suffering,

Our  suffering yesterday hasn’t changed much today.

Therefore, what we expect of people who drink from the tax payer’s well is a little sensitivity to our plight. John Kumah and Fati Abubakar should come again.

You may also want to read:

E-levy: This is what happened when other African countries passed it

MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Context makes Elizabeth Ohene worse than the BBC



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