Economist add to critics of COVID-19 food distribution to the vulnerable expenditure
Adnan Adams Mohammed
After the finance minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta’s presentation of the mid-year review budget to parliament fortnight ago, some Ghanaians expressed shock with the amount of GH¢54 million as announced by the government in the budget as expenditure incurred in providing food to the vulnerable during the three weeks lockdown.
Latest, to add his voice to the shocks expressed by Ghanaians is the Dean of Students’ Affairs of the University of Ghana, Professor Godfred Alufar Bopkin. He believes the manner in which government reached out to the vulnerable in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis was inefficient.
The Minister in his presentation said that, some 470, 000 Ghanaian households benefited from the benevolence of government adding that the food distribution exercise was carried out in collaboration with faith-based organisations. This, according to Prof Bopkin, corruption is likely to have played a role. He said this whiles stating the possibility of government’s inability to properly account for every transaction made for the distributed meals.
“…If you look at the method that government chose with reaching out to the vulnerable, is very very inefficient. Once they chose that method, then you know that people will profit from the margin and I can tell you that government can always get away with it because if they tell you that the cost of preparing the meal is GH¢20, what are you going to say? But if we had chosen cash-based transfer, we can verify. I can tell you it is very difficult to conduct such a transaction.” The renowned Economist expressed in an interview.
He added that, although the move was in good standing by government, its approach was not the best because “if the government decides to prepare the food itself and go and distribute then the chances are that it is very difficult to take yourself away from corruption…It’s just like a fish that is thirsty in the sea…when they are swimming can you tell whether the fish is drinking some of the water?”
However, the finance minister, last week, when responding to a question on the floor of parliament for clarification on the said expenditure said, there was a mistake in his presentation. He gave a clarification that, the GH¢54 million was for both cooked and uncooked foods distributed. The government spent GH¢42.2 million on basic uncooked food items and GH¢12 million on cooked foods distributed to the vulnerable in parts of Greater Accra and Ashanti regions, making the total amount same as the GH¢54.2 million captured in the mid-year budget.
He said that: “It is truly unfortunate that an attempt has been made to politicise the issue of providing food for our brothers and sisters in need during the lockdown”, adding: “It is also unfortunate that the impression has been created that the total amount of GH¢54 million was used for hot meals over the three-week lockdown period.”
Mr Ofori-Atta explained that: “We estimated we would need an amount of approximately GH¢40 million to provide hot meals to the vulnerable at GH¢5 per pack during the lockdown period. However, we spent GH¢12 million on hot meals including the cost of distribution.”
He noted that the “government budgeted GH¢40.3 million for basic uncooked food items. We spent GH¢42.2 million”.
“It is this GH¢12 million spent on hot meals and the 42 million spent on uncooked food items that gave a total of GH¢54 million as stated in the mid-year review”.
“The GH¢12.1 million for hot meals served 150,000 people during the lockdown [period], including the cost of transportation and other operational cost.”
But, Prof Bopkin was of the view that the best way the country’s leaders could have alleviated the impact of the pandemic was through the collection of data in an appropriate social registry where government could access that information on those who were vulnerable and in need.
“So instead of cooking the meals for them…so if we had the data and knew the vulnerable, cash space transfer is more efficient. So if we determine that every household is getting GH¢50 and we have a data on the household, we send the GH¢50 to them through their mobile money and their bank account, then they themselves can decide to buy the rice and prepare it the way they want it.”
Subsequently, on the free water and electricity directive, He lauded government but pointed out that the subsidy may not work with the water utility rebate. He cited the less flow of water and the many illegalities involved in connections.
“…When it comes too water and electricity, the problem with water is that the subsidy doesn’t solve it. The water doesn’t flow. There are a lot of illegalities.
“All over the world, governments are reaching out to their citizens in an unprecedented manner and we cannot be an exception. Since we do not have a lot of money to do mobile money transfer to them, perhaps free water and free electricity for life line consumers will be a way government will show sympathy too their situation whiles we hope to get back the economy,” he concluded.