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GHANA: An Emerging Migrants Economy?
Kweku Asare, ACCRA, Ghanadot
A few months ago, government was keen on seeing to the passage of the Peoples Representation Amendment Bill into Law. The idea was to rope in Ghanaians living abroad to have a vote during national elections on the strength of the significant contribution they make towards national development through remittances.
There were those who stood vehemently oppose to this development, notable among them being the Committee for Joint Action and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC). They held several public demonstrations, which sought to say that it was not prudent at this time of the nation’s development to “waste” the tax payers’ hard earned money on people who had voluntarily decided to leave this country to seek greener pastures and even those who had bolted away after been trained with the same tax payers funds.

It was also this group’s opinion that if people who live abroad want to vote they could easily fly down to vote, arguing that, they come down to vote already anyway and how was the Electoral Commission going to monitor polling centres. This obviously was on the back of arguments that the EC was finding it difficult to monitor voting even within the borders of th this country.

Government on the other hand was of the opinion that Ghanaians living abroad should be recognised for the major role they play in the remittances they send down to their relatives and friends towards development projects across the country. The claim was that “after all, they are all Ghanaians as well. Why should they be barred in any way.

But when you consider that total remittances sent down by migrants to developing countries are estimated at 206 billion dollars in 2006, 13 billion dollars more over the 2005 figures, then you would agree with me that they are making a huge contribution.

The United Nations Development Programme says the role of immigrants in foreign exchange into their national economies was huge and of significant value. The growing importance of remittances in shaping economies of developing countries was the subject of a UNDP and Government of Ghana workshop on Migration, Remittances and Development in Africa recently and it was not gainsaying the fact that such sums made a major impact. Notably, health, education, construction and development of major towns and villages in general. IN fact they have started finding their way into government budget planning and place of pride.

In Ghana, Bank of Ghana statistics indicate that remittances increased from 410 dollars in 1990 to 2.4 billion dollars in 2006, higher than the overall Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and export revenue put together! This actually speaks volumes and we cannot run away from it. But lets stop here!

The question that comes to mind is if the nation is not becoming remittance reliant? Indeed World Bank figures confirm the UNDP statistics that “remittance flows to developing countries exceeded 200 billion dollars as in 2006.

An International Organisation for Migration Report said: all remittance payments made through informal, unrecorded channels are included, this figure may be as much as 50 per cent higher and larger than we are made to believe.

The UNDP said remittances have promoted investments in real assets, including building schools and clinics, rather than formal sector financial instruments. Little wonder that the participants brainstormed on how to harness remittances to speed up the attainment of the world body Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It was their desired view that governments in countries of origin and destination of immigrants should engage the diasporas to better channel remittances into productive ventures. This would require recognition of the Diaspora as a transnational development actor, build trust and capacity to integrate and identify interlocutors and ensure that the development projects have ownership of local communities.

It emerged during the workshop that efforts were needed at the micro level to ensure that development benefits of remittances are linked to the macro efforts of government and its affiliates.

Indeed, total receipts including grants for the first four months of 2007, provisionally, amounted to ¢14,516.2 billion (GH¢1.45 billion). This represents some 33.0 percent of the annual budgeted target for 2007 and shows a growth of 70.7 percent over the outturn for the same period in 2006. Domestic revenue component of the total receipts amounted to ¢10,872.4 billion (GH¢1.09 billion). This performance was about 47.5 per cent above the outturn for the first four months of 2006.

br> As I asked earlier, I am not against foreign remittances.  Again, like I said it has helped in many ways to bring hope and cheer to many whom government and government agencies have failed woefully. My point here, is if, we as a nation begin to rely so heavily on foreign remittances, which at the last count was a little more than 4 billion dollars and hold on so much to it, we could end up laughing at the wrong side of our mouths if the fortunes of these migrants go bad and they can no longer provide those amounts into the national economy.

The argument been that we could then begin not to find and generate extra money for development. I agree that we have put in place facilities such as the Venture Capital Fund, inflation targeting budgeting and introducing new, stringent and open financial sector regimes, among others that would enlarge the national kitty. But the fact also remains that very little is actually been realised.

Foreign remittances are good. They have become part of our national budget. ( I wish it were not so) But so it is and we must gird our loins to ensure that we are actually in the driving seat calling the shots in attracting the real funds for development.

By Kweku Asare, ACCRA, Ghanadot.com






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