The Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, Mr Haruna Idrissu, on Tuesday acknowledged that recent hikes in utility tariffs and the introduction of the the Energy Levies Act had hurt Ghanaian individuals and businesses.
Electricity and water bills have gone up by 59.2 per cent and 67.2 per cent respectively while the Energy Levies Act has caused the prices of petroleum to increase by 27 per cent.
Speaking at the Independence Square in Accra, where he received a petition from members of Organised Labour who embarked on a demonstration to protest the utility tariff increases and the new energy taxes, Mr Idrissu said the government did not take delight in “inflicting pain on Ghanaian workers”.
According to him, the “actions of government” in respect of the utility tariff increment and the introduction of the Energy Sector Levies Act, are “necessary and compelling”.
“We know our decisions hurt. It hurts businesses. It hurts workers, but we have done so in order to protect jobs,” he said.
Mr Idrissu portrayed the government’s action as an altruistic measure which was intended to revive the economy in the interest of Ghanaians, but could be detrimental to the political fortunes of the John Mahama administration.
“We could have chosen a more easy path for political expediency not to do this even in an election year, but that should let you appreciate that we need to improve the health of the economy, the health of our energy institutions and sustainable development of our country.
“Some of the decisions that we have taken, as difficult as they may, will be to protect your jobs in the immediate and foreseeable future,” he said.
Earlier, Organised Labour condemned what it said was the government’s “socially undemocratic and unacceptable” obsession with imposing taxes on ordinary Ghanaians.
“Organised Labour is not in denial of the need for some increases in utility tariffs. However, given the current situation of Ghanaians, including the fact that public sector salaries went up by only 10 per cent when inflation is about 17 per cent, we firmly believe that the levels of the current increases are unbearable for workers and businesses.
“The AGI and all other business groups are clear in their analyses that industry is suffering,” the Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Kofi Asamoah, said.
Mr Asamoah called on the government to effect a downward adjustment of the recent utility tariff increment to 50 per cent for electricity and water instead of the 59.2 per cent and 67.2 per cent imposed respectively.
He also demanded that the government withdrew the Energy Sector Levies Act 899, which he said had “occasioned very steep increases in petroleum prices” at a time when crude oil prices were “tumbling on the international market and exchange rate of the Ghana cedi was relatively stable”.
Thousands of workers, clad in red and black attire, participated in Tuesday’s demonstration, setting off from the Obraa Spot in Accra and marching through some principal streets of the Capital before converging on the Independence Square, in an exercise that lasted over 90 minutes.
The demonstrators, mostly singing and dancing, displayed placards with inscriptions such as, ‘Your Excellency, fix the economy and stop the blame game”, ‘We want the utility tariffs cut in half now’ and ‘We need leaders who can bring change’.