I have made it a habit of buying petrol from some particular petrol stations and completely ignoring others. I noticed that the stations I have ignored probably tamper with their calibrations and cheat customers out of their hard earned money. Some robust and consistent action is required on this front beyond the occasional brim stone and fire swoops by the National Petroleum Authority folks which lose steam in 24hrs! And this brings me to our efforts to universalize a weights and measures system especially in our markets. The olonka system is highly intuitive and has served as well for centuries but is it not time to have a verifiable, measurable system anchored on ubiquitous scales everywhere? They say we are middle income and our taxi drivers still charge depending on necromancy and their mood swings. It is a cruel joke all this I submit very humbly which reveals too much heat and light about how we are going about our attempts to respond to our existential challenges; we are constructing a brittle superstructure on a very fragile substructure.
So I go to this petrol station I have come to trust. I pull up and get the petrol tank flap open. Suffocating from the entrapment of this steel box quadruped I step out to get a little fresh air. The pump attendant gets to work and then his colleague pops out. The African sun is blazing above and in the heat of it all he exclaims in Twi: “How I wish I had a very chilled bottle of malt. Malt kɛkɛ( to wit just a bottle of malt).” This was his greatest wish at the moment and it showed in the deep longing in his intelligent eyes. I could not resist it all and played Father Christmas by parting with some spare change. I pondered as I left why a working young man will yearn for something as basic as a bottle of malt and even consider it a luxury.
I was reminded then of a conversation my dad had with an IMF/World Bank type he met at Ghana’s Ministry of Finance when pops was still in the civil service. Dude wanted to know what my dad thought of the economy then ( in the late eighties). Dad felt the cost of living was high and the standards of living low for the masses of Ghanaians. The IMF/World Bank dude disagreed pointing to the impressive macroeconomic indicators. Dad asked his interlocutor whether the fact that school kids in Ghana could not buy a bottle of coke as a matter of course with their pocket money did not tell a worrying story. Our IMF/World Bank dude subsequently kept his peace. Are the eighties being replayed all over again today in the Ghanaian economy? There exists an enduring numbers-reality divide that requires urgent bridging if economic policymaking in Ghana is not be written off as shamanic.