Ghanaian workers across the country, mainly in the public sector, on Wednesday staged demonstrations in the various regional capitals, against increases in utility rates and fuel prices.
A report from Accra said thousands of workers, clad in red and black dresses, were also demanding the withdrawal of a new tax law passed by parliament late 2015, which put extra taxes on petroleum products.
The demonstrators, led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), held placards some of which read, “How can this be a better Ghana if our children cannot go to school”.
It also read that “Mr President, have compassion for Ghanaians”, “Reduce utility and taxes”, “Reverse taxes” and “Give us a living wage”.
The report said the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission late last year increased the electricity rate by 59.2 per cent, while water tariff was also increased 67.2 per cent.
It said further that prices of petroleum products went up by some 28 per cent in the first week of January, although fares have remained the same.
Producers and distributors of electricity had argued strongly that they needed higher rates to recover cost.
They said it had become imperative, especially as production of electricity now was mainly through thermal sources, gas and fuel, which are far more expensive than the hydro.
They noted that the levels of water in the three main dams, which have installed capacity of about 1,600 megawatts, are critically low because of low rains.
Ghana, which went through excruciating load shedding from 2012, now has some relief as production was about matching demand and many areas had not gone off since Christmas last year.
“But a huge chunk of production is by independent power producers who have signed agreements for rates that have to be paid by government, a source said.
“The state-owned Ghana Water Company also says it wants higher rates to recover cost else production will be affected,” he said.
A TUC member said on condition of anonymity that they turned down an offer to reduce rates of water and electricity because they did not meet its demand.
He said government has stuck to the fuel levies saying it needs revenue in a country where the tax net was very small.
The official said public sector workers now guzzle more than 50 per cent of the tax revenue, which was a source of worry for the government.
He said the demonstration is expected to be followed by a nationwide strike on January 21 and 22.
The government, which began a programme with the International Monetary Fund, IMF, last year, has been watching its expenditure closely and has promised to stick to its budget and not to cave in to demands although this is an election year.
Political parties are cashing in on the situation as they condemn the “killer” increases in fuel prices and utility tariff.