The "Working in Ghana" Project

Accountant, Development Organization

[Mrs. Gordon is a pleasant, fair lady in her mid 30's. She is employed by an NGO (non-governmental organization) that undertakes agricultural development projects in Ghana. She spoke with Philip Awekeya on the veranda of her modern house in a suburb of Accra, where she lives with her husband and four children. Mrs. Gordon holds a professional diploma in accounting. She speaks fluent English with a British accent.]

I have been working with a non-governmental organization for the past five years. At first I was taken on as a trainee accountant but now I am responsible for the organization's general accounts and supervision of projects--I am the project accountant. I do a range of tasks. I keep proper records of the income and expenditures of development projects both in and outside Accra. I also organize courses for members of cooperative societies in both urban and rural areas on how to keep financial records and how to invest in viable ventures with their limited capital. I also help the executive members of societies under our direct supervision with their quarterly and annual financial reports. Occasionally I give talks in rural communities on the essence of cooperatives to stimulate their interest in organizing themselves into cooperative bodies for the purpose of undertaking palm oil production, baking, fish or native soap making.

I enjoy my work very much. It takes me far into the rural areas, so I get to know the problems of the rural people much better than senior civil servants who haven't grown up in villages, nor worked directly with rural folk. They only know what they read from books about the problems of rural people. From my visits I can see first hand such problems as lack of safe drinking water.

The job makes it possible for me to understand that the rural communities can improve their living conditions through non-formal education. It can help eradicate all forms of ignorance among them. But above all, I have realized that the surest means to bail rural communities out of their poverty is to educate them to form cooperative societies. By doing so, they can pull their meager resources together in order to attract bank loans.

When I look back at my job over these past five years and think what I have done or expected to do, I feel satisfied. I have so far been able to promote the idea of cooperatives in a number of rural communities in Southern Ghana. For example, in the Central Region there are two viable cooperative societies currently undertaking palm oil production which originated with my personal initiative.

I take pride in the kind of work I do. I don't regret having gone into it even though it takes much of my time away from my husband and children. In fact, if my husband were not an understanding person, I would have by now stopped the work even though I enjoy it. Much of the time I am on trek to the villages and sometimes spend a night or two away from Accra.

My working hours are not like civil service jobs in this country, which have specific hours for reporting and closing of work. On normal working days I go to work at eight o'clock in the morning and close at five in the evening. However when I have much work do, say running workshops for cooperative leaders or report writing, I close as late as seven or eight in the evening. But I don't feel cheated when I have to close late because the organization pays for overtime.

I tell my husband and friends that I am one of the fortunate chaps. My job takes me to many areas, enabling me to make many friends. And I find my supervisor and co-workers very pleasant and loving. My supervisor is a Black American who is soft spoken and easy going. In the five years that I have worked under him he never talked harshly to me. Whenever there is any problem with my work, he invites me to his office and discusses it openly with me. In some organizations certain senior officers lord it over their subordinates, but where I work there are cordial relationships between the junior and senior officers. There has so far never been any occasion for me to complain to my husband about the behavior of any member of my organization. I feel strongly that if similar friendly relations existed in most work places there would be no need for victimization of junior officers by senior ones, leading to frequent paper or physical fights as is the practice in certain offices in this country.

I cherish the fact that there are chances for me to advance on the job. I began with this organization as a trainee accountant and within two years I was promoted to my present grade (project accountant). The next grade is senior project accountant, which I stand a chance of getting in about a year's time. In some jobs in this country, especially in the civil service, opportunities for promotion are very slim. If I were working in the civil service I would not have been dreaming of being on the senior grade by now. I thank God that I had this job. I am sure most of my colleagues envy me.

In present day Ghana, no one ever says he or she gets sufficient pay. The fact is that the cedi is now so light; for example, by early 1992 about four hundred and twenty cedis were exchanged for one US dollar. Right now, over six hundred cedis are exchanged for the same one US dollar. This means that Ghanaians need many more cedis than we were given last year. But Ghanaian workers are not receiving them, and we are no exception.

My job is taxing because it involves long treks, which are risky. Because I work for a non-governmental organization people assume that I am heavily paid and probably even enjoy many benefits like annual leave allowance and free accommodation. Unfortunately my pay is only a little higher than my counterparts in the public service. What makes my take home pay slightly higher is the overtime pay.

Benefits like transport and accommodation allowances are not paid to me separately as they were three years ago. The government policy of salary consolidation has affected my organization as well. Though it is a purely non-governmental organization it is not given free hand by the government to pay us salaries commensurate to standardized World Bank recommendations, nor to pay other allowances to us directly. That would go against the government's directives. However, I feel the organization is not paying me and my fellow workers sufficiently, because our counterparts working in similar jobs on UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and World Vision International projects earn far higher salaries than we do. And they even enjoy such benefits as free medical care and free accommodations.

The fact that my employers are foreigners who engage in purely voluntary work makes me not see any point in joining the Ghanaian Trade Union which is supposed to be the mouthpiece of Ghanaian workers. The union leaders have not been able to put pressure on local firms and the government to pay workers fair wages. I therefore feel I would be throwing away my good money by paying union dues and wasting my precious time by attending union meetings, which seldom yield any material benefits.

My children and husband sometimes express open dislike about the way the job sends me out into the rural areas, keeping me away from home overnight. I don't like the idea of staying away from my family in the interest of the job, but I fear loosing the job if I fail to go on the treks assigned me by my supervisor.

In the eyes of the community I am considered one of the fortunate ladies in the neighborhood. People around here think that I am one of the top senior officers in the organization just because they see me drive the project vehicle to work. Of course I like the way the neighborhood accords me respect. Their friendly attitude towards me spurs me on to keep to the job though my husband appears not to be too happy about the way I frequently leave the children under his care and go on trek. To me, what matters so much in life is how the community regards someone. With time I guess my husband will learn to bear with me and stop complaining about the fact that I sometimes leave work late or stay away from home while on official duties to the rural areas.