The "Working in Ghana" Project


[In his mid-thirties, Mr. Opoku works for a government-owned corporation as an assistant internal auditor. He and his wife, a hairdresser, have sons aged 8 and 9. He has been at his present job for 9 years. Mr. Opoku has completed the General Certificate of Education, Advanced level. He and his family live in a suburb or Accra. He spoke with Philip Awekeya on a Sunday morning; they sat under a small tree in the couryard of Mr. Opoku's house.]

I started working life in 1979 as a law clerk in Accra after I had completed commercial/secondary school and obtained passed the Royal Society of Arts Stage II Examination.

In 1981 I left my first job to work as an accounts clerk with a large private chemist firm. I was then happy with the change because I could apply what I learned in commercial/secondary school. Unfortunately the pay was woefully small compared to what my counterparts were getting in government organizations like Ghana Food Distribution, State Publishing Corporation, and even in the Civil Service. For example, a classmate of mine with almost similar pass grades was earning 1,600 cedis while I was paid 900.

The low pay, coupled with lack of job security, led me to talk to many friends and ask them to help me find a better-paying job. Fortunately in 1985 I changed to my present employer, working as an audit clerk grade one. One of my close friends from church told me about the vacancy. I quickly applied for the post and was short-listed for an interview. Luckily I was hired.

Three years ago I was promoted to assistant internal auditor on the strength of my success in the Royal Society of Arts Stage III Examination and a recommendation from my supervisor. Now I am responsible for cross-checking the corporation's salary and wage vouchers and passing them on to the manager for his signature before payment. I also check the corporation's cash books to ensure that entries of raw material purchases are correct. In the exercise of my duties, I have the singular honor of querying incorrect entries in the pay vouchers or the cash books. And I have to write quarterly reports about the financial position of the corporation for my supervisor to study before he makes recommendations to the managing director for action.

To ensure a good working relationship with my co-workers I always have to be tactful in the way I query their work. Otherwise they will see me as a stumbling block on their way to financial gains. Most of the people whose work I supervise sometimes feel that the corporation is an elephant from which they should occasionally make small cuts to add to their salaries. I have grown to dislike my position somewhat because I have realized that I must be extra careful or else the employees whose work I cross-check will forever hate me. On the other hand, if I also fail to do my part of the job properly, the corporation will continue to lose large sums of money. Should this continue for a long time, I would be fired.

Many think that all is well with my job, but I tell you it is a pity working with my corporation these days. One is expected to work the normal eight hours, but under poor working conditions. Unlike Ghana Cement Works and Tema Food Complex where senior officers enjoy tea/coffee break, such amenities do not exist in my establishment. We work hard for virtually no reward; yet the corporation expects higher output from us. I am not happy about the lack of coffee breaks because during certain periods of the month, one finds it hard to afford two to four hundred cedis (then, about 40 cents to 80 cents) to buy food from the public chop bars. A tea/coffee break would help protect our image by stopping us from going to eat food on credit while at work.

Although I feel the corporation is milking us dry, I enjoy working with my immediate supervisor. He is a calm, middle-aged man who wears a cheerful face most of the time. He constantly tells me to be wary of the people whose work I audit, so I won't overlook lapses in their work, which could cost me my job. I will be fired if several adverse findings are charged against me. He also urges me to spend time studying for the Ghana Institute of Chartered Accountant Intermediate Examinations which would gain me quicker promotion to the top senior grade in the establishment. As for the rest of the workers, I am afraid we are just tolerating one another. There are no open conflicts between us. But the fact that I cross-check their work and at times query them officially, makes some of them--especially those who think an accountancy job in a corporation is an avenue to make money illegally--see me as a block on their way to easy acquisition of wealth.

In my job, as in most government corporations, promotion to the senior grade is mostly through passing of professional and academic examinations. At present I can only be promoted to the grade of Internal Auditor by passing the Chartered Accountant Intermediate Examination. I see such examinations as the best way to counter victimization and nepotism in work places in Ghana. People will work hard during their leisure time to write the examination instead of wasting time drinking in bars with senior officers, hoping to get favors for promotion.

I am not happy with the pay and other benefits like annual leave, accommodation and transport allowances in my establishment. Things were better three years back when the inflation rate was quite low, and when there were separate allowances for annual leave, transport and accommodation. Now all of these allowances are consolidated into one's salary which is heavily taxed, leaving almost nothing for us to take home at the end of the month. I dislike the idea of salary consolidation and I am sure most workers in Ghana feel likewise. This measure was implemented by a military government that never gave the workers a chance to express their likes or dislikes of the new pay structure. We all looked on helplessly while the dose was passed down our throats.

Worst of all, end-of-service gratuities, which used to be the workers' only hope of consolation at the end of their long years of work, were canceled by the military government. As of now it seems to be a punishment working in the government service or in a government organization. It would have been better for me to engage in a private business, but then the high risk involved makes me keep to my present job, hoping that things will improve.

I hate to hear about union affairs, even though I belong to the Ghana Trade Union Congress. I see the union leaders in most developing countries as opportunists who push themselves into high offices to enjoy life with the huge union dues collected from poor workers. Union leaders only make a little noise when there is voting for executive positions, but soon they after fall silent while the government carries out harsh measures that inflict hardships on the ordinary worker. The Trade Union Congress looked on helplessly when the government consolidated workers' salaries on the advice of the International Monetary Fund. This has reduced the amount of money that workers take home. If I had my way all workers' unions and organizations in Ghana would be scrapped so that no one can pretend to be advancing the interests of the workers while simply living fat on the monthly dues the poor workers pay.

Despite the fact that things are not too rosy for me, my wife respects me very much because she thinks the title auditor is something 'big', especially when she reflects on the fact that some of my age mates are without a job and others who were previously working have been retrenched and forced to return to the villages to take up the cutlass (engage in farming). The community also accords me some respect. For instance, my church elders always nominate me to serve on financial committees because they find me a real asset in the preparation of the church's financial report and in making budget estimates for projects.

In my opinion every one is important, no matter how low or high their rank in the society. Hence, we should each take up our work seriously so that together we build a better nation for our children. Although money is very important in sustaining us, we should work to earn it rather than try to get it by hook or crook.