Feature Article of Saturday, 7 July 2012
Columnist: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny
It appears that the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) and our Town Planning Department do not have a handle on the kind of development Accra requires now and in the future. If they did, they would not allow Koala Supermarket to build a three storey supermarket on Patrice Lumumba Road where it intersects with Volta Street! I’m sure Koala’s owners pinched themselves in pleasantly flabbergasted surprise on being granted permits to build a supermarket at the second busiest junction in Airport Residential Area. As chaotic intersections in Airport Residential Area go, it is second only to the one at Association School. All the twenty or so people I’ve mentioned this to ask whether I’m sure it is a supermarket being built and insist that I’m joking. Dear reader, I’m sure, I’m not joking!
For those who do not know where I’m talking about, it is the new three storey construction next to the National Service Secretariat when you approach Association School from Gold House. For the night clubber the new Koala Supermarket is going to be situated at the premises where Aphrodisiac once thrived. Lawful residents and property owners of Airport Residential Area fought a long legal battle to have Aphrodisiac evicted. I’m afraid but if Koala Supermarket is allowed to complete construction and open this supermarket, their nightmares will resurrect twofold. Commuters will suffer. Residents and property owners in and around Airport Residential Area, kindly quickly unite, consult your lawyers and drag AMA, The Town Planning Department and Koala Supermarket to court to stop this imminent nightmare. Get set for battle royal. Tell AMA and Town Planning they cannot do as they please with your neighbourhood. You should have been consulted.
The T-junction between Patrice Lumumba Road and Volta Street is inarguably a busy one. Throughout the day, Monday to Friday from 6.00a.m to about 9.00p.m hundreds of impatient vehicles use both roads. Saturday’s are no different, except that traffic eases at about 7.00p.m. The National Service Secretariat which is illegally housed in a building unlawfully seized from the late Col. Roger Felli is badly situated in the sharp bend and disgorges vehicles and people out regularly, adding to the chaos. In a city whose authorities and planners ‘functioned’, the pastry vending and TV repairing, NSS Secretariat would be evicted from that location on the grounds that it was obstructing traffic flow. But this is Ghana. Patrice Lumumba invariably has heavy traffic in the Gold House-Association School direction. It is on this stretch of road that AMA and ‘Town Planning’ have ‘wisely’ given Koala a permit to build a supermarket.
I hate to be scathing but it appears our city authorities are too impressionable, unimaginative, too naïve, undiscerning and seem reluctant to refine their mandate and outlook to suit the present and future needs of our capital. Unwilling to break out of the “This is how we’ve been doing it” mould, once something meets or approaches their basic minimum technical and other requirements they sanction it. They do not realize the fact that reviewing, insisting on and refining small details changes and positively enhances the complexion of our capital immensely. Almost fatal is their inability to use their discretion wisely for the present and future good of our capital. Our city authorities and planners lack vision and buckle too easily to all sorts of influences. Too eager to “generate revenue” quickly from granting building permits, loath to use their discretion and fiat to reject shoddy and/or inappropriately located designs, they excitedly accept all sorts of outmoded, inert building designs and schemes. They do not realize/use their immense powers to accept or reject shoddy and/or inappropriately located designs. That is why a lot of our new public buildings and offices are dated by the time they are completed.
What public interest factor led AMA and our planners to grant this permit? This was such a crucial decision. How was it made? Apart from “It will be CONVENIENT for those who live in Airport Residential area, Roman Ridge, Dzorwulu etc, they won’t have to go all the way to Osu or Accra Mall ”, what considerations governed AMA and Town Planning's imprimatur to Koala? A ten year old can tell you that operating a supermarket at that junction will cause unnecessary traffic and inconvenience to motorists, pedestrians and residents. It is poor planning and the only beneficiaries are the owners of Koala. Were residents and property owners consulted?
In Ghana we allow too much nonsense in the name of “convenience”. Because of “convenience” there is so much indiscipline in our society. Because of convenience we throw sachet water bags anywhere, cross the road anywhere and anyhow, stop and expect taxis and ‘trotros’ to stop anywhere and anyhow, shop from hawkers anywhere, park anywhere and anyhow, and open container shops and bars everywhere. It is because of convenience that we allow banks to operate in our residential neighbourhoods like North Kaneshie, Labone and Airport Residential without consulting the residents, determining their impact on vehicular traffic, and whether they are well located. Once a bank finds a building it likes it can convert it into a branch and boast that it has opened another branch. That word, “convenience” and a phrase, captured in the incredulous Ghanaian sympathy in allowing people to do anything under the guise of earning their “daily bread” are some of the guiltiest causes of indiscipline in our society. The ultimate question is how much convenience do we need? Must everything we require or desire be at our doorsteps, a finger tip away? Is that how the foreign cities our public servants, technocrats and politicians gawk at, on their needless travels from which they seem to imbibe nothing positive to impart to us, are built and run?
I’m waiting for the day AMA says ‘No more shops, bars and banks in residential areas”. The day AMA realizes and exerts its considerable power. The day AMA does not buckle to every scheme by selfish, powerful, greedy politicians or businessmen. The day AMA rejects a scheme like the Accra Mall. The day AMA tells the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “You cannot unilaterally and selfishly decide where you want to build your new Chinese buildings. STOP building at Airport Junction and go back to the ministries area.” Does the Ministry have a building permit? Has the land use plan for the former hostel changed?
Recently AMA put out two notices about allowing high rise buildings in residential areas in the not quite daily, Daily Graphic. It will not effectively supervise this new spate of apartment construction. That announcement is a license for chaotic building. Why? Because AMA does not have the grit, vision, refinement and discernment to determine what is good and what is bad, where you can put a high rise building and where you cannot. So handicapped, it should look for help from outside. There are several private architectural, engineering and planning firms which can help. Accra must go beyond this knee-jerk, slapdash, haphazard building of shops, banks, office buildings etc, this ‘buga-buga’ method of development and do it properly and professionally with an eye to the future.
AMA and our Town Planning Department are so transfixed with collecting fees for granting Business Operating Permits, Building Permits, Outdoor Advertising Permits and other negligible fees that they do not realize the immense power they have. They have to plan the development of our capital! Accra cannot develop by accident. Proper planning and enforcement is required. Otherwise in the next ten years Accra will grind to a screeching halt. There’s too much to ‘complain’ about. It can’t all be captured here. This is pressing. If we do not try to get it right in Accra our capital, what path will our smaller towns and cities follow? “If (as Chaucer noted) gold rusts, what will iron do?”
Koala has to be stopped from building a supermarket on Patrice Lumumba St. No, not another “Accra Mall”! The government must investigate the grant of a permit for this purpose and take action to stop it. If a permit has been legally issued and its provisions are being adhered to by the developers, there may be legal consequences to the government’s action. A judgment debt may be obtained. It will be expensive, but in the scheme of things, payment of this particular judgment debt, should it arise may be justified in society’s larger interest.
My sympathies go to the Mayor of Accra, Mr. Alfred Oko Vanderpuye on the loss of his wife. His is a tough job, and to lose his beloved will hurt him and affect his output. Have my condolences Ataa Oko.
I like to end positively and must applaud the simple, commonsense traffic regulating and improving measures introduced by AMA and Urban Roads with those yellow plastic barriers in several parts of Accra. In Asylum Down, on the Ring Road, and in Airport Residential Area, they have immensely sanitized traffic flow and freed other motorists from the madness wrought by “tro-tro” drivers. Bravo!
Johnny Blukoo-Allotey, Accra, Ghana.