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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Columnist: Class FM

Ghana: The land of unkept promises – A piece of Benjamin Akakpo’s mind

Only yesterday I followed a story from the Xinhua news agency which spoke of how Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari, had, this past Saturday, expressed optimism about the prospects of the release of the remaining Chibok schoolgirls held in captivity by notorious group, Boko Haram.

You would recall that some 210 schoolgirls of a government Secondary School in the Chibok area of Nigeria's Borno state got kidnapped on the 14th of April, 2014.

Yes, it has been 5 whole miserable years for the girls still in captivity! I cannot even begin to imagine what their psychological, emotional and even physical turmoil would have been like up to now – from those forced to denounce their religion to those exploited sexually and forced to do things they never would have - things that violate their very dignity as human beings.

107 of the girls were later released, after successful negotiations between the Nigerian government and the girls' abductors. The remaining 103 still remain in captivity! How is that acceptable anywhere? You tell me! President Buhari referred to his February re-election and made fresh promises to bring back our girls – promises which, like those uttered by many an African politician, may very likely never be fulfilled.

This got me thinking about the recent claim by Ghana's Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana police service and the cock-and-bull story they served us on a silver platter recently when I saw that screaming banner headline: "WE KNOW WHERE THE GIRLS ARE." Interesting, isn't it, that the girls have still not been produced? But let me veer from that angle. My target, today, is not the failing institutions of state such as the police. No.

My target is the politicians themselves, who are the cornerstone in the foundation of failure on which they have built this shambolic structure called Ghana - a country where systems are, by and large, absent; a country with beautiful laws that even have makeup on yet do not work; a country where you can die like a fly as a result of the most simple occurrences of life: a minor accident, malaria, cholera (and yes, the rains are back) and, of course, flooding.

Guess what all this prompted me to do? I decided to go back to what I term this ruling government's "Promissory Book," its manifesto, and fact-check it on the promises made. I didn't just look at the known things that were promised us which everyone has been talking about. No! I decided to dig deeper. What I uncovered will, undoubtedly, get you thinking. Let me walk you through a few of them.

1. The rains are here again, and my recent interactions with the authorities of the AMA, NADMO, renowned engineers and other stakeholders, offer nothing more than cold comfort. But what did the NPP's 2016 manifesto tell us? It was stated that an NPP government would work toward "constructing storm drains in Accra and other cities and towns to deal with the recurrent, devastating floods; establishing a national hydrology authority (NHA) which will be responsible for, and shall plan, develop, maintain, protect and administer drainage, flood control measures, major dams and sea defence measures, including construction of major storm drains to reduce the risk of flooding, constant dredging and desilting of our water ways and drains to ensure the free flow of flood waters."

Honourable Oko Vanderpuije, former Mayor of Accra and Member of Parliament for the Ablekuma South constituency, stated categorically to me in recent times that dredging work had been left unattended since this administration took over. I am yet to speak to any official, currently, who has countered that position, so I ask myself whether what was promised and what is being delivered are commensurate. Looking at what the recent rains have left in their wake: destruction of life (almost 10 people dead after only 2 rains) and property. I can safely say, as a result, that we all are being short-changed.

2. Bread-and-butter matters are crucial everywhere. One of the things the NPP’s manifesto said in respect of that was that the party aimed at “Shifting the focus of economic management from taxation to production.” Is our tax regime any better today, considering the profuse agitations and complaints from businesspeople?

I interacted, recently, with one of the co-chairs of the Abossey Okai spare parts dealers and he revealed to me that while only a few years ago he could import into Ghana as many as 15 containers of goods for sale, he can only manage 2 now. Why is that? Is this the shift we were hoping for when we went to the polls in 2016?

3. There also was a promise to pursue policies that would reduce interest rates; implement policies that would reduce the cost of doing business; and stabilise our currency, the Cedi. You know better than I do, that the Cedi has flailed against the major international currencies in recent times. The slump may have been curtailed to some extent, but are exchange rates still not outrageous as it is, with the American Dollar, the European Union's Euro and the British pound all trading above GHS 5?

4. The 2016 manifesto of the NPP stated that the party would pursue an aggressive industrialisation and value-addition to agricultural produce. Here, too, while the aim was and still remains a very laudable one, are we witnessing that which was promised? We are still fettered by the export of materials in their raw state which, oftentimes, are sold back to us at exorbitant prices! A no-brainer, right? No country can advance to the levels of more developed countries without industrialisation. But would you call what we are seeing now an adequate rate of industrialisation? I think not.

5. On energy, the promise suggested that the NPP aimed at "providing a reliable and cost-effective mix of energy supply for businesses." In fact, we know this administration has not added even a megawatt to our electricity grid after 2 years of being in power. How can this be, when this administration promised us a reliable and cost-effective mix of energy? Tied to that other promise, there also was a pledge to "conduct a technical audit on all power sector infrastructure and develop and implement a 10-year Power Sector Master Plan which will be reviewed thereafter to meet our medium to long-term energy needs.

6. Related to that earlier point, the manifesto stated that the party would "provide a mechanism to capture the water released by the annual spillage of the Bagre dam in Burkina Faso to use for irrigation in the north." There also was a pledge to "begin immediate discussions with the government of Burkina Faso for a more controlled spillage of the dam to prevent the flooding that takes place." Fellow citizens, the flooding at the Bagre dam has not ceased and, instead of harnessing the water as was promised, that has not been done and people are still dying as a result of this breach of trust.

7. The manifesto also revealed a plan to "build solar parks in the northern part of the country to deploy utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems. To achieve this, we will provide investment tax credits to owners of commercial, industrial, and utility-scale solarphotovoltaic (PV) and wind power systems to take a one-time tax credit of qualified installed costs." To "ensure a local supply of solar panels to meet the requirement of our policy proposals," there was to be a drive to "establish a renewable energy industrial zone where the private sector will be supported to build factories for the production and assembly of the full Components of solar power systems." My question? Where are the solar parks? The sun, nowadays, rages like nobody's business. Why are we not tapping into it? Are our leaders any less visionary and ambitious as compared to those in say, a country like Morocco, which has the world’s largest concentrated large-scale solar plant? Morocco's Noor complex, a massive solar farm covering a 1,000 acres outside of Ouarzazate, is a long-term energy plan for the future. Can we not do same here in Ghana, especially as we are blessed with abundant, year-round sunshine?

8. Finally, page 4 of the NPP's 2016 manifesto makes clear why, at the time, the NDC had to be removed from power and replaced with the NPP. It says: teachers are suffering; teacher trainees are suffering; nurses are suffering; nursing trainees are suffering; patients are suffering; students are suffering; traders are suffering; pensioners are suffering; drivers are suffering; contractors are suffering; civil servants are suffering; farmers are suffering; fishermen are suffering; industries are suffering; artisans are suffering; "kayayei" are suffering; men are suffering; women are suffering; children are crying...

My question today is, have things changed? To what extent have they changed? Has this government bettered the lot of all the categories of people mentioned above? Are the times any better? Is rent, taking care of yourself and your family, paying bills at school, driving yourself to and fro or even buying food and drink any less expensive? These are questions we have to answer for ourselves as we consider, in all honesty, whether or not the change we wanted is what we have got.

The typical African politician has a mantra, and it is this: "We shall" or, "We will." Well, enough of that! Fellow citizens, let us rise up and hold our leaders both responsible for our woes and accountable for their failures. We want to hear more of "We have done," not futuristic ramblings that leave us rooted to the spot as a continent blessed with the greatest store of resources on planet earth, yet one that is the most miserable, most underperforming and most abused – because of an absence of responsible and truly godly leadership.

I say these things, not because I dislike or wish ill for anybody, but because I am a true son of the soil; because I do care what happens to my home of Africa, specifically Ghana; because I want to see my continent change for the better and attain the heights we all know it can; because I am a citizen, not a spectator. My name is Benjamin Akakpo and this is an uncut piece of my mind!

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