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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Columnist: Adu, Kwesi

10 Percent For The West? Not Even A Penny For The Guy?

By Kwasi Adu

When I heard on the radio that some paramount chiefs from the Western Region had demanded 10% of Ghana’s oil revenue for the Western Region, I thought ….. “They’ve blown it”. Of all the people and groups in the region who could be expected to have the moral authority to make such a demand, it should not have been the chiefs.

Yes, it is true that over the years, proceeds from the vast natural resources and the cocoa revenue (Western Region is the highest producer of cocoa in Ghana) have not translated in development projects for the region. When governments decide to establish a cocoa clinic, they locate it in Accra, where cocoa is not produced. The cocoa growing areas lack even simple clinics; and if any of the farmers is bitten by a snake while on the farm, they die for want of medical facilities. The country has gained from revenues from gold (Tarkwa, Bogoso, Bibiani, Chirano, etc), manganese (Nsuta), Bauxite (Awaso). One cannot forget the vast timber resources from the region that are now almost depleted, with the accompanying degrading of the environment.

However, for these paramount chiefs, who in modern days have become a cartel in their Houses of Chiefs, to be the ones to make such a demand is almost enough to make one begin to have nightmares. This is because paramount chiefs in parts of that region where there are natural resources receive vast sums of monies from royalties. Paradoxically, their people do not see any of these. They use them on themselves only. I have not heard of a chief who used part of the royalty to build a school or health centre for their communities. What really happens is that, in addition to these royalties, they condone and connive with the mining and timber companies to suppress their own people when they protest against the destruction of their farms, the pollution of their rivers and streams, the devastation of their environments… one can go on endlessly.

Whenever the people try to organise themselves against the debasing of their quality of life by these companies, some of these very chiefs call to threaten their people. I know of chiefs in the Chirano gold mining area who within the last six years of the operation of the Chirano Gold Mines Ltd, have suddenly become fabulously rich although the company has not declared any dividend to the government and although the cocoa farms of their people have been mowed down for a mere GH¢2.30 per tree. An average cocoa tree, in its normal lifespan of fifty years, can earn the farmer as much as GH¢900.

I have seen footages of a documentary film where farmers in Bogoso, whose lands have been taken over, bemoan their loss and have been forced to take to Galamsey. In this documentary, when a mine manager was asked what the Mining Company had done for the people in terms of social responsibility, he replied: “We have built them a police station”. The truth is that that police station is there to enable the mining company and the chiefs mobilise state violence against the people if they ever dare to protest.

It is also true that most of chieftaincy disputes in the Western Region have arisen out of arguments about the sharing of land royalties among the chiefs. Ironically, the chiefs always claim to be speaking on behalf of their people although once they get money in the name of “the people”, it goes to their individual pockets. That is why if a community wants to ask for funding for community-use, the advocates should not be the chiefs.

In several parts of Latin-America, the fights for the rights and interests of the indigenous people, (where their forest lands have been devastated by the mining and timber companies), are justified fights. This is the movement that has helped to bring to power a new crop of leaders in that region. It is always a travesty when the exploitation of riches in an area makes the people who live in that area poorer rather than enhancing their quality of life. It was the exploitation of gold in California that made California become a rich state..

In terms of road infrastructure, the region does not even have proper intra-regional connectivity. For the people in the northern part of the region, it is easier to go to Kumasi than to go to the regional capital, Sekondi-Takoradi. From Ahimakro in the north through Adwuafia, Krokosue, up to Akontombra, (more than 120 miles) there is no tarred road. Even the narrow and dusty feeder roads are mostly impassable, during the rainy season. From Sefwi Wiawso to Akontombra, (over 70 kilometres), there is no tarred road. All that expanse of land between Akontombra through Dadieso, and Enchi, there is no tarred road. From Enchi to Samreboi, Tanoso Nkwanta, Tanoso to Mpataba in the South, there is no tarred road. Yet this is the hub of the cocoa-growing area. They have no proper water, no proper clinics, and no tertiary institution. Nothing. Yet this is where we have all those minerals and timber. I have not mentioned Bogoso and all of the Amenfi and Fiase areas. Even Tarkwa is fast becoming a ghost town. All the state-owned plantations in the region which could have provided jobs for the youth have been sold or destroyed by both the Busia (PFP) and NDC 1 governments.

One of the fundamental problems of lack of development in the regions of Ghana is the complete absence of regional development corporations which could have concentrated attention on the development of the regions. Politicians are afraid of devolution. Even the so-called local governments in the districts are nothing more than central government at the local level. The politicians are quite content to concentrate all national income under the ministries, where they turn those ministries into mere procurement agencies. That is how they skew contract awards for their friends, accept kick-backs, and with the corruption monies, they purchase for themselves, government prime lands in Accra and Kumasi.

It is in view of these that the politicians and the elite would consider with alarm and trepidation; any thought that a certain amount of national funds should be ring-fenced for the development of the regions beyond Central Accra and Cantonments.

The existence of a national development planning commission should translate into regional planning bodies and regional development corporations to develop the regions. In a situation where Ministers want to see themselves as tin-gods, who would, from time to time visit their poor victims in the rural areas and patronise them, the rural dwellers should not hope to see any development in the hinterlands.

The politicians keep making promises that they never intend to fulfil. Imagine the case of the MP of one of the constituencies in the Western Region. During the second round of the 2008 Presidential elections, Professor Mills held high the arms of this MP to the teeming crowd and said: “If you vote for me in the second round, this your MP standing beside me will be made a Minister”. The crowd cheered and duly voted for Professor Mills, improving on their first-round vote by 10%. Once victory came, not even a membership of a board has come in the direction of this MP. The Vice-President was reported in August 2008 to have promised that an NDC government would use a certain percentage of the oil revenue for the development of the region. In 2010, his spokesperson says that the Vice-President made no such statement. The question is, why did he not deny it in 2008 when he was reported to have made such a promise?

As the days go by, our politicians have become like men on heat who would promise every woman that they want to sleep with “I will marry you”, when in truth they have no such intention. Once they get what they want, they forget about the promise of marriage.

There is definitely a case to be made for devolved regional administration with ring-fenced funding, not just for the Western Region, but for all the regions.

It is true that the chiefs are the wrong people to have made such a call for the Western Region. However, if our politicians were to have their ears to the ground, they would have heard about a ground-swell of opinion in the Western Region to the effect that the wealth from the region should benefit the region as well, and not just Accra.

This is not an unreasonable call, although the carriers of the demand were the wrong people. After all, there are ten regions in the country and a bargaining chip of 10% may be a good negotiation point. However, chiefs would continue to put themselves up as spokespersons for “the people” unless the elected representatives of the people within the region take on the issue. As things stand now, the 10% matter is fast becoming a political football with the NDC going into hiding and making denials while the NPP takes the hypocritical stand that they are the real seekers of the interests of the people of the Western Region.

To those NDC people who are pillorying the people of the Western Region that the oil is far away on the sea and therefore are not entitled to express an interest in it, they should remember that if there is oil spillage, it is those on the coast in those parts who would bear the brunt of it. Already, their fishermen have been barred from fishing in certain areas on the sea because of oil exploration. Should they sit down, fold their arms and allow the politicians and the elite to use that oil money to buy prime lands in Accra for themselves? As Mrs Chinery-Hesse, then President Kufuor’s Chief Advisor, stated in February 2008, “the oil revenue would be used to grow Ghanaian millionaires”. She had no intention that the ordinary people should benefit from it. Is that what the NDC is also saying now? If no, then they should let us all know how the ordinary people would also benefit from the oil.

The example in Libya, where the ordinary people have reasonable housing instead of the money going to a few Sheiks should inform this debate. This is because, if the politicians use the oil money to grow “Ghanaian millionaires” as demanded by the NPP advisor, we could be heading for trouble. When the NDC poopoos the idea of equal opportunity for development for the people, they should know that the people will have their day in December 2012 if the NDC should tell them that they are only fit to be taken for a ride. This is a region with a swing vote, remember?

As they say in Latin, “habitamus videre” (We live to see)