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Opinions of Saturday, 29 July 2006

Columnist: Afedo, James O. K.

$20 Million For Golden Jubilee - A Critical Analysis

$20 MILLION DOLLARS FOR GHANA’S GOLDEN JUBILEE CELEBRATION: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Many Ghanaians, young and old, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are currently caught in a state of bewilderment following the approval last week of a whooping 20million dollars by Parliament for the country’s 50th independence celebrations. More shocking and confusing was the failure of the minister of finance and economic planning to provide detailed and accurate description of how such money will be spent. And to make matters worse, the Chief Executive Officer of the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee Dr. Charles Wereku Brobbey could not help but tell a radio journalist in a live interview on an Accra-based radio station that she is disingenuous for asking critical questions on how the tax payer’s money will be spent.

Meanwhile the approval of such amount did not come easily. News reports said some Minority MPs in their contribution to the debate preceding the approval of the supplementary budget raised objections to the amount allocated for the celebrations. They complained that the amount was too huge considering that Ghanaians are suffering and the country itself is facing enormous economic and infrastructural challenges. As the opposition NDC MP for Asawase Muhammad Mubarak puts it “Mr. Speaker, I think the money is too huge. As a third world country with so many problems, how can we be spending 20 million dollars on a Golden Jubilee celebration? I think this is not right. The minister for finance must revise the figure.”

These developments since last week continue to ignite a raging debate among the populace. It was the major issue for discussion on all radio and TV breakfast shows in the country on Monday. Many people are asking for the justification for this apparent show of extravagance. But are these concerns of the populace misplaced? Are Ghanaians making unnecessary noise about nothing? Or is this just another attempt by the opposition to make the ruling government unpopular? The subsequent paragraphs discuss and analyze the arguments.

Yes, Ghana was the first country south of the Sahara to attain independence from its colonial masters, Britain. But this did not come easily. Evidence abound on the level of struggle, and human lives it took for the nation’s founders to make it a free and independent one. Coupled with the fact that this was the first thing to be happening on the continent, many Ghanaians and citizens of other countries on the continent think Ghana’s Independence is a torchbearer to the rest of colonial Africa.

To many citizens of African origin, Ghana’s Golden Jubilee celebration is the greatest thing to happen on the continent and would like to witness this. Viewed this way, the country would need to prepare adequately to receive the numerous Africans who would be trooping here.

Secondly, 50 years in a nation’s life is not an easy journey. The celebration of this feat could not have been anything better than a well planned and coordinated exercise. For this to happen, several structures need to be put in place. There is the need to make sure that the country’s major cities are kept clean, dilapidated structures renovated, major roads in the city illuminated, traffic lights working appropriately, beggars cleared of the streets, several independence monuments brought back to shape, and even as the Chief Executive Officer of the Planning Committee Dr. Charles said toilet facilities in Accra and tourist sites need to constructed. Hence no objective minded Ghanaian would deny that this requires a huge investment.

Thirdly, one could not understate the tremendous tourism opportunities that go with celebrations of such calibre. Hence there is no gainsaying that millions of Africans in the diaspora and their European friends would like to visit Ghana purposely for this celebration. Now if this is an accepted fact, then all will agree with me that a lot has to be done to keep our tourism infrastructure in good quality. Apart from renovations works on most facilities, our country’s beaches have to be neatly kept because this will be one of the places where the visitors will while away their time.

Finally, it is possible that a number of these visitors will have a long term investment interest in the country once they carry a good impression about us. As a result of the enormous returns to be generated, one wonders why Ghanaians are so concerned about the expenditure. I would even personally suggest that the celebration should not be just a one-day event. It has to be a line up of various activities mostly developmental throughout the year. This will be the best thing to happen in the life of the nation.

From the above, every Ghanaian regardless of political coloration admits that this will be a period of massive job creation in the service industry. Most hospitality facilities both public and private will hugely benefit while restaurants and bars will also make tons of money. Unemployed youth could also get the job of tour guides for a means of survival. Even the state could finance the construction of new hotels to receive some of the visitors which in itself also generate much more employment.

However, I think it is too premature and simplistic to accept this as a conclusion to the matter. Does it mean that we can do anything at all because of the returns? I personally find it difficult to accept this rationalization. It would be an indictment on the thinking capacity and intelligence of Ghanaians.

I admit this project is a good one and I equally appreciate the benefits to be generated both individually and nationally from the celebration. However, it is heart-aching to realize that a colossal 20 million US dollars will be spent in that regard. For me, what is even more disturbing is for an aspiring presidential candidate in the person of Hon. Hackman Owusu Agyeman to call this money “peanut.” What kind of message are we sending out to the world? But before I write my conclusion, a few backgrounds would be necessary.

For the third consecutive time this year, the prices of petroleum products have been increased. This was in line with government’s unwillingness to subsidize the prices of the products for the ordinary Ghanaian. It is believed that such an activity would increase the debt burden on the country’s refinery and this has exacerbated the economic hardship Ghanaians are going through. With government insisting that it can’t do anything about the prices of the commodity and for that matter Ghanaians should bear the brunt in order to race more revenue for development, it becomes very sad and suffocating to note that government has 20million dollars to be spent on the anniversary celebration.

Which is better? Reducing the plight of the ordinary Ghanaians who voted their government into power for an improved life or showing-off to the rest of the world that Ghana has money by buying a fleet of cars, feeding visiting officials with the taxes paid by the same poor people who can’t themselves afford even a meal a day? Realistically speaking, our rural folks even find it extremely difficult to survive. Consequently, I believe any rational government would work on the plights of its citizens than to show-off to the world. Let’s not forget that for the poor man on the streets of Accra or elsewhere in Fankyenebra, Walewale, Hatorgodo, Nkwatia, and other villages anniversary celebration without food to eat means absolutely nothing to him.

Apart from extreme hardship and abject poverty across the country, streetism has become a related phenomenon. Many of our leaders including H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, president of the republic drive home everyday through a stream of street girls and boys most of whom do not have a place to even lay their heads. There are many who live at the mercy of the weather; thousands have to wrap themselves in polythene and sleep on the bare floor even when it is raining while their leaders live in extravagant mansions and their utilities being paid by the same people on the streets. Is this not disturbing? The question however is how does the president feels in his heart when being driven with an army of motorcades and a fleet of cars through the streets of Accra at night? Do all our leaders, both minority and majority who are living on the tax payers’ money feel anything for their people? If so, then one wonders why there could be a thought of spending 20million dollars on anniversary celebrations.

Meanwhile the argument could be made that streetism is not a new phenomenon and neither is poverty a novelty under this administration. Yes I admit; but there should be a beginning to finding solution to our problems. It has to start from somewhere. If not, then we should equally forget about changing government since the ruling government is not responsible for the beginning of our problems. As a result, I believe such an argument would be uncalled for.

I still don’t get it; why would the country be happy spending a minimum of 20million dollars on fun-fair when the country’s tertiary institutions are confronted with nerve breaking challenges? I believe our leaders have not forgotten the impact the two months strike by polytechnic lecturers has had on academic work on the various campuses. While their total demands which could cost the nation only 15billion cedis is hard to meet, it is intriguing that the nation is able to easily set aside a minimum 20million dollars for the jubilee celebrations. My readers may agree with me that this money could do tons of miracles for tertiary education in the country.

Critically speaking, I do not think Ghana needs such an amount of money for the Golden Jubilee celebrations. My reasons are not hard to find. Any good planner and strategic thinker would agree that we don’t need to buy a fleet of cars for heads of sates. It is highly possible for the state to enter into contractual agreement with automobile companies to rent good vehicles just for the celebrations; and thereafter, the cars returned to the companies. With this, a lot of the expenditure on vehicles would have been reduced by two-thirds.

Another good suggestion was made by an experienced marketer and lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School Mr. Robert Hinson who thinks that experienced marketing and advertising experts in this country can put together a global marketing strategy which could cost the nation only less than forty thousand dollars. But the results would be tremendous. Who would not agree to this suggestion? This is the kind of thinking we need in national governance and resource management.

What is also interesting is that Malaysia whose birthday falls just a few months after Ghana’s has started marketing the event about two years ago. Meanwhile, with just about eight months to go Ghana does not even seem to have clear objective, and systematic plan to follow. I am sure Malaysians would laugh their heads out on reading that Ghana is now making money available for their Golden Jubilee celebrations. And even at this time, officials involved in the project do not seem to know their left from right; and this is saddening. It only tells me that we don’t need such show of extravagance. I am still at a loss why we should reduce our nation to such a mockery. Is this what we are celebrating? I am sorry.

I am also trying to read the minds of our so-called development partners. What would they be thinking of us? At one time, we are crying we cannot pay our debts, and on the other, we are able to raise 20million USD to celebrate Golden Jubilee? What a joke?

Well if you ask me, I believe we need to celebrate the 50th anniversary within our means. In Economics the basic rule is that since resources are scarce yet wants are unlimited, you need to develop a scale of preference around which to satisfy your wants. For me, Ghana as nation has needs and wants and this celebration could only fall under our wants which can be sacrificed for reducing poverty, cushioning the poor against fuel price increases, solving the poor conditions of service for teachers and lecturers across the country, fixing the country’s hospitals to stop detaining innocent babies due to inability of their parents to pay for delivery, and the list could go on…. We need clear leadership…a leadership that understands the needs of its people and responds accordingly….

The expenditure on the 50th anniversary must be immediately reduced. In fact I don’t want to go into the issue about how a greater portion of the 20million dollars would end up in the pockets of those involved in the project. From the way the CEO of the planning committee talked, I find it hard to believe that he will execute this project without putting much of the money in his pockets. That could be the only reason why he would tell Ghanaians that he does not understand their “ahuoyaism” about the money being spent. This literally translates “kin-pain”, meaning it is paining the rest of us that he was going to benefit from the project. Is this not very interesting and humorous? The answer to this is very obvious.
James O.K. AFEDO
(Co-founder & Vice President, AFRICAN YOUTH CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE, Accra Ghana)


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