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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 May 2003

Columnist: Asibey, Akwasi

A Letter to Jake

Dear Jake,
We have not met but I thought I should write to you first to congratulate you on your new appointment and second to outline a few measures that you may want to pursue in your new position as Minister of Tourism and Modernisation of the National Capital. I hope you are truly excited by this new challenge.

There is so much to do to uplift the status of Accra so that it becomes a world-class city. A lot has been done in the last few years especially in road development, which has lifted the image of the national capital from what it was a few years ago. Even then it is totally unacceptable that most of these new roads do not boast of effective drainage system. It is equally pathetic that these roads do not have streetlights. For the life of me, I do not understand why those who planned the reconstruction of the roads did not think they should be fitted with streetlights.

For example, visitors arriving in Accra for the first time, especially if they do so at night, will be shocked to find that the main road that leads into the city, Liberation Road, does not have streetlights. This is a huge minus for a city that projects itself as the gateway to West Africa. These are some of the lapses that some of us hope you will move quickly to correct.

Your appointment came at the right time because from all indications the Mayor of Accra and the AMA do not appear to have the capacity to tackle head on the many challenges that confront the city.

In any case, since Accra is the national capital, it is entirely appropriate that the national government takes special interest in its development and modernization. You may note that in Canada for instance there is a National Capital Commission (NAC) that is tasked to work side by side with the City of Ottawa to maintain the Federal character of the city. And in particular the NAC was set up to ensure that the city maintains a status befitting a national capital. Those of us who have had the opportunity to travel far and wide, we are ashamed that our national capital does not come anywhere near the best cities of the world.

Accra lacks so many things that make a city truly livable and where one can have quality of life. To begin with, the city is poorly planned. There appears to be no by laws to regulate things so it is not unusual for businesses to be set up anywhere which add further to environmental degradation and demean the beauty of the city. The city is choked with plastic waste and other filth. Is it any wonder that the city is home to a high incidence of malaria? How can we possibly attract a large number of tourists and investors to the city if such unhygienic conditions prevail? The whole of Accra does not boast of a single shopping mall where residents can go for shopping and entertainment. It is really primitive that Accra does not have state-of-the-art movie theatres. Accra lacks first class bookshops. There is not even a Sunday newspaper! We make so much noise and yet we are so behind in terms of developing our city to befit our international status. There are very few attractions to entice people to leave their homes. Many families do not even have places to take their children, what a shame!

We need to make our city attractive enough to encourage people to leave their homes to spend money that will in turn generate revenue for the Government as well as create jobs for young people. I am sure in your travels you may have noticed that most cities are designed to entice people to pursue various leisurely activities and to spend money. We cannot hope to build a robust market economy if citizens have nowhere to spend their money.

Jake, you really have your work cut out for you.

You need to move quickly to stamp your authority on the city. You may begin with all the uncompleted buildings. Accra is one of the few places in the world where it takes almost ten years to complete office buildings. For example, why has work completely stopped on the so-called Morrison building near the National Theatre? You may want to put pressure on companies and individuals who have acquired plots in the vicinity of the National Theatre up to the Valco Building to begin developing them. The whole area is dead after working hours!

There should be an aggressive strategy to redevelop the Ridge area. It is heartening to learn that the Government has taken steps to revive the Ambassador hotel. It is hoped that the Saudi Prince, who recently expressed interest in developing the hotel into a first class facility, will live up to his promise and move quickly to finance the project. The Airport City project is moving at a snail pace Some of those who have acquired plots for various projects may be experiencing difficulty raising funds. Having said this, I think it is entirely appropriate that you put pressure on them so that the plots to do not lie fallow.

Accra needs first-class shopping malls.

There are rumors that a number of shopping malls have been planned for the city. For instance, there is one apparently planned to be built near Tetteh Quarshie inter change. If it is true, it is hoped that work will start as soon as practicable.

There is an urgent need to enforce existing by laws or to enact new ones to prevent people from turning residential neighbourhoods, especially roadsides and pavements, into business centers. All those wayside businesses and unauthorized structures must be dismantled to give the city a cleaner look. With businesses dotted every corner of available space, the city looks like a giant dumping ground. It takes away whatever efforts are being made to improve the image of the city.



Last but not least, efforts should be made to build a State House or a presidential palace. It is utterly disgraceful that previous governments allowed Flagstaff House to decay. A new State House must be built urgently for the current President and future presidents.

I want to end here but it is my fervent hope that you will work assiduously in your new capacity to improve the image of Accra so that it truly becomes the gateway to West Africa!

God bless
Sincerely,
Akwasi Osei Asibey


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