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Opinions of Sunday, 23 April 2006

Columnist: Amankwah, Kasadiimu Gyekye

Countdown To Y-50: Infrastructure.

Since our last conversation, a lot has happened. Notable among these happenings has been President Kufour?s visit to the US. It felt good to read the things Mr. Bush had to say about our president and our country. The pictures were striking and they are on Ghanaweb (I?m sure you saw them). The reason you did not see it on CNN or NBC or on all of the evening news broadcasts was that they did not think it was that important. Maybe they showed it and I did not see it (because I don?t have cable), but I have asked around and nobody I know saw it. Did we miss an opportunity? I think so. With the leader of the most stable country in West Africa visiting the US I think Bob Schieffer ought to have mentioned it. Or rather our PR machinery should have been working to make sure he picks up on the story. Maybe what we need is an efficient media and public relations desk at Ghana?s Embassy.

Hopefully we learned from this.

If I were a college professor, I would say ?Now that we have established the ground rules or the basic framework for exploring our 50th anniversary celebrations to the optimum potential for the benefit of our future generations, let us continue to look at some other things that we would have to have in place to make sure this turns out not to be a mirage?. But I am not a college professor so allow me to go straight to the point. When these special guests get into town, are we going to be ready?

Hospitality? Check.

Public Safety? Check.

Entertainment & Tourist Attractions? Check.

Hotels? We have a lot of them.

Public Sanitation? We are working on it.

Wait a minute. About the hotels, did you say we have a lot of them? Really! If the reasons I heard regarding President Clinton?s inability to stay overnight during his official visit to Ghana are things to go by, then we have work to do here.

It is disturbing to learn that our cherished multi-star and dollar-charging hotels do not cut it all the way. I am concerned because I thought (like most of us) that we?ve got it covered on this end. Could the question be one of capacity? Could it be safety? It beats me. I guess the point I am trying to make here is it will be sad if there is a shortage of accommodation because we took the hotels at their word and did not verify that we truly have the capacity to hold our expected guests.

The question of safety is one we take for granted but in these days that all friends of the US are likely targets of Osama, maybe we should keep the issue of safety high on our priority list as our friendship with the US continues to grow. Did it occur to you that the US State Department may brand some of our treasured hotels as unsafe because some of the owners happen to be Middle Easterners? Well, maybe somebody needs to tell them the money used in building these hotels was borrowed from the SSNIT Trust. Let me avoid talking about why SSNIT money (Ghanaian money) is lent to foreign investors so they would own property in Ghana in order not to deviate from the critical point here. I guess it will suffice to say, foreign investment ought to bring the money along with it, not the way it works with our hotel investors in some of the instances. Whoever is running the Golden Jubilee has their work cut out for them. You will want to do a thorough review of our hotel infrastructure. If the need be, you should move very quickly to bring in some of the major chains to help deal with this. We never thought there was not enough space for Clinton and his entourage. It?s been more than 6 years and Laura Bush has slept a couple of nights in Ghana so things might have changed. But we should not just assume things are fine.

I just have these words at the back of my mind in relation to this subject of the hotel industry in Ghana. There is probably no relevance for them in this article but I have an urge to share them so please let me. Hilton. Marriott. Sheraton.

I must commend the government for finally breaking ground for the rebuilding of a new hotel to replace the old Ambassador Hotel. However, being that I?m not privy to information regarding the project I would cautiously acknowledge the effort and not jump into conclusion that our hotel infrastructure would be at the level of adequate preparedness for this very important moment in our dear motherlands history.

I am not sure who got the contract and if the money for the contract is going to be borrowed from within Ghana. I wish there was a way I could find this out (after all, it should be public information). I know that sometimes it is beyond the comprehension of some power brokers to award such contracts without their proverbial TEN (I mean the percentage) but for heaven?s sake would it not be satisfying to say that a particular important historical project was done under your watch or during your tenure, Mister or Madam Minister? For Ghana?s sake please put aside the personal gain agenda and for once let us do something for mother Ghana that posterity would greatly appreciate. I refuse to accept the notion that people in our government live by the chop-chop creed. I?m sure there are some bad apples, but certainly there are people who mean well. I just hope these well-meaning people stay vigilant. And to the bad apples I quote you JFK- ?Do not think what your country can do for you but think about what you can do for your country?.

What about electricity supply? Hmmm? Sometimes.

Sometimes. Are you serious?

Yeah, we?ve lived through intermittent supply and unannounced blackouts for several years.

Really! And this is the gateway to Africa?

It?s worse in Nigeria. Really? Nobody told me of this.

Well, we are working on making it better. We are looking into alternative power sources since we?ve realized our hydro-electric resources are not enough to go around. But to our credit, we share the little we have with Togo.

This perpetual or I should say chronic blackout periods during and after the period of the celebrations will not be acceptable. I hear the talk about a number of efforts to make this social ill go away forever and I hope it?s not just lip service. We can and should have consistent electricity supply. Constant running water as well should be ensured so as not to leave any bad taste in people?s mouths when they visit Ghana. Yeah it?s not all about the visitors.

The reason for the need to ensure that we have constant or I should say uninterrupted supply of these two necessary evils is that most of the tourists and invited guests during these celebrations are potential investors and their impression of infrastructural and essential services will influence their decisions a great deal. For instance a company that would like to establish a call center operation that requires a constant supply of electrical power might think twice in coming if they perceive this to be the order of the day. You try telling me telephones don?t run on electricity and I?ll tell you the computer does. To be serious players in the global market place, infrastructure should be close to if not at par with the world standard. When that is done, then we will have every reason to charge late fees for non-payment and subsequently disconnect the service.

If the monopolies that provide these essential services are taking things for granted, then let the government open up the sectors to competition to bring in some efficiencies. Can the government efficiently regulate such a provider and still give them room to stay profitable? What if the private companies overcharge consumers and cause economic hardships? Well, think about the economic hardships of you losing everything in your refrigerator due to the unannounced and persistent blackouts. Those who have generators have to factor in the rising gas prices. Maybe the people will be better off with getting the reliable services they are paying too much for. Whatever we do, we should be sure we deal with these unacceptable trends. Single-digit inflation is good but persistent blackouts take the wind out of the sail for the rest of the show.

I wonder if the places like the Castle, Novotel, Golden Tulip, KIA, National Theatre, and the Accra Conference Center have to deal with these blackouts. They have generators? I see.

I will like to mention that the infrastructural readiness should not be limited to only Accra.

I am traveling to Ghana shortly and for very good reasons, I am traveling on Ghana International Airlines. Yes, the pride of the motherland. I don?t know who owns it but it has Ghana?s flag on it so it must be a good airline.

There?s a lot to say and even more to be done.

I will like to thank those who devote their lives to the luxury of public service and work in the interest of all of us. I hope they truly work in the interest of us all. I hope they listen when we speak. I hope they hear us when we call on them. I hope they hear our prayer when we talk to God.

To talk to God is to have talked to the wind (Se wo pe se wo kasa kyere Nyame a wo kasa kyere nframa). There?s always going to be a next time, and there?s always going to be something to talk about. For now, I think we have enough to chew on as the countdown rolls on.

Keep the conversation going. Somebody is listening.

Kasadiimu Gyekye Amankwah
Ghana Institute For Human Development
April 20, 2006


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