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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Columnist: Amankwah, Kasadiimu Gyekye

Countdown to Y-50 - Priorities

And you thought you would never see our national soccer team play on the world stage, or at least not in your lifetime. Well, that has happened. You are still thinking, Accra will be filthy forever. Well, Wireko-Brobbey and his Ghana at 50 secretariat might prove you wrong on that. Note I said ‘might’. And you are probably thinking our politicians might never get it right. Well that’s a tricky one and it will depend on what you think is important. It is a question of priorities.

As a developing nation with so much promise and yet so much yet to be done, I am wondering what our priorities should be.

It is always a pleasure to come to you from time to time and I hope I am not disturbing your peace by making you read this. Even if I am, I think it’s worth it so stay with me- even though this is a long one.

Let me add my voice in congratulating our senior national soccer team, the Black Stars for a great representation at the FIFA World Cup Tournament in Germany. Although our early-but-not-so-early exit was a very respectable showing, we took full advantage of the opportunity and I have never been prouder to be a Ghanaian. Yeah, you probably could not easily accept the fact that we did not beat Brazil being that we had so much talent on our squad, but I bet their great ambassadorship of not just Ghana but the entire continent has restored our favorite nickname ‘the Hope of Africa’. And I hope we efficiently utilize the $ 5.7 million (five million seven hundred thousand US Dollars) given by FIFA to start developing our game and stars and to prepare to win CAN ’08 and possibly the next World Cup. “You may say I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”.

Now I hear Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey are probably coming down during our year-long celebration. Amen. And she might even do a show from Ghana. God bless her. And I hope she asks the question of somebody why we spent $20M celebrating our 50th birthday and still have a less than acceptable electricity supply in our major cities, why polytechnic teachers stay on strike for 3 months because the government is saying it cannot raise $1.6M, amongst other things. Let’s just hope she does not talk to Mr. Wireko-Brobbey because he surely is not the best spokesman for the highly controversial $20M we are spending on the celebrations. And I’ll tell you why. Find the transcript of his conversation with a Joy FM interviewer posted here (on Ghanaweb) on Saturday, July 22, 2006 and you will get the point of my beef.

Earmarking $20M for the Golden Jubilee is not a crime and I have always maintained that we ought to take full advantage of the opportunity and make sure we build enough momentum as far as public relations and international exposure is concerned- enough to carry us through till our 75th birthday and beyond. And it will take a lot of money and we have to have a plan. And a plan that will better the lot of the masses is what I’m thinking of.

My dictionary defines priority as precedence, especially established by order of importance or urgency. My dictionary is quite old and does not even have a cover but I believe that’s what you think of when you think of priority. So we’ll work with that.

Prioritization has been an Achilles heel to development in many developing countries and it is amazing how Ghana with its vast reserve of intellectual resources and human capital continues to fall victim to this phenomenon. 50 years after independence, one would have thought that we will be done with personalization of governmental assets under the guise of diversification and would have developed a system of governance that ensures that our limited financial resources are not so woefully misapplied to suit the whims and caprices of the powers that be.

Nkrumah has a horrible human rights record, you might argue, but he seemed to have had a plan to expand electrification, build schools and prepare the then young nation to take over from the colonial administration until a point when he got bitten by the selfishness bug. Then began substituting personal ambition for national priorities. Could you imagine where we would be by now if he stayed the course?

Rawlings in 1979 set out in the right direction and I was younger then. To his credit, rural electrification was a reality in many parts of the country, among several other accomplishments. But from what I have seen as the years have rolled by, the 20 or so years that followed could have been better for Ghana had he stayed the course. In other words, if we had the same person in power for 20 years and he could not move us any farther past where we were 50 years ago, then that does not leave us much to sing about. I am sure Minister Farrakhan will beg to differ with me but that’s quite alright. The objective, progressive and history-studying Ghanaian knows what I’m talking about.

I skipped the people in-between the Nkrumah and the Rawlings eras because there is not much to be said for the leaders of that time when it comes to prioritization.

I will talk about our present leadership in a minute, but let me take a minute here to mention that our reactionary nature, if not changed, will keep us always two steps behind and we’ll be a shade too late. Keep at the back of your mind the Ministry of National Orientation.

We had to live through the deaths of three rare medical doctors to realize that our roads are deadly. Meanwhile people die everyday on these roads. Then came the death of the member of government (I think his name is Ayim) through a motor accident which could be attributed to our poor road infrastructure. One would expect that his colleagues in the administration would make a serious effort at correcting this anomaly that has eluded most of our past governments. I cannot help but wonder why we cannot have a road system that at the least links the two major commercial metropolises and has two or more lanes each way to facilitate trade and also ensure safety.

Last time I checked Dr. Anane was the minister for Transportation and Highways and I think there is too much going on in this man’s private life for him to be thinking seriously about a comprehensive solution to this problem. Mr. Kuffour insists he’s the best man for the job and Mr. Kuffour is the president. I hope in 10 years when we talk about our highways, we’ll be talking about how much the toll should be on the turnpike and not be singing “how many more will have to die…”

I questioned the idea of the presidential palace and an honorable former member of parliament explained why it should be a national priority. And here’s what he said. The castle (like most other castles along the Atlantic) have a slave-trading past and for a people working feverishly to break away from that dark page in our history and reconnecting with our kith and kin in the global black world, that does not seem like the best place to be doing the country’s topmost business. In addition, the castle was not built for long-term family dwelling. It was more of a bachelor pad or hotel-style dwelling. So the call for an official presidential dwelling makes sense. I bet the word ‘palace’ is what makes it sound extravagant.

This is true and we need to turn the Christiansburg Castle into a museum and move the seat of the government to somewhere fitting. But should this be at the top of our priorities list? Maybe a better legacy for Mr. Kuffour would have been to redo the infrastructure at Korle-Bu and make it into a fitting teaching hospital. If he did that, I promise I would even petition the hospital’s Board of Directors to name the hospital after him.

President Kufuor after awarding contracts for the renovation of the Peduase Lodge and the State House, talks about putting up a presidential palace to “befit our status”. What is our status by the way? A poor third world country that goes begging in order to provide food for our citizens, while the “well-connected” get rich overnight? Notwithstanding all the opposition to and lack of resources for other developmental projects, the contract for building a presidential palace has been awarded and I believe the project has already begun.

Before we start thinking about presidential palaces that would largely benefit the privileged few who already have the best of everything and I mean EVERYTHING that our noble country has to offer, let us think about the majority of the people who lose their lives daily through road accidents, poor health and nutrition, and also the ill of illiteracy among others and channel our meager resources efficiently. Did I just say our meager resources? What I meant to say is our borrowed, sometimes at high interest, loans.

As a matter of national pride, I often reject the label of ‘third world country’ in reference to Ghana our motherland. But it appears to be a more effective reminder that we have to make a conscious effort to truly develop our nation. It seems like this label I hate so much might be the quantifiable label that helps us benchmark our progress in development. It is not practical to expect to jump from developing to developed but it might seem attainable to go from third to second and someday to first.

I sincerely believe if we get our ducks in a row and apply ourselves to the same principles adhered to by Singapore and the like, we could make the next 25 to 50 years after the upcoming shindig the defining period in our nation’s growth and development.

And the problem, my dear friend, is not just with the people in power. There are some ‘cultural’ issues with the rest of us that, regardless of what the government does, will keep us at this same point in 25 years unless we renew our minds.

And fixing these take a lot more than a ministry with a sexy name like Ministry of National Orientation. It can only do so much. If the charismatic movement in the country did learn from the examples of Mensa Otabil and a few others like him, maybe we would be praising and not blaming the church for encouraging a mindset of expecting a miracle rather than working out a miracle. You will agree with me that in our part of the world the Ministry of National Orientation is nothing more than a PA system atop of a car playing some patriotic songs, without the church and its leadership realizing that, the miracle of national development will not fall from the sky.

Another day we will talk about the church and where it fits in this big puzzle but for now let me just say I’ll be praying and will still be shouting like the one crying out in the wilderness telling us all to be TRANSFORMED by the RENEWING of OUR MINDS.

I know I jumbled two scriptures but you get the point.

And I am trusting that the grant received from the MCA will not fall victim to the selfishness bug. According to the MCA’s website, the five-year, $547 million anti-poverty grant, the largest to date for the agency, will benefit more than one million Ghanaians and aims to improve the lives of the rural poor by raising farmer incomes through private sector-led, agribusiness development. Tricky wording there- because like most of us, I was expecting it to benefit all Ghanaians directly. So in 5 years (God forbid) if there is a majority of Ghanaians still poor, I’m sure our fine leaders will argue that even the US government did not expect them to eradicate poverty (amongst all 20 million).

Having put our expectations in perspective, regarding this grant, I am still hoping that the true interest of the agricultural sector will be sought and the program followed thoroughly. You should check it out at the MCA website- - and read at least the compact summary. Very interesting stuff and I am staying hopeful that the implementation of this compact will have better results than giving each of the one million farmers a check for $547.

I want to stress on the roads issue since it is at the heart of all of our trade and commerce.

All cannot be said to be lost because the recent ground-breaking ceremony for the dual carriage road from Ofankor to Nsawam is an indication that there is some light in the tunnel. Although we don’t know how long the tunnel is, I will keep hoping that it’s not just a torch light dangling somewhere in the middle of our metaphoric tunnel. We will keep hoping that after Ofankor-Nsawam, we would keep extending the dual road towards Kumasi and beyond.

Maybe we have considered the economic advantages of having better roads but do not think it is attainable.

I am of the firm belief that people will be willing to pay tolls on safer, well-maintained highways and even will suck it up when they are occasionally charged a heavy fine for over-speeding. Faster and safer travel on highways will be a better alternative and a matter of fact the only alternative to what we have now.

And to our engineers and consultants as well as the contractors- please, please and please again- help us save money and time by designing roads that use movable medians instead of the permanent concrete dividers that are so difficult and costly to break down when there is the need for expansion or repairs. I am not an engineer but I believe the US highway system for instance can be a great model for us.

My dictionary defines priority as precedence, especially established by order of importance or urgency.

Instead of building a new presidential palace, our silos could be renovated or new ones built to store food during the major season for use when we have shortages during the lean season. Our railway system could be revamped, Korle-Bu and other major regional hospitals upgraded and new ones built and well-equipped. Our universities could use updated libraries and technology.

Instead of creating new ministries just to accommodate people who the government owes favors to or I should say the President owes favors to, maybe we could spend the money - salaries, SUVs, houses, etc. - on computerizing the existing ones to make them more efficient and to make it easier for people to live and do business in Ghana especially since the government is serious about things like the Joseph Project. We will delve into this in a future discussion, but I believe that to be able to move forward and be taken serious as an emerging economy we need to learn to prioritize effectively instead of just taking comfort in being the most promising nation amongst the world’s poorest nations.

Instead of spending $20 million on the festivities and a fleet of cars that will be eventually sold at super-reduced prices to party faithfuls, a better way would be to spend it on things that would directly benefit the citizenry. There is a long list in my pocket but I will not presume Mr. Wireko-Brobbey does not know what he’s doing. However, I would not mind seeing a website of the secretariat with critical information such as what their goals and objectives are, as well as a comprehensive outline on how they are going to spend this $20M. Disclosing such information will not jeopardize any national security interest- I did not think so. At the least, it will be an opportunity to keep the controversy to a minimum and make the secretariat welcoming to the general citizenry who might have something of relevance to contribute.

We should drink and make merry but remember that after 2007, life will still go on. And more importantly, let’s not forget that the independence of Ghana will be meaningless without the alleviation of poverty and the raising of the standards of living of the masses to humanly acceptable levels.

There is always going to be a next time, and there’s always going to be something to talk about.For now I think this is enough to chew on as the countdown rolls on.

Keep the conversation going. Somebody is listening.

Assalaamu Alaikum.

Kasadiimu Gyekye Amankwah
Ghana Institute for Human Development

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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