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Opinions of Monday, 29 March 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Creating roads along which the people can walk safely

Some roads in Ghana are terrible Some roads in Ghana are terrible

One of the saddest aspects of life in Africa today is the evidence, to be found all over the continent, that our ruling elites do not give much consideration to their less fortunate compatriots, when they are carrying out policies that ensure public welfare.

I read, for instance, an unusual “Letter To The Editor” in the Daily Graphic of 22 March 2021, written by my esteemed fellow columnist, Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, drawing attention to the state of the public toilets at our fairly new regional hospital in Accra.

She wrote: “Dr Emmanuel Srofenyoh, Medical Director, Greater Accra regional Hospital, I would like to bring to your attention... the nauseating state of the toilets in the “Main OPD” block.... How can the regional hospital of our capital city have, for example, w.c. tanks with no covers and broken handles, as well as wet, dirty floors?

“...To add insult to injury (as one has to pay for the full use of a w.c.) patrons are asked the highly unacceptable question of whether they are there to urinate or...(!) so that after paying, they are given a length of tissue!... Looking at the imposing, elegant frontage of the hospital, I wonder how the extremely inconvenient conveniences can be part of the GARH.”

(By the way, why are so many of the Greater Accra regional hospitals' entrances often closed? A car carrying me there the other day nearly had an accident because the driver became distracted looking for an unblocked entrance he could use!)

Anyway, I can tell Ajoa that I also know of a public building, where work on the toilet system seemed to go on for months on end, with the result that both men and women had to use a single, unlockable toilet that worked! (Leaking, with no covered tanks, of course!). It was a matter of taking a quick peep to see that the coast was clear (of the opposite sex) before making a quick dash for it! To say that it was an absolutely terrifying experience would be an understatement!

How do such things happen? They happen because the people who should ensure that such facilities work for their staff, do not, themselves normally have to use the "general" facilities. They would have been given the key to an infinitively better, well-cleaned facility somewhere else in the building.

And if the less favoured complained to them about the unsuitable facilities, they would spread their hands to indicate helplessness: “Ah, you know how our contractors behave!” What they wouldn't acknowledge was that it was they who picked "the contractors'!

Meanwhile, the Graphic has been doing a yeoman's job by printing and commenting on pictures of all manner of “indiscipline” taking place on the Accra-Tema motorway.

“For three days (March 10-12 2021)” (the paper reported) when the Daily Graphic monitored activities on the motorway, indiscipline, in the form of road diversions, illegal U-turns, illegal bus stops, dumping of refuse, farming, and dangerous driving, among others, was mainly perpetrated by drivers, slum dwellers, tricycle riders and farmers.” The results were the knocking down of pedestrians and crashing of vehicles, the Graphic added.

Now, if an expert sociologist or psychologist were to pry into the reasons for these examples of a lack of good practice on our roads and public facilities, he or she would come to the conclusion that our society is caught between two strong social vortexes pulling against each other very hard: modern methods of centralising power and revenue, pitted against backward means of controlling the efficacious construction and maintenance of public works.

A lot of governmental power is exerted to coerce the citizenry to pay taxes, either directly or indirectly. The revenue is then allocated by the tiny group of persons who constitute the Central Government, to public bodies, in an apex system, to provide facilities to the public. But the top of the apex is inhabited (as mentioned already) by a tiny group of people – Ministers, MPs and senior officials – who are incapable, because their low numbers denied them access to vital information, of ensuring that the money voted for public works does actually provide the services intended for it.

It must be stressed that those who operate at the top often have very few means of knowing that something is, or is not, happening below them. They have to be alerted by those in the middle and bottom ranks of the personnel structure. And many in these groups fear to speak out, in case the bosses get annoyed.

In a society in which power is deliberately decentralised and where responsibility for negligence or incompetence can easily be attributed to individuals, a certain amount of accountability can be guaranteed. But even then, unless there is widespread public awareness, accurate information cannot reach those who can ACT to correct things.

A vicious circle is thus created: If enlightened citizens have no access to those at the top (and, in our system, (for although some journalists may try to widen public awareness, journalistic endeavour is dead unless citizens back it with threats to vote against those at the top unless anomalies are eliminated.)

Sadly, in between public awareness and public action, there lies a huge vault called apathy. Members of the public read newspaper articles or watch TV shows and maybe outraged. But some may tell themselves, legitimately, that there is nothing they can do! For even if they had the telephone number of a “big” man/woman, the person called might snub them. Shrug! Shrug!! So everything remains the same.

How often, for instance, have you not read that our open, smelly gutters make it impossible to walk safely along the streets of our towns? Have you ever wondered why everyone agrees the gutters should be replaced with wide, safe pavements, and yet we continue to construct them, even on new roads?

Please answer the question for yourself!