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Opinions of Thursday, 12 December 2013

Columnist: Akwetey, Lawrence

Eyes from afar

Good Morning. I have been to Ghana, our beloved country, three times already this year, 2013. First, in December/January to take part in the midnight “Cross Over” church services of the 31 December 2012, dovetailing into the early hours on January 1, 2013. That was awesomely powerful! Second, in March 2013, as a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana Business School where I lectured on the UGBS’s MBA programme. It was an experience I so much cherished; and I will be back there next year-2014. Third, in August 2013, where I was a member of a team that carried out consultancy work for a very important organisation in our dear country.
These occasions gave me that unique opportunity to watch, observe and develop a personal sense of direction as to which direction-and at what speed the ship of our dear country was sailing: full steam ahead or having the stern foremost.

Hard Times?
My first observation was about the great people of Ghana. Most people were going about their different walks and works of lives in the usual warm and hospitable Ghanaian traditions. In the midst of these, I heard and critically listened to many social commentaries, some of which kept ringing like a bell that times were hard. I have no quarrel with anyone’s observation. This might well be the case for most people; but let us cast a look back to other countries, even the developed world. In the United Kingdom, for example, I could not believe it when I watched with my eyes on National TV British (I repeat-British) families queuing at food banks to collect food to feed their families. Just last month-October-all the so called “Big 6” Utility companies announced price rises in Gas Bills averaging almost 10%. This brought about deafening shouts and cries across the length and breadth of the country-from Landsend, through the Houses of Parliament, to the Hebrides. This was soon followed by Thames Water, whose application to raise water bills of consumers blocked by the water regulator/watchdog, Ofwat. The London Telegraph wrote, “Ofwat warns utility companies to 'share their gains’ and offer reduced prices to householders or it will be forced to 'step in’ to solve the problem.” These same developments are escalating through many other European countries. You remember Greece? Spain? Just to mention a few. Times are really hard, even in the developed countries! And so, we are not alone.
What I am so happy about, however, is the way my fellow countrymen go about these reported hard times. Most Ghanaians are working even harder in all spheres of the country’s development to turn things around for the better. These are times that our country is facing a lot of challenges; economic, political, social, etc. But I lift my hat up for my hardworking fellow countrymen who continue to work hard, to steer our dear country out of most of these challenges. And I have no doubt that Ghana will succeed and once again lead the way for other African countries in the global war for economic recovery.

The Ghana Police
Not too long ago, there have been upsurges in all sorts of criminal activities in our dear country, Ghana. I am talking about the years 2007 all through to on about four to five years or so from thence. Armed robberies, petty pick-pocketing, both small and big scale drug trafficking, international corrupt activities, just to name a few. I, myself, was a victim of an armed robbery attack in the year 2009, where I fought with three heavily armed robbers who broke into my house in the middle of the night. However, of recent, especially with the appointment of Mr Paul Tawiah Quaye as IGP, things metamorphosed for the better! I was pleasantly delighted to see, on my recent visits to Ghana, effective Police Patrols at every nook and crevice in Accra; brand new Nissan Patrol vehicles plying the length and breadth of the city; and I assume it is so in all the other regional capitals and towns. The days of the police asking victims to bring cars to pick them up to crime scenes have gone! There are even police tents built with tarpaulins at vantage positions all over the city of Accra. Not surprisingly, recent statistics have shown that crime in the city, and indeed in the country as a whole, has taken a significant nose-dive. And, I believe Mr Quaye’s successor, IGP Alhassan is following in the same footsteps as his predecessor. Congratulations to them both, and the Ghana Police Service.

The Economy
Eyes From Afar, that’s me, has been observing, listening to social and economic commentators, most of the times lambasting the government on the trajectory that Ghana’s economic development has been travelling. My immediate comment here is that, it is not a crime or a bad thing to criticise, once that criticism is a constructive one. And I have to say that, more often than not, most of these criticisms are not only constructive, but decent. It has also to be said that, there appears to be other critics who do not only criticise for the sake of criticism, but whose criticisms do not appear to hold any significant substance. Just hot air been gushed into the ears of listeners and viewers.
What would delight me, and I believe other fellow Ghanaians is that, by all means criticise constructively; but also make available what the other alternative which you think would help government, economic policy makers and the country at large to the appropriate authorities through the many government channels open to the public. In that way, these constructive criticisms would actually be taken on board, and would impact positively and contribute immensely to government’s ways and means of strengthening the country’s economic development.

Not too, long ago, it was reported that government wanted to resurrect all the industrialisation programmes that Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had in his Seven Year Development Plan for the country. I was personally delighted at this news. This is because no country’s economy takes a positive flight without a large scale industrialisation programme. Germany is the richest and biggest economy in Europe because of its significant industrialisation programmes. You remember the Mercedes Benz, Volks Wagon, Audi, and the Bremen Motor Works (BMW) automobiles? They are all made in Germany with assembly plants in selected countries around the globe. So it is for France, China, Japan Sweden and a few other European countries. These and other vital industries form the solid economic backbones for these countries.
However, my crucial example in this scenario is Brazil, in South America. Just a few decades ago, Ghana had the same economic rating as Brazil and Malaysia. Brazil is now ranked as the fifth (5th) best economy in the world. And Eyes From Afar can categorically attribute this great Brazilian economic feat to the myriad of industries that sprang up in the country, under the eagle-eyed sponsorship of China. China helped Brazil (and Mexico) to develop these very efficient manufacturing industries, most of which export these goods (still labelled Made in China) to the United States of America, mainly due to the juxtaposition nature of Brazil to the USA. I personally call this the Sino-Brazilian Model. I tried to sell this idea to a few Deputy Ministers from Ghana who were in London a couple of years ago; but it appeared they did not understand what I was driving towards.

Can China help Ghana to resurrect Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s industrialisation plans for Ghana? The Komenda Sugar Factory; the Tarkwa Abosso Glass Factory; The Navrongo Corned Beef Factory; The Kade Match factory; the Nsawam Cannery; the Afife Rice farms; the Tema Steel Works; and the rest. In my view the answer is yes. This should be one of the trajectories that Ghana’s economic development should travel on; and of course, other brilliant Ghanaians would advise more. I throw this challenge to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) to diligently consider and take on board. In my view, the GIPC is one of the most brilliant and economic development tools that former President, His Excellency Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings gifted to our dear country, Ghana.
Ghana’s economic and international standing, I believe, will be influenced in the years ahead by China’s huge economic resurgence as never before. Glimpses of the potential benefits of this relationship, which were made manifest through Chinese loans to Ghana, are already clear. However, these loans should be replaced rather by huge Chinese led factories and industrial houses in our country which would help boost manufacturing, both for domestic consumption and export. Just a couple of weeks ago, the London Mayor, Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer (British Finance Secretary) George Osborne, were in China to solicit exactly what am looking for China to do for Ghana: bring Chinese investments into the United Kingdom (UK). The interests of the UK, France and Germany significantly overlap when it comes to China, and by acting promptly, Ghana can increase and lead the African engagement with China and Asia as a whole.
Also, it is important that Bank of Ghana sets bank interest rates to affordable levels so as to enable both local and foreign investors to come into the country and invest.

Eyes From Afar has been observing, listening and watching recent political cricketing in our dear country, Ghana. There were innings, bowling, batting, leg-before-wicket (lbw), runs, and so on; but what I observed was that, no one actually knew (and still knows) how many overs were played and how many wickets actually fell.

There was the election petition that went to the Supreme Court in Ghana; then there was the issue of public utility tariffs that were heavily politicised; then there was the infighting of some younger members of the NDC government publicly and most disrespectfully clashing with their seniors in government; and then there was the interesting issue of that fine young lady whose alleged private conversations the Ghanaian press dubbed, “Vickyleaks”.

My comments on these issues, and of course, others that I have not mentioned here are as brief as they are non-biased.
In my view, the eight months or so that the election petition at the Supreme Court took was a period of near economic disaster for Ghana. Why do I say this? Potential crucial foreign investments that were contemplating coming into Ghana to invest were put on the edge and on hold in their various decision-making. Do we invest in Ghana when the country seems unsettled? Of course, if I am to invest huge sums of foreign money (or even local money) in investments in a country, I have to be double sure that the country enjoys a relative long period of political stability. My brief comment on this issue is that, it was a near disaster generating event that took place in our country, and was totally uncalled for.

On the issue of high increases in public utility tariffs, Eyes From Afar believes an increase of 78.9% was rather on the uncomfortably high side. And I was so delighted that government duly listened to the shouts and cries of the Ghanaian public an acted wisely. Putting together a committee comprising all stakeholders in this issue to arrive at a solution was indeed a feather in the cap for the John Mahama led government.

In regards to the infighting of some younger members of the government publicly and most disrespectfully clashing with their seniors in government, all I have to say is that, if members of the great NDC Party wish to criticise the government, or give an advice to government, that is fine. It is their right and it is often right to do so. Government should have the benefit of alternative views; but this has to be done in private. Public criticism is destructive. Political parties who are divided face an uphill task to make progress in every sphere of governing. Internal criticism of the government should be done and kept behind closed doors, even though it could be “productive”.

Then the BIG ONE: Victoria Hammah. In my view, this fine lady did not mean any harm. Her problem was simple lack of maturity, and she clearly is a victim of evil people that surround her. Yes, she has erred; but remember, that good old English religious adage still says, “To err is human and to forgive, Divine.” She has been lambasted left, right and centre by the press, politicians, etc. I think she has suffered enough. Please give her a break. After all, she was a victim of naivety who did not commit any crime. Come on, Ghanaians are very forgiving people; extremely nice people. Please forgive Victoria Hammah for the sake of the Almighty God.

The Epilogue
My sojourns through our dear country Ghana three times this year has given me hope that, although times appear to be on the hard side now, all will be well soon; very soon-God willing. The economy will certainly improve; infrastructure development will be on the ascendancy; the Presidency will get grip on all the crucial issues that concern the economic development of the country; and in the not too distant future, our dear country Ghana, just like it was the first African country South of the Sahara to achieve political emancipation over half a century ago, it surely will achieve economic prosperity; So Help Us God!
Finally, Eyes From Afar will be back soon; but before then, I wish every Kodjo, Adjoa and Kwesi in Ghana, A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS in advance!!

Dr Lawrence Akwetey, London, UK