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Opinions of Monday, 14 July 2003

Columnist: Asibey, Akwasi

Making Our National Capital Livable

The Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the National Capital has called a conference for all stakeholders to be held sometime this month to brainstorm on how to make Accra, the Nation’s capital, a livable place to raise a family and to conduct business.

This is a laudable initiative, coming at the heels of recent criticisms of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) for its lackluster approach to managing the city to befit its status as the national capital. Recently the Chief Executive Officer of Accra, who is effectively its Mayor, is reported to have said that the growing filth in the city must be blamed on the many ‘villagers’ who throng to Accra daily and who decide to remain there instead of returning to where they come from. In his estimate, Accra receives on average, 500,000 people daily. And in his calculation, approximately 60 percent of these people choose to remain in the city to eke out a living. His solution is that Government must speed up the development of the rural areas in order to ease up the congestion in Accra. This makes sense but it must be seen as a long-term solution. Also whether we like it or not, Accra will continue to be the economic powerhouse of the country. Therefore it is entirely appropriate that it is seen as the place to go and to live in to improve one’s well being. The challenge is to provide immediate solutions to the challenges facing our national capital so that it becomes the gateway to West Africa.

More significantly we must put our talents together to find lasting solutions to the myriad of problems confronting the city in order that it becomes a truly livable and enjoyable place that we all crave for. Playing the blaming game will not help anybody and those at the AMA must stop to make the so-called ‘villagers’ their scapegoats. This is because some of us will tend to think that they are simply not capable of the challenge of managing a sprawling metropolis. It is indeed no longer acceptable that officials and politicians who are entrusted with the management of our cities and towns seek to apportion blame in the face of challenges. They must look for creative means and strategies to solve them

In my view, there are very simple things that can be done to make the city livable and enjoyable for all its residents, including the transient ones. But we must first of all agree on a common vision for the city. This vision must seek to project the sort of city Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians alike may want to live in. My vision of Accra is a city where everyone regardless of their income, profession, ethnic affiliation or socio-economic status can enjoy quality of life in all its manifestations. If we accept this vision then it is the responsibility of the AMA to create the platform for its realization by providing the requisite policy and regulatory framework and the necessary resources.

The authorities must seriously think of implementing a green belt concept to improve the environment, especially the air we breathe. Accra has very few parks and gardens. There is too much concrete. There is a need to plant trees to soften the image of the city by building more parks and gardens.

There is a real estate boom all right but for whose benefit? Most of the houses, which are being built, are beyond the reach of ordinary persons. This explains why there is a growing number of homeless people and vagrants on the streets of Accra who defecate anywhere and clog the drains. There should be affordable housing or low income housing policy. Government must invest in low-income houses for the poor. And the business of providing such services must not be left to private sector operators alone, as is the case at the moment.

If the AMA is not doing so already it must consider creating a community outreach services division to deal with environmental sanitation and other social problems. Such a division could be staffed by social workers and community outreach workers who could visit deprived communities to sensitize them about their civic responsibilities and to help them deal with issues of personal and communal hygiene and environmental sanitation such as plastic waste pollution, littering and indiscriminate defecation. In dealing with plastic waste, AMA must form a joint venture arrangement with a private firm to recycle the waste. It is a more realistic option than to ask the manufacturers of plastic waste to deal with the situation on their own. Also, AMA can recruit unemployed youth and arm them with rubber gloves, mackintosh boots, sticks or rods with sharp ends and plastic bags to move around the streets and communities to pick up litters, especially plastic waste. This could be done on a 24-hour basis. And it could be cheap to do too!

There should be strategies to improve the revenue base of the city by instituting measures for the collection of property tax and other taxes. The AMA cannot continue to depend on the Common Fund as its principal source of income.

And above all, the authorities must make strenuous efforts to educate residents about its various by laws and regulations and the consequences for not adhering to them! In short, making Accra a city that can offer its residents quality of life is a challenge that must be tackled head on and with a great deal of enthusiasm.


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