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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Columnist: Asomaning, George

National Parks earmarked for privatisation -Response

Three National Parks earmarked for privatisation ? A response to the Minister of Lands.

The GNA reported on 25th February that Professor Dominic Fobih, Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, has announced that three national parks have been earmarked for privatisation in the country. They are the Kakum National Park in the Central Region, Mole National Park in the Northern Region and the Shai Hills in the Greater Accra Region. He made the announcement at a ceremony at the Manhyia Palace in Kumasi on Friday 24 February to formally introduce members of the Kumasi Zoo Advisory Board to the Asantehene.

Professor Fobi said a Dutch company from Tanzania had already made a good offer in respect of the Kakum Park, while the Shai Hills "is already under Marina Tours".

The Minister however, failed to mention the extent to which investors have approached the ministry, regarding investments in the Mole Park. He said even though they were on the way towards privatising the parks, "we are being very careful and cautious, because this is the first time we are doing such a thing" I am inviting Ghanaians to debate this issue ? whether it is proper for the government to accept invitations from foreign companies to buy these national parks or to invite Ghanaians, both at home and abroad to also BUY (INVEST) STAKES IN THE NATIONS FORTUNES, just as they invite foreigners. I am not even suggesting that Ghanaians be treated favourably, just that we are ALSO invited on equal terms to buy. The second issue I will like to raise is should we alternatively make it a condition for foreign investors only to be allowed to subscribe to 49 per cent of the share value of any Ghanaian investment opportunity while Ghanaians both home and abroad are allowed to subscribe to the remaining 51%.

I am always puzzled as to why the Government always look to foreigners to build the Ghana rather than empowering Ghanaians? We?re celebrating 49 years of independence yet Neo-colonialism is at its zenith in 2006. According to Bank of Ghana figures, $1.27 billion representing 30% of private inward transfers for 2005 was remitted by individual Ghanaians abroad. This is an increase of 61% over the corresponding period (Jan - Nov) in 2004, which also 36.7% increase over the same period in 2003. According to the same statistics from Bank of Ghana, these remittances are more than what Ghana received from OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT AID last year and slightly smaller than the $1.5 billion promised by our Donor Partners this year.

Furthermore, money sent by individuals alone was more than half of Ghana's total export earnings of $2.73 billion, more than what we got from gold($945.8m); more than cocoa ($843.2); and more than other non-traditional exports ($829.5)

Please bear in mind that this figure of $1.27 billion is a provisional one, excluding the bumper month of December 2005, and they are the official figures. Many experts therefore estimate that the total remittances could be at least as much as $4.5 billion because many Ghanaians use informal means of remitting.

Now, my question to the Minister and to the whole government is what is this kind of money able to buy? And again, if this is what we remit annually for friends, family and small business purposes, how much potentially could we raise towards A SYSTEMATIC INVESTMENT CULTURE in Ghana by Diasporas working together as one with our brothers and sisters in Ghana?

Assuming the government is hooked on the cash from foreigners, by offering them 49% equity, we could still ensure that part of the goose that lay the golden eggs stay in the country while the advantage of foreign capital and expertise are retained and managed.

Mr Minister, if our donor partners have the ear of our President, yourself and your Minister colleagues in the running of our government, don't we Ghanaians both at home and in the Diaspora deserve a bigger voice? After all we give more. If they [donors] are able to influence policies and cause the government to steer a certain path, why shouldn't Ghanaians have the same right? Why does it seem that the government prefers the advice of foreigners than that of thousands of well educated and skilled Ghanaian practitioners in various fields of knowledge that we need to rebuild our nation? Why do we seem to want to satisfy the World Bank by selling our land and assets to foreigners? It?s time we look within to build Ghana. We have the money and the skill to do even a far better job than what the foreign companies are currently delivering.

I will even go further and suggest to the Government that Ghanaians be permitted to buy the state corporations like VALCO, Electricity Corporation, Water Corporation, Ghana Telecommunications, State Hotels, Textile Corporations, State Transport, and the like. Should such a policy be adopted, the estimated $4.5 billion Diasporas remitted, not mentioning what our brothers and sisters in Ghana could contribute could double. (I am being conservative in this instance - even the investments we Ghanaians make in the Diaspora alone are in the millions of dollars, how about if given the opportunity to do the same in Ghana).

Managing these businesses is within our competence. If we are able to manage abroad why not at home? And I am certain we will do a far better job than the foreigners, besides we have stakes, both financial and nationalistic in these ventures. What then is the problem? Is the government trying to sell our nation?s valuable assets on the advice of foreign financiers? Are our people going to sit idle and allow a re-colonization of our country? Isn?t that what re-colonization means - selling the land and assets and infrastructures to outsiders and giving them control? Is that the policy of the government? Are we that devoid of wisdom and global competitive wisdom?

According to Article 257 (1) of the 1992 Ghana constitution, ?All public lands in Ghana shall be vested in the President on behalf of and in trust for, the people of Ghana?. Article 266 stipulates in no uncertain terms, that ?No interest in, or rights over, any land in Ghana shall be created which vests in a person who is not a citizen of Ghana a freehold interest in any land in Ghana?. Therefore, I hope in your calculations, Mr Minister, you are not thinking of offering freehold interests, and I hasten to add that whiles we are not opposed to the leasing of land to foreigners, the idea of selling or long term lease of national parks and assets to foreigners is inimical to the interest of the people and the State, and must be stopped. There is a mountain of resource waiting for you and your colleagues if only you would look within. We need you and your colleagues to choose to travel this way. Why not try Ghanaians. You said you are treading carefully, so tread carefully with us as well and see what we can do. At least give us a try and you will be pleasantly surprised.

I hope you will listen to the cry from our hearts. Give us a chance, at least let us also bid ? to buy and run these National Parks. Get us involved or you risk the goodwill of your people who at the moment feel sidelined, ignored and despised while watching you and your colleagues currently, actively encouraging every one else but Ghanaians to pick up the juicy parts of the national economy. Ghana is primarily for Ghanaians not foreigners or anybody who may pay the highest price. No nation likes to have their valuable assets sold to foreigners.

In the UK, the parks are managed by the National Trust. I don?t know what pertains to Holland but ask your Dutch friends whether they allow foreigners to buy and run their parks. Peter Mandelson, the European Union Trade Commissioner yesterday 18 February, poured cold water on hopes of scrapping the EU?s Common Agricultural Policy ? a policy that has over the decades caused such hardships on our own people and known by all to be unfair, uncompetitive and has undermined third world countries like ours and still very detrimental to us, a policy worth condemning by all responsible people of the world but is still in vogue. Addressing the National Farmers Union of Britain he said inter alia ? ?...Agriculture is a sector that cannot be treated like all others. It is too intimately connected to wider issues such as the environment, food security and the future of the countryside? Therefore Mr Minister Fobih, your reply to your Dutch investors should at least read like this ?..The National Parks of Ghana are not for sale, they cannot be sold because our constitution prohibits it. Moreover they are intimately linked with the culture, lifestyle and independence of Ghanaians and that they don?t belong to the government but to the people of Ghana.?

The current debate in America (February 2006) about the management contract of six American ports being sold to Dubai Port management company should also serve as an example for us. We should be careful about imbibing every medicine of free trade and free enterprise preached to us, especially when it comes to national assets and implications on national security. The current ongoing debate in America should be lessons indeed that even those who advocate and claim to be the advocates and preachers are careful when the medicine is at their door. Any neglect of this advice may have some serous future legal and political consequences. Time to stop this craze, unless of course you and your colleagues are determined to press on anyway and ignore the protests of the people of Ghana who are simply displeased to witness the wanton sale and giveaway of their valuable lands and major assets to foreigners.

Sincerely,

George Asomaning, Esq.,
For and on behalf of The Ghana Leadership Union.



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