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Opinions of Monday, 25 July 2011

Columnist: Alfa, Abdur Rahman Shaban

Okoe Vanderpuije: Jack of All, Master of Talk

Loquacious, rambunctious and sheer ambitious, these words beyond their literal effect of rhyming, in my opinion best describes the man in charge of ensuring that we have a model city (if at all that is necessary) as the whole concept is based on what others have elsewhere.

But for the fact that decentralization is so much a big deal for local and grassroots governance, I am left but to wonder why at all a political appointment carved in the mould of mayor is much of a big deal.

For the records that is by no means to say that I don’t think that position is relevant but for the mere fact that successive occupants of that seat have failed to live up to the task of their office leaves way too much to be desired.

Political leadership in the capital at the local level has been vested into the mayor, of any metropolitan area; the particular case of Accra has been a major political, social, traditional and migratory talking point especially over the last two decades.

Over the period that I have known the capital, which spans for as long as I have lived, I have encountered two metro bosses: Stanley Nii Adjiri Blankson and the current mayor, Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije; heard about reigns of current minister for employment, E.T Mensah and one Salifu Amankwah.

But for purposes of this piece and of my age permit me to speak within the context of the two recent occupants of one of the most powerful leadership seats in the capital; in my opinion only behind the president, his vice and the regional minister.

Permit me to make the point that the basis of comparing these two metropolitan regimes is strictly within the bounds of leadership (assembly’s direction) on one hand, future of the assembly and lastly, other intervening variables thereof.

First of all, I strongly am of the conviction that, the ‘ideal’ capital that all political parties and mayors espouse is not what could necessarily suit us as a people, looking at our past, the present and where we are headed for.

Ghana’s capital cannot possibly be a Riyadh or Mecca, Berlin or New York, Toronto or Kuala Lumpur, far from suggesting that efforts aimed at making it a better place than what it currently is, are misplaced: a misplaced thought indeed that would be.

The bare actuality is that a certain level of ‘standard’ of how a model city should be must be maintained, clean streets is non-negotiable as is the lack of will, leverage and effrontery on the part of any one irrespective of age, status etc. to litter.

Walkways and other paths like footbridges should be well built and very well maintained, hawking on streets have become the biggest headache of any AMA boss, in times past, currently and for the future if……… If and only if they (hawkers) are not factored into planning the future particularly of the AMA, Accra could just be the clean and organized modern city that has an added style of allowing hawkers onto the streets and to ply their trade without any hitches.

Hawkers on the streets? One may ask, for many as would not open their minds to the possibility of that, impossibility is written all over the idea; but with an open mind we should conveniently accommodate hawkers who would return anyway to sell.

I say so because chasing these hawkers with allied threat of court suits and other largely brute and callous measures have proven to fail especially in the face of political points and gains by the ruling party most at times.

The problems of hawkers over the period has been steeped in the general Ghanaian attitude of sitting and staring as situations play out, only to pay a higher price to right wrongs that were clearly avoidable: this time at a higher cost to the tax payer.

Ho group of traders stood up one day and marched onto the street, it must have started with one, then another and another till the crowd found the street more beneficial to operate on than in the markets.

Would it not serve a better purpose to have registered hawkers who would be allowed to sell at particular points during particular times of the day, that would clearly keep the numbers of hawkers to a certain limit, then can the AMA convince them either to quit the streets for markets with assurances that their sales would not drop as it were.

Back to the mayors I have grown to acquaint myself with, Adjiri Blankson; came across as that unassuming but relatively stern man whose use of measures of old landed him with more challenges than he had come to meet,

The case of the current mayor is confusing and sometimes nauseating: let me state here that this is by no means an attack on the personality of the mayor but a critique of the way and manner in which he has thus far conducted himself.

Mr Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije, tasked to ensure that the capital is a sight to behold has rather interested himself with media blitz and pocket ideas of a better Accra; ideas which have almost always started and ended in his mind at best on paper.

His touch and go moves are far from what can make Accra what we all envisage as ideal, by touch and go I mean going all over the media top announce a plan that ends in our and his minds leaves way too much to be desired. Amongst others, Okoe started with a decongestion of the pavements, at the time promising fire and brimstone if hawkers dare resist, the results from that ambitious adventure by the loquacious Metro boss took off by crash landed.

Demolition of structures was clearly another period during which the AMA capo sought to flex his muscles and exert his authority, blameless yet every reason to question whether good old ‘gidigidi’ had any positive end in sight.

Yes he could be credited with a series of demolitions but truth be told, in so far as Okoe treads the same path as is conventional on the Sodom and Gomorrah and the railways demolition, he is off to another of many ‘all talk…no show sessions.’

Whether forced eviction, relocation to Adjin Kotoku or whatever, let’s not close our minds to the socio economic perspectives within that catchment area, having said that a modernized slum would not be a bad idea, as is the case in places like Brazil.

Would we rather have an slum that habours criminals and due to its haphazard lay out use critical resources as water and electricity for free, or one that is well structured and paying by way of tax their due to the state kitty?

Whiles on all of this it is most critical to ensure that the long standing dredging of the Korle river should be looked at in order to ensure that a natural disaster as flooding is averted.

That all schools within the metropolis be run on a single stream may be laudable but how did it fit into the AMA’s mandate – maybe I should add – crucial and immediate mandate, what happened to sector ministry.

A good idea badly executed was what it turned out to be as schools were forced to run single streams with large numbers or adopt Vanderpuijan temporary structures, all this while rubbish was having a field day engulfing the city.

I am just wondering but could there have been even the remotest connection between the recent cholera outbreak and the city authority’s lack of collection of heas of refuse (that in itself a topic for another day).

Then came the warped idea of arresting drivers whenever it is that passenger in their vehicle bought stuff from hawkers, apparently having failed to get the hawkers off the Street as he had promised.

How could we forget his idea one morning amidst all the challenges of mounting refuse and the heavy indebtedness of the AMA to refuse collection agencies; announce to us that he was on his way to modernizing of all places Nima.

Again, much as that isn’t impossible would the AMA not have tackled the refuse menace as a first step? The political, religious and socio-economic dynamics of Nima far outweigh the AMA and ‘Vanderpuijian’ dream.

Who would ever forget his ‘toiletization’ of the metropolitan assembly which occasion saw him contract Jackie Appiah and Majid Michel to help in the education drive to drum home the need for households to have toilets.

So far what I see as his significant success till date is the decongestion of the pedestrian walkways and the overhead bridge, which situation has facilitated the free movement of human traffic. The wired balustrade at the Nkumah Circle deserves commendation.

My little problem however being that there seem to be way too many city guards dispatched just to enforce that directive, so many that they are sometimes spotted sitting and chatting with sellers on the fringes.

If for nothing at all, the AMA must know that a successful metro has three areas to tackle: doing majority of the politically sensitive jobs like demolition and sacking of hawkers in about a year and half, that should be followed by an intensive sustenance of the move, the third is maximizing revenue inflows.

The intervening variables as I see them are a cyclic clique of factors, population growth has led to lack of jobs, whence people resort to selling on the streets to make ends meet, then is the undue strain on resources and allied rubbish accumulation.

The age-old psyche problem of Ghanaians must be vigorously pursued to make it not necessarily criminal as is usually the case but rather make it morally and consciously unthinkable for anyone to for instance litter the streets.

Okoe Vanderpuije had better known that for as long as he remains mayor, there are much more critical and pressing issues, Accra is not, cannot and shall not be South Carolina and he’d better FOCUS on what clearly are ‘THE ISSUES’ (Caps Mine)

My heartfelt sympathies are OUT to Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Assembly, Nuumo Blafo, who almost always has the arduous task of digging into the recesses of his boss’ thoughts and to present a justification.

So did I hear on radio that the AMA boss had gathered so much courage and effrontery as to tell some investors in the United States that the capital was without filth, well; the least said about it the better.

Without equivocation, the case of the current mayor is of one who has too much work to do, having put himself out and touted his credentials as such, but what has he done? Way too little and far below my average. There sure is more room for improvement.

It’s the only national capital that we have therefore until such a time that the capital for whatever reason is moved from Accra; the looming challenges stand ever present to which end we all must be involved in concerted efforts at a better Accra.

© Abdur Rahman Shaban Alfa alfarsenal@yahoo.com/newcguide@gmail.com