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Opinions of Thursday, 29 June 2017

Columnist: Abdul Latif Issifu

Open letter to the president of Ghana

Your Excellency,

I have been intending to pen down this missive to you for some time, but the exigency of daily life has delayed this. I did not want to put together a rushed note (as we do to our colleagues whilst on public transport) that will miss the courtesies required to address your high office.

Your Excellency, six months have passed since your famous speech at your inauguration in which you implored us to be "citizens not spectators". They say time flies when you are having fun, so forgive me for drawing out the time line.

Some of us have observed some things that do not sit well with us, and upon mulling over such matters have woken up to be counted us citizens.

A few of the things I have worried about

Your Excellency, I know you are a great dancer, I have seen you on various occasions and have video evidence to prove it should that fact be challenged by those whose business it is to criticise your every turn. You turn well! I do not do badly myself. In my teenage days, I was hot on the party circuit, travelling long distances to attend "jams" as we called it in those days. During that time, a popular dance move was on the scene known as mess-up or mezzop as we called it. In dancing mezzop, you go down low, and skid between flat foot and toes, change direction without warning that leaves every one wondering where your next turn will be. That, Mr President it appears, is what some of your appointees have been doing. To add insult to injury having ministers dancing uncoordinated mezzop looks like a team without direction.

First signs of trouble
Some of us were not very happy with the cack-handed way in which your inauguration speech was handled. It brought ridicule to you, the country and its citizens. Some appointee somewhere did not serve you well. I am sure lessons have been learnt.

There is no question that you appointed some of the finest brains in the country. But as the list grew ever so long, there of course was a natural regression to the mean. Even then some of us were hopeful that the B team, if I am allowed to call them that, will be brought quickly up to speed with the policy agenda of your government. Eager to be heard, the utterances of some of your ministers caused some discomfort.

For example your aviation minister quickly announced an agenda to re-establish a national airline to "restore the national pride". What on earth is that? I hope this is a joke! Time will not permit me to chart the miserable history of running airlines through which a lot of poor Ghanaian tax payer money has gone down the stinky drain. No serious government in the modern world is running complex commercial business. That model has failed. Even public services are often run by private providers, paid for by the state in many countries.

Then came a minister for Gender of all portfolios warning young girls in a school to dress properly to avoid rape? Unbelievable! There is a lot of self-awareness thought to especially young women these days especially in university here in UK. But surely you cannot suggest that rape is invited by dress sense in modern civilised world. Goodness!

A new thing that caught my eye was a whole ministry announcing that one of its agenda items which merited a high profile announcement is to “air lift” Christians to pilgrimages? Of all the problems that Ghana has, why is this a matter burning on a ministers desk. I have lamented government’s involvement in the Muslim pilgrimage Hajj, that has led to the loss of a lot of money to the state in the past.

My sentiments were only assuaged by Bright Simons of Imani who set out the particular inter- state liaison that was required for the peculiar country the Saudi Arabia is. Even then I am of the view that government should be exactly that, a liaison. Instead, a large conumtea (I beg your pardon, committee) is set up, drawing all sorts of allowances but the history of which has been an absolute shambles where pilgrims are ripped off and don’t get to travel to a mere salvaging of a modicum of victory from the jaws of defeat.

So instead of replicating this failure in other areas, perhaps to appease other constituencies, government should review urgently the areas in which it needs to support citizen with consular assistance and other necessary functional support, rather than become a national travel agent for tourism, religious albeit.

Y.E, I am sure you and your party folks watched with glee as your opposition party reviewed their brutal election defeat and allegedly came to the conclusion amongst other things that their NDC party were represented by people in the media space who lacked depth in public policy and economics to counter the likes of your Vice president H.E Dr Mahamudu Bawumia. In the light of this observation, you yourself must begin to ponder the damage that some of these disjointed policy announcements does the image of your party as one of heavy weight and intellectual depth.

Quite bizarrely when it was reported that some of your appointees had not received their salary for a few months, a minister in your government confirmed to the media that this was the case and reportedly said your appointees were living on God’s grace and benevolence of friends and family.

If this was meant to attract sympathy, it did the opposite. The opprobrium that was poured on your government (apologies to the late Prof P.A.V Ansah- one of the great champions of our current democracy and a brilliant writer, for using one of his favourite words) on social media was unrelenting. Only a banana republic will expect serious brains to work assiduously and honestly for a state that has left them desolate whilst in its service. It is not unreasonable for such appointees to be alerted to the possibility that they may need to rely on the benevolence of these same friends and family more than once, perhaps more so out of service. Can you see where this is going?

Y.E, recently another thing that was not popular and from which your government has thankfully climbed down was this attempt to employ the high hand of the state to impose a universal tariff on cars for towing in the event that a car became immobile on public roads. I think the economist and the lawyers have had their say on why this was such an ill-conceived idea.

Y.E there are a lot of things that are not consistent with the aura with which your government was ushered in but time will not permit me to go into all of these. Therefore, can I finish with a subject close to my heart and about which I have written a lot. It is about the safety and security of the citizen in all areas of life including whilst in the pursuit of criminal endeavour or indeed in the cause of political activism hostile to the government of the day.

It is on this score that I have been very very disappointed about the climate of intimidation by your party’s Para-military force. The confused and conflicting utterances by people high up in your party have been disappointing and I continue to insist that a competent or incompetent police force is part of the executive arm of government. Hence you are ultimately responsible.

As someone who yourself has known political persecution personally, I hope you take this matter seriously in action. It will help a long way as the beginning of conscientising the citizenry that resorting to physical violence as a way of resolving any grievance of any kind at all be it protection of political fortune or life and property is not all lawful unless in the exceptional situation of self defence against harm. On that note, I hope that the sombre mode that the callous murder of Major Maxwell Mahama put the country in will not be quickly jettisoned for business as usual with a thorough enquiry in to the facts so that lessons can be learnt.

Given the very serious assertion made by serving and retired officers some of whom I happen to know personally, nothing short of an independent enquiry led by a senior judge will suffice to get to the bottom of this matter for lessons to be learnt and dereliction of duty if any be dealt with. Criminal prosecution of the direct actors is simplistic and not sufficient.

On this issue of violence, my darling wife Flo, in the full knowledge that no Delta force was within reach ( a sad thought) attended your talk in London recently at which she was determined to quiz you on this matter that burns her too. But alas she was not given an opportunity.

I hear there was a miserable attempt by the opposition party to embarrass you with a demonstration, something I hasten to add, I understand your party has done in the past. The police having been on high alert recently in London were in no mood to countenance a disturbance that will curb their attempts to deal with more serious issues.

Y.E, some of us have observed some of our partisan friends, on both sides, otherwise fine brains often come up with incoherent arguments to defend their side. If I was not already disinterested in partisanship, this alone has been enough fright for me to stay away as a way of maintaining my sanity. Thankfully there a lot of people both partisan and non-partisan, some of them in your own party who are prepared to hold government’s feet to the fire in a constructive way.

When we do criticise you, I hope that you will not turn on the music like others before you and dance to yentie obiaaa (we will listen to nobody) or stick your tongue out, wriggle your waist, show as your fine back side and say: ashi woooo o (it has pained you).

As I sign off, dare I say I am a citizen on indefinite sojourn and a subject of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, another matter that has generated impassioned debate in the motherland to which I will return.

Yours sincerely
A.L.I