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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Columnist: Kwamena, Ato

Our Cynics? Hope

?The British nation is unique in this respect. They are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst? ? Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister. How wrong he was! In Ghana, we also love to hear negative things, even if they are outrageous lies. That?s what excites us. We love to destroy our fellow citizens with stories brewed and concocted from the figment of imagination, so long as the victims are no close relations to us. So long as the story stirs the emotion, like Oliver Twist, we ask for more. ?Preacher! Don?t give me ?wheat bread?. Serve me ?white bread? for it is sweet to the tongue. Give me something that tastes good; something that will cause me to salivate; something that will make me smack my sensuous lips in deep satisfaction. Don?t give me the truth, its ?wheat bread?! Give me ?white bread?; give me something emotional?something that will get me excited! ? And so the Ghanaian media feeds on this and spurts out concocted scandals every now and then. ?Cos that?s what sells ? ?white bread?.

Sometimes we behave as a people that suffer from Catatonic Depression. We probably are a depressed people. Who knows! So it takes only sensational, hyped, and concocted stories for us to overcome the threshold of depression and move us into the realm of excitement; just as it takes Catatonic Depressed patients the electrical shock of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) to free them from their severe depression. And we have our wanzam physicians ? our cynical media and their collaborating politicians? who keep offering regular doses of sensational news to ?cure? us from our state of national stupor. I only hope they don?t overdose us with their concocted stories and end up putting us to a state of perpetual sleep.

And so a woman from Iraq ? yeah, Iraq of all countries ? comes to Ghana and for over one year holds sway on national discourse. Remember Gizzelle Yajzi? Using two NDC -affiliated FM stations ? Radio Gold and Joy FM ? she told us she had twins by the President of the Republic of Ghana, that she negotiated a hotel purchase on behalf of the president, and that she was coming back to Ghana to testify before CHRAJ to prove to the whole world that our President was corrupt. Komla Dumor of Joy FM and Alhajis A.B.A. Fuseini and Bature Iddrisu of Gold FM?s Alhaji & Alhaji program had a fields day interviewing this woman on air and even promised to facilitate her coming down to Ghana, so that she could smear and drag the Presidency of the Republic of Ghana into mud. Millions of Ghanaians for political purposes followed her lead. Then on the D-Day when she was supposed to arrive in Ghana via British Airways, there was no Yajzi. But when they ?stumbled? over the truth that Gizelle Yajzi was nothing but a con artist, who was being used by people with nefarious motives for political purposes, then the Friends of Truth, and the Komla Dumors shamelessly picked themselves up and hurried off as if nothing ever happened. They lacked the decency to apologize for the destruction of hard-won reputation they had just done, and for the wasting of our airwaves and ears. Yes, ?Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.? ? Winston Churchill.

Then there was the Hotel that President Kufuor?s son, Chief Kufuor had purchased through a bank loan. Some people in Ghana pretended that they had never heard of such a thing in their life. That a Ghanaian business man could get private bank loans to the tune of 3.5 million dollars to purchase a hotel. The fact that his father happened to be the President in their minds proved that the money was stolen, even though the check was a loan issued by a bank. And a whole minority leader, Bagbin, called for an impeachment for our President who had then just been popularly re-elected. Why? ?Because in Ghana when you are the president, your forty-something-year-old son who holds a Master?s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) cannot employ his entrepreneurial skills to negotiate for a loan from a bank to start a business.? Amazing! And to think that we are in the 21st century! When people elsewhere are working out how to land man on planet Mars, we in Ghana are busy stabbing each other in the back out of sheer jealousy, even as we neglect to take care of more pressing issues. No wonder we continue to wallow in the curse of poverty and ignorance. And the most ironic thing is that, Alban Bagbin?s own party Chairman, Dr. Kwabena Adjei is saddled with bank loans he took for his printing firm for which he has not effected payment and so is being threatened with liquidation of his properties to pay back the banks. To Bagbin, it?s alright for his party?s chairman to take bank loans, but it?s not alright for President Kufuor?s son to take bank loans. And Bagbin is a lawyer! Incredible.

Trust me, I?m not going to go on and recount every single buffoonery that happened last year. No am not. I won?t waste my time on it. Neither would I waste your time too. It?s not worth it. But we must be a constantly evolving people if we are ever going to escape the doldrums of poverty with its attendant ignorance and backwardness. We must be constantly evolving, maturing, and improving. And in doing so, let?s not forget to bury our crippling cynicism. Let us leave it behind and move on! We have become a nation with some millions of cynics, who see nothing good about their own country and the direction it is heading. We?ve become doomsayers, if you please!

We don?t like to talk about our positives. So we always prefer to paint our own country ?black? before the rest of the world. And after we have succeeded in doing this, we turn around and ask in astonishment: ?My God! Why are the foreign investors not coming?? In effect we cut our noses to spite our faces, then turn around and inquire ?what just happened?? Meanwhile, when the rest of the world looks at us objectively they see an oasis of peace and stability, a functioning true democracy, a progressive nation in a region infested with instability and war. They see a beautiful and proud people with very rich cultural practices and traditions when they look at us. Yes, we do have a long way to go as we strive to move our country from low-income to a middle-income one, but we are on course. Anyone who tells you that your beloved country is worse off today than it was before 2001 is a liar and has no truth in them! Don?t let them fool you. Your nation?s Balance Sheet is better off today than it was 5 years ago! Your country?s democracy stronger today than it was 5 years ago! Your country?s schools are better off today than they were 5 years ago! Your countries healthcare system is better off today than it was 5 years ago! Your country?s police service is better off today than it was 5 years ago! Your country?s external debt situation is better off today than it was 5 years ago! So don?t let the cynics fool you, friend.

With respect to our West African neighbors we are far better off in so many terms. Our economic and social systems though not operating at optimal level are working still and are way better and superior to our neighbors?. Even our inefficient power distributor ? the Electricity Corporation of Ghana (ECG) ? is a source of envy to our Nigerian brothers who would gladly and swiftly exchange it, anytime, for their own NEPA. Friend, would you rather be born a Burkinabe instead of a Ghanaian? Or a Togolese? How about a Nigerian? So thank your God that you are a full-blooded Ghanaian. And be proud of your country. If we would only spend as much energies as we do in ?dissing? our own country to highlight one or two positives that we as a people have, the pace of development would be quickened.

So let us all take a deep breath; cast away our cynicism; and for once look at the positives.

Did you know that for the first time in the history of Ghana, primary school pupils are being offered free food under the School Feeding Programme? The program is being implemented on pilot basis in select districts and would be extended to all districts with time; as the efficiency of the programme improves. Are you aware of the positive implication of this nouvelle programme by the Kufuor Administration? By supplementing the nutrition of our kids through this program, our government is seeking to insure a brighter future for the country by grooming healthy and well-nourished citizenry. Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Minister of Health, stated recently that nearly a third of Ghanaian children have stunted growth due to poor diet. And that within the next five years more than 200,000 Ghanaian children would die from diseases whose primary cause is malnutrition. Professor Akosa, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service supported this by also stating that 50% of infant and maternal mortality could be traced to an etiology of malnutrition. Malnutrition can affect the intellectual development of children. So even a single square meal provided free of charge to our kids is surely in the right direction. Ask yourself, why are we not discussing this important issue and brainstorming on how to improve on the programme and expedite its extension to other districts? Our media folks and some of our politicians are not interested in such news items, for they do not sell newspapers and will not win them power. So instead, they?ll feed us with allegations upon allegations ? wild goose allegations.

But can you perceive the implication of the successful implementation of this School Feeding Programme? Jobs for our caterers! With these jobs comes income. With income, more people will be able to fulfill their responsibilities to their children by providing them with their needs. The Programme also means that our farmers would have a ready market for their produce. Since, the government would be under no obligation to purchase produce from foreign countries, the School Feeding Programme presents a clean opportunity to stimulate our agricultural sector, to provide incentives to our farmers, without incurring the wrath of the international community which usually occurs when punitive taxes are instituted to stifle foreign products. With a ready market for their produce our farmers would be able to make decent money to make life a little worth living. Our livestock farmers will be able to expand their businesses. With expansion, they?ll fall under a higher tax bracket. Now ask yourself, why did it take us this long to embark on such a laudable program?

Are you also aware of the FCUBE and the Capitation Grant? FCUBE is an acronym for the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education. This is a constitutional provision that was implemented by the Kufuor Administration. Our Constitution guaranteed the right to free basic education. Hence, since the implementation of this program about 2 years ago, no Ghanaian child in a public primary school or JSS pays any school fees. But since some of our people live in deprived communities, it would not be enough to make basic education free. Hence the Administration came up with the Capitation Grant. Through this program the government spends about 100 billion cedis a year for the about five million Ghanaian kids in basic education. The Grant covers school levies such as PTA dues, lab fees, etc that our schools were charging. So all such fees in public schools are currently totally abolished! Since the implementation of this programme, basic school enrollment has shot up by 17%. But oh well, this issue is not of interest to the cynics. After all, what do they stand to gain by hammering on this important national hallmark? It won?t score any political point for them, so they?d rather issue threats of ?mayhem? if they don?t get their way.

Since 2002, the government has earmarked one school in every district in Ghana for improvement in their infrastructure and academic performance to the level of the Achimotas, Mfantsipims, St. Augustines, Presecs, etc. This program is in full implementation in select districts and was recently announced that it was being expanded to other districts. The program involves the provision of modern computer laboratories, science laboratories, decent dormitories, libraries, teachers? quarters, etc for these schools. If successfully implemented it would mark a huge improvement in the quality of our education system. In fact, since Dr. Nkrumah?s time, this is the first time that a revolution is quietly going on in our schools and we sadly seem to be unaware of this or to be disinterested. We seem to have forgotten that our children are our future; hence we must play an active role in the successful implementation of this program.

America, in all its glory and its enormous wealth, does not have a Universal Primary Care program for its citizens. The only people who enjoy free primary care coverage in the US are the retired citizens (aged 65 and up). If you are under 65 and have no health insurance in the United States of America, you better not get sick. And you better not require any surgical procedure; for if you do, you?ll spend the rest of your life toiling to pay for your enormous surgical or hospitalization bill. In fact, several people end up having their properties ? houses, cars, etc ? confiscated and liquidated by their creditors ? the hospitals ? as they couldn?t pay back the cost of the health service they had received. But poor Ghana, under a bold and ambitious program by the Kufuor Administration has worked out a way to provide Universal Primary Care program for its citizens! The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), although teething at the moment, is a wonderful program that every decent Ghanaian should support and help make it successful. We should put aside our dirty politics when it comes to such programs as the NHIS. Like the US? Medicare program for Senior Citizens, it would definitely take time for it to be shaped and straightened in a way to make it more efficient, but it will get there; just like the US? Medicare Program became one of the most important programs ever implemented in that country. So all things being equal, eventually, Ghanaians would not have to watch their own lives waste away just because they could not afford to pay for healthcare services under the Cash-and-Carry System that the NDC left us with.

Ghana Airways, which collapsed under the corruption of its own workers and ended up handing a bill of $150 million to the Ghanaian tax-payer, is now no more; no more to keep pilling bills for us to pay. It?s been replaced by Ghana International Airlines (GIA). Now this more efficient and time-conscious airline flies our national flag and is making us proud. Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) which nearly imploded due to the financial mismanagement of Tsatsu Tsikata is now in far superior financial terms. Had the Kufuor Administration not interfered in TOR, Ghana Commercial Bank would have been dragged into the implosion of TOR as that bank had guaranteed all of Tsatsu?s financial impropriety. In 2001, when Kufuor came to power, our national debt stood at around $6 billion. As we speak, we greater chunk of it has already been written off, and we a total debt write off by all our creditors. There was a time that we, in Ghana, were given the impression by the then government that inflation was just a result of the international market, that there was nothing the government could do to tame the depreciating cedis. But now we know that was a like ? a mark of incompetence, if you please. Since 2001 the cedis has been stabilized through prudent economic management. Inflation is tamed. Our economy is predictable. Petroleum prices may be high, but for the well-managed economy that we now, have there would have been no way we would have survived the 100% increase in the price of crude oil that the world has experienced since George Bush?s misadventure in Iraq.

I could go on and on. But you do get the point, don?t you?

A nation is built on the backs of optimists. It?s the ?CAN DO? spirit that we need to develop our country. Cynics are failures. They have nothing good to offer, so by infecting us with their cynicism they hope to pull us along with themselves down the drain. But they won?t succeed. Not in our Ghana!

So all in all folks, the future isn?t as bleak as they would want you believe. The cynics pry on fear. Because they know that fear drives men to do irrational things. If they would but succeed in causing enough fear in the country and paint the future as black as possible, then maybe Ghanaians would let them run the country again, so that they can again mismanage the economy and loot our coffers for themselves and their cronies. Then they can again sell state-owned corporations to their wives organization. They can use state resources to fund their wives personal businesses; call that business an NGO, and still get away with it. Not again! We are not going to go back to the past. Forward ever! Twenty good years is enough for any political party to achieve whatever agenda they had for the country. If they couldn?t do it in 20 years, do you think they can do anything in 4? Just think about it!

NB: In my last article, Of Privileges and Noises, I made the error of substituting Harruna Attah?s name in place of Harruna Iddrissu?s. It was Harruna Iddrisu who had suggested that we institutionalize the office of the former president and also make his Godfather a member of the Council of State. My apologies to Alhaji Harruna Attah.



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