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Opinions of Friday, 23 April 2010

Columnist: Afful-Dadzie, Anthony

President Atta-Mills, So Far You’ve Earned My Thumps Up!

That Ghana is moving backwards, slowly but surely? Really, Mr. Akuffo Addo? I don’t buy this! A world record deficit of 20%, reckless spending on unnecessary buildings and celebrations, two years of unpaid salary to railway workers, nurses and teachers, over 1 billion debt owed to contractors, a record debt at TOR, selling of Ghana Telecom at cheaper price to Vodafone, to name but a few, and yet those same politicians who caused these mess and pain have the audacity to come out and tell Ghanaians that the country is moving backwards, slowly but surely? It is only blind followers of these unpatriotic Ghanaians who will believe in this sermon.

There is no hiding the fact that Ghana was left sitting on a time bomb at the very end of 2008. But for the timely intervention by President Mills through critical thinking and sound management, the country’s economic situation would have been worse. Yet, in the midst of taken such prudent steps to solve these problems once and for all, it appears the government has earned the nickname “slowness”. But I bet to differ if this quality of “slowness” which I call it careful decision making exhibited by President Mills is not rather to the envy of the opposition. I need to give credence to my praise so I will limit it to the very end of this article.

This noise of “slowness” of the government which has become the slogan of the main opposition party has been trumpeted for a long time that it begs to be addressed. The big question is, as a country, what really were we expecting to have been accomplished within this short period that has not yet been fulfilled to merit this slogan of slowness? What would have the NPP done within this short period that would have made them earned the slogan of ‘shrewd’ and ‘fast’ government? After all the debt the government inherited, were we still hoping that we would have built countless factories by now? And how many roads were we expecting the government to have constructed that have so far not been built to merit the slogan of slowness? How slow has the government been in settling the over two years of unpaid salaries to teachers, nurses and particularly railway workers, and how long did it take the previous government to pay these same workers their due salary? It is a shame that many of these same workers are blindly buying into the deceitful slogan of slowness by the critics of the government. It is indeed true that the average salary of the Ghanaian worker cannot sustain meaningful life, nevertheless if we are to be truthful to ourselves, we can confidently say that the Atta-Mills government respect, cares and values the Ghanaian worker more than the then Kuffour government. This is not about criticizing Kuffour’s era, but such prudent management by the present administration merit praise than blind criticisms.

We must admit that as a country we have gotten it wrong most of the time than getting it right. Our decision making both at the top and bottom of the society has been very costly at times all because those at the helm of affairs fail to go the blackboard to explore the risks and benefits of projects undertaken in the name of the country. One particular area we have failed miserably is in the signing of long term contracts such as the Osagyefo Barge which has left the country incurring unnecessary debt and penalties. And on this one I give the Atta-Mills led government a plus for doing such a good job so far for not committing the country into any risky and unprofitable contracts which goes to confirm that this government thinks before it acts. Many of the big decisions made by our politicians in the past have been shameful and detrimental to our society. Take for example the ex-gratia award approved by the last parliament and you will wonder what sort of minds made such a decision and what sort of thinking did our parliamentarians do in the approval process. Some of our leaders fail to realize that even in situations where a project seems right, it may well have to be ignored because the costs may outweigh the benefits, a clear example being the School Feeding Program.

The previous government touts itself for introducing this school feeding program, but sometimes I wonder if the country did not get it wrong in the first place. Don’t get me wrong (and I will urge you to read on), it is true that this is a commendable project, one that will encourage our children especially those in the villages to be punctual at school. However, what is the good of this program if many schools in the villages that need it most are sitting under trees or are still going on a morning/afternoon shift? Where will these children sit and eat the very food that is provided them? Have we failed to realize that most schools in the villages close down for many weeks during the raining season simply because their classrooms are full of water? Take for example Ango D.A J.H.S., a Junior High School at Ango a village along the Takoradi-Tarkwa railway line where my sister teaches. Her school children sat under trees for many months after a rain storm devastated their building, and waiting for a long time without any help has to resort to joining the Ango Catholic Primary School to share their building on a shift basis. In this example, is it not sound that we declare a war on eradicating classes held under trees before introducing such a good but costly initiative as the School Feeding Program?

The unavoidable question we have to ask now is how we are going to fund such a program after the Dutch government’s sponsorship expires. Are we truly sure we can sustain this program? Well, we live to see! Sometimes one wonder whether such decisions were not taken simply because it was going to create jobs for the ‘boys’ and provide yet another source of milking of the country by some selfish politicians. This school feeding program is a clear example of doing the right thing at the wrong time, and I know it is going to become an albatross to many future governments to come. It will surely come and bite us hard. The day when this program takes on a significant part of our budget, it is then that we will realize that not all that glitters is gold. It is as if we have short memory. We have failed as a nation to learn a lesson from a very difficult decision we made not long ago when we had to abandon providing free food and accommodation to students in our universities. If providing free food and accommodation for just three universities alone became unsustainable how much more feeding a whole country? Do we even remember how difficult it was to get the students to understand that as a nation the program was no longer sustainable?

Here then, is where I trust the Atta-Mills led government more than the previous government. To me this government has so far shown greater care of making good decisions than the previous one and I just hope they keep up the good work. I am more the while happy about the approach taken so far to manage the oil resources even though we have a long way to go. We need to put the necessary resources in place before even thinking of drilling the oil. There should be no rushing at drilling the oil but as usual Ghanaians will take this for slowness only to find out after we have lost trillions of cedis of avoidable money that we needed patience to begin commercial production.

I am fully in support of the idea by this government to introduce laws that will curb excessive spending during election times. Here in lies a president who put his country first before his party. This is one of the leaders I was talking about in my earlier article “First Citizens, Second Citizens, A Fair Game?” (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php? ID=149514&comment=4011795) that Ghana and for that matter Africa needs. It is too risky for a country like Ghana to be spending recklessly like as was done in the last years of the Kuffour led government. The costs of such actions are the fruits we are bearing today, namely the problems TOR is experiencing today. The irony is that those same people who created the mess are the same people who are now turning around to say the country is slowly but surely going backward. Which backward, you deceitful, wicked and selfish politicians?

Until we subject every decision we make to the blackboard like what Professor Atta-Mills is doing, taking our time to dissect and reflect on the risks and benefits of every endeavor we undertake, we will continue to languish in our poverty. This quality of careful decision making has been missing in many of our leaders for a long time. We have been taught to make decisions without even considering alternatives yet alone the risks that may accompany it. As a result it is not surprising to me that some don’t seem to cherish the governing style of the current president.

My praise for president Mills is not about being an NDC or being against NPP today ( I will say the same thing if Atta-Mills were to be in the NPP and doing the right thing), but I think as a nation we are missing the point and missing the opportunity to support a genuine and selfless leader to help us build upon laying a solid institutional foundation for our dear country. It is not just jetting around the world in such of loans alone that can help us develop, but equally so having a president who spend more time reflecting on the day to day activities of the country to make sure the right decisions are made. It is not talking trash which some people takes it for being “tough” that will bring all people on board for the better development of this country. A look at the manner president Mills relate with his ministers tells you that they are always encouraged to work as a team with him as the leader. As Lao-tsu puts it “ To lead people, walk besides them… As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate…. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves’…”

Thank you professor Atta-Mills for placing this country above your party, and please do remember that in the midst of all the troubles and sabotage being directed at your government there are many discernible Ghanaians who share your vision and prays for you every day to be the father for the whole country and not your party alone, and to succeed in making this richly blessed country a wonderful place to be. You have so far shown as Max DePree puts it that true “leaders don’t inflict pain. They bear pain.” Forgoing your per diem alone is enough to convince me of your desire for this country.

By Anthony Afful-Dadzie The Ohio State University. I can be reached at: (afful-dadzie.1@osu.edu or ato.kwamena@yahoo.com)