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Opinions of Friday, 7 September 2012

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Safety, graft and the president as a bridge contractor

By George Sydney Abugri

During the week, I placed the connecting end of an electronic appliance in a wall socket, pressed down the switch and set off a thunderous explosion that rocked the room, sent bits of rubber from the appliance flying all over the place, cut off power supply to the whole building and left my left hand which I used in pressing down the switch, gloved in a thick film of oily soot but miraculously without burns or scalds.

My children who had been watching television in another room came charging out at the sound of the explosion and sudden electrical blackout and found me standing by tiny bits of plastic debris, staring at my blackened hand. Most unbelievably, there were no burns.

They surveyed me with concern. I told them I was fine. It could have been a case of “finis”, Jomo. Finito. Kaput. See? There comes the affirmation yet again: God and His angels are often not as far off as we might suppose, yah?

Was the appliance defective? Had there been one of those very sudden surges in voltage at the time I pressed the switch down? The electrician who investigated the explosion could not say. One lesson is clear enough though: Ensure the quality of electrical goods before buying.

A second lesson is that while retailers of defective or substandard electrical goods may be sanctioned by law if caught, everyone has a responsibility to take basic measures to ensure personal safe.

This cannot imply a license to any government to renege on its responsibility to protect its citizens though, as I shall be arguing presently.

The real news though, is that President John Mahama this week hopped onto a plane and did some cross-border bobbing about, making rapid touch-downs in La Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Togo to hobnob with sub-regional heads of state. He is even scheduled to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja today:

Some call it making quick friends with the neighbours before Electrical Commissioner Dr. Afari-Gyan blows his whistle. Others in the opposition think it is all part of his campaign. The man says his tour is to thank heads of state in the sub-region who attended the late President Mills’s funeral, in apt keeping with African tradition. Gotcha!

As for Dr. Afari-Gyan, he spent the week screaming at folks to get of his back, defending his integrity as a veteran commissioner, scoffing at accusations that he had been promised a bribe of a million dollars to hand the NDC victory on a fat plate, shrugging off alleged threats on his life, defending the creation of his controversial 45 new constituencies and vowing to conduct his poll, come high water and blue thunder.

True to his word a fortnight ago, President John Mahama also this week spent close to two hours on his feet, delivering a policy statement on his administration’s plan of action for the last quarter of the year, to rapturous applause when he was done.

The statement was a hefty 25-page affair incorporating a wide range of themes related to critical programmes for national development but the political opposition appeared far from impressed with it.

The president admitted it was only an outline of his plan for the achievement of the goals set under the “Better Ghana” agenda of his predecessor, the late President Mills initiated. Full stop.

Many of the themes in President Mahama’s plan of action for the last quarter of the year coincide rather uncannily with thematic areas for national development recently listed by the Institute for Economic Affairs:

The economy, governance, agriculture, food security, health, education, water supply, energy, job creation, national resource management, industrial and private sector development, corruption, peace and security etc:

The IEA is organizing debates for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, see? The candidates will field questions from moderators who apparently, will base those questions on public concerns in 25 thematic areas.

I scanned the list back and forth and as with the case of the president’s speech, I could not find public safety as a distinct thematic area of national concern. Maybe it was buried under the general theme of “Peace and Security” which in the case of the IEA, was a theme buried at 25th position on the list!

Some folks wont exactly love me for stating it but hey, it is true with a capital “T”: An ordinary citizen from the street who sets out from any part of the country on a long distance journey these days stands a fifty-fifty chance of getting killed:

Armed robbers, highway brigands and constantly road crash-prone highways in a country with the one of the highest road accident fatality statistics in the world, will make sure of that! The very low level of public safety which should have been the topmost campaign issue, has thus been all but forgotten about!

The president fielded questions from the public and when I saw renowned musician Rex Omar walking to the microphone I told myself that Mr. Omar was going to gripe about the neglect of the creative industry and he did, but predictably, he left us out as usual or buried us anonymously under “and so on…”

The veteran musician wanted to know what President Mahama’s administration proposed to do to support the work of “film makers, musicians, sculptors and so on?” See? They keep forgetting about the rest us: Poets, playwrights, novelists and writers of creative non-fiction!

Yet unless they are tasteless, meaningless and incomprehensible crap crafted together by the barely literate composers, you would expect that truly good lyrics are written by creative writers as are film scripts! Even sculptors draw some of their inspiration from written history.

If the president undertakes to support creative artists he should remember us, anaa...? Many writing in creative genres badly need government grants for sustenance and research and greater access to publishers in a country where most publishers concentrate on the more easily sellable school textbooks to stay in business.

President Mahama has pledged to fight corruption and to ensure that we recover all public money paid out fraudulently to foreign companies and individuals as court judgment debts. Good.

He has also pledged to build bridges of cooperation with all poltical parties through dialogue and promised to ensure that the leaderships of other parties are given roles in the management of national events. Partisan political bridge-building sounds positively revolutionary enough, doesn’t it?

Our curious brand of democracy says after every election, the winning party takes all and everything and rides rough-shod over all opposition parties and no one, not even the highly-skilled from any party other than the winning party, gets to serve the nation.

The result? Party activist who should be sitting at the feet of such people imbibing the elemental basics of good governance and nationhood, end up ruling over the latter who then remain in the shadows and the nation denied the benefits of their skills in the political exclusiveness!

Oh, I forgot to add this: The president has given the assurance that “glitches” in the new public service pay structure, will be resolved in the next few months!