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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Stop The $30 Million Presidential Boondoggle Now!

When I read about the 30 million dollar loan for the renovation of the presidential lodge, I thought I had just sprang out of a bad dream. I searched deep and wide to see if there were any justifications for such an irresponsible and impetuous move by the NPP government. The more I looked, the more my blood pressure went up. Very soon, I started having nightmares about something I did not do. When that happens, it is time to speak up big time. I will never be the same if my voice and subsequent action is not seen and heard on this issue.

Coming as it did, on the heels of a smorgasbord of efforts to forgive our debts, given our veteran HPIC status; the presidential lodge effort highlights the asininity and dubiety governing the gaunt reasoning behind this project. To make matters worse, the amount in question was borrowed at interest and if the report is correct, the contract went to a Chinese firm. Now, did the NPP lie when they waxed about private sector development in Ghana? Why are these NPP folks such quislings? Everybody but Ghanaians, huh? Where is the urgency for a presidential lodge? No matter which way you look at it, it is a stinking and lousy deal. What baffles and continue to convulse some of us is the lack of details on this deal. I have searched far and wide for the estimates, drawings and other pertinent information to no avail. So and actually, we don?t know what we are getting for the relatively colossal amount that we are spending. Were we not taught not to buy a pig in a poke? Whatever happened to freedom of information and sunshine laws in Ghana?

The NPP by this arrogant, corrupt and misguided act is thumbing its nose at the people of Ghana. It is palpable that they intend to actualize this loan and the building for which it stands. At times like this, democracy seems to be at its weakest in Ghana. The opposite should be occurring as we speak. Here we have a weakened legislature whose members are ineffective because of poor skills and inability to understand the issues. I guess our constitution does not allow anything similar to a filibuster so, it is a walk in the park for the NPP huh? Not one civic group has sued the government seeking an injunction till a public hearing takes place to justify this dreadful act. In effect, no one is standing up for the poor people who are being fleeced by such clever and detrimental plots. If we are this helpless and lily-livered, what then is the difference between democracy and a military regime? Please don?t infuriate me with this nonsensical canard at I am able to at least speak my mind. I am long past that milestone and my entire mind knows, wants and understands only bare knuckles action at this juncture. In a democracy, it is assumed that people in charge of the public trust will stand up for the taxpayer and become responsible stewards of our scant resources. Did the protagonist of democracy lie to us?

But why should the NPP be so interested in a presidential lodge given all the other pressing priorities? In a country where pregnant women sleep on empty stomachs, women cannot pay for birthing at Korle-Bu, chicken is only eaten at Christmas by many, roads are death traps, Guinea worm is a menacing problem, school children study under trees, pipe borne water is lacking and Electricity is a luxury, why would the government be in such haste to build a presidential lodge? There is obviously some rationalization that the NPP knows but cannot share because of its shameful nature, I suppose. What does the NPP stand to gain from this project? Ghanaians far and near just do not see the urgency or understand the relevancy of this project. After all, there is a seat of government at Osu. If it is not suitable, let the NPP make that case and then find a reasonable and contextual solution. Building an expensive presidential lodge in a country where poverty reigns with incontrovertible paramountcy is nothing short of a sin. It may not be illegal but it sure is sinful. This is a case where the NPP is abusing its majority status just like their forbearers accused Nkrumah of doing. This is what Bob Marley refers to as wickedness in high and low places. They will do anything to materialize their every wish, he says. Guiltiness must rest permanently on their conscience.

It is the practice of this NPP government to not only insult the intelligence of Ghanaians but pour salt into our gaping wounds. Not only is this profligacy wrong and irascible, the benefactors of the contract are not even Ghanaian. Note that book printing and management deal to ran water and sewerage follows the same pattern. So who the hell is standing up for the poor people of Ghana? Are we that bad or incompetent? I am not even aware of a clause that guarantees sub-contracts to ?minority? Ghanaian firms in this scandal that we have on our hands. Here we are in 2005, with all the investments that we?ve made in education and we cannot build our own damn presidential mansion? So why do we have KNUST? This is just so appalling and blood curdling. If the white man did this to us, we will be cussing up a storm. Why should we take this sitting? Does independence mean a replacement of the white man by black imperialist? Where is that love of country and selflessness? I guess this brings home the idea that imperialism is faceless and color blind. Our own people will repress and steal from us just like the western imperialist would.

Is everyone as miffed as I am about the deafening silence that greets this wicked and irresponsible act from our so called donor friends? What kind of friends are they? Just this morning, Mr. Mat Karlsson, World Bank country director in Ghana said, ?the people should move away from how much money came in and be more concerned with how effectively the funds were being use?. How can we do the latter, if we can?t stop this boondoggle of a project for starters? Why is it that at a time like this, the USA, Britain and some of these other supporters of our government cannot question the government on behalf of the people? Why can?t they link such indiscretions to further help that they might or intend to offer? Certainly if they are helping to fund our development budget they must be in a good position to ask some hard question. Can we assume their silence to mean that they support this licentiousness? Yet, if this ever becomes a reason for any form of civil or violent agitation, they will have the crass nerve to condemn such acts as leftist huh?

My fellow Ghanaians, we deserve the leadership that we have and will get in the future. It is obvious that no one will stand up for us but us. For far too long we?ve sat and watched as a group of corrupt men/women fleece the people mercilessly in the name of government. Corruption has taken a much more sophisticated form as we speak. These days, it is becoming harder and harder to prove who took what. This is because the thieves have acquired the cleverness of Einstein. It is only through mass civil actions and a blatant affront on authority that we can reverse this foolishness. We, the people, must do this for us and posterity. Now is the time to raise our voices and march the streets. For 30 million dollars, we must march endlessly. For this will set the tone of things to come. We must not allow our kids to be saddled with debts that end up in the pockets of political thieves. The following are questions that the government must be forced to answer now.

1) Where did they get the loan for the presidential lodge and what are the terms of payment?

2) Where are the architectural drawings of the building?

3) What are we structurally getting for 30 million dollars? (Building specs)

4) How did the Chinese company win the contract?

5) Where are comparable proposals by local companies to build this presidential lodge?

6) What is the cost of renovating the castle vis-?-vis this new presidential lodge?

This warped idea by some that we allow this contract to go on with the hope that, should the NDC win, it will either not use the building or discontinue it is a silly one. It reminds me of what the NLC did to Nkrumah?s projects. We are not in a position to afford this luxury. Once this building is completed, we owe that money and therefore, it makes no sense not to use it. We certainly do not want to give the impression to outsiders that we don?t meet our financial obligations. What we ought to do is stop the building now. Stop it in the name of commonsense. We have to make it clear to the NPP now and any subsequent government that, winning an election is not a caveat to engage in foolishness in the name of democracy and government. This should also remind us sternly that, we need and have to stay vigilant. In fact, the hard work in a democracy occurs in between elections.

In conclusion, let us ask that a kibosh be put on this project and the money channeled into far more pressing needs. We can build a presidential lodge far cheaper than what is being proposed. If and when we agree to build one, Ghanaians must be awarded the contract at a reasonable cost. The current move is totally wrong and must not be allowed to stand. The NPP ought to be ashamed and in the name of political maturity and responsibility, singe this project now.



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