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Opinions of Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: The floods are here – again!

It rained heavily last week in Accra. Our national capital was flooded. People were rendered homeless; their properties washed away by the floodwaters. The gutters in the city gave up all the filth they’ve been holding for months and the streets were filled with debris. There were pictures of the flood damage on TV and in the newspapers. The AMA announced that it is taking measures to deal with the problem... Sounds familiar?

Accra’s annual floods have become more of a certainty than the Homowo festival being celebrated without intra-tribal bickering. I don’t know whether the people of Ga Mashie will bury their differences and celebrate this year’s Homowo as one happy, united people. But I know for sure that there will be serious floods in Accra, people will die, property will be lost and those we pay to solve the city’s problems will talk and pretend to be working but no concrete action will be taken to deal with the problem. For residents of Accra, it seems our year will never be complete without a flood.

The perennial flooding of Accra has been blamed on everything from the city’s layout and geography to unscrupulous people building in waterways to the city’s choked gutters. The floods can even be blamed on God. Yeah! He’s too unpredictable and he keeps sending us more rains than we are sensible enough to deal with.

With the threat of climate change looming over all humanity, we are definitely going to be getting more rains. That’s what the weatherman has been saying. I don’t exactly trust the weatherman on GTV very much. But I don’t need him to tell me that Accra will get flooded this year too. It happens every year and this year will be no different. I also don’t need anyone to tell me that the official response will be an announcement that new initiatives will be adopted to deal with the problem. And what will those initiatives be? Well, houses in “waterways” will be demolished and gutters will be desilted. That’s all they say every year. But nothing gets done. Those houses that were in waterways when the first floods occurred under the Kufuor administration are exactly where they are. A couple of houses were demolished last year in Weija and other places. But I am sure they were not the cause of the floods in Adabraka and Avenor. As it turned out, some of those houses that were demolished were not even in waterways. And this being an election year, I don’t think any politician will be so stupid to try to bring down any house supposedly in a waterway. If those houses were not brought down in 2005, they won’t be brought down in 2008.

So how do we deal with the flood problem? To my mind, the answer lies in the government (I mean the NPP administration) going back to one of its main campaign promises in 2000 – having mayors elected. Electing the mayor will not necessarily solve the flooding problem. But it will be a good start. Whichever government follows Kufuor’s should change the laws and allow us to elect our mayors. The fact that the president chooses those in his good books to be mayors of our cities creates demigods out of incompetents who just delight in being mayors without solving any problems. In fact, they seem to enjoy the pretence that they are working.

Take the mayor of Accra for example. When he was appointed mayor, he vowed to clean up Accra in 100 days. I knew he couldn’t achieve that. But I thought that, perhaps, two years will be a more realistic deadline. He’s been in office for more than four years and Accra is as filthy as ever. To cover-up his failure to deliver, he turned his attention on hapless hawkers struggling to make ends meet in Accra’s central business under what he referred to as a ‘decongestion exercise’. That exercise started more than two years ago. But Accra Central is as congested as ever. Anytime Accra has been flooded, he’s been heard stuttering all sorts of promises about how he’s not going to allow the problem to be repeated the following year. He said it last year and I’ve not seen any concrete step he’s taken to prevent the floods from happening this year. So the rains are here and every time there’s a downpour – even a light one – the city gets flooded. The guy just can’t deliver anything. And we are stuck with him. We’ll be stuck with him until he has a fall out with the president or until the president realises what we all know – that the guy can’t deliver.

If he had been elected, we would have gotten rid of him and given someone else the chance to do what has to be done. If we chose our district chief executives (or mayors), they would come back to us regularly to render account of their stewardship. Those who fail to deal with the problems of our cities will be kicked out of office and we’d try someone else. If this was the situation, Adjiri Blankson and those before him, would have had sufficient motivation to deal with Accra’s flooding problems once and for all. Surely, there’s someone out there who can provide the leadership this city needs to deal with this annual crisis. If we elected our mayors, this person might contest and win and we’d be on our way to a lasting solution.

However, this government (like the one before it) argues it cannot allow mayors to be elected because if people from opposition parties are chosen (by the people and not the president) to take charge of the districts, the administration cannot effectively implement its policies. Very conveniently, they only came to this realisation after they had been voted into power.

And what are those government policies that will not be effectively implemented by mayors from opposition parties anyway? At the hearts of government’s policy should be a programme to see to the welfare of its people and develop the country. If a mayor is elected and he resists the central government’s moves to provide healthcare, education and vital infrastructure for the people, he will simply be kicked out of office. But this is not how government see things. The administration has taken the rather myopic view of that the mayors are supposed to do what central government wants it to do – contradicting its own decentralisation policy. In addition to wanting mayors to do as the president wants them to, they are also supposed to maintain the structures of patronage that help the ruling party to win votes. That is ‘the policy’ they want to protect so much so that they are reluctant to do what they know to be right. So they prefer to go back on their words and are doing exactly what the previous administration did.

Until government changes its mind, we will continue to be confronted with filthy streets, choked gutters and floods. Accra’s terrible floods will come every year. We will be saddled with people who have no motivation whatsoever to do what we pay them to do. So I’m very sure that I will write again about Accra’s floods next year. And you will read it – if the floodwaters do not carry you away.