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Opinions of Thursday, 3 March 2005

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

The National Register of Assets

Ghana is in big trouble, bigger than most of us realize. If you do not believe me just read the budget. No, I am not talking about the petrol price increase, which led to the failed Wahala Jihad. Rather, I want you to read paragraph 989.

There, the honorable finance minister submits ?Mr. Speaker, Government has since independence continued to make huge investments in fixed assets (land, buildings, plant and equipment) but currently, there is very little information available to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning on the current location, condition and maintenance history of all government land, buildings, vehicles and major capital equipment. Yet, on an annual basis, there is an appropriation for the maintenance of these assets.?

What? We have very little information on the current location, condition and maintenance history of our national assets? How did we ever get here? I challenge you to do a survey of traders at Makola or elsewhere and I guarantee you that 100% of those traders will be able to describe in detail the location and condition of their assets. Or better yet, talk to your grandma in your holy village and she will tell you the condition and location of her beads, clothes, gold necklaces and King James Bible.

But a 48 year old country, with 88 ministers, 230 MPs, 25 councilors of State, various ministries, department and agencies have very little information on the condition and location of our national assets.

With little or no information on the location and condition of our national assets, how do we ever know when someone converts a national asset to his private use? How do we ensure accountability in the use of these assets if we do not even know that we own them?

The ?yet, on an annual basis, there is an appropriation for the maintenance of these assets? part of the submission should give you additional cause for concern. If we are not sure where and in what condition our assets are, how do we make appropriations for their maintenance? And how do we ever know whether the maintenance appropriations go to maintain these unidentifiable assets?

And how was it that we never knew this sad state of affair for 48 years? And why is this sad state of affair, which, in my opinion, should be declared a national crisis, buried in paragraph 989 of the Budget?

The minister?s approach to dealing with this crisis is found in paragraph 990. There, he submits ?beginning this year the Government will take steps to build the National Asset Register in two phases. Under the first phase of the project, all assets owned by the various MDAs would be identified and appropriately described. The second phase would entail the valuation of these assets by appropriate professionals using internationally accepted principles.?

Not good enough, for me and for you! First, this tells us that the government will start to address this problem, beginning this year, but does not tell us when the problem will be solved. It could be the end of the year or it could be never. Second, the government tells us that it will take steps to build a national register. Surely, a budget of over 1,000 paragraphs, requiring over 3 hours to read to parliament, could have devoted a few lines to what these steps are. Third, this business about valuation ?by appropriate professionals using internationally accepted principles? gives me a ?wahala? headache. Sounds like another boondoggle for so called consultants. My understanding of the civil service structure is that we already pay people to identify and value our national assets and the fact that it has not been done, in the past, should not be an occasion to bring in consultants to do what we pay people to do. Put another way, building this National Register should not be another avenue to make people rich!

It is totally unacceptable that we do not have a national register of assets. Let us solve this problem immediately.


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