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Opinions of Sunday, 23 March 2014

Columnist: Yawson, Kit

The Not So State of the Nation Address

By Kit Yawson-PPP-UK

The recent State of the Nation (SoN) address required our President to have told us, without mincing words, the true state of our nation as experienced by Ghanaians all-round the country at the time and plans he has in mind to address them. It was disappointing for our President to be silent on some critical issues bothering every Ghanaian mind instead of dwelling on his expectations, wishes, hopes and plans for the future. Some of the critical issues that warranted special mention in the address are Armed Robbery, Galamsey and the Security of our National Borders. I would therefore shed light on them whilst pointing out that these issues never happened overnight. The onus is upon the President to have made special mention of such serious problems that are present in our society.
Although we have achieved political independence for 57 years yet, we now have another fight on our hands. This time, it is a fight to rid our society of armed robbery that has been a nationwide living nightmare for every Ghanaian. Literally, we are living at the mercy of armed robbers who can strike any time at any place, beyond the comprehension of our security forces .Fact is that armed robbery is now a very lucrative business in Ghana as petty criminals have joined the fray courtesy of high figures of unemployment. These days every household in Ghana has resorted to burglar proofing their homes and business places with iron bars surrounding doors, windows and gates. We live in constant fear of being shot to death in our own homes by armed robbers who then go on to loot valuables such as cash, television sets, hi-fi equipment, laptops, mobile phones etc., once they gain access to our premises . Rumours have it that the robbers use AK47 rifles that are restricted to security forces only and for an armed robber to be in possession of one is a good trail for our detectives to follow up and establish how the criminals would lay hands on the rifles. The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) can confirm whether such rumours are true.
Somewhere in October 2013, armed robbers ambushed a busload of traders from Obuasi at the outskirts of Kumasi, shot the bus driver and a male passenger to death and robbed other passengers of their valuables, including monies and mobile phones at gunpoint. When the incident came to the notice of the police all they had to say was to appeal to the public for information leading to the arrest of the armed robbers. Arguably, that brings into question the level of confidence we have in the very security forces on whom we rely for safety and protection. Our government must make it a priority to equip our security forces with high-powered surveillance equipment including helicopters to enable them chase and track down robbers in daylight or in darkness with efficiency in order to save lives.
It is worrying for our past and present governments to embrace small-scale illegal mining popularly known as “Galamsey” without streamlining its operations and training of personnel in much the same way as the mining companies in the country operate. As an automatic solution to some of our Government’s problems, galamsey has brought with it some economic benefits. In 2008, Ghana Chamber of Mines reported employment opportunities for between 300,000 and 500,000 people who would otherwise be unemployed. Galamsey small-scale illegal miners retain their revenue in the country for consumption expenses and savings with our local banks to boost economic activity. It is not so with the multinational mining companies that would repatriate their profits out of the country.
The down side of galamsey are not worth the risks taken by workers at the unregulated mining sites due to environmental problems leading to mercury pollution from gold processing, water pollution and land degradation. Land degradation is another major impact of galamsey activities as this type of small-scale mining clears vast expanses of forest, trench digging and the upturning of vegetation that leaves land bare and exposed to erosion eventually. Mercury chemicals in large quantities pose serious threat to human health and a wide-range of ecological groupings that has the tendency of weakening one’s immune system. Deaths on illegal mining sites caused by collapsed caves or miners buried alive in collapsed pits are losses that affect the nation’s human resource base since most of the miners are young men and women, fathers and mothers who would leave behind very young orphans.
I am not terribly sure how much our Governments, past and present have known about our national borders over the years and attempts they have made to rectify abuse of our borders on both sides. There have been reports and rumours about free movement of people and goods into and out of the country by neighbours from Burkina Faso, Cote de Ivoire and Togo without detection by our border guards, some of whom are perceived to be condoning acts of illegal entry or exit into and out of the country. There are reports of pregnant women from Burkina Faso who cross over into Upper West and Upper East to be delivered of their babies, courtesy of our free maternity healthcare. Quantities of Ghanaian cocoa are smuggled into Cote de Ivoire and Togo, through unguarded borders. There are also reports of goods to and from these neighbouring countries beyond detection by our customs officials. During mid-2013, a helicopter supposedly straddled into our national space accidentally and actually landed in the western region of our country just off Cote de Ivoire, only for the pilot to explain that he accidentally landed inside our territory. Our security forces had no clue about that landing and that shows how prone we are as a nation to foreign attack due to some unguarded parts of our national borders. Our President’s SoN address failed to talk about the need to secure some parts of our national borders that are not fully guarded. Such areas are open to abuse by unscrupulous travellers who would not use the designated immigration posts.
Barring party politics, one can only hope that the next State of the Nation address would be truly representative of the real situation on the ground and that it shall be much better than this years' (2014) address.
London 21 March 2014