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Opinions of Saturday, 10 August 2019

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

The danger that the thirst for unearned profit poses to democracy

Those of my readers who have long memories and can remember unusual events in the world may notice the allusion that the headline makes to a famous warning uttered by President Dwight D Eisenhower of the United States.

‘Ike’ (as he was affectionately known) had distinguished himself as the military General who knit together the US and European troops to defeat Hitler’s Germany. The American people recognized this and elected him as the 34th president of the United States — from 1953 to 1961.

Now, it isn’t easy to translate oneself from a military General to an elected President in present-day America. You see, good Generals despise politicians for ruthlessly manipulating the political system to attain power (and wealth). At the same time, many politicians regard soldiers as semi-literate morons who can only yell “Shoot the bastard!”

Ahem! Ike rode this dual-headed tiger and — did not get eaten – but, on the contrary, he lived to deliver a “Farewell Address” to his nation that ought to have earned him the Nobel Prize “For Realistic Thinking” — had one existed!

What Ike told Americans was this:
QUOTE: Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry… But we… we have [now created] a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions… Now, this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new… The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State-house, every office of the Federal government….

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. UNQUOTE

In Great Britain too, Edward Heath, Prime Minister from 1965 to 1975, found the way Tiny Rowland (the owner of a mining company called Lonrho that acquired Ghana’s Ashanti Goldfields Corporation in 1967) used corruption to gobble up publicly-owned enterprises in Africa, so distasteful that he [Heath] labelled it as “the ugly face of capitalism.”

These recollections arise because the warnings uttered by Eisenhower and Edward Heath – by no means the most “radical” Western politicians of the 20th century—have been utterly ignored by successive Governments in Ghana.

Whiffs of scandal, never easy to substantiate, have been blown into our noses by governmental handovers of the “power to print money” to private companies hitherto hardly known to the Ghanaian public. Be it in sanitation; mining; petroleum exploitation; communications; water and electricity – the list is staggering.

But the latest one, the PDS saga, takes the cake. Ghana has possessed a viable electricity industry from the colonial days. It has adapted itself to cope with industrial and population growth and we now have dams supplemented by oil-gas installations. Complex international agreements with our West African neighbours enable us to supply them with electricity where possible or tap them for power supplies when economic conditions necessitate such action.

However, in 2016, our then government discovered that we needed American help to run our electricity industry. But then, the same Americans, who had helped us in the past to finance the Akosombo Dam without conditions, at a time when they suspected Ghana of “leaning” towards the Eastern bloc (!) apparently now “demanded” that we should hand over the distribution of our electricity to a company that would be largely “private”. Never mind – there would be governmental “participation”, even if “nominal”!

Now what the Americans failed to recognize is that “private companies” in the developing countries are not the same animal as those in the developed countries. In a developed country, it is IMPOSSIBLE REPEAT IMPOSSIBLE to operate in such a vital field as electricity distribution without having a track record in the industry in the country of potential operation, or a similar country. Ask a German company to try and operate in a vital, "strategic" industry in the USA and see how easy or difficult it would be for the German. The Wall Street Journal would let everyone know where the wife of the chairman of the company buys her nail-polish from and what colour of shoes she wears to hen-parties. Public relations firms would bombard the media with “puff” pieces about the company’s industrial prowess, some factual and others manufactured.

But in a country like ours, a company can be formed by telephone calls between Diaspora members of say, a “Vulture Network” who had inhabited the same hall at a university! They look for other “Vultures” in the government of the day and hey presto! they get to the top of the list of companies that have “expressed an interest” in taking over a hitherto public-owned concern.

Oh, and very soon, they do "win" the “competitive bidding”: (after a “Vulture” has given them access to all the other supposedly “sealed bids”.)

But the rub is that these worthy industrialists so treasure their “privacy” that they never allow their names to “surface” before the tax-payers whose property they intend to take over! Who had ever heard of a Mr Ayesu before he shot to the head of PDS?

We only hear of them when something goes wrong; when those who carried out a "due diligence” scrutiny on them are suspected to have deliberately refused to detect something irregular about their blandishments. The irregularity is never fully explained, of course, and the results of investigation into them may never be made public.

Enough is enough! The public wants our government to name and shame all those involved in the current PDS saga. We had “Ameri”. No-one’s nose was bloodied. This time we want bloody noses! And red-ink-spattered, published bank statements to boot!