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Opinions of Saturday, 19 March 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The economy and Ama on Fools Day.

By George Sydney Abugri

The other day I passed along the street leading from Ring Road Central through the vicinity of the Accra Technical Training Center and Challenge Bookshop toward the studios of Joy FM at Kokomlemle and was horrified to find that Silver Cup, one of my favourite nocturnal haunts of the 1970s had vanished.

I was beside myself with unholy nostalgia over those days in the seventies, when we spent weekend nights at Silver Cup swigging the Irish brew called Guinness straight from the bottle while working the jackpot machines with gusto. Hey, you don’t need to ever let Osofo, the kids and their mum hear so much as half a word of all this, see?

In those days, Accra was relatively safer from the prevailing scourge of armed nocturnal bandits and brigands constantly prowling around looking for an opportunity to disposes residents of their valuables and sometimes their very lives into the bargain.

Dating young couples and other nocturnal creatures in the capital could go pub-crawling well into the wee hours of the morning without any threat to safety. Live big band sounds in night clubs were a fad and residents of the capital had quite a list to choose from: Apollo Theater, Lido, Tip Toe, Silver Cup etc.

Since the 1970s to date I have at different times lived for periods ranging between six months and ten years at Mathaheko, Abeka La Paz, Sakumono, Dansoman and Kokomlemle.

When I visit any of these suburbs today, I find that most of the infrastructural and physical landmarks I was familiar with have long disappeared, replaced in some cases by new buildings and roads, and in other cases, by unplanned and unauthorized land development. Both have led to congestion and poor sanitation and given successive mayors of the capital some real skull-ache.

That brings us unavoidably back to the subject of the current mayor of Accra: Today he is Dr. Alfred Vanderpuije. The next day, for some unexplained reason, he becomes plain Mr. Vanderpuije. If you think that is strange just wait till the third, when he is mysteriously restored to the status of a man of letters all over again.

You call me Dr. Vanderpuije that is fine with me. You call me a mister, well that too sits pretty dandy with me. I am just a city mayor trying to do my job which in this case is to keep my metro spick and span. What have academic titles or the absence of them got to do with it? That appears to be the mayor’s silent response to the media’s games with the mayor’s title.

Never mind about titles, Jomo: I have revised my opinion about the mayor: When President Mills conjured the man out of no where and announced that he was handing him one of the most difficult jobs on this planet, namely that of keeping a city suffering from mass psychosis and the impact of lousy urban planning clean, orderly and safe, I gave him a hard look from a distance.

Now it has become evident that Dr/Mr. Vanderpuije is indeed very sincere about his resolve to make the city truly deserving of the title of the capital of one of the most socio-economically progressive countries in Africa today. Yet in spite of his good intentions, the man is riding the horse called over-enthusiasm rather too hard:

Mayor Vanderpuije has chosen the next April Fools Day to implement new metropolitan bye-laws which could see large numbers of drivers, commuters and street traders being thrown in jail or slapped with hefty fines:

It is noon. The sun is mercilessly roasting the heart of Accra. A commuter has been trapped in the unbearable heat of the cabin of a cab for hours, in one of those cruel traffic jams you see across the city. He is sweating like a giant tilapia right out of the deep. Soon the passenger is so dehydrated that he could drink up the Atlantic down to the sea bed.

He reaches out of the cab window and buys himself a sachet of water from a street vendor to quench his parched thirst. Enter the CEO of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly {AMA} and his city guards. The mayor says with effect from April’s Fools Day, any commuter who dares buy anything from a street vendor will be promptly arrested, along with the driver of the vehicle he is in and the hawker who sold the commuter an item.

The case for the prosecution in the local government court of the Millennium capital is this: The street traders are have inflicted the heart of the city with suffocating congestion: They have illegally appropriated every cubic millimeter of space on the streets and side walks of Accra to themselves, constantly endangering road and public safety.

They displace and force pedestrians off pedestrian walk ways and onto the paths of moving motor vehicles, leading to road fatalities. They litter the streets of the capital with refuse. They have taken the term jaywalking to new and calamitous heights and in the process, some of them are sometimes run over by motor vehicles.

All that apart, the Accra Metro office has built modern sheds for them to relocate to. If that is not enough to seal the prosecution’s case, then let it be known that all and everything said and done, it is against the law to hawk goods in the streets.

The concept of development as something you package and force onto beneficiaries is a very weird one. People are not passive recipients of development projects packaged by non-users who do not understand the needs and aspirations of the intended users, are they?

From the perspective of development science, if you implement a project and the intended beneficiaries staunchly refuse to use it, you have failed as a development planner. It means the intended beneficiaries were not involved in both the planning and implementation of the project.

The daily struggle for survival may have pushed people into street-hawking to try to make ends meet somehow but they remain children of God and the implementation of the new bye-laws should be done in a manner that is humane.

The question of where the street hawkers will go from here is one that needs to be answered if social problems far worse than street hawking are to be avoided when their source of livelihood disappears.

There is far much more to the attraction of a geographical location as a destination for tourism and investment than sky scrapers and paved streets rid of street vendors and stray dogs, if you ask me.

Tourism promotion and the promotion of a thriving investment and business environment should go hand in hand for maximum impact on the economy, no?

Many in the business community here are grumbling about the cost of doing business in Ghana being so prohibitive that it is only crooked businessmen and those adept at cutting very sharp corners who can break even! Exaggeration?

With interest rates averaging above 30 percent they say, it is impossible to make anything resembling a decent profit after expenses, costs taxes, interest payments etc.

Why do these economists keep confusing us like this, Jomo? Is it not the sustained deterioration in the purchasing power of money that is referred to as inflation? Borrowing money is just like buying any goods from the market, is it not?

If the prices of goods rise, a unit of currency is able to buy less, right? When the prices of goods fall, which sadly, they ever rarely do, you expect the same unit of a currency to be able to buy more, right?

Now, our economists have told us that inflation in Ghana has been at its lowest in more than a decade. Really? How come bank interest rates, rather than take a corresponding dip with inflation are rather constantly sky-bound? How come the purchasing power of public sector wages is in such an unhindered dive?

The state of the economy is one of the critical guides to voters in their assessment of the performance of every government but many Ghanaians do not appear to know the exact state of the economy. Any clue what the heck is going on? Email: Website: