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Opinions of Sunday, 11 July 2010

Columnist: Ohemeng, Frank Yaw

This is outrageous!

With the comical sense that characterises political debates in Ghana, the current topic is that of the accommodation of former President Rawlings and his family. This follows the yet unexplained fire that gutted their state-provided residence in February this year. What has brought the discussions to a head is the apparent complaint by Mrs. Rawlings that their accommodation needs have been ignored by the current government. She made Ghanaians to believe that this was affecting their relationship with her staying with her Mother and the husband lodging in their ‘village residence’ somewhere on the borders between Greater Accra and Volta Regions.

Under any ordinary circumstances, one should be feeling for them but the more one delves into this story the more one becomes outraged. First all this is a family that has never lost any opportunity to climb the moral high horse. Secondly, it transpires that the family owns two residences: one in Accra (apparently a mansion whose perimeter fence alone would be enough to build two residences) and one in a place called Tefle whose opulent features have been splashed in a magazine called Ovation.
What are the reasons being given as to why this family is not willing to move to its own property to save the nation the expense? Well the Tefle house has been referred to variously as “a village house” and “a one-room wooden structure”, which obviously is not appropriate for a former President. The Accra house, it is claimed, has not been completed. And as if they want to thumb their noses at Ghanaians, the family has already refused two residences offered by the state. It also transpires that the state has to date ‘renovated’ the residence of Nana Konadu’s mother to make it fitting for her to temporarily reside there. All these are happening with the back drop of President Kuffour having been refused any entitlements whatsoever. Can President Mills really justify these attempts to please one former President whilst ignoring the other? This is the least of my worries, though, but what irks me is the fact that the sensibilities of Ghanaians are being taken for granted. What do politicians take us for?
The foreign exchange that Ghana enjoys is mainly from Cocoa, timber and mineral extraction. Cocoa is produced by our hard suffering farmers whose condition of living in most cases should put us to shame as a nation. They are the people who really live in village houses and not the Tefle residence of the Rawlingses. These same rural folks are the ones who bear the brunt of the environmental degradation that the mining and timber industries bring. Every day across Ghana farmers go to their farms to find destruction perpetrated by timber contractors and mining concessionaires. These poor farmers have nowhere to turn to get a hearing, let alone, get compensation. It is therefore an insult of great proportions that the sweat and toil of these poor folks are being squandered on a few, who in their greed, even deceive all by pontificating high morals.
We use poverty as the excuse to deny children good education. There are several rural schools posting zero percent passes in national exams due to poor facilities and the fact that they are taught by ill-trained and/or poorly-motivated teachers. In the face of this, there is no national policy to turn things around. We appear to have accepted the status quo yet we are so much concerned about the comfort of a select few.
Not long ago we were discussing the purchase of vehicles for the CEO of the NHIA and the use of $72,000 to rent a house for this same individual. Then and now, there are many justifying this expense but these same people would not fight with the same vigour for the lot of the rural folks to be improved or for workable national policies to tackle declining educational standards.
The educated elite have conspired to remain silent and once they can see their children through the numerous private schools, they are satisfied. We should not forget that, with this indifference to the plight of many in our country, we are creating a social time bomb, the consequence of whose eruption may be hard to contain.
It is about time that democratic politics start making positive returns for the citizenry; otherwise who needs it? In all these I ask: where are our numerous civil society groups or are they also part of this grand conspiracy to pillage the gains made on the backs of our poor rural folks?

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Manchester, UK