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Opinions of Friday, 21 February 2014

Columnist: Richard Annerquaye Abbey

We need responsible leaders

Development is not by accident; it is by choice. No country ever stumbled onto the path of development without years of conscious planning and hard work. As a country, we have everything we need to proceed to the next level of development.

In about a fortnight, Ghana will celebrate its 57th independence anniversary. Assuming Ghana were a human, it would have three years left to go on retirement. But I don’t think Ghana is happy with her level of success over the years, especially compared to some of her classmates in the Far East like Malaysia and co.

The founding fathers of this country, including those who fought in the World Wars, had a vision of a prosperous nation – not what we have now. While we appreciate the fact that at least our fortunes are better than some countries in the sub-region, we must be careful we don’t settle for mediocrity. Why must we settle for good when we can attain the best?

Unlike countries which are prone to natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts among others, Ghana is not disposed to such calamities. All of our problems, since independence, have been man-made – some created by selfish people to profit from the failure of the system.

That corruption has been our bane is a cliché now. So long as people, especially our political leaders, continue to put their interests above that of the country, we should forget about making meaningful progress towards development. We will continue to take a step forward, and three backwards. This is no aerodynamics, just common sense.

Some months ago, a friend arriving from the USA asked me why we still have bad roads even in Accra. My answer to him was simple: it is because the people responsible for putting the roads in good shape are chauffeured around town in four-wheel vehicles with proper shock absorbers and don’t feel the pain of the bumpiness of the road.

Anyone who doubts this should take a trip to our Ministries. I won’t state a specific Ministry; just visit any of them. The number of vehicles parked (no pun intended) is a marvel. The four-wheel drives are just about a perk for any director of a Ministry, not to mention the other luxurious vehicles available to Ministers.

Come to think of it, why should someone use a cross-country vehicle within a city? And to think that all these costs, the maintenance and fuel, are borne by the ordinary taxpayer makes me cringe. The road to development is no rocket science.

We claim times are hard and the citizens must tighten their belts even further; yet our leaders continue to engage in profligacy. In terms of efforts at development, they have not been radical enough. Those responsible for solving some of our key problems are themselves asleep.

I am not saying no Ministry should be allowed to use a 4x4 – just that these vehicles must be limited to cross-country travels alone. If we are able to maintain an excellent road network, who says a Chief Director of a Ministry can’t drive a saloon car in Accra without stress?

President John Mahama may have taken a pay-cut; that is commendable. But imagine the monies we will save if we are able to cut down on the ostentatious living of these public servants. He could start by ordering these directors to use economical vehicles while government focuses on rehabilitating the roads.

And for those that may still want to use the luxurious cars, they must be made to bear the maintenance and fuel cost – considering these cars have already been purchased. The use of such vehicles may then be limited to cross-country travels.

We will be getting somewhere with measures such as this. Of course, not everybody may like this initiative, especially those who will be directly affected by it. But for how long are we going to carry on with this wasteful living when the entire country is immersed in poverty?

In any case, why can’t our leaders patronise public transport? After all, leaders in some other countries do that daily. It is these same leaders we always go and beg for aid and donor support to continue the extravagant lifestyle.

It is a shame that after 57 years of independence the biggest hospital in the country was built in the colonial era. Of course, it doesn’t matter so long as our leaders can afford to go to expensive private specialists and the cost again be borne by taxpayers. They just don’t care.

We can’t have an effective system if those responsible for the system are not part of it. How about a quick survey of all Members of Parliament or government officials who have enrolled on the National Health Insurance Scheme and are utilising it?

What about the number of high public officials or MPs who have their wards in public basic schools? Is it that they don’t think the quality there is high enough for their kids? If we want the public schools to become the best, let’s enact a law that will force all of these officials to put their kids in these public schools.

If they truly believe that they have done their best for the sector, they should be prepared to also taste and be part of it. How can they serve us food they have cooked yet have not tasted themselves?

We need to get serious in this country. So long as we do ordinary things, we will get ordinary results. Let’s make this country work. Mr. President, your move. I’m out.