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Opinions of Sunday, 10 September 2017

Columnist: Kobby Gomez-Mensah

When will President Akufo-Addo do the needful?

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Every progressive democrat must expect the government of Akufo-Addo to do at least two things - prosecute corrupt officials of the erstwhile National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration and pass the age old Right to Information (RTI) Bill. But I have a third; this government must also change Ghana's administrative capital.

These will shift the levers of governance to a top gear, where we can all appreciate the President's commitment to depart from business as usual. They will demonstrate a clear resolve to fight corruption and also improve business turnaround time for both local and foreign investors.

I have had the occasion to argue at a barbershop elsewhere, earlier this year, that Nana Addo's attempts to woo investors in the first quarter of presidency was symptomatic of a virgin desperately seeking to break her hymen before her wedding night. My argument at the time, which I still stand by, was that the business environment in Ghana requires a lot more fine tuning and once those hurdles are cleared, FDI will troop in.

Imagine coming for business meetings in Ghana, scheduled between Tema, the Ministries, and Ekumfi, where recently a factory construction was commissioned. You must desperately want to throw investment at Ghana to return to do business here. Because given the time of day you arrive at Kotoka, a trip to Tema is all you need to sap your remaining energy.

The nightmare won't end there because you have to head to the Ministries subsequently. Then rush through Kaneshie or the N1, whichever can take you there quickly, to Ekumfi. Tell me, if you have to choose between Cape Town and Accra or better still, a business hub in China and Accra and you are not a 'patriotic' Ghanaian, Ghana would be your chosen destination.

I shall return to this shortly.

I have read over the last couple of months that Nana Akufo-Addo's months in office, has been more successful than the eight years of the Mills-Mahama administration. These claims can only come from block-headed blokes or empty barrels, committed to political sycophancy.

The truth is that the Nana Addo government is still taxiing. The takeoff hasn't happened yet, but even the sharing of the spoils has led to fisticuffs. There's hardly a week without a hot audio from a certain lawmaker, who wants all contracts to be awarded to him and grudgingly seeking to pour sand into the gari, so that as they say in Twi, 'omo nyinaa ebua ada'.

Implementers of the Free SHS for instance, prefer pomp and pageantry to a successful implementation of an education policy, which I hope will improve our people's language. We cannot all be blind to the ambassadors and logos, those are tangential. Therefore, although it is important for both serial callers and party praise-singers to earn their keep, they should not, in their attempts to butter their bread, suggest that this is Uhuru. Because the struggles continue.

Everyone who cares to know is aware that this country's biggest challenge is youth unemployment. I'm sure the response would be 1D1F. But the truth is, these factories if would be run by private individuals, cannot be labour intensive if they intend to make reasonable profits to stay in business. We do not want a repeat of the President Special Initiatives that ends with the administration. We must be an attractive investment destination.

Therefore, it is important for this government to spend time and resources, fixing all the gaps that can push investors away, so that capital may find Ghana an attractive destination.

Now to the oldest bill in Ghana. When I predicted that the Doe Adjaho Parliament would not be able to pass the RTI, not everyone believed it. But it was based on eight years of observing the House in a professional capacity. My reading was that the Mahama administration was not committed to passing the law and now it's, even more, clearer why they weren't going to pass the law, during its stay in office. With all the revelations of 'daylight robbery' recorded since the dawn of the new administration, who expected the NDC government shed light on its 'deals in the dark'?

On countless occasions, the House had reason to put the RTI aside and consider waivers and other bills, sometimes not under any certificate of urgency. Whenever the House came under fire for failing to pass the law, Doe Adjaho would lament over their commitment and proffer a litany of excuses. But the only things you do not have excuses for are those you do. Otherwise, we have excuses to even rob the state on a daily basis and trust me, many do. That's why any further delay in the passage of the RTI must be considered deliberate to shield appointees of this government who may also overindulge.

It is sad that the media in Ghana cannot unite to demand the passage of the single law that facilitates its constitutional duty of safeguarding the public purse. What a bunch!

Is there another group whose work will be more positively impacted by this bill than the media? But often the Coalition is unable to even secure the needed media support to exert pressure on Parliament to pass the law. Many policies that failed could have been saved, if that law was in place and enforceable, therefore, this government must be given the needed pressure to pass the RTI in its first year.

As for the camouflage attempt in the wee hours of the last parliament to pass the RTI, we must all treat it with the disdain it deserves. Parliament, for now, isn't busy and this is the time to consider the Right to Information Bill, provided it has been lodged with the House.

Months ago when the long time spokesman for Nana Addo indicated that the RTI would be passed by July this year, I laughed. Why is Mustapha Abdul Hamid the one telling us when the law would be passed? What is his focus? Who told him that passage of laws rests on the lips of information ministers? He's gotten ahead of himself on many issues, but this can't be one of them.

Parliament guards its independence jealously, especially, when it has to prove to others that it isn't subservient to any authority. This in spite of the fact that, in practice, members and the House have often been beholden to the President and powerful cabinet members, particularly the Finance Minister for obvious reasons.

But it certainly won't recognize promises made by an Information Minister, when it comes to passage of laws. He can ask Betty Mould Iddrisu, then Attorney General about how a long debate on 'whether bills must be passed by Parliament and assented to by the President' took in 2009 and who cast the final lot. If it was the President's plan to pass the RTI in July, why are we here? Odekro has been publishing parliamentary business since the commencement of this 7th parliament and it's obvious the House hasn't been busy. The only reason the RTI isn't under consideration is, like those before him, Nana Addo is afraid to tackle corruption head on. Otherwise, why don't we already have a Right to Information law? The government must ensure the law is passed before the end of this year.

I'm sure if the law was present, we wouldn't be discussing the Kenbond and McDan transactions in a vacuum. The tussle between the Multimedia Group Limited and Jospong Group could have been settled. But as long as the media has to rely on hearsay and calls from aggrieved parties to tell their stories, the NDC and NPP should be the last to complain when the media get it wrong. Because they failed to pass the single most important law to facilitate access to public information.

On the matter of prosecuting corrupt officials of the previous administration, many interpretations could be assigned. My reading is that the NPP wants to make enough political capital of it leading up to the next general elections to render John Mahama 'naked', but this could be tricky.

Will the evidence needed for prosecution be intact at the time? Our public service and its operatives are crafty enough to hide and shred documents to prevent any successful prosecutions and who would be blamed? Or is it the case that in that concession phone call to Nana Addo on the night he was declared the winner of the 2016 elections, he agreed not to prosecute the corrupt officials of the Mahama regime?

Because, this business of waiting for a special prosecutor before dealing with crude individuals, who despite all the perks of office openly stole from the state, hits me like a hurricane. It doesn't make sense to me. Why do we have an Attorney General? If there's an intention to peel off part of the AG's responsibility to another office and there's a deadlock in creating that office, does that function remain inactive? Who are those around the cabinet table flogging this dead goat?

The excuses for not beginning prosecutions must not be tenable for anyone who has this country at heart. A strong signal must be sent to public office holders that with all that they get in office, they must not even sniff public funds, else jail would be their portions. That is the only way to end the continuous pillage of our scarce public resources.

The time to act is now, Dr Bawumia was loud on corruption and competence and he's still smiling and patting himself on the back while all these remain undone. It is unacceptable to allow the thinking that you can steal as much as possible in public office to fester. Let the needful be done now.

Now to the matter of the new capital city, it had often been said that Brong Ahafo should be the next capital of Ghana and many reasons including its central location and large tracts of fallow land were advanced, but considering our current level of development, that may be too far fetched. Not only in the distance but also how much investment would be required to actualize it.

I see the space between Potsin and Biriwa as significant enough, there are also huge areas in the Eastern region that could be considered for this purpose, I'm not bothered about where the government may eventually settle on, but the truth is that, for both administrative and commercial purposes, Accra is no longer suitable for the capital city of Ghana, sixty years after independence and considering its status an emerging middle-income economy.

Many Ghanaians have travelled and seen, let them tell me they are proud of Accra in its current state - gridlocks of vehicular movement all day long, poor sanitation, open drains, foul-smelling closed drains, poorly organized settlements among others. Accra is no longer the must see capital city, even for our kith and kin in the hamlets.

As the Regional Reorganization Ministry slowly peaks in its programme, emphasis should not only be placed on political expediency but also building our regions to be modern cities.

Out of Accra, every other region looks the same. A market square or circle, where business is transacted, a few estates or quarters and the eye-sore that follows. We cannot claim recognition on the continent as the first country to gain political independence and remain barely developed.

Many countries have become modern or are modernizing over the last quarter of a century but we remain trapped in our mess and every time we need to remind others that Accra isn't dirty, when in fact, that's the honest truth.

Let this government designate the location for the next capital and see how much investment would pour in there. It would be better planned, hopefully, with strict enforcement on the types of buildings permitted and business activities allowed. That is when Ghana can truly arrive, until then, we can only wallow in the colonial legacy of a capital.

I rest my case.