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Opinions of Thursday, 7 November 2019

Columnist: Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo

Where is the $40m World Bank fund?

Last week, the entire creative industry gathered for the first ever Creative Arts Forum under the aegis of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

The outcome, as anticipated, presented a mixture of emotions; disappointment, anger and ambivalence.

To be blunt, the only persons who were excited about the forum were the organisers and staunch sympathisers of the Ministry.

Almost every stakeholder or industry player was somehow disappointed after the meeting, expressing a sense of hopelessness for what the future holds for the industry.

Today, I am not going to expend time and space about the sentiments being shared over the presentations made at the forum but on one critical subject that was missed by everybody during and after the forum; the status of the $40-50 million fund from the World Bank to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture.

Status of World Bank fund

In January 2018, the Ministry, under the authority of Madam Catherine Afeku, had its first Meet-The-Press session. In her speech, the Minister revealed that the World Bank had approved a $50 million grant for the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to implement various projects and programmes under its tourism, arts and culture sector improvement project.

The grant, according to the Minister, was also to help the ministry implement various reforms in the country’s tourism strategy and sector development to boost the tourism and creative arts industries.

She also asserted that, it would also be used to strengthen the ministry and its agencies to increase their capacity to create jobs, empower women and the youth in the tourism value chain, as well as empower the ministry to undertake a massive clean-up of the country’s beaches.

Later in the same year, Madam Afeku was a guest on Peace FM’s entertainment talk show programme, Entertainment Review to provide clarity on questions posed during her tenure. The issue about the World Bank funding came up, and the minister had an interesting explanation.

She stated that, instead of the $50 million, the fund earmarked for the Ministry was now $40 million and the remaining $10M was utilised for processing of the funds at the Ministry of Finance.

In his State of the Nation address in February 2019, the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo stated that the World Bank had approved a US$40M grant to support the country’s tourism and creative arts sector.

He told Parliament that the grant was to help improve Ghana’s tourisms sector to make it attractive to patrons across the globe. The grant, according to him, was to be used, among other things, to upgrade tourist facilities in the country.

No statement, no question

At the forum, the current minister, Madam Barbara Oteng Gyasi and her lieutenants made statements and promises that hinged on various issues surrounding the Creative Arts Bill, Film Village, Copyright Office, Insurance, Creative Arts Fund and Data Collation among others. There was no mention of the funds from the World Bank.

Then came the time for questions from industry players and the media personnel present. Like the organisers, no comment was made and no question was asked about the $40million funds to the ministry. Everybody missed it! How? It is inexplicable.

One may forgive the media and the industry players for missing it, after all, a limited time was apportioned for questions and clearly, not every question was asked within that time, however, the officials of the ministry and its agencies cannot be forgiven for failing to touch on the subject.

As crucial as funding is to the industry, and with the commitment made by the Word Bank, plus the incessant announcements to the general public by the previous minister and the President over the subject, there is no way the current minister or her superintendents should have missed it.

Inconsistencies with Exim Bank loan

Mention was made about some Exim Bank Loan that is supposed to be made available to the Creative Arts sector. The confounding aspect of this Exim Bank loan is the level of inconsistencies that have shrouded it and the many times it has been mentioned in the past year or more.

In March 2018, the Chief Executive Officer of Exim Bank, Mr. Lawrence Agyinsam, stated publicly that a $10 million loan has been made available to the creative industry to advance the operations of the sector. On December 24 of the same year, Madam Catherine Afeku, at a gathering of industry players, declared a $20million Exim Bank loan for the Creative Arts sector with an interest rate of five percent to advance the operations of the sector.

Since those statements were made, no money has ever been accessed by any industry person or firm – absolutely nothing. But wait, there’s more!

At last week’s forum, the same old Exim Bank narrative reared its head again, this time, with an interesting twist. The Minister stated that, a loan of GHc10million, not Dollars, had been made available to the sector.

The announcement was met with claps and cheers from industry players who were gathered at the forum.

Where is the money?

The most relevant question now is; where is the money from the World Bank? If it came through as projected by the President and the Minister, what was the money used for? How much was disbursed to the various sectors of Tourism, Arts and Culture?

How much of the $40 million was earmarked for the creative sector? What was it used for? What is it going to be used for? Who is in custody of the money?

How much was used to strengthen the Ministry and its agencies to increase their capacity to create jobs, empower women and the youth engaged in the tourism value chain, as well as empower the ministry to undertake a massive clean-up of the country’s beaches?

Where is the money?