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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Columnist: Afriyie, Kwaesi

Whither GNA@54 – open letter to Minister of Information

By Kwesi Afriyie

Mr. Minister, GNA will be 54 on March 5, 2011, a day before Ghana’s 54th
Independence celebration. I can bet my last penny on my opinion, that every Ghanaian
aged 25 and more has seen the age-old Ghanaian movie, “I told you so”. With all
apologies to Bob Cole, I must say this is a good time for me to say “I told you so”,
about GNA@52.


For those who did not read my article “GNA@52, Osagyefo’s Baby”, I recap a twigged
version of it. The reason this article is still relevant, Mr. Minister, is that
nothing has changed at GNA in concrete terms, except one thing, a vibrant and honest
board has been put in place.

GNA now has a new board of directors and they are taking the bull by the horn, and I
mean literally by the horn. The new board, chaired by Dr. Bonnah Koomson, held a
mini durbar with GNA staff at Christmas and told them that all the current woes of
GNA is because of one man. The chairman narrated a litany of challenges GNA is
facing and said they were all because of that one man.


A staff member mustered the courage to ask who that man was, and the board chair
pointed to the General Manager, Nana Apau Dua, in front of everybody and said “this
man, he is the reason we are all suffering but he is enjoying because he is paid fat
by the National Media Commission”.

The board chair said when they took office, they asked the GM, Nana Apua Dua to give
them his development plan for the agency, but he never gave them one until recently
when the board itself constituted a body of some GNA management and union leaders to
draft a development plan of a sort. How different is that from my suggestion two
years ago that the name Nana Appau Duah and the term “ideas” cannot be in the same
sentence for positive reasons. The man is completely bankrupt when it comes to
ideas.

For instance, the board asked Nana to make a case for the agency that its work is
operational and not administrative as government mistakenly thinks. But he has not
done that since, and the agency continues to suffer in terms of government
subvention. The aftermath of the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure
(SSSS) at GNA is enough testimony of how Nana has failed his colleagues at the
agency. He literally stood in the way of efforts by workers to negotiate for better
salaries ahead of the SSSS and touted the SSSS as some Messiah, but today GNA
workers are worse-off under the SSSS. But Nana does not care a hoot because he is
paid a fat salary by NMC.

Mr. Minister, I did say that the leadership at GNA is preoccupied with preparing for
their retirement, and never thinking about the progress of the GNA or making it any
better than they met it. In fact at the durbar it came out that they are also
preoccupied with fighting against each other more than with fighting a common
course. The man who claims to have a dual personality, Supervising Chief Editor,
Boakye Boadi Dankwa let the cat out of the bag when he said, during the durbar, that
“I know Nana and Rex Annan (Administrator) have ganged up against me”. These are the
men leading Osagyefo’s GNA; what a shame.
I still believe Osafogye Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is turning in his grave by now because of
where GNA is heading. For those who did not know, GNA is the flagship new agency is
Africa and model for others across the continent, but it is now fast becoming a
white elephant as a result of decades of archaic ideas, lack of vision, zero
mission, poor management and bad leadership, particularly in recent times.

After the days of Osagyefo, it seems subsequent governments have either not known
what to do with GNA or they may have considered GNA as one of Osagyefo’s propaganda
tools, so they have allowed GNA to fade gradually into its present state of near
obscurity to spite Osagyefo’s memory.

GNA was set up basically to counter bad international press about Ghana and Africa,
and to promote national and continental cohesion for development; promote the
African personality and also to be the major news source for state organizations
both here and abroad. The principles are accuracy, reliability and speed; but I am
not sure if the speed aspect is still intact.

Osagyefo in his wisdom ensured that for GNA to be effective, it had several
privileges in terms of resources, training, overseas correspondence and more. As a
result GNA became the training ground for not only many of the top Ghanaian
journalists but also for their counterparts on the continent. GNA was where African
states sent journalists to be trained to go back home and man state-owned media
houses on the continent.

Over the years, GNA has completely been scrapped of all those privileges and as a
result has lost that position of renown. Today journalists come from other news
agencies on the continent and decry the state of GNA because whiles their
governments learnt from GNA long ago that they can’t afford to neglect the national
wire service, our governments decided to spite Osagyefo by neglecting his baby, the
GNA.
For decades now, governments only go as far as making empty promises to GNA, which
are never fulfilled. Government treats GNA’s work as administrative and thus less
cost intensive, when in actual fact GNA’s work is highly operational and cost
intensive.

GNA used to have permanent correspondents in London, New York, Nairobi and Lagos.
But today it can’t even afford to maintain its local correspondents. This is in
spite of the fact that the editorial staff members of GNA continue to show the
highest professionalism, quality and dedication to their work. To say that GNA
reporters are comparable to any other in the world today is an understatement, but
they are probably the least motivated group of state employees today.

GNA used to be the first point of call for breaking news in this country. But today,
even government and state organizations prefer to give information to Joy FM, Adom
FM, Citi FM and other radio stations. GNA reporters can confirm that they have
always come up against a question like “which newspaper is GNA”. People simply do
not know GNA because for years several factors have connived to push GNA to the back
burner.

But the negligence of previous governments is not the only cause of GNA’s woes. The
push out factors for people like me is the poor management and bad leadership at
GNA. Over the years the management of GNA has not been the best. Sources within GNA
can confirm that the management always changed anytime there was a change of
government. That clearly suggests the politicizations of the management, which is
partly to blame for the current state of the agency.

Of all the previous managements of GNA, sources inside and outside GNA can confirm
that the era of Rev. Enim, the first General Manager of the agency was the best.
Rev. Enim was reputed for making things happen for GNA and the staff of GNA. The
current generation of GNA staff remembers Mr. Robert Kafui Johnson, who came from
the Volta River Authority to manage GNA a few years back. Mr. Johnson’s
administration was short lived due to sabotage by Nana Apau Dua and his cohorts, but
he is still remembered for his clear sense of vision and mission mindedness.

Mr. Johnson is on record as having clearly communicated his vision to the staff and
spelt out very SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals
to the staff. He gave a clear indication of where he wanted to take GNA and how GNA
was going to get to that destination. He would have probably achieved great things
for GNA but for the work of saboteurs. Because Mr. Johnson came from VRA, the
dinosaurs within his administration connived with some questionable characters in
the Public Workers Union to do the pull him down job.

Nana Apua Dua, who was recently in the news for taking a whopping GHC8,000 monthly
package as GM, is probably the worst GM GNA has ever had. Since Nana took over, he
has not communicated a single vision to the staff of GNA and no one seems to know
exactly where he is taking the agency, if at all he is leading the agency anywhere.
The new board’s charges against Nana confirm what I said more than a year ago, that
the man is not taking GNA anywhere. He and his bunch of contentious management
members are doing nothing more than preparing for their retirement. In fact under
Nana Apua Dua, to talk of GNA as being “managed” is to insult the concept of
“management” because he does not know the meaning of the first letter “m” in
management. If what the current GNA management is doing is what “management” is all
about, then “management” is a useless venture.
A couple of factual illustrations would corroborate the assertion that the GNA under
Nana Apua Dua and his cohorts Boakye Danquah Boadi, Ray Ankomah, Felix Forson and
recently Rex Annan, is the poorest managed in the country today and if anybody,
including the government has any plans of saving GNA, it must first save GNA from
those empty heads, particularly the GM.

For instance what is the sense in painting the whole of the exterior of the GNA head
office building, paving the compound and mounting garages when the interior, where
the staff members sit to work is so depressive, dirty and uninviting? Nana described
that shambolic crap as one of his best achievements. And he brags about it as often
as he gets the chance, especially at staff durbars, which are seldom organized.

The GM also boasts of having arranged for GNA to get cars from the government, when
in fact those pick-ups were promised by Mr. Dan Botwe, when he was minister of
information and they were later delivered by Mr. Kwamena Bartels when he took over
as minister of information. The GM has a penchant for taking the glory for the low
impact government packages delivered to GNA. On the contrary he does not take any
initiative outside of what the government does for GNA and would either criticize or
remain indifferent to initiatives by others within the agency to get some support
for the agency.

The GM almost always claims to be doing something special for staff members, but
years have gone by since he took over as GM and the staff is yet to see what it is
that he claims to be doing for them. He has in fact been one of the stumbling blocks
in the effort of the staff to negotiate for better remuneration, even though other
government agencies like the EPA did same long before SSSS.

When Zita Okaikoi visited GNA as Minister of Informaon, Nana Apua Dua had the nerve
to tell her in front of the media that he had “lots of ideas”, but could not
implement them because of lack of funds. In fact I was scandalized by those claims
because Nana Apua Dua may have some things but “ideas” is not of them. As is to be
expected of people like him, he also will not take any good ideas from other people
even though he doesn’t necessarily communicate better alternatives.

Talking about the abilities of people under him, Nana in his reign has made some of
the worst decisions in human resource management, which has led to the loss of
valuable staff of the agency, including myself to other organizations. He chooses to
victimize people he sees as political opponents, howbeit, without evidence and
stifles the efforts of same even if the agency would suffer. He has a penchant for
putting square pins in round holes just to frustrate his perceived opponents.

Before Nana, factionalism at GNA was bad, but under Nana it has reached its worst
state to the extent that there are now two local unions in GNA. When it suited Nana
he used one of the unions against Mr. Johnson. Now that same union is Nana’s worse
nightmare in GNA. The leader of that union, one Mintah is supposed to be the
electrician for GNA but he doesn’t work and yet he is paid salary every month. The
management only talks about his case but do nothing to bring him to book.

Under Nana, GNA has witnessed some of the worst situations of financial flows from
government, precisely the Ministry of Information. To cut a long story short, it
seems every month the money given to the agency for administrative cost reduces and
that has led to the suspension and delays in several staff motivational packages and
even other very important expenses.

That is Nana’s idea of prudent financial management. He prefers that the staff
should suffer instead of coming up with simple but smart “ideas”, outside of the
government support to raise extra funds to sustain the agency. Under his watch,
something unprecedented happened; over a period, GNA did not subscribe to private
newspapers because there was no money. He claimed he did not know about that
development, but that is the kind of GM GNA has – the type supervises systemic
deterioration instead of coming up with “ideas” that he will be remembered for.
There is a business department in GNA. I quite remember one of the ideas Mr. Johnson
communicated to GNA staff was to ensure that the department becomes marketing
machinery for GNA itself besides collecting and placing small announcements and
obituaries in the newspapers for clients. Under Nana, GNA is yet to see what the
department has done beyond its traditional role and what it has done in terms of
promoting the image o the agency.

Nana and his gang, particularly Boadi, have adamantly opposed the commercialization
of GNA, which is somehow justified, but they have taken their positions to the
extreme and have also turned down any suggestion of GNA raising a sustainable
support outside of what government gives. Even one of the previous information
ministers, Asabee, suggested ways of GNA doing business to get money, but they won’t
take it. They also don’t believe that GNA could benefit from sponsorships from
corporate organizations on a larger scale beyond the peanuts the agency raises for
annual events.

It is said that when a sheep leads a bunch of lions and a lion leads a bunch of
sheep and the two groups go into a battle, the bunch of sheep being led by a lion
will win the battle, because of the kind of leader they have. I can confidently say
that the staff of GNA, particularly those in the newsroom, are a bunch of lions, but
they are being led by sheep, which have no ideas, no courage and does not mind
leading his followers into danger.

I could go on and on, but the most important thing is to save Osagyefo’s baby and
restore it to its past glory, particular in the face of the stiff competition on the
media landscape and the threat of the internet to wipe off GNA’s subscribers and
earnings.
By the way, why can’t GNA hold forums and conferences on national development issues
like Graphic and Times are doing – GNA should have taken the lead on that, but GNA
itself has not leader.
John Tia Akolugu, the GNA if today is not the GNA you worked in; over to you.
ENDS