DEAR MINISTER, NO RUSHING; JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION By Marricke Kofi Gane
“God bless our homeland Ghana, and make our nation Great and Strong”. God has indeed blessed Ghana in good measure. The rest is really up to us; and if we fail to reach our “great and Strong” status in spite of all that's available to us, then perhaps we've lived in a sea of disillusioned illusions. Over the years Ghanaians have continued in hope, promises after promises, government after government; in expectation that “things will get better”. It's not much to ask. For years, some politicians have carried on in “their own ways”, exploiting many for votes and being accountable to none. Like wolves they rule the sheep to make meat for their bellies and wool for their skins. Ghanaians have looked on quietly. That quietness has been misconstrued as blindness – Truth is, we see the corruption and the waste. We see greed feeding on servitude, betrayals of our common prosperity and insults to our intelligence. We see it all.
I am of “this” generation; a generation that believes the future is in our own hands to shape; a generation unhappy with the visionless state of our country's changing leaderships and the seemingly eternal damnation to be a country always holding up a begging bowl; It is us who seek answers, answers to salvage any hope, we have remaining in the abilities of our leaders. I may not ask all the questions, but I am asking a few. Let the leaders answer:
Ministry of Communication and Technology
Technology is the world's future. Technologies well developed are equally as valuable as our natural resources. Fact - Ghana has not really progressed much by depending on its natural resources alone. The problem isn't the abounding resources, but the lack of value being added to them. Technology is what adds value to what we already have and creates new values out of our intangible ideas. Technology will launch us twenty years backward if we don't embrace it aggressively or twenty years ahead if we do. So, dear Minister – What's your ministry aggressively doing to lead the nation into a conscious technological revolution? What are you implementing to make technology the driving force behind our industries, our education, our farming, our transportation etc? Why aren't we aggressively backing and collaborating with the local budding technology industry? Is it because you don't believe in their abilities or that it is the next big thing or is technology just not your kind of thing?
Ministry of Education & Sports
The future of this nation lies heavily with your Ministry, but truth is, that future is gradually eroding. Consider Ghana's tertiary educational system; it is incredulously heart-breaking that our future leaders are being taken through a kind of education where intellectual merit is a reward for reciting back what lecturers teach and not for thinking outside the box. They do NOT excel anymore by using historical knowledge to innovate new solutions but rather by simply repeating old knowledge in the face of new and evolving challenges. The world is evolving rapidly and the nations that continue to do well are those that are building empires of “the human mind”. They are the countries whose educational philosophies are focused on ensuring that the thinking and knowledge of their younger generation is positioned far into the future, ahead of anyone else. So I ask you this question – How is Ghana's educational system positioning our generations into the future? How about basic level of education? The current rate of failure at the BECE's certification stage is about 40%. Is this normal Minister? Is it normal that 40% of the future generation are failing before they even start? Is it normal that in this modern era, children still study under trees; teachers do not benefit from any modern applied research into how best to deliver learning; is it normal that 25% plus of national budget goes into education and yet we can condone these failures? Is it really normal, Minister?
Ministry of Information
In the current world it is those with strategic information that win. Countries as a result are vigorously engaging in an information war which in a few years' time will replace what has been in the past – the cold war. We can't engage in such a war, but out of curiosity – what is your Ministry doing to protect our “information sovereignty and territory”? Terrorism is no more about bombs; it's about threats to sensitive information. Can you say your ministry has robust systems in place to protect nationally sensitive information being held by say, the Ministry of Finance, Defence, Bank of Ghana or the Ghana stock exchange? Lest I forget, when the rest of the world hears about Ghana, what information are we hoping to reach them with? What branding do we want them to see or hear? What information are we consciously, as a nation branding our country with? By the way on the Government of Ghana official internet website, on the “About Ghana” page, and “Ghana at a Glance” section; you have listed on there the statement: “GHANA IS AN ISLAND OF ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRY IN THE OCEAN OF FRANCOPHONE NATIONS” – Firstly, Ghana is NOT an island and second, there is no such grammar as “in the ocean of Francophone nations”. You have also listed “GDP Annual Growth Rate =4.7 USD”. Minister, the rates are measured in percentages not USD and secondly the rate is currently NOT 4.7%. Can't we even proofread and update a whole national government portal? You see, Dear Minister, Information reflects our image and IMAGE is everything – Is our Information system making or unmaking us?
Ministry of Energy
Dear Minister, I, and the rest Ghana I'm sure, would like to know whether or not you have ever had an “energy source mapping” conducted? If you did, then tell me; of all the sources of electrical energy in Ghana available to tap into, why are we so very reliant on Biomass (60%+), Hydro and Thermal sources? The Dams and thermal plants have fixed energy production capacities whereas the population of Ghana continues to increase; Approximately 40% of this country still do not have access to electricity; Ghana meanwhile is gradually moving into slow industrialisation and I just wanted to ask you how you intend to reach the un-serviced 40% of the country and still have enough electricity to service our growing industry? You'll import rather than invest in long term alternatives, won't you? What are we doing with alternatives; wind, solar, etc.? Yes, there has been consultations, plans, proposals etc – but what are we doing? Don't you feel any betrayal that Ghanaians for the most part pay their electricity bills faithfully and yet cannot still enjoy uninterrupted power supply? Does it cause you any worry at all that industry and individuals in Ghana make financial losses on a daily basis because of power outages? Do you by any chance worry, that we fail to attract foreign businesses into Ghana because if they came, most of their industrial operations will be sabotaged by the regular power interruptions?
Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning
The Ghanaian people pay Income taxes, VAT, Customs duties, Road Tolls etc. to the Government and yet they don't see any improvements in sanitation, roads, hospitals, schools, etc. In fact it appears most of our infrastructure are significantly still being funded from loans and grants from external governments and bodies. The people pay taxes and yet have to pay bribes to receive services their taxes were meant to pay for. The people pay taxes and yet the government still gets external budgetary support. So what is all the tax money being used for exactly Minister? Ghana's annual budget has for many many years been supported by multi-donors. My laymen's understanding is that if these donors' should pull out at any time, we would not be able to fully run our country within a particular year. So I ask you dear Minister, how long will we be in this vulnerable state as a country; and I ask you again can't we start attempting to live within our means? And if I may ask you finally Minister, what's the business sense behind taking loans from external sources, contracting out works to external companies, paying those external companies with the external funds borrowed and then being left to pay again for the amounts borrowed over many years – just out of curiosity I wanted to know – what are we retaining in the Ghanaian economy?
Ministry of Food and Agriculture
Dear Minister, our country's production of cocoa is under competition from Indonesia (currently the third largest producer). I have read the strategies the two countries are adopting to topple Ivory Coast from the top spot. In summary, whereas we are giving free seeds to farmers, the Indonesian's are combining free seeds and aggressive increases to the number of hectares currently farmed. Cocoa was introduced in Ghana before Ivory Coast. In the last eight years that Ivory Coast has been politically unstable, we have not been able to surpass their production superiority and I wondered if we'll do so now when they are in a recovery mode and eager to claw back on lost time? Dear Minister, perhaps you can also explain this to me – why is it that countries such as the USA, Italy and Switzerland who do not produce Cocoa are the world's top producer of chocolates which we, as a country turn back to import – why do we export cocoa at producer rates to countries that add a little value to them and sell back to us at higher prices? Forgive my ignorance but I need you to educate me on this. I'll spare you the concerns I have on rice imports, Timber concessions, Palm Oil production, Cereals production, storage and exports etc…. I'll spare you now, but “I Will Be Back”
My layman's understanding of a Foreign Affairs Ministry is (i) it formulates and executes the country's policies on external relations (ii) be the initial point of contact with other countries, sell Ghana's image and win her opportunities (iii) serve the sovereign interest of Ghanaians abroad. Now here's a story: On Ghana's 55th Independence day, I incidentally attended a Ghanaian consulate's dinner event whilst abroad. I felt very excited about the prospect it presented other countries to consider the opportunities in Ghana and for Ghanaians to also create beneficial partnerships. Present were diplomats and business men from other countries. I rechecked my invitation card – it did say “networking”. Excellent! Ten minutes in, the ambassador made his speech – he said nothing about what core direction the country was headed; nothing about the sectors foreign investors could explore; nothing about opportunities back home for Ghanaians in the diaspora….. But he did say we were the first country south of the Sahara to gain independence; he did say Kofi Annan the past UN secretary general was a Ghanaian; and on, and on. I certainly was NOT the only one who stood there looking puzzled whilst others cheered happily. Ten minutes later, full blast of “Azonto” music takes over, rendering conversation impossible. In a few more minutes, invited diplomats and business people began to file out of the building. Surprised? No, I felt the same – “there's no business to be done here”. Was this an opportunity wasted even though several could have been explored? You judge. Minister, do our foreign offices have any business philosophies on how diplomacy is conducted? Do they understand that as ambassadors, every opportunity should be grabbed to sell Ghana's brand to the world and tap into opportunities presented us by the world? How much business traffic do consulates drive to Ghana annually compared to the taxpayer's money spent on them?
Ministry of Health
Tell me - “we don't have adequate facilities and staff” and I'll ask you “What have you achieved with what we have? The brain drain of Ghanaian medical staff did not start yesterday. It existed before I was born. One thing that has never exist however is “a working” mechanism to reverse the trend. Let's be brutally honest: Dear Minister, have you attempted any process to identify areas in the health delivery chain where there is waste and needing cost elimination? If you have, we can't see any change in inefficiency. Are there areas in the health infrastructure that can be leaner in order to fund core components? Do we really need all those administrative layers in the delivery hierarchy? Do all those regional health directors need all those four wheel drives? Aren't there ways of delivering more efficiently today than yesterday? Please tell us one “efficiency re-engineering” processes you carried out to ensure that your ministry gives Ghanaians value for every cedi. If in today's modern world I still have to pay a fee to use the toilet at the country's biggest hospital, and the future generations are born on bare floors; if fatal accidents do not have “the luxury” of ambulance teams to least increase the chance of victims' survival; If the state of our health system is not one you'll happily put your family through, then your fellow Ghanaians do not deserve less. Dear Minister, How does your conscience grant you sleep at night?
Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs
Here you are – representatives of “the people” – you who decide the issues concerning Ghana amid the shouts of yeeaah! I have no doubt about your integrities but allow me to ask you these questions: over the past decade of democratic rule, we have seen government after government discontinue, terminate and side-line projects started by previous governments simply because “it was not the incumbent party who started it”. Over the years, this approach to growth has resulted in the slow pace of development, unnecessary legal contractual costs etc. My question to you as representatives of the people is this – How do you justify permitting these happenings? Why should the agenda of political parties rise above the best interest of the people without whom none such parties exists? And by the way, let none of you say you have no hand in this – Do you not approve the government's Budget and exercise control over public funds? Do you not make the laws to which all must abide by? Do you not have responsibility to scrutinize the performance of the executive? Are you not custodians of the development agendas of Ghana? How then can you allow such disruptions to national development by virtue of political affiliation? Why?
Ministry of Roads and Transport
The agricultural North is disconnected from the human capital south; the resource rich East disengaged from the freighting west. Dear Minister, how can we synergize the four quadrants of Ghana through connectivity? If it costs me more to transport food from the North to the South, would you consider me economically immoral to import the same commodity because the overall costs comes out cheaper? If I was a foreign investor who intended using raw materials available in the East and yet the cost of transporting my finished products to the south for exporting and imported machinery from the south to the East is exceptionally high – would you consider me unreasonable for taking my investments into a country where the availability of transport infrastructure puts lesser burdens on my core cost structure? How about the internal dynamics? How do we facilitate human capital that is available in the south but not being used to freely migrate up North to be utilized? I've heard usual argument – “these are capital intensive projects and we don't have the resources right now to get them done” – Well, we've had fifty five years to have gotten it done so what's the excuse? Will the infrastructural developments continue in the absence of external grants? Dear Minister, If the approximately 1 million working population of Accra each have 8 hours in a day to contribute to national economy; then please understand that if 2 hours have to be lost in traffic going to work and 2 hours lost from leaving work early to get home, then approximately 8 million hours of productive man hours are lost to the overall economy in Accra alone. If those 4 hours would have yielded $2, then the economy loses $8 million everyday merely from traffic congestion in Accra. Please give me a reason why this doesn't qualify as financial loss to the state? You tell us what your Ministry is doing about congestion, alternative transport, etc.?
To all the Ministries, not mentioned here, I assure you, we'll have a date soon. I'll not fail you.
To the President, present and future; there is a reason why the head sits at the very top of the body – it sees, it hears, it smells, it tastes, it thinks – then, it leads where the rest of the body follows. If it is blindly visionless, the body walks in darkness; if it fails to listen, the body dwells in error; if its thinking is deficient of innovation, boldness and posterity, so too will the body. The Holy Bible says in Exodus 18:20 “And you (the leader) shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do”. Where, specifically and exactly are we following you to Sir?
To those in power and seeking power – We ask questions not merely for the sake of answers. We ask because we believe a new era ought to dawn. An era in which we must of a necessity create our own opportunities; one in which the progress of our nation is no more defined by our ethnic, political and external allegiances or greed but by the common desire to see our nation do well both for us and for posterity.
This is our country; it is no man's private estate – we'll not wear these eternal robes of poverty nor accept for our heads this crown of thorns weaved with political insults to our intelligence. Let the leaders hear.
Mr. Marricke Kofi Gane