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06.08.2010 Feature Article

Housing Floods, Galamsey and Matters Arising.

Housing Floods, Galamsey and Matters Arising.
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The World Cup is over and we are back to our everyday business. The governments' quest to provide affordable housing to Ghanaians and the security personnel resulted in a Korean firm called STX presenting a proposal to government for consideration. This happened after a visit to Korea by a delegation made up of the Vice President and another parliamentary delegation visiting Dubai to have first hand information about the company's competence in the building industry. Since this deal came to light, there have been a lot of public discussion on the suitability of the project and whether the Government's deal with STX would be beneficial to the country, looking at the various incentives the government has rolled out to the Korean company. Institutions like the Danquah Institute and IMANI and other spirited Ghanaians have done a lot of research on the deal and have come out with good reasons why the government should not go ahead with this STX project. The government initial reaction to the opposers of the deal was that, they don't want the good people of Ghana to benefit from a wonderful social policy like this. The argument and counter argument in the media were so educating that Ghanaians began to understand the pros and cons of this deal. The initial objection by the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) to the project and its proposal to Parliament to offer a cheaper cost of housing if given the same conditions offered to STX, made the issue more interesting. A lot of Ghanaians suggested that the Association be given the job if they are coming up with an alternative proposal which is cheaper than that of STX. The subsequent “u turn” by the Association and its support for the Government- STX deal raised a lot of eyebrows with many more people wondering why the Association had to retract on their earlier submission ? I am not here to bore readers with the arguments from all the parties involved in this issue, my beef with the whole issue is our attitude as Ghanaians and the way we handle issues like this. We have been told by Government that the country has a housing deficit, how do we solve it? Ghanaians need a place to lay their heads after a hard days work and that is what should be our priority, in doing this, we must also demand value for whatever investment that we are entrusting to these contractors.

The previous NPP government also started a housing project which is currently at a standstill, the reason for the current situation of that project is the inability of the NPP government to pay most of the contractors and the alleged malfeasance associated with the project. It is however refreshing to hear the President directing the appropriate ministry to smooth the edges and ensure the completion of this project. Continuation of laudable projects of previous governments should be sine qua non of our governance process. The money sank into such projects is the country's money and not that of one political party.

The inability of our local real estate developers to earlier initiate a deal similar to that of the STX raises a lot of questions about the capacity of our professional bodies. What is preventing our local industries from coming up with projects such as this for the government to support them? Is it that our governments do not like helping indigenous businesses? We need answers to these questions. Our professional bodies should be proactive and ensure that their members take advantage of opportunities available in this country regardless of which political party is in power. They are called professional bodies because we all agree they have the expertise to perform in their respective professions, they did not get their licence through any political influence, so we expect then to be active participants in the affairs of this country. We should not wait for foreigners to take advantage of such opportunities before we begin to complain.

The withdrawal of the deal from parliament at the instance of the Presidency after the brilliant debate by members of the minority is a victory for democracy and not as a result of pressure from any political party or any institution, after all we have seen worse agreements debated upon and passed by our Parliament although there were sharp divisions in the house on those agreements. Every body including the media, professional bodies and discerning Ghanaians made this possible. We need more of such scrutiny from the opposition and civil society, the media should also continue to play it watch dog role and educate us on the programs and policies of government. They should be fair and firm on issues of national interest and avoid their judgement been clouded by their allegiance to a political party.

The reintroduction of the bill and the drama that surrounded its subsequent passage is very unfortunate to say the lest. Why would the minority walk away when we need to hear them speak to the issues they have raised earlier? It was very sad for the minority to walk away when Ghanaians needed them most. I would use this opportunity to congratulate the Member of Parliament for Asikuma Odoben Brakwa, Honourable P C Appiah Ofori. This Member of Parliament has been consistent on contentious issues such as this. He did not only sit with the majority to pass the bill but he ensured that he gave his opinion on the agreement. This is what we need the minority to be doing rather than walking away. The majority in this case had their way and their say as well. I am pleased this project is going to generate employment for Ghanaians. We are being told Ghanaians are in charge of the drawings and other aspects of the project. My plea with government is to ensure that the Koreans execute this in such a way that they would be vindicated. Posterity would never forgive us if we mortgage their future in some of these agreements. It is my hope and prayer that the project is carried out in earnest for our Policemen and women and Ghanaians who can afford these houses to get a decent abode to lay their heads after a hard days work.

Flooding occurs in this country every year and our solution to this natural disaster is to demolish some few houses supposed to be on water ways, de-silt choke gutters and leave the contents by the side of the gutter, give the few victims some student mattresses, cooking oil and rice. We go back to our old ways again and the next flood results in more deaths and displacement of people. We have failed to find a lasting solution to this problem. One thing I have noticed in our system is that people always want to create problems for others because that is the only way they can make more money. Building inspectors tasked to ensure that people do not build on water ways rather aid some of these desperate people and extort money from them. Our attitude towards sanitation is very appalling, we litter everywhere, people throw their household rubbish into drains which are meant to carry only water and they forget that the litter that they throw into the drain is deposited in the room of a brother, friend, sister or a relation somewhere whenever it rains. This same people are the first to appeal for government assistance after they have caused their own problems.

As a nation, when was the last time we organized a clean up exercise that most of us got involved? Our developmental activities have been politicized to the extent that people stand aloof and watch others clean their surroundings because they don't belong to party A or B. Technocrats charged with ensuring that people do not build on water ways and at unauthorized places should be prosecuted anytime they shirk their responsibility. People who build on water ways should also be surcharged with such demolitions. The introduction of sanitary inspectors to ensure that people keep their surroundings neat and tidy would also help in ensuring an incident free country anytime it rains. The metropolitan and municipal assemblies would create more jobs and raise a lot of revenue with the reintroduction of this system. NADMO, the institution charged to manage disaster should be proactive; they should not wait for the rains to come before they go to the aid of the victims. The institution should be well resourced by government to educate the citizenry all year round. They should also be provided with the necessary equipments to aid them in their disaster management operations. They government should also ensure that qualified and well trained staff are employed to manage such disasters. Politicians who also make political capital out of lawful demolitions should desist from doing that, for Christ sake we are not in a lawless country. The laws must work regardless of which Political party we belong to. It sound so strange when I see people who have fell foul of the law and are being punished by government come out to appeal to this same government to spare them the punishment or appeal to the President to come to their aid. The earlier we start doing the right thing, the better it would be for all of us.

Galamsey or illegal mining is very rampant in our mining areas, the unemployment situation and the get rich quick attitude of most Ghanaians have made most of the youth in these mining communities and surrounding areas to engage in this activity despite the risk involve. For quite some time now the activities of these illegal miners have resulted in the pollution of water bodies, deforestation and a whole lot of environmental challenges in their areas of operation. The recent tragedy experienced in some mining communities, calls into question governments' commitment towards the banning of galamsey operations. The reluctance of most of these galamsey operators to register their operations as small scale miners is also worrying. The registration and regulation of their activity would ensure some form of recognition from government. Government should streamline the activities of these illegal miners and provide them with training on how they can go about their activities safely without encountering any mishap. Chiefs and individuals who give their lands to these illegal miners should be sanctioned, monitoring teams should also be put in place in most of these mining areas to ensure that the miners do the right thing. The call for the complete banning of galamsey would not solve the problem but rather worsen the plights of the youth in these communities. It is sad to see communities with large mineral deposits walloping in poverty, most of these communities lack good infrastructure making it very difficult for the indigenes to live worthy lives. It is high time the government reviews the mining laws and ensures that communities with mineral deposits get the best infrastructure to aid in the development of their people.

The STX deal, floods and galamsey operations are some of the few issues bordering Ghanaians, the government's intention to withdraw the deal from parliament after the salient issues raised by the minority and other interest groups was a positive step in consolidating our democracy, I am worried the minority did not stay for the agreement to be voted on, they would have made a lot of difference if they had stay to observe proceeding and made their inputs before the agreement was passed by Parliament. I urge the government to ensure that any time agreements such as the STX deal comes to Parliament, they should ensure that they have done all the necessary checks and Ghana is not been short-change. The majority should also be seen to be raising questions where necessary; they should not always be seen endorsing everything that the government brings to Parliament.

The floods, illegal mining and how the STX housing project was handled are some of the few issues bothering our motherland. The solution to most of our problems lies within our reach. People made sacrifices to attain independence for us. What are we also doing to leave a better legacy for generations unborn? It behoves on all of us as citizens to contribute our quota to the development of this nation. What is within our capacity to do as citizens, let's do it. The government alone cannot be everywhere ensuring that the right thing is been done. Let us be each others keeper, report corrupt officials, do the right thing and be active participants in the affairs of the state.

God bless our home land Ghana.
Mustapha Jimah
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Mustapha Jimah
Mustapha Jimah, © 2010

The author has 25 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: MustaphaJimah

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