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18.11.2013 Feature Article

The General’s message was “Don't ask "What is in it for me?"

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We were both looking out as the plane slowly descended into Accra's humid midday and the American businessman sitting next to me was telling me of his recent encounter with an official if the Minerals Commission. In his 5 years of working in the mining sector in Ghana, he had witnessed how the poor handling of mercury was ravaging the environment. Deformed life forms were appearing everywhere as mercury was being dumped into water and over plant life.

He was aware of simple machine no larger than a microwave oven which could be used by small scale miners to recycle and reuse mercury so that the environment would be protected, so he went to the Minerals Commission to discuss ways in which this technology could be introduced to the mining sector to protect the environment.

After his presentation, the Ghanaian official simply asked "What is in it for me?" I shared with him that not so long ago, Ghana Airways had a total monopoly of the Accra - New York route and in spite of that, the airline died because the employees had the same mantra he heard from the man he met at the Minerals Commission. As a result, we were all being forced to support foreign airlines with funds that could have been paid to a Ghanaian entity.

This conversation occurred a few months before the current season of national self-flagellation was kicked off by Brig. Gen (Rtd.) Nunoo-Mensah with his now famous or infamous "if the kitchen is too hot.." remarks. He was opening a new school block he had philanthropically supported in Accra. He has been personally obsessed with raising funds and organizing expertise and labour for projects of this nature in numerous communities. The basic issues he raised, which were submerged in the "Cacophonia Ghaniensis" were the following: Ghana is a free and democratic country, as such citizens have choices. Second, citizens should focus more on what they can do for their country a la Kennedy. Third, workers had a right to strike but no one was raising the critical issue of productivity in conjunction with the demand for further wage increments.

Fourth, unions should pay their members from the dues they collect when they are on strike, not the government, as pertains in many other countries. In many countries, striking workers receive “strike pay”, considerably less than their regular pay when the exercise their constitutional right to withdraw their services.

These were all very sound questions raised albeit inelegantly. The core issues though were thought provoking and legitimate. Calls for his resignation were totally misplaced and those who know the recent history of Ghana understand what his contributions to the very stability of the Republic have been.

Closely tied to the general's comments was the long overdue action by Public Utilities Review Commission (PURC) to increase tariffs for water and electricity. The recommended increases were steep but this is because the pampered Ghanaian consumer has taken government subsidies as a birth right and successive governments have pandered to the public in order not to lose votes for many years. It is time to pay the proverbial piper. If as a nation, we deceive ourselves about the true cost of services and continue to underpay for costly yet necessary services, we will be in darkness forever and all the taps will remain dry. Harsh as the medicine is, it is coming almost too late, which makes the government's unconstitutional intervention to reduce the electricity rates lamentable. They are just kicking the can down the road but we will eventually have to pay, for nothing is free. Obviously political pandering doesn't die without a fight. On the other hand, the public expects excellent service for the competitive rates being demanded by service providers.

Currently, the suicide mission of the Black Stars to Egypt is on the collective minds of all of Ghana's 24 million football coaches. The safety of our team, supporters and Ghanaians resident in Egypt is of greatest concern after Egypt is defeated on the field of play. Association Football is an area in which Ghana has managed to produce uplifting results as a healing balm to offset suffering in other areas if national life. It is also the starkest example of what Ghanians who excel on the international stage in many fields can contribute to the success of the nation.

We need to study what the core characteristics of J. Akwasi Appiah's leadership have been. He should give a few lectures at GIMPA and other venues on the keys to his successful leadership of the national team. He has successfully kept a closed shop and maintained discipline by applying consequences as appropriate. He has also demonstrated that in a team sport like soccer or nation- building for that matter, no one is irreplaceable. He has succeeded against the usual tirade of the begging of prima donnas of the team from political actors. From pyramids to the dust will the Pharoahs go!

Now for the cherry on the cake. Ms. Victoria Hammah's debacle raises many legal and moral issues. In many jurisdictions using recordings of individuals without their knowledge and consent is sketchy business at best. However, ministers serve at the pleasure of the president so his decision to fire her must be respected, for only he knows what kind of conduct or utterances, private or public are acceptable on his team.

When Nkrumah arrived at the place of leadership in this nation, proving that we could govern ourselves and compete on the world stage was the central national concern and he set out clear development plans to meet his goals.

With Mahama's arrival at Flagstaff House, the biggest challenges the nation faces are widespread systemic corruption and poor productivity in the public sector. The real cost of these issues is estimated to be well in excess of $5bn annually. It is not simply a moral issue but a strategic issue of significant proportions which requires a systematic, coherent and effective approach. There are simply not enough people being prosecuted in Ghana given the pervasive nature of the problem.

Mr. Mahama has arrived at the presidency at a time when Ghana is seeking freedom from the scourge of systemic corruption and he is called upon to take all measures to free us. George W. Bush for example had no idea his presidency would be shaped by a terrorist attack on American soil when he assumed office. It may be politically costly in the short term but if President Mahama answers the call, Pope Francis will canonize him, judging from the Holy Father's recent public comments on the subject.

Admittedly, the election petition has affected the administration's take -off velocity but it is time to act. We are done talking in Ghana. We cannot wait any longer for action on the single most important impediment to our development as a nation. We don't need new laws we simply need to support the key institutions with appropriate leadership, political will and resources to enforce our laws.

When the conversion of the carcass of our deceased national airline into a restaurant is cause for celebration, we have problems. That grounded aircraft is the greatest living public monument to the cost of corruption and mismanagement to the nation we have to date. While patrons eat at the new airplane restaurant, let us learn from the lessons of our recent past and act decisively for the generations to come.

Prof T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Alabama and author of "Java Hill: An African Journey" - A Historiography of Ghana.

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November 17, 2013.

Thaddeus Ulzen, Dr.
Thaddeus Ulzen, Dr., © 2013

The author has 67 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: ThaddeusUlzen

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