I vividly remember the days, way back in the 70s, when the government introduced new Neoplan and Willowbrook buses to revamp our virtually collapsed public transport system – the intra-city in particular. Like many similar interventions before and after, it was really a big deal in many respects because that very important social service had been left to die and rot completely. Not only was it going to bring a massive improvement in the time it took workers and traders living in the then distant suburbs to commute to and from their work places with much less stress, it was also going to offer some comfort and ‘dignity’ in doing so. I know the younger ones will be wondering why I chose to use the word ‘dignity’ in this context. That’s understandably so because they are certainly not aware that the struggle ladies in particular had to go through to get on the female-unfriendly wooden ‘Tro-tro’ of those days was by no means a dignified matter.
But on the other side of the warm reception commuters gave the new buses were Tro-tro and Taxi drivers whose beef was that the new buses had come to deprive them of their livelihood. And they didn’t express their displeasure by sitting quietly and murmuring. They did all they could to make the job of the bus drivers as uncomfortable as possible. They hurled insults at them and nick-named them ‘kpee tse’ which I found out was Ga for ‘akpeteshie wura’. Looking at it you may be wondering if the buses had been imported into the country complete with drivers and conductors. To these Tro-tro drivers it didn’t matter how many Ghanaians had been employed as drivers, conductors, mechanics and management staff for the operation of the service. All that mattered to them was that the more efficient and comfortable transport service to cater for the general public was bad because it had come to compete against their own interests.
Meanwhile, some years before then there had been a rumour that a government attempt to improve and expand the railway network had been shelved at the instance of owners of heavy-duty articulated trucks.
Emptying River Beds to Catch Fish
As a young boy growing up in rural Brong-Ahafo I recall that especially during the dry season there was a particular fishing activity which was predominantly dominated by women. The practice (known in Twi as ‘ahwee’) involved the creation of small dams on shallower, less rapidly flowing sections of a stream or small river and then emptying the water in the dammed section to clear the riverbed of every fish. I was too young then to appreciate the harm the activities of these people were doing to our water bodies. I don’t know whether the practice still continues now but at least I do know that many of the rivers in which we used to swim have turned into ponds even during the rainy season.
Then also were the more sophisticated ‘fishermen’ whose only fishing tool was a poisonous insecticide known as DDT. Their own strategy was even simpler. They pour poison into the water and then catch the fish which would be found jumping or dead on the water surface. It neither mattered to them that any fish caught by this means is not fit for human consumption nor that by polluting the water by that means they are causing great harm to one of humanity’s most valuable natural resources –WATER.
The Menace of The Galamsey
The harm that the activities of illegal small scale miners known as ‘Galamsey’ has done and is continuing to do may never be fully appreciated during the lifetime of the current generation. But for sure, if nothing is done about it now our future generation is going to be very disappointed in us for the vastly degraded environment we would be leaving them. Sadly, we either don’t care or we don’t know what we’re doing. I’m particularly disappointed that the Akyem people who still pride themselves with the Birim River have allowed it to be degraded to the extent that it is not even good enough to wash a vehicle.
I was shocked the other day when during a Bible Lesson discussion one young man was in full defence of galamsey with the reason that the ‘so-called’ illegal miners were doing nothing wrong because the activity they were engaged in was a means to feed themselves and their families. Yes, the argument is always the same. People are more concerned about their own parochial interests than the interest of the general public.
Free SHS Versus Private Interests
It’s true that no political party may win elections with only one message but there can be no doubt that of all the promises made on all platforms by our current President, Nana Akuffo-Addo and the NPP, arguably the biggest was the Free SHS. It therefore came as no surprise to many that even before his first State of the Nation address and the budget which is yet to be announced the President sought to assure not only the doubting Thomases but also his supporters and well-wishers by announcing the specific time the policy is indeed going to be implemented. Quite obviously, this is a policy which when implemented is going to be one of the most significant social intervention policies by any Ghanaian government ever. Its benefits will be felt not only by parents and guardians struggling to pay for the education of their wards but also many of the students themselves.
But what did we hear last week from owners of private schools in Ghana? “Free SHS will push us out of business”, according to Mr. Naphtali Kyei Baffour, Public Relations Officer of Conference of Heads of Private Second Cycle Schools (CHOPSS) as reported on Citi News on Citi 97.3 FM on 19th February 2016. I see no need to go into the merits or otherwise of this statement because whichever way you look at it, the only concern of CHOPSS, whose membership I’m not sure is more than 1,000, is that the new policy is going to push them out of business. By inference, therefore, what would have pleased them is if we had woken up one day to hear from the government that it has decided to fully privatise education. This way CHOPSS and similar organisations which would mushroom to take advantage of the policy would sing praises to the government for its ‘business-friendly’ policies.
It is not unheard of for people to oppose government policies because of its adverse effects on the society. I’m aware, for example, that in other jurisdictions people have launched serious campaigns and gone on massive demonstrations to oppose major development projects for the sole purpose of protecting the environment. This includes the expansion of airport runways, construction of dams and motorways. Yes, people elsewhere protest against projects that will impact negatively on the environment and their countries’ natural resources. But what do we see in Ghana? For the selfish interest of a few individuals who have been sufficiently endowed to be in a position to set up their own private businesses the interest of the masses of poor Ghanaians who’re going to benefit from the proposed free SHS should be ignored.
Why on earth can Ghanaians be so selfish?
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