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Feature Article | Mar 16, 2019

Where Is The Awareness, For God’s Sake?

Where Is The Awareness, For God’s Sake?

Years ago, when I was a reporter at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, I was assigned to Parliament House to cover the debates. It was a most interesting assignment because all the problems of Ghana were discussed in the House and one couldn’t help but learn a lot as one listened to the MPs talk.

The most serious –and yet, also the funniest -- periods of parliamentary work often occurred during “Question Time”. An MP would ask a Minister a “written question” But in the “written question”, he would only reveal the “tip of the iceberg”, as it were. For as soon as the main question had been answered by the Minister, the MP would rise to ask a “Supplementary Question”.

He would have briefed other MPs on the subject matter so that they could feed pieces of information to the House as additional “supplementary questions” to his own. So “Question Time” was always a “mini-debate” of sorts... Speaker E C Quist or A M Akiwumi always did his best to prevent the questions from getting too long and complicated. But they could perceive see that the MPs were having a good time and they played along, allowing MPs as much latitude as possible.

A session would go like this:

“Is the Minister aware that despite his statement to the House in August last year that the salaries of Category ‘Q’ workers would be increased, they are still getting only fifteen pounds a month?”

MINISTER: I am always mindful of promises I make to the House. I said that in the event of the international price of cocoa ….

(UPROAR!)

SEVERAL MPS: “Nothing to do with cocoa!”

OTHER MPS: “Always excuses!”

MP: [RESUMING] “Is the Minister aware that whilst Category Q workers are only getting a paltry fifteen pounds a month as their monthly Salary, the Travel and Transport Allowances of Category “F” workers, on the other hand, have been increased by 20 percent?” (UPROAR!)

SEVERAL MPS (rose): Answer! Answer!

MINISTER: Mr Speaker, the Honourable Member has got the wrong end of the stick! (UPROAR!)

MP1: It’s true!

MP2: Me too! I have heard it! It’s true!

MINISTER: Mr Speaker, the Honourable Members are getting excited about nothing. It’s only a proposal that has been sent to Cabinet, at the instance of the Establishment Secretariat, that due to the rise in the price of petrol ….….!

3rd MP: Mr Speaker, you see? So it’s true!

4th MP: The Cabinet will rubber-stamp it!

(UPROAR!)

MINISTERS: Withdraw! Withdraw! The Cabinet does not rubberstamp ---“

This sort of thing used to go on a lot, and Ministers learnt from MPs’ Questions that they must keep their ears open about things that went on in the Ministries they headed. Otherwise, they would come to Parliament and hear about things in their own Ministries and departments of which they were not aware. And, of course, they knew that the Prime Minister listened attentively to Question Time, and judged from the performance of Ministers, during that lively period, whether they were fit for their offices, or fumbled so badly under questioning, that they were an embarrassment to his Government. A fumbler would, of course, be on his ear at the next Cabinet reshuffle.

But what made “awareness” become almost a sort of “cultish joke” fetish to Ministers and MPs alike was a question asked one day by one of the MPs. The guy had quite a “challenge” when it came to speaking English. But he wasn’t aware of this and one day (using the “awareness” formula he had heard others use in the House so often) he asked:”Will the Minister aware that the road from my constituency to the regional capital…

(THERE WAS AN UPROAR THAT LASTED ALMOST FIVE MINUTES, AS SNOBBISH MPS TORE THE MEMBER APART FOR USING THE EXPRESSION: “Will the Minister aware?....

How many of our current Ministers and high state officials are truly “aware” of what goes on in the country they are ruling, I wonder?

And if they are “aware”, do they care? Just let me give you one example:

QUOTE: 'Higher authority' aids culprits’ return

Source: Myjoyonline.com Date: 13-03-2019

An Officer [name withheld] of the Forestry Commission “is apprehensive [that the] government’s effort to rid forest reserves of illegal miners could be crippled by some powerful persons in society…. [He revealed that] “Some persons arrested for engaging in illegal mining [galamsey] in the country's forest reserves, are back to business, thanks to some people controlling the system.

“He cited the recent case where some persons together with some soldiers, were arrested for unlawfully engaging in galamsey activity in the Aprapraman forest reserve in the Ashanti region. ‘Somebody with authority higher than mine, I'm sure, rang whoever they wanted to ring, and said that these were inter-ministerial soldiers, or whatever they call them; and said that they were there..." he said…"My Minister is aware; I've spoken to my Minister about that.“ UNQUOTE

Quite honestly, is this how to engage in combat against a dangerous pestilence like galamsey? If those in the party which has formed the Government that has instituted measures to save our water and forest resources is not united behind the President, how can the evil be uprooted? Does this officer talk to others in the party’s higher ranks? Especially the “interfering higher-ups”? Does he know that such “interference” must be denounced within the policy-making apparatus of his own party?

Or “is he NOT aware” that we live in a multi-party democracy and that statements like his are a gift to those who are always looking for something – no matter how trivial – with which to beat the government formed by his own party?

It’s quite dismaying, actually.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist.

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