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August 2008

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Dear Nana;

Naa Nana, Naa Short!
I hope this letter finds you well. I can see you have been walking a lot in the Central Region. Since walking is something you are not very used to, I pray that it doesn’t take too much of a toll on you. I have also seen you eating all sorts of wayside food. Street food is not good for Dada B’s like you. So be careful what you eat on the streets, man. I will advise that if you intend to be eating a lot of street food to give us the impression that you are an ordinary guy like most of us, you should make sure that you have sacks of ORS somewhere around you. The image of a presidential candidate running like Usain Bolt into a KVIP could cost you the elections.
And please don’t forget to pay for the food you take from the vendors’ tray. Not quite long ago, Jerry Boom did exactly what you are doing now and when the story was published in the newspapers, the headline was “Jerry steals ‘bofrote’”… or something to that effect. Nana, you don’t want to be accused of stealing roasted plantain before you become president.
I noticed that you took a break from your tour of the Central Region to return to Accra to raise money to run your campaign. From what I hear the event went very well! People paid five million cedis just to enter? (Forgive me for using the old currency but the new one make the amounts seem too small and almost insignificant). I have been reliably informed that about 650 people attended the gig and so if I haven’t forgotten my arithmetic you made 3.25 billion cedis on the night in gate proceeds alone.
But that wasn’t all. After paying the five million cedis to enter, people had to pay to be seated close to ‘power’. Those who sat on your table or on JAK’s paid 50 million cedis each. Those who sat on the same table as your running mate or Aliu paid 30 million cedis each. I’m surprised people paid all of that just to sit next to the four of you. Why on earth will anyone pay just to sit next to you? Well, I guess, it’s a question best put to the people who paid.
I wanted to come over to the State Banquet Hall where the event was held (I hope to God you paid to use the place) to take note of all those who were contributing or pledging to contribute – just for future reference. But we (my professional colleagues and I) were told the event was not open to the press. Imagine my shock, Nana.
Last time I checked, you claimed to be a firm believer in transparency. So the decision to hold this fund-raising event in “secret” struck me as odd. I know Ghanaians like to make a grand public spectacle of their donations. So organising that fundraiser behind closed doors has denied the contributors their right to be publicly acknowledged. Do you have any plans of making up for that?
I thought people just liked to contribute to political causes out of the goodness or kindness of their hearts. But from what I’ve been hearing, Ghanaians donate – even at funerals – in expectation that they will get something in return. Human beings in general won’t give without the expectation that the favour will be returned one way or another. I know you’d rather that I don’t take his words seriously, but it was Ato Ahwoi of the NDC who drummed this truth into my coconut.  
 “Running a campaign is something like a business,” he says. “People will give you money hoping that when you come to power you will also give them jobs to do. Therefore anybody who tells you that people donate simply because they want to donate is not telling you the truth.”
Nana, I want to know the truth. How do you intend to ensure that all those who gave hefty amounts of cash in support of your campaign get their monies worth? They’ve helped to oil your campaign machinery so how do you intend to reward them? That’s just some food for thought, sir.
Nana, do you know that the other presidential candidates are jealous of you? They do not have half the money your campaign has. Yet you seem to be getting the heftiest donations. I’m sure you don’t have any secret formula for attracting cash like nectar attracts the bee. I think you are raking in so much money because yours is the party in power. The reason for this is simple and one does not need a brilliant economic mind like Dr. Bawumia’s to understand it. The party that awards the contract gets the kickbacks. And we’ve heard it been said not quite long ago, that there is a special Kickback Collection Bureau (also known as the Kickback Depository) at the Castle. This bureau, we were told, is under the direct supervision of JAK himself. You know our people say that “money goes where money is”. Business people are therefore more comfortable giving to you than to Prof. Mills or Dan Lartey.
All this makes Prof. Mills quite jealous. He has been getting his own donations but he’s not raking in as much as you are doing. That’s why your billboards are bigger and glossier than his. And that’s why your party has more campaign cars than the NDC. But if I’m not mistaken, when Prof. Mills was vice president, the NDC had more money than the NPP did. In fact, in those days, some NDC-affiliated businessmen were fond of literally use cash like handkerchiefs. Now, they are so broke they can’t even raise money to fix their cars’ air-conditioners. On the other hand, NPP supporters who were so cash-strapped and were having difficulty finding ‘chop money’ before the Kufuor presidency, can now afford to drive around in luxury SUVs, educate their kids abroad and still have some cash to spare on ‘nyatse-nyatse’ girls at Legon. In Ghana you make money when your party is in power. So, Nana enjoy it whiles it last.
But through it all, I’d like you and your fellow presidential aspirants to start thinking seriously about how political parties are funded in this country. I’m all for parties raising their own money (and somehow, getting some support from the state). Party fundraising, however, should be transparent and not shrouded in secrecy. This is very important. We need stringent laws on who can donate, how much they can donate and how they should donate. This is not just for you, Nana. The same applies to Prof. Mills, Dr. Nduom and Mr. Lartey. I hope that whoever becomes the next president will take this issue very seriously and not deal with it the way JAK did – with “kid gloves.” He merely called for a national debate some years ago and that was it!
As a lawyer, I am sure you know that our party funding laws are not ‘tight’ enough. They open up the system to too much manipulation and abuse. We don’t want drug dealers, armed robbers, grave looters, money launderers and all sorts of self-seeking hoodlums donating to political causes only to exact their pounds of flesh when the recipient parties get into office. It also helps in the fight against corruption (which JAK hasn’t handled very well either) if we know who is donating what to which party.
I don’t want to waste your time any further. But my last word to you in this letter is about the jealous ones like Thomas Ward-Brew, who has been complaining that you have too many billboards. He says it’s doesn’t auger well for democracy that you are “wasting” so much money on billboards. Don’t mind him. He’s broke. His party is broke. And he can’t afford a billboard the size of your window. Just tell him what they say in Akan: “when you don’t have money, you claim some medicines are not good enough for you.”
 
It’s me,
atokwamena

 

There are many in the ruling New Patriotic Party who are not very pleased with the party’s presidential candidate, Nana Akuffo Addo. They are very annoyed (to say the least) that the candidate settled on a relative “outsider” as his running mate. But most of them dare not complain in public.

Even the garrulous MP for Assin North, Kennedy Agyapong, who boldly (and some will say, foolishly) spoke out against the possible selection of Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia as Nana’s running mate is suddenly singing a different tune now.
“How can you (pick) somebody like that who has no commitment, no loyalty to the party and does not even know the people whose sweat got the party to where we are today?” Mr. Agyapong asked in a radio interview on Thursday morning. “If they choose somebody who is a technocrat and can do the job and forget the party affiliation, we will lose.”
In that interview Mr. Agyapong warned that he will not bother to get on a platform to campaign for Nana Addo, if he makes Dr. Bawumia his running mate.
“I will not campaign,” he said. “I will not waste my breath and time. I dare you. Let Bawumia go and campaign over there (in the Central Region).”
Nana called his bluff and named Dr. Bawumia as his choice of running mate – rejecting known party faithful like Gladys Asmah, Hajia Alima Mahama and even Alan Kyeremanten.
The next time we heard from Mr. Agyapong he was speaking at a rally in Sekondi-Takoradi, canvassing votes for his party. Why the 180-degree about turn? Simply put, Mr. Agyapong has been told to shut his trap or lose the privileges the ruling party confers on him. He’s not the only who has been told to shut up. Many others who are so disgruntled by Nana’s choice have been told to either stop whining and put up or ship out and talk all they want.
The party is going to try to gloss over the divisions and move on as they’ve so expertly done in the past. Whether they succeed or not, we shall see in December. If they win the election, Akuffo Addo will thump his chest and say he’s been vindicated. If they lose, you can bet your last pesewa that people like Kennedy Agyapong will find their voices and gloat – “I told you so.”
For now, though, I think Nana’s choice of the deputy governor of the Bank of Ghana as his running mate offers some food for thought.
I am disappointed Nana didn’t choose Hajia Alima Mahama. I am a feminist and I had vowed to vote for Nana if he settled on a woman. He didn’t. So he loses my vote (which doesn’t count for much anyway). He has not given any reason why he didn’t choose her. But I blame that old school politician, B. J. da Rocha for it. He wrote a lengthy, whinny letter to the party’s executive vehemently stating his opposition to Hajia Alima. According to Mr. da Rocha, she isn’t NPP enough. I still cannot understand why an old, sensible man like Mr. da Rocha could be so petty. He made it all seem he had something very personal against Hajia.
It has also been said that Nana rejected Hajia at the last minute because her own Muslim sect told him that they’d rather he chose a man.
The nation’s number one fishmonger, Gladys Asmah, another woman who didn’t hide her interest in running with Nana was completely cut out of the race because she was neither a Muslim nor a northerner. The same warped reasoning applied to the other women who were in the reckoning for the slot – Oboshie Sai Coffie and Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie.
This whole idea that the vice presidential candidate should come from the north and be Muslim is outrageous. It may by politically expedient but it is not good for our fledgling democracy. Competence should be the only criteria for selecting people for such important positions – ethnicity and religion should not be encouraged. Nana limited his scope and it could cost him.
Make no mistake about it, Bawumia is a fine brain. He will do well in the position of vice president (or even president). But his selection is going to alienate some party people. “Monkey dey work, baboon they chop,” is what some of them are saying. The fact that he’s not a card-bearing member of the party has earned him the tag of an ‘outsider’. I think, however, that is he not quite the outsider many people think he is. He was brought in by Yaw Osafo-Marfo to be part of the team at the Bank of Ghana. He’s been part of the system and he’s worked it quite well.
The fact that he has not been openly extolling the virtues of the government doesn’t mean he’s an outsider. He is an insider. The fact that he doesn’t have a party ID doesn’t make him an outsider. Like Alhaji MND Jawula, Dr. Bawumia’s political allegiance has always been with the NPP. The only difference between Jawula and Bawumia is that the deputy central bank governor is wiser and didn’t rush to publicly display his political colours just to court the attention of the party’s leader. And it paid off quite well for him. He was offered the slot literally on a silver platter.
The task that remains for Nana Akuffo Addo’s campaign is to sell Bawumia as an excellent addition to the team. That’s not going to be easy. Bawumia will win the party some middle class and Muslim votes. But his presence will cost the party some votes as well. Some of those who have been ordered to stop sulking over his selection are thinking twice about whether they should vote NPP in December. Some of them are threatening to vote ‘skirt-and-blouse’ (vote NPP in parliamentary poll and vote another party’s candidate in the presidential elections). At the end of the day, Bawumia might cost the NPP more votes than he will bring in.
Nana’s gamble here, though, is that he’s counting on his own profile – after all, he is the candidate – to win him the election. This is what charismatic people do. Last time I checked, Akuffo-Addo didn’t have the charisma of Rawlings. He also doesn’t have the goodwill, candidate Kufuor enjoyed in 2000. So he would have helped his own bid by choosing a known face – a choice which wouldn’t have opened a fountain of grievance in the party.
Apart from having to defend his choice at every turn to party faithful, Nana also has to draw up a whole marketing strategy for his running mate. People need to be convinced who he is, what he has achieved and what he brings to the table. Bawumia himself has to be taught the art of public speaking and be helped to overcome stage fright. Listening to him speak on the platform last Sunday, he sounded like a kindergarten kid struggling to string the words in ‘Bla bla Black sheep’.
Look at Atta Mills on the side. His running mate, John Mahama, as the Americans say, “hit the ground running.” Whiles Mahama is selling himself so well, Bawumia is now trying to convince his party that he has been one of them all this while. He is also going to have a tough time navigating the political minefield and we all know it’s nothing like the banking boardroom. Already people are throwing dirt on him and questioning why he omitted his tenure as a board member of Ghana Telecom from his well-publicised CV.
So why in the world will Nana take such a gamble with Bawumia? It could have something to do with his third-class degree in economics. A president who allegedly earned a third class in economics surely needs a vice president who got a first class in the subject. It could also be that Nana knows that he needs someone with a very good intellect to call his bluff and challenge him to superior heights. And this, I suppose, is one of the reasons why Mills settled on Mahama. Nana could also argue that this is a clear sign he will not dabble in jobs for the boys.
Whatever Nana’s reasons may be for settling on Bawumia, I take delight in one thing: whichever party wins the elections in December, we will have a smarter, more articulate and very useful vice president from next year. That’s something the real outsiders can cheer about!
 
 

Government’s decision to sell off 70% of its stake in Ghana Telecom has caused a lot of static in the country recently. Government is anxious to sell off majority of its share in GT because, truth be told, we are in economic dire straits and the proceeds will help ward off an economic crisis.

In an election year, the last thing government wants is an economic meltdown. Secondly, Ghana Telecom is one of the worst-performing companies in the country today. Whiles it’s not making any profits, its debts are piling up by the day. If nothing is done soon, the company will collapse – going the same way as several other state-owned enterprises in the past. And when the company collapses, about 4000 Ghanaians will be left with no jobs. If each of these 4000 people has five dependants the job losses could translate into the loss of livelihood for about 20,000 people. That will be a social catastrophe!
Those who oppose the sale of GT insist that it’s a major national asset, which should not be sold out to foreigners. Even if it is to be sold at all, we should get more than what we are getting from Vodafone. In other words, they are saying that government is selling the company too cheap. What annoys them most is that government – either out of desperation or naivety – has bunched up the national fibre optic system with Ghana Telecom and selling them as a single unit for 900 million dollars. “We have been scammed,” Dr. Nii Moi Thompson of the Convention People’s Party said after reading through the agreement.
Let me confess that, like most Ghanaians, I’m not fully conversant with the details of the agreement. I’ve deliberately refused to read the full text of the agreement for two reasons. The first is that it will give me a headache I can do without. Secondly, I wanted to use information in the media to make a decision as to whether or not I should support the agreement. This is because most Ghanaians will make their minds with information they get from their media.
I’ve read (and heard) from both sides and I think the government’s case makes much more sense to me. Those who oppose the agreement are doing so mainly out of ideological passions. Led by Dr. Nii Moi Thompson (a man I deeply admire and respect for his intelligence) these people insist that they “remain committed to the belief that ‘the Black man is capable of managing his own affairs’”. This, I think is the main thrust of their argument. In their minds bringing a “foreign” company to manage a failing firm like Ghana Telecom smacks of an “abandonment of the independence ideal and a movement toward the re-colonisation of Ghana by global corporate interests.” I’ve also heard the business magnate, Alhaji Asumah Banda say that “it is better for us to mismanage ourselves than to allow foreigners to manage us.”
This is a very typical ‘konongo kaya’ mentality. You know you can’t do the job but you’d rather stay on and create more mess for everyone instead of giving it up for someone with the requisite competence to do it well. I know it’s humbling. It’s a hard pill to swallow but let’s accept the fact that we’ve largely failed to prove to the world that we are capable of running our own affairs. It’s surprising to me that this “abandonment of the independence ideal” is now dawning on Dr. Thompson and his group. Where were they when Telecom Malaysia (a company from a country which gained independence in the same year we did) bought a 30% stake in Ghana Telecom for a mere 38 million dollars? Didn’t Dr. Thompson realise that the “independence ideal” had been abandoned when government went all the way to the cold Scandinavian winter to beg a group of gluttonous Norwegians to come and manage our Ghana Telecom for us? This was a clear admission that we just couldn’t do it. The decision to sell off a majority stake in GT is therefore a more concrete admission of our failure – which to my mind is nothing to be ashamed of. But why are people now complaining because government has finally decided to wash its hands completely off the company? I sense some politics here.
People realise that they can use “nationalistic fervour” to make government unpopular and thereby win some valuable political points. “Look, they are selling the whole of Ghana Telecom for only 900 million dollars,” they say.
Secondly, I also think that the opponents of government know that the administration is desperate for some hard currency to keep the economy afloat. With the elections just a few months away, if the money doesn’t come in on time, most development projects like roads (which government use to woo voters) would be suspended and this could cost the ruling party some votes. Don’t forget that the ruling party stands to gain a lot of money from this deal by way of kickbacks, which will also go a long way to fund its campaign.  
As the claims and counter-claims are made over this GT-Vodafone deal, I have not heard anyone ask what Ghanaians want. I base my support for the sale of GT to a strategic investor (like Vodafone) on what I think the citizens need.
The people of Ghana need a viable, profitable company. As at the end of last May GT was in the red to the tune of about 34 million dollars. With each passing day, the company’s bottom line gets redder and that means it’s heading for collapse. What the company needs is money to invest in technology that will guarantee its viability and enable it withstand fierce competition. Those who want to hide from reality can follow their “independence ideal”. But those who choose to face reality must know that for a company as distressed as Ghana Telecom, it shouldn’t matter whether the money it needs to get back on the path of profitability is being provided by a company from Britain or Lesotho.  
Secondly, the people of Ghana need a Ghana Telecom that is efficient and provides quality service. We want to make calls and use modern information technology to improve our lives. We shouldn’t care if this service is being provided by a Briton or a bunch of chimpanzees from the Kalahari Desert. I applied for a landline from GT in 2005. I’m still to hear from them officially – even though a few technicians told me that if I paid “something” they will get me a line within a few days. I want a company that will give me a line within three days. I don’t care whether the company is being run by monkeys. It should just be efficient.
Thirdly, we have to accept the hard, cold fact “nationalism” is really not a very popular (or useful) word in world of business today. That’s why we have people in Accra working for companies in Los Angeles. Those screaming “national interest” are behaving like the proverbial ‘konongo kaya’. If you can’t run it, there is no shame in handing it over to someone else with better knowledge and skills (not to mention more cash) to do so. We first decided that we didn’t have what it takes to run GT when we sold 30% of it to the Malaysians. They messed up. So did the Norwegians who came after them. And each time, our government had to clean up their mess. Now government wants to act decisively and let go of the company completely. I see nothing wrong with that. After all, a viable Ghana Telecom will continue to employ Ghanaians and it will continue to pay taxes to the Ghanaian government. We can choose to keep our small Ghana Telecom and run it down. But why should we do that when we can bring in a bigger (and more purposeful, profit-oriented) player to help the company grow. It is, indeed, an “abandonment” of the independence ideal but if that’s what puts bread on people’s tables and helps us to keep in touch with our friends, loved ones and business associates, so be it. Nothing serves the national interest better than having a profitable company.
Finally, people argue that GT can be sold for more than 900 million dollars. Really? Where? On this planet? The company is so rundown that nobody wants to buy it. Some companies put in bids and later changed their minds. Singapore Telecom, for example, pulled out at the last minute citing “many legacy and outstanding issues” they could not “comprehend”.
Some of those “legacy issues” include undue political interference in the running of the company. When politicians appoint nincompoops to run a technologically-driven company like GT that’s what you get: incomprehensible legacy issues which drives the company deeper into debt and make prospective buyers shudder. Many say that to deal with this problem, we should pass laws that will prohibit politicians from rewarding their buddies with top management positions in our state-owned enterprises. That’s a thought. But with GT on the verge of collapse, when are we going to pass these laws? When are we going to implement them? We can talk all we want about laws. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will realise that in this country we take great delight in hurrying to pass laws we have no intention of enforcing. The only way to eliminate political interference in the management of state-owned enterprises like Ghana Telecom is to privatise them.
I am therefore in complete support of the decision to sell off government’s majority stake in Ghana Telecom. Government will use its majority in parliament to approve the agreement. That’s for sure. From what I’ve read in the newspapers and heard on radio, there are some knotty points in the current agreement that need to be attended to. First I hope that the agreement that will be approved by parliament was written by Ghanaians and not by Vodafone officials for our parliament to ratify.
Secondly, the provision that seems to grant Vodafone and its officials immunity from prosecution should be removed. Thirdly, parliament needs to set clear performance targets for the new company and its managers as well as spell out the penalties they will suffer if they fail to meet these targets. This is a point raised by Dr. Thompson and his group and I agree with them that this must be done.
Finally, parliament should institute a probe into the activities of GT’s management and prosecute all those who over the years contributed to the company’s current sorry state. I’m sure this will send a clear signal to managers of other SOEs that they cannot run these corporations like a certain man we all know run(down) his brick factory.
 

Just a few days after President Kufuor got on jet for yet another expensive but inexplicable foreign trip, we were told that instructions have been issued to all government agencies to reduce their projected spending for the rest of the year by as much as 50%. It is yet another attempt by government to ensure that we don’t go into an economic meltdown. The fact is that our economy is being battered by the one thing which, they say, should give us hope for a prosperous future – oil!

In a bid to cushion Ghanaians against the economic hardship brought on by the fuel price hikes, the president announced what was referred to as a “mitigation package” in May. Import duties on some crude oil products as well as some food items were removed. The assumption was that this would make food cheaper and reduce transport fares. Three months after the package was unveiled nothing much has changed. I’m no economist. But I knew that package would only enrich a few people. (See the article titled “Economically expedient rescue package). In that article I said the mitigation measures will not reduce prices and fares. Unfortunately, I’ve been proved right. But I won’t gloat.
 If petroleum prices do not tumble any time soon, we could be so cash-strapped we might not have enough money to even import crude oil. And when that happens, we will be hit by a major petroleum shortage and long queues will form at petrol stations. The picture doesn’t look pretty at all.
I hope it doesn’t come to this. That’s why I have decided to publish my ‘idiot’s guide’ of common-sense principles for running a country (or any economic entity for that matter) on a shoe-string budget. I say they are common sense principles because you don’t need a university degree from Oxford or Harvard to appreciate and apply them. All you need to know is basic arithmetic – add, subtract, multiply and divide.
The first principle in running a country (or a household) on a shoestring budget is to constantly remind yourself that every cent (or pesewa) counts. Nothing should be wasted. To ensure that nothing is wasted, you should have a very clear focus not just on the things you need but on the things you need the most. For example, we need football stadiums. But we need hospitals and clinics the most. We need a nice presidential mansion but what we need the most are well-equipped universities which provide very good conditions for people to develop their minds. A poor mother struggling to take care of her children will never think of buying gold jewellery or the latest GTP Hollandaise. In the same manner, if you are running a country on a shoe-string budget it should never cross your mind to buy gold medals to ‘bling’ yourself out.
Eliminating waste also means that you need to check thievery. We all know of former paupers who have suddenly become wealthy after getting into government. Most of them are thieves who stole our money or have been engaged in one corrupt practise or another… and they continue to steal because they know that if anyone raises an alarm about their thievery, the president will rise to their defence and ask for ‘evidence’. This demand for evidence always means that the accuser has to conduct his own investigation and produce the evidence necessary for nailing the rogue official. The government needs to do more to check thievery. For example, the president should move the office of accountability from his bedroom and put it in a place where we can all see what it’s doing.
Secondly, if you are running a household on a shoe-string budget, you don’t delight in travelling “by heart”. You don’t accept any and every invitation to attend funerals, ‘outdooring’ ceremonies, get-togethers and ‘meet me theres’. This should apply to the leader of the nation as well. The decision to instruct government agencies to revise their budgets was taken before the president left for Trinidad and Tobago. But no one had the guts to tell him that if he is really intent on saving money and reducing needless expenditure he should stop racking up the frequent flyer miles. Hasn’t he seen enough of the world already?
Each day the president spends out of this country, it is estimated that we lose about $50,000. That is a lot of money, especially when the president stays out for two straight weeks. It goes mainly into the per diem of members of the presidential entourage as well as that of the president himself. They won’t tell as exactly how much the president’s per diem is but sources say the figure is close to $3000. The most annoying thing is that since he came to power, President Kufuor hasn’t been paying any taxes. Apparently, there is a law that the president is not supposed to pay taxes. It is such a stupid law and it should be scrapped. If the president earns so much money and doesn’t pay taxes, why should I pay taxes for him to use to travel anywhere and anyhow he chooses. I think the president should stop taking per diems. We know he enjoys travelling but we shouldn’t pay him to do what he enjoys so much.  
 The point I’m making is that in their quest to save money and prevent a major economic crisis, government officials should tell the president that he has seen more of the world than most Ghanaians will do in ten life times. After the China trip, he shouldn’t go anywhere again. And please, we’ve had enough of the excuse that these travels are important because he always returns with loans or promises of grants. We can get the loans without these costly trips. If a Nigerian fraudster can sit in Lagos and get a man in Copenhagen to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to him, I think our president should well be able to sit in Accra and negotiate a good deal with President Hu Jintao of China without necessarily having to travel to Beijing.
Thirdly, when running a country on a shoe-string budget, it’s is important to make sure that you don’t employ more people than you need. It’s tempting to take on more people for parochial reasons. But such an attitude costs so much money and often results in inefficiency. Any forward-looking company faced with a slump in revenue will first think of laying off some staff. If things are not going so well for our country, I think the time has come for the administration to lay-off all those ‘useless’ ministers of state with non-descript job specifications. Why do we have an Interior Minister and a Minister at the Interior Ministry? Why do we have a Presidential Affairs Minister and Ministers at the Office of the President? There are too many hangers-on in government and they have to be sacked. They are a drain on the coffers and the sooner they were laid off the better.
After getting rid of all the ministers we don’t need, it is also important that those who remain are made to pay bills like we all do. For a poor country like ours, it’s incredible that government officials and senior public servants enjoy so many freebies. They don’t pay water bills, they enjoy free electricity and they (and their wives, kids and concubines etc) can talk all they want on the telephone. We will be saving a lot of money if we compelled the ministers of state to start paying bills like we all do. The freebies should end.
Ministers and government officials should also be well advised to use official vehicles with as much caution as their own. We see ministers every day using official vehicles for so many unofficial things – like chasing girls at Legon. On weekends, government officials are seen at funerals and weddings all over the country. All these cars are fuelled by the taxpayer at great expense. I don’t like attending funerals so why should I pay for a government official to go to one? I’m not saying they shouldn’t go to funerals if they want. They can go to every funeral in any village or hamlet they want. But they should do so at their own expense and in their own vehicles.
Finally, if you are running a household on a shoestring budget, it’s alright to sell off stuff you don’t need. Is it wise to have a 32 inch plasma TV when you are hungry? Just sell it off and use the money on the stuff you need the most. The same applies to a nation on a shoestring budget and that’s why I’m all for the plan to sell off Ghana Telecom to Vodafone. But that’s a story for another day.
I could go on listing more common sense principles for running a country on a shoe-string budget. But you should all be able to think about the rest. It’s “common sense”, remember?

The real intention behind the government’s decision to introduce the national school feeding programme remains quite unclear to me. Under the programme pupils are provided with at least one hot-cooked meal every school day. And for what? The idea, we’ve been repeatedly told, is to use food to literally entice kids to stay in school with the promise that at the end of the day they will get a bowl of ‘gari fortor’ to eat. Sounds like a good idea. The only problem is that the programme is too expensive and just a few days ago, we heard that it’s not sustainable. That’s to say that there would come a time when the nation cannot afford it any longer.

So far, government claims that the programme has been very successful because it has increased school enrolment. On the surface, this looks like a good thing. But it’s not. The fact is that in most cases this increased enrolment has not been matched by increased numbers of teachers and better teaching aids. This means that a classroom that used to seat about 30 pupils is now occupied by about 50 pupils and they are being ‘educated’ by the same stressed out, under-paid and extremely frustrated teacher.
 
Not quite long ago, there were very disturbing reports about how the school feeding programme was feeding more than school pupils. In other words, the programme was reported to be providing a steady stream of illicit income for certain individuals. After dilly-dallying a bit (as he often does when his pals are accused of corruption), the president acted and got rid of Dr. Amoako Tufuor, the man who was overseeing the rot (both in the pupils food and in the school feeding programme itself).
 
Last week, Dr. Tufuor’s successor, a retired director general of the Ghana Education Service, Mike Nsowah, addressed a press conference to outline the successes and challenges facing the programme. Tried as he did to cook up a tasty meal of the programme’s successes, he ended up serving us with a sorry meal of an initiative which is unsustainable.
 
According to Mr. Nsowah, the school feeding programme will cost about 328 million dollars over a five-year period. At the end of this period, he suggested, we may have to go to so-called development partners (that’s our former colonial masters and their allies) for more money to feed our kids. That’s not all. He is also thinking of asking government to introduce a new special tax to help raise money for the school feeding programme. Now that’s some food for thought but I’d rather let it pass.
 
Right now the school feeding programme covers just about 470,000 pupils in selected schools in 170 districts. Working with the figures released by Mr. Nsowah, we can assume that between 2005 (when the programme started) and 2010 (when the current funding – with ample support from our ‘development partners’ ends), an average of about 65 million dollars will be spent on this programme every year. Remember it doesn’t cover most public schools in the country yet. When the school feeding programme was introduced, it struck me as yet another half-baked government initiative which would at best win the ruling party some votes and enrich a few people but the ultimate benefit to the nation will be hard to determine. It seems to me that the programme was meant to make parents feel that government is sharing the burden of feeding their kids and the administration hopes that this could translate into more votes for the ruling party.
 
Everything that has happened to the programme since its introduction has not helped to change my mind. From where I stand, I think the school feeding programme is an utter waste of money and it should be scrapped.
I don’t think it is government’s duty to be feeding school children. Our constitution says government should provide ‘free, compulsory, universal basic education.’ Government is not doing this quite well and now it has introduced an initiative which takes out money which could otherwise have been used to live up to its constitutional obligations. Did you hear the news that about 50% of pupils who sat for the Basic Education Certificate Examinations failed? That’s such a huge number and I think it can be attributed to the fact that for quite a large number of pupils classes are held under trees. If after a rainstorm, they wake up and the tree has been blown away by the wind, school is off until another tree is found. Instead of using hefty sums of money to provide kenkey and ‘keta school boys’ for the kids, government should concentrate on providing the education infrastructure. The kids need modern learning aids. They need to sit on comfortable chairs and desks in well-ventilated classrooms with proper lighting. They need well-paid, brilliant and highly motivated teachers. And, of course, they need good food. But this food should be provided by their parents – not the government, especially if there isn’t a national emergency.
 
Government’s job is to make sure that when children come to school, they are going to learn skills that will prepare them for adult life. It is the responsibility of parents to make sure that their kids are well-fed and well-groomed for school every day. Any man who cannot feed a child should be told in no uncertain terms that he should only take out his pecker to pee. Any woman who cannot cook a decent breakfast (not to mention a lunch pack) for her kid should also be told to keep her legs crossed and restrict entry into her Garden of Gethsemane with the zeal George Bush uses to keep Osama bin Laden out of America.
 
NPP presidential candidate, Nana Akuffo Addo said quite recently that we should all be minded not to procreate “by heart.” He is right. And that’s the message government should be drumming into people’s head – that in the modern world, it doesn’t make sense to sow wild oats every chance you get thinking that some uncle somewhere will ‘water’ them for you. Instead, what do we see? Our president goes begging our former colonial master for money to help us take care of our pregnant women and we are going to the same colonial master to provide food for our kids in school. Have we no shame?
 
Now that the co-ordinator of the school feeding programme has been honest to tell us that the programme is not sustainable, I am hoping that government will take a step backwards, put the politics on hold and take a very critical second look at this programme. It’s a needless drain on our coffers. And surely, the money can be used on more sustainable and beneficial projects.
 
With the current programme, kids are getting their bellies filled but their skulls are as empty as ever.
 

For the attention of Mr. Gordon Brown,
Prime Minister of Great Britain;

Dear Sir,

I hope this letter reaches you in good health. I am a young man writing from Accra, the capital of Ghana. I hope you know where my country is. If you don’t, I am very sure that at least you know who my president is. He’s that tall, lanky African president – the one with the bulging eyes – who came to you recently to beg for some money to provide free medical care for pregnant women in his country. His name is John Kufuor. That money you gave him is serving him (and our country) quite well. His party is campaigning with it, claiming that thanks to his beggarly skills, he managed to squeeze some money out of you. We hear you are very stingy and that for you to have given away all that money really took some begging. For your information, the free care for pregnant women has started in earnest in several towns, villages and hamlets in the country.

The ruling party’s insistence on using the programme to campaign is really spreading the word and I tell you, the response has been very good. The other day for example, I heard some men saying that now that government is providing free medical care for pregnant women, they are going to stop wearing gloves, if you know what I mean. They say that now that you and the queen are taking care of the pregnant women, there is no restraining them from sowing wild oats all around the country.

I also heard a pregnant woman say that with your benevolence she can now afford to eat "fried rice" and "kyibom" (this is Ghana’s equivalent of ‘Big Mac’) because her husband is not spending all of his meagre monthly income on the unborn child.

My people are really grateful to you, Mr. Brown. I am very sure that if you come and run for election here, you will win by a landslide. Now, I hear you are having some political problems and that you are not so keen on calling a general election anytime soon. I’m reliably informed that the pollsters’ numbers do not favour you at all and that if you dare call an election, you will most probably lose. Why not come down and contest in our elections in December?

I know you might have some doubts about your chances, especially if you go to the history books and read about how we kicked out your people some fifty years ago, telling them that "the black man is capable of managing his own affairs". We also said we were "ready to take our destinies into our own hands." But it was all a joke. That guy who said all that – I mean Kwame Nkrumah – didn’t know what he was talking about. He was a ‘wet dreamer’ who thought his nocturnal emissions can turn into milk and honey for the black race.

Fifty years on, Mr. Brown, I am very sure that you will agree with me that we have not quite managed to take our destinies into our own hands yet. Do you think that if we were capable of managing our own affairs our president would have come to you five decades after we stopped flying the Union Jack with a cup in hand to beg you for money to take care of his pregnant women compatriots?

Mr. Brown, I think independence was a big mistake. Please, tell the Queen that we are sorry and that we will like to have her back, with you as the first governor of our first post-independence colonial administration.

I’m very sure a very large number of my compatriots will agree with me that since we stopped flying the Union Jack, our country has been ushered into a new ‘colonialism’ that clearly shows that we shouldn’t have kicked you people out in the first place. "Our national football team has never been entrusted to a Ghanaian, our water is in the hands of the Dutch, our roads are built by the Chinese, Presidential Palace built by Indians, waste by the Belgians, and our Telecom sector is now earmarked for an Anglo-American company," one of my compatriots said recently.

The "Anglo-American" company he’s referring to is none other than Vodafone, which has very generously offered to buy our state-run telecoms firm, Ghana Telecom for a whopping 900 million dollars. We are convinced beyond every doubt that our fickle Ghanaian minds cannot run a profitable telecoms company. About ten years ago, we gave it to the Malaysians until John Kufuor came to power. I don’t know what came over him but he suddenly kicked out the Malaysians claiming that the company was given to them for a song. Then he brought in some Norwegians under what he called a "management contract." We later learnt to our shock that these Norwegians were among the most greedy Scandinavians on the surface of the earth – they were taking hefty paycheques, which they wouldn’t even have earned in their country. So we threw them out too. We have a few Ghanaians running the company now and it’s very unclear the direction they want to take the company. That’s why we are bringing it to Vodafone.

If you are as smart as I have been made to believe you are, Mr. Brown, you will realise that this is not merely a business transaction between our Ghana Telecom and your Vodafone. It is also a desperate SOS call. We are telling you that we need you, the good people of Great Britain, back in our country. Can we come to some sort of arrangement under which we will become the Queen’s subjects once again? Please?

For fifty years, we have done our best to manage our own affairs but the results have always been worst than anyone could have imagined. Our health system is in no better shape than your forefathers left it. Korle Bu, the hospital built by one of your ancestors, is still our major teaching hospital. But it is now like a transit point to the graveyard. If you go there and you don’t die, you will come back home with memories you don’t want to keep.

Our people come to your country to get the best education (and some of them even return speaking like they were born in Buckingham Palace). Every morning, hundreds of my compatriots form a long queue (what we like to call a "lorgorligi line") in front of your high commission here – just to get a visa to come to your country. In fact, the situation in the country is so bad that even our president doesn’t like staying here. Since he became president, he has made it clear that travelling is his favourite past time. Whiles travelling, he has been wise enough to beg other world leaders to help us out. He has begged for (and received) money from the Japanese, the Chinese, the Americans, the Koreans and even from the Malaysians. It’s very undignifying for a country formerly known as the Gold Coast to go around begging. That’s something we never did when we used to sing "God save the Queen."

Mr. Brown, I know you are a very busy man so I won’t bore you with the litany of misfortunes that have befallen us since we told the Queen to sod off. But I’m asking you to kindly go to her and tell her that we are sorry and that we will be more than delighted to have her as our Queen once again. We don’t have any lose cannons like Kwame Nkrumah running around anymore and I’m sure that if she came – possibly with you – we will never kick her out again. We have learnt our lessons. Independence was a bad idea.

 

 

I’m still recovering from the shock that our dear president’s latest set of ‘blings’ cost as a good 33,000 pounds each (and he bought five of them). You do the maths. Add up all what was spent on honouring so many people –more than half of whom we all consider to be completely undeserving of such high national recognition – and you’ll realise that these shambolic awards cost us a fortune.

I suppose that now the president feels very good about himself. He’s now joined the ranks of MC Hammer, P. Diddy, Snoop Doggy Dog, 50 Cent and all those icons of international pop culture who like to weigh their necks down with tonnes of ‘bling-bling’.

Ever since I heard the news about how much the president’s medals cost, I’ve been having serious nightmares. Usually, I see JAK chasing me – with his precious medals around his neck. The medals are weighing him down and I should be running faster than him. But somehow, he’s catching up with me and that scares the hell out of me. I don’t know why JAK will be chasing me. Perhaps, he’s now realised that I deserve one – for doing nothing.

Or he just wants to smack my head with medals so that I will experience how it feels to come into contact with a 33,000-pound piece of ‘bling’.

I hope the nightmare ends soon. But I pray God to bless the heart of the person who leaked that document which showed us how frivolous our government has been in buying very expensive jewellery to ‘bling’ up the president and all those award “winners”.

I’m very glad that quite a number Ghanaians are coming down very hard on the administration for indulging in such wastefulness. If we had spoken out against all those millions of dollars they spent on Ghana@50 (where in heaven’s name are the “public toilets”?) they wouldn’t have dared gone for a second bite of the cherry. But we didn’t and that gave them the confidence that they could spend our money anyhow and nobody would bat an eye.

They were wrong. I hope that the incessant criticism that has been heaped on the administration since the leaked document detailing the cost of the medals was published is the first sign that we are gradually gaining the confidence to demand that our government spends our money wisely and on things that benefit us.

Seven hundred thousand pounds might not sound like a lot of money to government officials who keep millions in their car trunks. But it’s a lot of money for millions of Ghanaians who cannot afford to feed on anything more nutritious than ‘gari’ and ‘Keta school boys’. It’s a lot of money for all those service personnel whose allowances have not been paid for months because “we don’t have money.” When our school children are studying under baobab trees and our pregnant women are sleeping on the bare floor at Korle Bu, we have every right to be angry that our president will spend so much money on a set of jewellery.

When our president tells us to tighten our belts, we expect him to be careful what he hangs around his neck. We will be surprised if he hangs a noose around his neck and we will be shocked if he spends 165,000 pounds on jewellery to adorn his neckline.

It’s also very galling that even though our government claims not to have money to pay those recruited under the national youth employment programme (an excuse which has delayed the payment of allowances for months and which has led government to go around with cup in hand for loans) they can spend all this money just on medals. 700,000 pounds could have paid the NYEP recruits for three months.

Unfortunately (and very sadly) our government officials do not get it. They do not understand why we should be crying foul after they had misspent money, of which, we are repeatedly told we don’t have a lot. But you should understand why they do not understand us.

First, they either do not know or they have forgotten what it means to be poor. Being in government has made a lot of them rich beyond their wildest dreams and they think that 700000 pounds (or 1.4 million dollars) is nothing. Since they do not go to Korle Bu for treatment (a slight headache and they are on the plane to South Africa) they do not know that this money could help a great deal in renovating and re-equipping the medical block at that hospital.

That block has been in disrepair for almost 10 years!

Secondly, I think, these guys have next to no idea about why they are in government. From where I stand the essence of government is to make life better for the governed. Achieving this entails spending scarce resources wisely on projects that benefit the people. Buying a chain for the president is definitely not one of such projects. That’s why their explanation that the medals will be worn by future presidents at all official functions strikes me as silly.

President Kufour has been president for almost eight years without an expensive chain. The absence of a gold chain didn’t make him less of a president. We already have symbols of state which are used at presidential inaugurations. There is that beautiful, handcrafted sword – made of solid gold – that was used to induct him into office. Why do we need 18-carrat medals? Why now? Without the medals will the person who occupies the highest office in the land be less of a president in our eyes? What next are they going to ask us for? A presidential chamber-pot? A presidential ‘twakoto’?

Make no mistake about it – nobody is against a national honours scheme that truly rewards excellent achievement and extra-ordinary public service. What we don’t want is for the most senior public servant of all to shamelessly confer an honour himself, when the jury is still out on his achievements and legacy. We are also against the president honouring people who don’t deserve such honours. Agya Koo deserves the recognition he got. Andy Awuni doesn’t. Being the president’s spin-doctor, doesn’t automatically entitle you to a national honour.

That military officer who stands behind the president doesn’t deserve an award either. What has he been doing? Carrying the president’s file with just two or three A-4 sheets and standing behind him doesn’t exactly pass as body-guarding, does it? And the president’s driver also got one? What the heck! Damn, I should get one – just for waking up today!

The president cannot use such an important national institution to show personal gratitude to people like his driver and press secretary and the journalists who constantly sing his praises.

Most important of all, we don’t want our scarce resources to be wasted on buying so many expensive medals every year to be used in decorating people like the president’s driver. That’s why it’s even more prudent that very few people are honoured with such national honours. The excuse that there is a backlog which ought to be cleared doesn’t wash. Nobody has complained or gone on demonstration to demand a national medal. If the president wants to clear backlogs, he should first think about the thousands who are qualified but cannot enter the university because there are no spaces for them.

Having said all that, I’m thinking of creating a special award category for a few deserving individuals. It’s going to be called the Grand Order of Vultures and Rats of Ghana. You should have a fair idea who the first inductees should be. And trust me, they are not getting any medals. 
 

How will history remember President Kufuor? Only time will tell. But I’m very sure that he will be remembered as the guy who, so vain and so full of himself, decided to decorate himself with a national honour. He will also be known as the guy who gave away national honours like ‘bofrote’ to his pals and ‘yes’ men (and women).

How could he?

I wasn’t exactly surprised by the long list of people the president decided to honour for reasons known best to him. Most Ghanaians were shocked by the president’s decision to give himself a medal. I wasn’t. I saw it coming and I remember saying it on my radio programme that one day we will wake up to see the president hanging one around his neck. That’s not to say I am a prophet. But when the president gives awards to people who do not deserve them, what is to stop him from taking one for himself if he feels he deserves it?

In 2006, I was shocked when Grace Ashy – a gospel musician without a single hit song to her name – was given a national honour. My favourite musician, Kojo Antwi has more than a dozen hit tracks to his name but he doesn’t have a national medal. The Daughters of Glorious Jesus and the Tagoe Sisters have inspired and encouraged millions of Ghanaians over the years with their gospel songs. Their achievements are not worthy enough of emulation, so the prize goes to Grace Ashy for singing ‘jama’ for the national football team, which played in the 2006 World Cup.

That Black Stars squad, incidentally, didn’t even make it to the quarter finals of the World Cup in 2006. But each player was given a national medal. I wondered then what would happen to the team which actually succeeds in winning the World Cup.

Early this year, President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali just passed by to drink a lot of champagne with our president and at the end of it all he was given a national medal. I guess they engaged in a drinking contest and Mr. Toumani won. The ‘order of the Volta’ was his prize.

Immediately after he received that medal, I wrote about national honours being given out like ‘bofrote’. Just a few weeks after that, a list of national honourees was issued with the likes of Prof. Atta Mills, NDC presidential candidate, included. That generated a lot of needless verbal heat. People questioned why the president would be so naive to honour his political opponent. He was told he had made a grave mistake.

To pacify his party bigwigs who had warned him that decorating Prof. Mills with a medal will be tantamount to political suicide, President Kufuor decided to give one of those medals to his party’s presidential candidate too. Then for good measure, he also added the names of a few others from the other side of the political divide: Alban Bagbin (minority leader in parliament, who slept with his sister-in-law), Jerry Rawlings (legendary coup-maker, who the president has referred to as ‘Sasabonbonsam’ or devil) and Captain Kojo Tsikata (security kingpin, who allegedly suggested or sanctioned almost every atrocity Rawlings’ junta committed). There was also a fair sprinkling of journalists who never find anything wrong with anything President Kufuor says or does. And, as usual, there were a large number of people who do not deserve to be honoured. What shocked me, to tell the truth, was that my name was not on that list. But that’s another story for another day.

In spite of my shock, I couldn’t help but laugh myself to stitches after the president delivered the real punch-line. He was going to give himself an award too and it was in this same category that Jerry Rawlings was to be rewarded. This award, according to the president, was only to be given to people who get elected as presidents. In the mind of our president, just the mere act of becoming president is an end in itself and therefore anyone who succeeds in achieving this end should be given a national medal. He made it. And so did Rawlings. And for that matter, they both deserve national honours. I am ashamed, to say the least, that my president thinks this way. It is very baffling that my president, after calling his predecessor “Sasabonsam” on several occasions, will turn around and decide to decorate this ‘devil’ – just because this ‘devil’ managed to get himself elected president. And don’t forget, my president is one of those who firmly believes that this ‘devil’ stole an election (remember “The Stolen Verdict’?). I’m sure that Mr. Kufuor believes that what Jesus said about the devil holds very true for Mr. Rawlings… “The devil comes not but to steal (the people’s mandate), to kill (the judges) and destroy (the economy)”. So why will Mr. Kufuor even think of giving Mr. Rawlings an award?

Well, it was the only way for him to legitimise the vanity of his decision to decorate himself with a national medal. Thankfully, Mr. Rawlings realised that he was being used and he refused to accept the award (and this, I am sure, is one of the wisest things Mr. Rawlings will be forever remembered for).

But the president was not deterred. He didn’t even stop for a moment to think that on this particular occasion Mr. Rawlings was acting more wisely than him. And he, very sadly, went ahead to give himself a medal. For acting so presumptuously, I think, the president has stolen from us. He has stolen our verdict. We, the people of Ghana, were the ones who were supposed to judge his record and decide on whether or not his days in office were not wasted. This, we would have done after he had left office. But in his diffidence (and surely, he’s achieved very little), our president thinks that we might have judged him wrongly and he wouldn’t have gotten the reward he deserves. So he decided to judge and reward himself. For this singular act of shameless vanity, the Kufuor who stole our right to judge his record is no different from the Rawlings who stole power (through a coup d’etat and, some may add, a rigged election). Shame on both of ‘em.

 

What is the president up to? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself over the past few days. After announcing his so-called mitigation package, the president has done a few other things that have shocked and surprised many. First, he sacked his interior minister and made some ministerial changes. Then he decided to pardon a convicted politician and for the icing on the cake, an announcement was made that the leader of the main opposition party, Prof. John Atta Mills was to be given the nation’s highest honour.

Of all the things the president has done within the past few days, Prof. Mills’ honour is the one stirring the most controversy. The man also known as ‘Asomdwehene’ is a very fine gentleman. He’s one of the best academics in this country and having devoted several years of his life to public service, he certainly deserves the award. He deserves it more than Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali who was given one medal for doing next to nothing.

But the question on everyone’s lip is: why now? For years, President Kufuor and other members of his New Patriotic Party have been throwing dirt at Atta Mills describing him variously as incompetent and effeminate. Very recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Atta Mills as chair of the national economic management team failed to rein in the economy, allowing inflation to fly as high as an uncontrollable hot-air balloon whiles the value of the cedi plummeted. Many have even questioned Atta Mills’ political credentials. At a press conference in Accra, NPP chairman, Peter Mac Manu, said had it not been for the ‘Swedru declaration’, Prof. Mills would still be a bookworm, calculating tax returns at the IRS – not running for president.

President Kufuor himself has said some pretty uncomplimentary stuff about the former vice president. So we are all left wondering what the president has seen to make him make such a sudden about-turn to bestow the nation’s highest honour on the man who wrestled him for political power on two occasions. Perhaps, it’s because Prof. Mills is such a (good) loser. He lost crucial elections which made it possible for him to be president for two terms. And Prof. Mills has also shown that he is not a sore loser. When he lost the first election, he graciously conceded defeated. He was not so happy with the second defeat but he didn’t whip up a storm which could have resulted in civil strife.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decision to honour Atta Mills, many in the president’s own party do not think it’s a wise decision to be conferring an honour on an opposition leader at this crucial time when the nation is preparing to go to the polls. The national youth organiser of the NPP, John Buadu believes that Atta Mills doesn’t deserve a national honour. I disagree with him. If Aliu Mahama is getting one (and he has been quite a vice president), I think Atta Mills deserves two. Mr. Buadu knows it. But I believe he doesn’t like the idea of President Kufuor decorating Prof Mills because he knows the propaganda value of such a spectacle for the opposition party.  I can imagine an NDC campaign ad on TV with Prof. Mills getting his medal from President Kufuor. The tagline will be: “Even his opponents know he’s good.” That surely will be a coup for the NDC. I’m very sure they are looking forward to it. That is why the kingpins in the NPP will continue to question the wisdom in honouring Prof. Mills at this time. John Buadu is not the only one who has dared to speak publicly against it. MP for Dome Kwabenya, Prof. Mike Ocquaye, is also thinks the president’s decision doesn’t make sense.

“It is not our wish that Mills will be honoured with the highest award of the land,” Prof. Ocquaye is reported to have said. “In advance countries people who occupied high positions are not awarded simply because they occupied that position.”

With words like these you can be sure the president is going to be under a lot of pressure to change his mind. Shortly after it became public that Prof. Mills was going to be honoured, information minister Steven Asamoah Boateng indicated in a radio interview that the honours list is not “complete” yet. That, I suppose, means that more names will be added – and none will be taken out. However, I won’t be surprised if the presidency issues another press statement that Atta Mills’ name got on the honours list by mistake and so he’s not going to be given a medal after all. They could even say that the Atta Mills the first statement referred to is not the one we all know.

All of this brings us to a point I raised a few weeks ago when I wrote about honours being given out like cheap ‘bofrote’. This was after the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure was given one of our medals for God knows what.
I don’t care whether Prof. Mills gets the medal or not. These things have been so cheapened since Mr. Kufuor came to power that I think I deserve one myself. Secondly, it has almost become a norm that opponents of the ruling party hardly ever get any. That is why some people are shocked and surprised that Atta Mills might be getting one soon.

I think the time has come for us to redeem the value of our national medals and ensure that only deserving people get to decorate their necks with it. How do we do this? Simple. The president should not be the only one deciding who gets a medal and who doesn’t. We should set up a National Honours Commission. This non-partisan commission will receive recommendations from the general public and they will investigate the backgrounds and achievements of those being recommended and later decide whether the nominees deserve a medal or not.

I believe our achievers need to be recognised and honoured. But the president and his inner-circle are not the only ones who can recognise achievement. Looking at the honours lists of the past few years, I can safely say that they seem quite confused. At this rate, if we don’t take care, the president will wake up one day and whimsically decide to give a medal to all of his ex-girlfriends, his concubines, his (illegitimate) children (if any), his ‘ebusuapanyin’ and his barber. Then he will turn around and hang one around his own neck for good measure. 
 

There is no escaping the hard times brought on by the sudden hikes in food and fuel prices. Even if you don’t have a car and you don’t spend money to move around from one end of town to another (say you are unemployed and you have little choice than to stay home all the time), you will realise that you now pay 30p for a ball of kenkey which is quite smaller than the one you used to buy for 10p.

Sometimes, you get the kenkey and you realise that it’s been recycled for about five days. Gone are the days when kenkey sellers discarded products more than two days old. Auntie Akweley knows that she owes you no explanation and you dare not ask her what’s going on. She might be as pissed off and frustrated as you are because she’s also very shocked that all her profits are being eroded by the hikes in the cost of her raw materials. The money she used to buy three sacks of corn with can now get her just two bags. So don’t dare ask her why her kenkey keeps shrinking in size and why she sells ‘expired balls’.
For answers, just turn to the newspapers. Even ‘P&P’ is reporting on the difficulties many around the world are facing as a result of a global food shortage and the recent dramatic and record-breaking hikes in crude oil prices.

It’s crazy and it’s annoying and it’s frustrating. And for those in power, it’s very worrisome. In these hard times and with an election looming, if the ruling class wants to remain in power they do not want to be seen to be unconcerned as people fight over lorry fares and the size of kenkey.
That’s why president Kufuor decided to personally announce his mitigation plan, which he hopes will help us weather these economic storms and possibly, if we are convinced that he cares enough, return his party to power. “I am appealing to you all to rally behind government to ensure that our society goes through these difficult times with minimal stress,” he said in a pre-recorded but very badly edited television address to the nation.
In that address, the president announced measures including the removal of import duties on some staples such as rice, wheat and yellow corn. Government also intends to remove some taxes and levies on petroleum products such as diesel, premixed fuel and kerosene.
It all sounds like a good plan.

But I’m not sure if these measures will mitigate my suffering in anyway. What I know for sure is that in this country prices don’t go down. They only go up. Therefore the president’s order to “dealers (in rice, vegetable oil etc.) and transporters to reduce prices and fares to benefit consumers and passengers” will fall on deaf ears. Drivers have said it before and I won’t be surprised if they say it again that they do not fix their fares solely on the basis of increasing fuel prices. They buy spare parts too.

I believe there should be some very good economic reason why the president chose to remove taxes and levies on kerosene and gas oil but decided to retain the taxes on premium petrol. Unfortunately, transport fares are fixed for all ‘trotros’ and buses without any regard for whether they are fuelled by diesel or petrol. So bringing the price of diesel down and maintaining that of petrol will yield very little or nothing. If the diesel car drivers bring down their rates, those who use petrol vehicles will not do the same. And where does that leave us? Square one.

The decision to remove import levies on rice, yellow corn and vegetable oil also makes sense. But only on the surface. And the president knows it. That’s why he warned that it would be a criminal offence to attempt to re-export any of the products whose import duties have been removed. Our customs agents will have a lot of work to do because a lot of people are going to try to do exactly what the president does not want them to do. I have no doubt that most of them will get away with it – with the help of those who are supposed to stop them.

I won’t be surprised if sometime in the next few months, the president comes back to tell us that he has changed his mind because his mitigation measure is only helping some individuals to line their pockets instead of helping the poor deal with a very difficult economic situation.
Another area of concern to me is that some traders are going to keep their prices at current levels and insist that they cannot sell old stock at reduced prices. And there is nothing government can do about it. Remember, prices in Ghana hardly ever go down. Forward ever, backward never – upward ever downward never.

All told, what is a government to do in the current circumstances? Well, I think the government should have done nothing. These price hikes started in 2007. If it had gotten as bad as it is now in 2006 or in a year in which we were not going to vote, the government would have done nothing. They would have told us that it is economic reality and we need to “bite the bullet” and “tighten our belts”.

The president has used these expressions several times before – when the going got so tough and he knew we had very little choice. But this is a different year. He’s going out of power but he would like to see his party retain power. And so he comes up with this raft of measures which are only useful because they are politically expedient for the ruling class. “We are a caring government,” I’ve heard several ministers say in praise of the measure the president announced last week. If only they could be as caring when they are not asking for our votes. I am very sure that immediately after the elections we will be slapped again with the levies and taxes.

So here is a thought: how about giving us some cash? Yes, if they are so caring they should give us money to spend. Each Ghanaian should be given about GHC300 – whether or not petroleum levies and import duties are removed. George Bush did a similar thing recently and Mr. Kufuor can do the same. Can you imagine how many balls of kenkey and bags of rice GHC300 can buy?

If they also care so much, they should start making long term plans instead of adopting knee jerk measures. If they had any long term plans, we wouldn’t now be thinking of stockpiling food with help from “development partners.” We would have had silos all around the country and stockpiling food would have been a national habit. Even the rats and ants stockpile food and we don’t? What is wrong with us? Considering that we don’t have any silos in the country right now, I wonder where the new food stockpiles will be kept. Hotel ‘Waawaa’ or where? Now, doesn’t that make you want to be a rat?