It’s been exactly one week since a whole government bureaucracy (the foreign ministry) was razed down by a fire outbreak. Without the necessary equipment to put out the inferno, fire personnel looked on in amazement as the blaze caused havoc. The next day, the president and other top government officials visited the scene of the destruction, expressed shock and spewed a few platitudes. The president has promised to ensure that the fire service is equipped so that they will not join spectators to admire the rage of future infernos. They are words that needed to be spoken. But will they be backed with deeds?

I am not so optimistic. In this country we tend to talk endlessly about our issues when they come up in the news. When the next big story comes, we forget about the promises that were made and just continue with the talking – about the latest news. Last week, it was the fire at the foreign ministry and the ill-equipped fire service. Today, it is crude oil for TOR and government’s failure to secure letters of credit for the commodity.
I don’t think the fire service is going to get the modern equipment it needs within a year or two. It’s not that it can’t be done. Government will just not do it. They will tell us that it takes time – and sure it does – but I am sure that a determined government should be able to supply its fire service with the basic equipment it needs within a matter of two years. But that’s not going to happen.

And it’s a shame. It’s a very big shame that in the 21st Century we have such a poorly-equipped fire service, whose officers cannot climb a five-storey building to put out a fire. We like to delude ourselves by saying that “we’ve come far”. We have not. And if you were looking for a sign that ours is a broken and wretched country, just look at our fire service and police service.

Our police officers lack the basic facilities to conduct thorough investigations to bring criminals to justice. They don’t even have the know-how, much less the hardware, for collecting and analysing fingerprints. Kufuor’s government promised to make them efficient by giving them cars and setting up a communication system. That was more than eight years ago. Few cars were delivered and even so they were mostly used to transport officers’ wives to the markets and their children to school – not for crime fighting. How long should it take to provide your police force with the facilities they need to fight crime? I think a determined government that doesn’t delight in seeking refuge in excuses should be able to do that in a presidential term. Kufuor had two and our police service is no better than it was when he was on ordinary John.

Now, we have another John in charge and he’s making promises like the one before him did. Let’s hope he delivers – not just for the fire service but for all the other agencies that are supposed to be protecting us and providing for our well-being. That’s what governments exist for. The police and fire service are two of the most important agencies for protecting the life and property of citizens. If by the next election, the fire service still doesn’t have ladders and modern tenders and the police is incapable of collecting fingerprints and they still need to rent taxis to follow up on citizens’ complaint, I would say the Mills government has failed to secure the people. I will be disappointed. But I won’t be surprised.

And, somehow, I know what the excuse would be: “we didn’t have enough time”. It’s a flimsy excuse but many will accept it. That is why we are where we are.

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