Just about a year ago, Kwadwo Mpiani, President John Kufuor’s chief of staff was literally telling parliament (and everyone else) to stop pestering him with questions over the expenses of the Ghana@50 Secretariat, the bureaucracy established to oversee the needlessly ostentatious celebration of Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary. Today, Mr. Mpiani is calling into radio stations, pleading for an opportunity to speak.
About 12 months ago, Mr. Mpiani and his brother-in-law, Charles Wereko-Brobbey, who headed the Ghana@50 Secretariat, were untouchables. Now we are being told they have a lot to account for. And if what we are hearing is anything to go by, it seems, they also deceived us, wasted our money and pushed our country a little deeper into debt.
Truth be told, I never saw the sense in the Ghana@50 celebrations. I felt (and I still do) that considering our retrogression over the past five decades, instead of throwing a ‘party’, we should rather have observed a national day of weeping and wailing when we would all gather at the Independence Square on March 6, wearing sackcloth with ashes on our scalps to lament our backwardness. It may sound like a silly suggestion but I will insist any day that looking at our current conditions, there is no better way to celebrate this charade we call ‘independence’.
I also felt at the time that we had nothing to celebrate. Our educational system is worse than it was at independence, most of us do not have water to drink and our hospitals are graveyards where even new born babies, forced to sleep on bare floors, are not spared the hustles that gnaw at the bodies and souls of their mothers. Modernity has largely passed us by and most of us lead a pre-industrial revolution existence. There was (and there still is) nothing to celebrate!
So, when I first heard that our government had voted a hefty 20 million dollars for the celebration, I said on radio that it was too much money to waste on a ‘party’ at a time when the nation was confronted with too many challenges – including malaria control. I suggested that since there were roughly about 20 million Ghanaians, we should be given a dollar each – at least on that occasion those who live on less than a dollar day can afford a decent meal. That would have been a fitting commemoration of the ‘lost’ 50 years of nationhood.
But our government favoured the extravagant and we were made to believe that the 20 million dollars was to be used to on projects that will benefit both current and future generations. These projects, according to Wereko-Brobbey, included public toilets (those travelling on the highways will not ‘free-range’ anymore), so-called ‘jubilee parks’ (where we can all gather every now and then to just chill) and roundabouts (in memory of national heroes heroes).
Two years after the Ghana@50 festivities (Championing African Madness), only one public toilet has been built. If you are travelling on the highway and you feel like ‘dropping a load’, you will be compelled to squat somewhere in the bushes to do your thing and, whiles at it, you should pray that some hungry snake doesn’t pounce on your ‘nuts’.
The little good news, though, is that parks and the roundabouts were built alright. But, sadly, I can’t point any of them out to my children 10 years from now as the monuments we erected to commemorate 50 years of nationhood. I will be too ashamed to do that.
And now, to add insult to injury and further deepen our sense of shame, we are being told that the bill for the needless Ghana@50 celebrations could be as high as 78 million dollars. That is a lot of money. We wasted all of that and went begging George Bush for 17 million dollars to fight malaria.
Now, check this out: 78 million dollars can turn Korle Bu into one of the best hospitals in Africa – so that if President Mills falls sick he wouldn’t need to travel to Johannesburg for treatment. That amount of money can be used to build modern libraries in all of our public universities. It could have been used to build a factory to employ thousands of people. The money we wasted on Ghana@50 could have been used to provide scholarships to educate bright, young people who are out of school because their parents are too poor and getting a loaf of bread to eat is a daily struggle. That money could have been used to set up irrigation projects in the north or improve water supply to about one million Ghanaians. It could have been used to build classroom blocks for the thousands of children whose ‘classrooms’ are nothing but the shades provided by a big ‘onyina’ tree.
The fact that Kwadwo Mpiani and Wereko-Brobbey (and the entire Kufuor administration) concealed this hefty bill is an affront to every Ghanaian. I can only imagine what would have happened if the NPP had been retained in power. Kwadjo Mpiani would have been telling anyone who cared to ask about the Ghana@50 expenses to go to hell. But now we know. At least, we know how foolishly wasteful we have been. And the worst part of it is that, according to the Auditor General’s interim report, there are no proper records on some huge expenditures and a lot of the money cannot be accounted for – most of it likely in individual pockets.
I am left with no choice than to think that the whole point of the Ghana@50 Celebrations was to create an avenue for a greedy cabal to loot the country dry. But wait… not so fast. Kwadwo Mpiani has now found the humility to talk and explain issues. He has no choice because he is obliged to respond to queries raised by the Auditor General by February 26. Seeing him so mellow is a miracle in itself. There could be more ‘wonders’ in store. Hopefully, Mr. Mpiani has some plausible excuse for why an impoverished country like ours, which never misses an opportunity to beg for aid, allowed 78 million dollars to go down the drain in such a reckless manner. I am not so optimistic and so I will urge that we all bow our heads in shame and start looking for sack cloths. Sixth March is just around the corner. Let’s make it a national day of weeping and wailing. No more parties.