Saturday, August 18, 2007
Protecting our national assets
IT IS very distressing for me and I am sure for many fellow citizens and foreign friends and well-wishers of Ghana that as a people, we do not have the culture of maintaining our national assets.
Any time I bring this issue up I get the same response: We do not have a maintenance culture. Well, it is about time we developed one because this glaring deficiency is costing the nation immensely and getting Ghana into more and more indebtedness.
With our eyes and ears wide open and being-ware of what is happening around us, we have allowed many of our public buildings, some of them immense historical value, to deteriorate, break down and crumble into piles of rubble or become the official residences of mice and rates, cockroaches and other vermin. With a modicum of care and attention from all of us this deplorable situation could be avoided.
Many a time, foreign friends, seeing this sort of wanton disregard for state assets, either keep mum, for fear of offending people if they speak frankly, or adopt a nonchalant approach, knowing too well that the country is financially bleeding, with the gross neglect of these buildings.
After all, come to think of it, whose hard-earned money and assets are being destroyed? Of course there are a few foreign friends and well-wishers, who are deeply sympathetic to the plight of Ghanaians, and have expressed mildly, their sadness about the absence of a maintenance culture in Ghana.
They are our true friends and not those who say, ‘Man, carry on. You are doing well! But do we need foreigners to lecture us on the lack of a maintenance culture which is costing us dearly?
The funds which are eventually found by the state, borrowed or otherwise, to blow up the dilapidated buildings or structures or to undertake massive comprehensive repairs and could be used to build schools, provide more schools, water and social amenities if the buildings had not been allowed to run into a state of absolute disrepair or become rubble.
Many of these buildings were constructed in the Nkrumah era with funds borrowed to rot it means that the nation and people are or would be paying for projects that they have never benefited from.
After the 1966 Coup and the general anti-Nkrumah euphoria, all the major factories and projects that were ongoing were suspended by the military regime. The idea was to assess their benefit, but sadly little or nothing happened.
The projects rapidly deteriorated and collapsed. Successive governments after the coup, afraid of being accused of wanting to bring back Nkrumah, did not do anything worthwhile about them.
It is to the eternal credit of the Kufuor Administration that as soon as it assumed power in January, 2001 it set out to revive these moribund projects has saved the nation millions of dollars or cedis and in the process helped to reduce unemployment, especially among the youth.
I am sometimes accused of not seeing anything wrong with the Kufuor Administration. This is absolutely wrong. I think I am as educated and as enlightened and broadminded as most of my critics. Also I am not blind or deaf, physically or metaphorically speaking. Nor am I an Idiot! Well, my wife and I do not think so! What I have always maintained as a lifelong student of the politics of Ghana and as a lawyer and author is that compared with its predecessors this government, led by John Agyekum Kufuor, with all its foibles weaknesses and imperfections is unquestionable the best and most honest in the history of independent Ghana.
A careful study of the major events off the past 50 years will corroborate this stance. Their handling of defunct factories and projects belonging to the state is illustrates the wise leadership of John Agyekum Kufuor.
Readers, especially the younger generation, may think that I am trying to raise problems where there are none. I am outlining below the backgrounds of some of these projects and buildings, which as a result of gargantuan neglect by the people of Ghana, have bitten the dust.
The list is only the gist of a long, comprehensive and depressing litany of careless abandon by the governments and people of Ghana in the past half century.
1. THE KING GEORGE V MEMORIAL HALL, ACCRA
This historic building was put up in 1925 in the heydays of Sir Gordon Guggisberg, the best foreign friend and well-wisher of Ghana. It was named after King George 1V of Britain, the grandfather of the present queen of England. It was at this place that the historic document granting independence to Ghana on March 6, 1957, was given.
In this ornate hall, as members of the Busia Government, we held lively debates with our friends in opposition from 1969 to 1972. Sadly, it has been abandoned in a bad state and divided into offices. A new house of parliament has been built to replace it. What is the guarantee that the new one will not suffer the same fate as the previous one?
2. AMBASSADOR HOTEL, ACCRA
When it was built in late 1956, it was among the best in Africa and the first five star hotels in West Africa. It was constructed specifically to accommodate the powerful delegations arriving for Ghana‘s independence on March 6, 1957. The US delegation led by Vice-President Richard Nicon, and including Martin Luther King and Thugood Marshall, the powerful black lawyer, and later first member of the US Supreme Court, stayed there. At that time there were no embassies in Accra. It was allowed to run down and saved in the nick of time by the Kufuor Administration, which got a serious investor to reconstruct it.
3. STAR HOTEL, ACCRA
It was the sister hotel to the Ambassador Hotel. Built at the same time, opposite the present location of the Cantonments Post Office. It was blown up to make room for plush residences for the high and mighty.
4. State Hotels in Sekondi/Takoradi, Tema, and Kumasi:
It is the same distressing story of gross neglect leading to the need for massive injection of funds for revival and reconstruction.
5. Gold refining factory in Tarkwa
This was at its penultimate phase at the time of the 1966 Coup, abandoned and later turned into a students’ hostel!
6. The Bui Dam
This is now being revived by the Kufuor administration to help supplement the nation’s energy shortfall.
7. Komenda & Asutsuare Sugar factories.
Built to lessen Ghana’s total dependence on imported sugar these have also suffered the fate of other projects of the Nkrumah era.
8. The Silos in Tema
These were to keep at regulated temperatures and humidity, Ghana’s cocoa beans when the world price was unreasonable low. This was an excellent idea, similar to that of farmers in Europe and America withholding their produce when the market is not favourable. At the time of the coup they were not completed and have not been in an operational state, despite the millions of dollars spent on them.
9. Black Star Line
First African state-owned shipping line in Sub-Saharan Africa. Set up with the assistance of the Israeli experts. Has long disappeared from the economic and political horizon of Ghana, with a huge loss of funds to Ghana.
10. State Publishing Corporation
It was built to make Ghana less dependent on imported foreign exercise books, textbooks and other educational materials. Its absence is a financial loss to the state.
11. Ushers For, Accra and other castles and forts littered on our coast
Ushers For Prison is of has special memories for me and a few other Ghanaians, for it was at this prison, a former British slave post, that from Jan. 13,1972-March 6,1973, many of us who were members of the Busia government spent our days as political detainees.
This was after the military overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister, Prof. K.A. Busia, by Lt. Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong. When I last visited my former enforced home, I was shocked at its state of disrepair, although some renovations had begun. That President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana was a resident of this historic fort at the time specified above makes it a unique and valuable state asset with immense historical significance.
12. Peduase Lodge, near Aburi
This grand country home, Ghana’s equivalent to Camp David in the USA and Chequers in UK, was built as a retreat for presidents, visiting heads of state, prime ministers and such figures.
During the visits of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to Ghana in 1959, he stayed there. It has also been the venue for important international conferences in Africa. Again, it is the same old story until Kufuor took the bull by the horns and stepped in to avoid complete collapse.
13. Flagstaff House, Accra
Originally, the office and home of the last British Chief of Defense Staff (US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Later it became the equivalence White House or Number Ten Downing Street of Ghana. After the overthrow of Nkrumah it remained in a dilapidated state till the start of the ongoing rebuilding and reconstruction by the Kufuor regime.
By the way it was at this historic place that Gen. E.K. Kotoka lived as head of the Armed Forces, until he was murdered, defending the state in the abortive and unnecessary coup of L. T. Arthur, He later paid the supreme price for his ambition.
14. The atomic reactor facility at Kwabenya, near Accra.
Although many other projects since the Nkrumah era have become derelict, they are beginning to breathe again through the resuscitation efforts of President John Kufuor and his tem. I fell that I would be Failing in my duty to readers, especially the youth, if I do not give the atomic centre the great mention that it deserves.
At the time of the coup, the construction of the facility was almost complete, with a water-cooled reactor form the then Soviet Union, at colossal cost to Ghana.
We had a few but highly trained atomic (unclear) scientists including Prof. Francis Kufuor, the first African to obtain a Ph. D in Nuclear Chemistry, from no less a place than the centre of academic excellence and research Cambridge University, UK.
Nkrumah’s idea was to increase Ghana’s capacity in energy resources, as the country was then grossly dependent on foreign oil imports, at great cost. Furthermore, the centre was to serve as a place for medical and agricultural research, using radioactive isotopes generated by the reactor.
Nkrumah had no intention of developing any atomic weapons programme. He was aware that the country did not have the necessary sciencetific, engineering and financial resources for such a daunting and massive undertaking in early 1960/61.
Sadly, with the overthrow of Nkrumah, the whole facility was placed in heavy and thick mothballs, until its recent revival. It is President Kufuor, who in the country’s dire and distressing need of power, has come forward to address the mistakes of the post Nkrumah military junta.
As Ghana’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria during Ghana’s initial stages of its atomic programme, and having at least on two occasions discussed the programme, I can assure readers that president Nkrumah had no military agenda in mind when he launched Ghana’s atomic energy programme.
Furthermore, I am absolutely convinced if the atomic energy programme at Kwabenya had not been scuppered after the fall of Nkrumah, it is very likely that we would have sufficient unclear energy now to supplement our depleting hydro-electric and thermal power.
Daily Graphic - Saturday, August 18, 2007 Page: 7