Are these Western Region Chiefs Chasing a Mirage? Part II

Sat, 20 Nov 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

November 18, 2010

I am baffled by the chiefs’ demand, not only because it is unexpected but because it also reflects a move that has the potential to create more problems than anybody will be prepared for. What happens if the chiefs and people in other parts of the country whose natural endowments provide revenue for the country also move to Accra to demand their percentage share of the revenue? Is this what agitations for benefits in our country have been raised to? Alarming!!

The mood of the chiefs indicates much belligerence and a dour determination to slug it out with the authorities, as we can infer from this repartee from their spokesperson who is also the paramount chief of Essikado, Nana Kobina Nketiah, that “they are only demanding a mere 10 percent of the revenue and the entire country can have ninety percent.”

How did these chiefs come by the quantum of revenue (10%); and why only 10%? Should the money be allocated to the various paramountcies or all the individual chiefs in the Western Region? How do the chiefs expect to use the revenue and account for it? Will the money be channeled through the District Assemblies Common Fund to them or through the Chieftaincy Secretariat?

More importantly, this agitation by the chiefs serves notice as a possible motivation for militant action in the future, which will turn the Western region into fertile grounds for the kind of militant waywardness that is typical of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria but not needed in Ghana. That’s why the government must promptly respond to the concerns of the chiefs and people of the Western region (and all others elsewhere who have not been fairly treated). We know all these deprived areas and will not be deceived by anybody in officialdom.

We don’t want the situation to degenerate any further. By their demand and disguised arm-twisting tactics, the chiefs are setting a volatile precedent. Very soon, prominent people in other parts of the country will follow suit to put pressure on the government for their fair share of the national cake. Anything of the sort will blaze the trail for unorthodox means to bend the government’s back because the demands will become a political trump-card to be played at election time. What is emerging must not be allowed to fester into a landmine.

Knowing how adamant our governments can be, I am afraid that no one will take any pre-emptive measure to give due attention to the chiefs’ demands until it worsens into social unrest. For that matter, I am apprehensive of the length to which this agitation is threatening to go. I know that the chiefs’ presence in Parliament will not achieve anything but the usual empty promises from the powers-that-be whose futile political rhetoric will come in handy to be used in a vain attempt to placate these agitated chiefs.

Meanwhile, pockets of disgruntled youths in the neighbourhood of the Jubilee Oilfields will gradually begin mobilizing themselves behind-the-scene in readiness for militant action to cause mayhem and disrupt activities in the oil fields when it becomes clear that the government won’t meet their demands. Then, all hell will break loose before the government does what it knows best—dispatching security personnel for peacekeeping missions and spending huge sums of money to maintain them. Such will be the silly approach to solving problems that should have been nipped in the bud long before then.

We needn’t look far back into the past to know why the chiefs have taken this course of action. Their demand shouldn’t surprise anybody who has been following closely developments surrounding the generation and expenditure of revenue from natural resources located in many parts of the country. More often than not, those communities don’t benefit from the revenue that they generate. Take Obuasi, for instance.

The Western Region chiefs have cause to make their voices and demands heard even if one is apprehensive of the backlash. There are many precedents to unsettle anybody who knows the extent to which discrimination against the revenue generators has reached in our country.

Considering the inexplicable procedures for the disbursement of revenue to the District, Municipal, and Metropolitan Assemblies per the formula worked out by the Administrator of the District Assemblies Common Fund, it is obvious that there is no transparency in the distribution of the national cake. The responsibility for providing infrastructure and other development projects still lies on the shoulders of the central government despite the allocation of one-fifth of the GDP to these Assemblies. The deplorable state of amenities (roads, water, telecommunications, school buildings and materials, public places of convenience, etc.) in the country despite the allocation of revenue to these Assemblies in addition to the good income they generate from taxes is a huge cause for concern. Where does the money go?

The local people hardly know how much money is given to their Assemblies by the Fund Administrator or how that money is spent. The Chief Executives of the Assemblies and the MPs seem to be in control and make their voices heard only when there is a conflict of interest, which endangers the spending of the money. Thus, having been kept in the dark about what concerns everybody, the local authorities must now be rising up to take the bull by its horns. That sentiment seems to be spurring what the chiefs from the Western Region have begun doing.

Our governments have over the years given little hope to the people. Their functionaries have fed fat on the national cake and created misleading impressions about public service in politics. There3 are numerous instances to point accusing fingers at our politicians, especially those in government. Ghanaians are not impressed at all by the lack of integrity on their part, especially when it comes to the appropriation of public funds and state property.

Here are just a few of those instances. The acquisition of lands from chiefs by the government and the deplorable manner in which such unused lands have been disposed of (instead of being returned to the traditional authorities from whom they were originally acquired) give genuine cause for concern. Take, for instance, the shoddy manner in which the Kufuor government handled the Ridge land issue or the Labadi one in Accra. Even though we know that all lands in the physical territory called Ghana belong to the state and that the chiefs in the various traditional areas are mere custodians of such lands, it cannot be denied that any senseless disposal of such lands without due regard for constitutional provisions or laid-down procedures is deplorable.

Again, consider the dubious manner in which the Rawlings government disposed of the State-owned Enterprises and you will understand why the chiefs from the Western should be up in arms to demand their share of the oil revenue. Our governments have created mistrust and distrust and cannot be relied on to serve the citizens’ interests. There is too much dishonesty and selfishness in our national and local politics. Our politicians have eroded public trust and confidence in themselves and must not be surprised when the people adopt unorthodox means to seek redress.

What the chiefs from the Western Region have begun doing is the direct upshot of the deceptive means by which our politicians have ridden slipshod over the people’s shoulders to enjoy the benefits of their calling. Our politicians have turned out to be greedy thieves whose appetite for ill-gotten wealth is insatiable. They cannot be trusted. If care is not taken, they will turn the Jubilee Oilfields into a goldmine to exploit for personal gains. That’s what must be feared and action taken to prevent.

Do you recall how a whole shipload of cocoa got lost on the high seas during the late Acheampong’s reign? Or how under Kufuor a whole shipload of crude oil vanished from the Gulf of Guinea? Or how the Acheampong government handled the Agripetco oil deals that have left Saltpond a barren and desolate settlement ever since? Hindsight should be our guide today.

For now, the chiefs from the Western Region may be regarded as chasing a mirage; but before we write off their agitation as a nuisance, let’s be reminded that their move is informed by reality.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.