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By: Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA, PGCert)
Dear Darling President,
I trust that this finds you well.
My heart is a filled mix of blurred passion and a flurry of venom. Half of it has grown stone cold and the other half barely has any space for human empathy. I guess it’s true what they say – the ones you love most are the ones that hurt you most. We had good times darling. They were times where seeing you or the mere thought of your presidency filled my life with hope unimaginable. But in the same hope came my paradoxical vulnerability to grave disappointment.
Even though things have not been particularly great between us lately, I have reasoned that we ought to deal with our impasse in a very mature way and for the sake of the love we once shared. You see, when I first fell in love with you, it was because my heart had just been broken by Jerry John Rawlings and then by your predecessor, John Agyekum Kuffour. He created a big, painful hole in my heart and I needed it filled… and fill it you did, albeit temporarily. Now I seem to have fallen into the same mishap with you too – I have learnt my lesson in the process and have resolved never to fall in love again but to crawl in it. Or is it that I am cursed to be treated this way by all the “Johns?” – I wonder!
I did think you were a little different from all the rest, but as it has turned out, you are doing the same things to me that got me hurt in the first place. This time round however, I have decided to write to you and ask you a few things. You will agree that having played with my heart and treated me the way you did, the least you could do is to answer the questions I have so that I can walk away in peace until I find my true love. It is obvious you have found your own true love in your relationship with the Chinese. I have nothing to say – you followed your heart.
I only have three questions to ask and as hurtful as the answers may be, I really need you to be as brutally honest as you possibly can be OK! Please. If for nothing at all at least for the once beautiful joys we once shared.
QUESTION 1: WHO IS SHE? I MEAN THAT “CORRUPTION & BRIBERY” GIRL
I am aware corruption was born into existence way before even our beloved country gained its independence. I am aware the practice exists in both the so called developed nations as it does in Ghana and indeed all through Africa. But darling, there are a few truths I have observed – Firstly, there are close to NO systems in place in Ghana to prevent, detect and punish corruption at any level, whether in the private or public sector, whether in a local office or within an entire ministry. The lack of these robust systems means that opportunities are created for anyone to be corrupt, receive or give bribes. Currently, anyone thinking about using their position to act corruptly has no reason to ask themselves the question “what if I get caught?” why? Because, there really is no robust system in place to get them caught. Secondly I find that the people lower down in public and private hierarchies are as corrupt as those higher up. Why? Because those higher up do it anyway so they really can’t tell those lower down not to. The other opportunity that is created for breeding corruption and bribery is that many Ghanaian workers cannot survive on their incomes alone. Of course stealing takes away their dignity (if any is left) so, yes, they resort to bribery and corruption, which, I describe sometimes as “consented stealing” (not that I am justifying their actions but….). Realistically, Corruption is simply a variation of stealing in which the victim proactively agrees to be stolen from.
The bigger picture darling, sad as it may be is this; and do listen to me carefully here – Ghana, in spite of its stable political environment is still achieving below potential on the international business scene. You see, international businesses willing and ready to do business in Ghana either hesitate or STOP themselves from doing so completely because with bribery and corruption so rife as a plague, it costs them more to do business in Ghana than elsewhere. Now here’s the tricky bit – some international organisations who do decide to do business in Ghana however do not just absorb the extra costs of bribery and corruption and keep quite. No, No, No… they pass on all those costs back to beloved Ghana in the form of Tax avoidances, shoddy standard products, more expensive products, lesser corporate responsibilities to the communities, lost opportunities to local employees etc. Businessmen must always make profit one way or another. So you see, corruption is hurting us both externally and internally. Finally, there is the question of Transparency. I still find it hard to fathom that politicians especially do not appear to have any constitutional obligation to be transparent in their dealings on behalf of their electorates. How broke men can suddenly become rich overnight after being elected and no one has the right to ask any questions whatsoever simply beats my imagination. It really does. The last time I tried imagining it again, I almost ended up at the Psych…. (you know where). That was the day you brought me the roses and forget-me-not flowers, remember? I just didn’t want you to be worried this was the reason I was feeling depressed.
You see, out there in the world, there is a different measure of respect, a different measure of fairness, a different measure of opportunities and a different measure of honour that is attributed to any country or people considered as corrupt. As a country, we cannot expect to have the best of any of these as long as we are perceived as corrupt. That’s why China will give loans to both South Africa and Ghana and yet there are more favourable terms applying to South Africa’s loan as opposed to Ghana’s. It’s the same reason why even abroad, a Ghanaian and South African applying for the same high profile job involving a high degree of trust (e.g UBS Bank) will require the Ghanaian to prove himself more than is usual. You know, its interesting I was reading the bible the other day and chanced upon a text in Galatians 5:9 which says “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump of dough”. It’s much the same as saying a little corruption corrupts the whole nation” – and that includes the innocent ones.
My question to you dearest darling is this – How long before you get tough from the top? How long before you establish a message - clear, strong and drastic, that corruption and bribery in whatever form, is wrong and will be heavily punished without fear or favour. How long before you actually seek out and punish the culprits of such evil, so that your words are equated to your actions? How long before you make it obvious that where corruption is involved there is no one above the law. How long before you make it possible, for the people of Ghana and the international community to believe you and me when we both say it only costs “GhC X” to do business in Ghana and nothing more? How long before we actively (and I mean actively) do something about Ghana’s 62nd ranking on the world corruption index? Please tell me! How long? You see, as it stands now, corruption and bribery, makes doing business with Ghana very unpredictable and unstable and as hard a truth as it is, I have to say this – Nobody likes to do business with operational instability or unpredictability – its simply too risky.
QUESTION 2: DID YOU REALLY LOVE ME? – “DEVELOPMENT BREAKS”
Honey, when we first met, several years ago, I used to live in a township behind the McCarthy hills called Awoshie. I witnessed the rather seemingly quick deterioration of the road that runs in front of my father’s house, one that was designated to connect Accra to Nsawam and other towns further off. The road crumbled like freshly baked crispy biscuits in the same year it was completed (well, never completed after all). Typically, the news that made the round during the following election was that the MP for my constituency had only commissioned the first phase of the road project and that the second phase would be completed if he was voted back into office. Well, we needed the road, so we voted him back and the road was done up to an upgraded degree but even then, nothing to last past 3 years. Then government changed hands and what do we hear? – “The road was not the priority of the new government and as such, the contract for it had been terminated”. As singular as this example may sound, it is widespread in Ghana, and you cannot pretend not to know. At this stage I shudder to, but will still ask – has the political imperative of being elected, become a weapon to hold Ghanaian citizens ransom to what is fairly due them?
I think you all (you and all your predecessor “johns” and those coming after you) often forget that infrastructure is the heart of every national progress both economically and socially. As important as oil is to cars on the road so is infrastructure to this country’s development (if indeed we do want development); it is not something to be toyed with by political parties and inferior allegiances. I say inferior allegiances because no political allegiance should have any priority over any allegiance to the people of Ghana. In fact, the way I see it, the ability of some of our politicians to play politics with crucial developmental issues such as national infrastructure merely goes to make us a laughing stock to the international community and a curse to our own people. People looking at us wouldn’t be too wrong in saying we are still in the cave age. It’s gone past selfishness now my dear. How could things as crucial as infrastructures intended to benefit the entire economy be put on hold because it was someone else who started it? How? And as if that is not enough, to hold the political choice of the citizens to ransom.
A majority of the durable infrastructures being used in Ghana today, date back to the colonial and Kwame Nkrumah eras – do we then say we haven’t progressed as a nation any further since those eras? Doesn’t it bother us that the western imperialism that we always point a finger to would look back at us with cheeky spitefulness and say in hush tones “they really haven’t done much since they kicked us out”? The northern parts of Africa in spite of the recent turmoils have achieved so much in terms of the running of their economic engines – their infrastructures are very comparable to some of Europe’s best and yet Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco’s independences were not more than 2 years apart from Ghana’s, yet their achievements are 20 – 30 years ahead of ours; Why honey? Why? Why have you chosen to break my soul this way? Wasn’t it enough that you dismantled my heart? Malaysia’s formal independence only took place in August 1957 whilst its new economic policy restructuring plan only got launched in 1971, yet we cannot even begin to compare us to Malaysia in terms of infrastructural achievements. Singapore only gained official independence in 1965 as a port nation serving Asian regions; today, it would be shameful to even think about comparing our two economies. In all of these, none of the countries mentioned can boast of the depth of natural resources we have. And yet we have to largely borrow money to fund our development. To be honest I really don’t have a problem with borrowing, but what really is the sense in borrowing $ X billions from the Chinese Government, employing Chinese companies to build the infrastructures we need, paying these Chinese Companies the $ X billions we borrowed from their government, they taking the money back to China and in 10 years time, we paying their Government almost twice the $ X billion that they originally lent to us. I don’t know whether you find it as insulting as I do but the Chinese must be having a laugh knowing that apart from getting back the money they gave us through their companies, we as a country will be paying back their loan by supplying them Oil – How insulting. Why honey why? Why did you choose to listen to her more? Is it because I am descent and don’t do all the “naughty” things she does for you? I am really hurt, but I am trying very hard to put my emotions aside. I gave you everything you could ever want and this is what I get in return.
So now let me ask you my second question. What are you going to do about political parties and governments playing with development projects and indeed the progress of this nation huh? When and how are you going to ensure that national development agendas, once passed by parliament or government are seen through irrespective of government changes? What are you doing to ensure that all politicians both incumbent and in opposition see development as a national advantage and not a partisan tool for voting ransoms? What are you going to do about this borrowing Epidemic? Can’t you see that because we act like beggars, they treat us like one? Can’t you see that it is us painting the picture to the world that “we can’t do it”? And for which reason they have the right to treat us as such? You were meant to be my knight in shining armour darling. But ever since you started going out with all these strange countries, you’ve stopped wearing your armour and you don’t even behave like a knight anymore.
QUESTION 3: HOW ABOUT THE CHILDREN? –“SONS ABROAD, OIL AT HOME”
Darling, I know your wife, Ghana, has a lot of children living abroad. I’ve never wanted to bring this subject up, but now I have to, for their sake and for yours. I hope you are beginning to get a clearer picture how much I have really loved you. Considering that we are about to split, I wouldn’t have been wrong to walk away without sharing all these valuable thoughts with you. Its hurting that we had to come to this, but I guess if you love someone that much, it is the best thing to do.
Lets face a very very very ugly truth sweetheart – if I were to ask you right now whether in Ghana’s next 10 year development plan; do you or any of your ministers know how many Civil engineers are needed, how many Accountants, professional Bankers, Electrical Engineers, professional Diplomats etc will be needed to implement such a plan (if indeed there is such a living, breathing plan)? I would bet the answer would be “you honestly don’t know”. If I gave you a year to carry out such a human capital Audit, you still wouldn’t come up with an answer. I sigh! You know, several years ago whilst I was lecturing in a professional Accounting class in the UK, I made a rather startling discovery – I noticed a group of students from an Asian country (previously referred to as one of the Asian Tigers) were consistently outperforming and outclassing their fellow Ghanaian students in class, so in my curiousness, I investigated. Maybe I shouldn’t have – the findings made me feel sorry. Anyway, whilst my Ghanaian students had to survive paying their tuition fees by working late nights and full days and feeling worn out by the time they arrived in class, the Asian students had a different story to tell. All ten of them had been sent to study professional accounting by their government, fully paid for etc. All they had to do was study, pass, and return home to jobs awaiting them. Why? I asked further. Well, as it turned out, their government as part of a 20 year development plan had figured out how many accountants it will need in both public and private sectors to move the economy forward and on target. The ten in my class were just a small batch of hundreds; and it wasn’t only students of accounting that lined up the best tertiary institutions in the world - it covered every sector. They had a good plan, so they knew what resources they already had and those they didn’t have to accomplish it. Do we? I am not talking about a plan drawn up for us by The World Bank or Dominic Strauss Khan’s IMF (oops sorry! I meant Christine Largarde) or countries that support our annual budget – I’m talking about Ghana’s plan – OUR plan.
I ask you this fundamental questions darling: If you do have a plan for the development of this country over the next 5-10 years, what is the human capital component of that plan and how is it being filled if the resources in Ghana currently won’t suffice? I really would like to know. Besides that, I do need to ask you another question - what are you doing about the human capital that is locked up in your children abroad? Don’t you need them to come back? Or you are happy for engineers, doctors, accountants, diplomats, bankers, etc to line up in Europe, Asia and America as cleaners, factory workers and security guards? Or you are happy for them to stay out there in the cold and just send down the Euros, the Sterling and the Dollars? Its OK if that’s what you want for them, after all they are your children right, and am sure one day, they will all happily forgive you for not providing the conditions at home for them to return to. What are you doing? I mean, what has concretely been done to date to actually get Ghana’s international human capital to come back home. I know your love had me blinded in the past but, I can see clearly now and I still haven’t seen anything concrete, not even an international or local fair. What conditions have you made available for them to return to? You see, lesser Europeans and Americans can be tempted to work in another country than Ghanaians can be tempted to leave their shores – because when they weigh the options, they are better off in their own countries. Can we say the same about Ghana? Here is a litmus test sweetheart; Could YOU convince a professional Engineer, working as a cleaner in Europe and still earning twice more than his fellow Engineers in Ghana that he is better off returning to Ghana? It’s not just the money – it’s everything else.. You see, other countries love their own citizens. Something interesting happened in the United Kingdom recently during the start of the economic downturn – the Government made very clear policies and regulations to ensure that the number of foreigners coming into the UK would be reduced drastically, and that available jobs in the system would go to the British Citizenry first. Just out of curiosity, I am wondering if Ghana could ever make a move like that in its national policies and ask jobs to be given to capable Ghanaians first before all foreigners. It’s easy to say, international companies are coming to Ghana and of course, Ghanaians abroad, with the right qualifications are needed to return – If they all did, with all their international experiences, can you guarantee that our local qualified brothers and sisters will NOT be crowded out of the job market? Would you guarantee that EVERYBODY or at least MOST of us will still have something to do?
Oh, whilst I am talking about this, can I just ask you whether you are hoping to turn the new found oil in Ghana into a “Resource Curse” or a “Resource Blessing”. In case you fail to ask yourself, I need to ask you what long term plans you have for the oil industry of Ghana. Do you have plans to ensure that after 20 years, foreign companies are still in charge of majority stakes in Ghana’s oil or Ghanaians are? In what ways will the least Ghanaian be benefitting from the oil revenues – and I don’t mean vague and generalised promises like “there will be job creation and development in the local economy”, that’s for 5 year olds being taught economics. I mean what are the milestones that Ghanaians can hold the government to (notice I didn’t say political parties, I said government). Tell us what we should be able to see and feel and have, in the next ten, twenty and fifty years. What are the transparency systems related to oil revenues that you are putting in place to ensure that at all times and along the entire journey, citizens know how much their country is making in oil and how the money is being spent? Can we get access to such information readily, completely and as and when we need it? How do you intend to ensure that the citizens are involved in the choices made with their country’s resources? (it’s not yours you know?). You need to tell me these things my love – we can’t keep hiding these truths from each other anymore. Please. Let me leave you with an analogy – wouldn’t it be fascinating if you came to borrow my boat to go fishing, I stand on the shore and watch you a few meters away let down the nets and pull in a full load of anchovies, mackerels, tuna and salmons only for you to paddle back ashore and tell me – “the expedition wasn’t great today! I only caught a few anchovies”
Finally, my once dearest love, it is time to say our goodbyes. Things have happened that have brought us to this point. We don’t need to remind ourselves of the pains. I want us all to move forward. I just want to end by saying this – Ghanaians are not stupid. They see and know what is going on. An old proverb my grandma taught me says “the fact that a sheep has wool all over it doesn’t mean it doesn’t sweat – it does”. Many years ago, Ghanaians did not even know they could decide the rulership of their beloved country by the ballot. Then they moved onwards to recognise that not only could they do so, but they could do it as and when they wanted to. Now, their democratic development has brought them to the understanding that not only can they speak and decide – they can also ACT! My wonderful wife once spoke wisdom to me, saying “Kofi, share your wealth with the poor, before they share their poverty with you”. I want to say this to you darling; “Share Ghana with her people, before they share their frustrations with you”. I wish I could still say those wonderful words to you one last time, but the truth is this; Dear President, I really don’t LOVE you anymore.
The views expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and none else
Mr. Charles Kofi Fekpe (FCCA, PGCert)
Writer; Speaker; Finance Manager (UK);Director, CFekpeConsulting Ltd
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