By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Saturday, December 24, 2011
President Mills says he is ready to eat a humble pie. Trust the Ghanaian politician to seek refuge in stale metaphors as a face-saving manouevre to escape blame. Certainly, his plate of pies is full to the brim, the failed STX housing project being the latest. I hope he has sharpened his teeth and braced his jaws well enough to bite deep into it. I wish him a good appetite, then.
The STX housing project to provide 30,000 houses for security agencies at $1.5 billion is doomed. And it doesn’t come as a surprise because the conditions for this doom had been laid at the very moment that the project was conceived. The government rushed through with it and disregarded well-intentioned suggestions to hasten slowly. Now, the reality it has refused to see is here, and feathers are being ruffled.
Even before anything concrete had been established to indicate that the project was viable, President Mills cut the sod in January 2011 for its commencement even before it was given Parliamentary approval in September 2011. Let’s remember that it began in the teeth of opposition by the Parliamentary Minority.
Despite the vitriolic protestations by other stakeholders such as the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA), civil society groupings, and other identifiable pressure groups, the government held on stubbornly to its agenda and brought in the Koreans. Shrugging off this opposition, the government pressed on and created the impression that the STX project was a lifeline being thrown to the needy institutions. Now, the government seems to be wise only after the fact.
Considering the conflict of interest and the shoddiness with which it has handled this STX project, nothing exists anywhere to confirm that it will take off and be completed as Ghanaians have been made to believe. President Mills’ government has recorded yet another bewildering failure.
Need we probe any further to know the factors responsible for this failure? I don’t think so. The factors are glaring—government’s incompetence and penchant for lying—which raises disturbing questions: Why should this project be adamantly pursued even when little groundwork had been done to ensure its success? How did the Ghanaian partners (led by Asamoah) get to be part of this project all of a sudden, given the fact that the company they represent hadn’t been known in the Ghanaian construction industry and came to notice just when this STX project was being initiated? Somebody being used as a front to make ill-gotten wealth by the very government officials who conceived this project?
No amount of remorse can solve the credibility problem created by this STX housing fiasco. Even though President Mills has conceded that he has been let down by developments militating against the project and asked Ghanaians not to lose hope yet, I am more than convinced that nothing can be done to undo the harm that this failure has already done. It is not just a matter of the government’s conceding that the STX project is a failure; it is a matter of recognizing the shoddy manner in which it has been handling national affairs and to do better.
Eating a humble pie won’t solve that problem either, contrary to what President Mills might be hinting at when he told an Accra-based radio station (Radio Gold) on Friday morning that his government would be the first to concede that the project has been a failure:
“Let me say that we’ve had problems with the STX; at the moment, we are trying to see how we can save that project; but I want to assure you that where we think that we can’t move forward we are prepared to eat humble pie and tell the whole world that this thing, you know, it's not what we thought it will be but we are trying to see what we can.”
This expression of remorse is an irritating gesture. National development efforts are not boosted by remorse. The STX fiasco is nothing but the culmination of the government’s shortsightedness, political mischief, and disdain for the people. It is the result of a beggar mentality nurtured by a vicious leadership flaw, incompetence, and plain immorality. In effect, the government is smeared already by this STX fiasco.
The project has failed because none in government is seriously committed to it. No government that does things this way deserves sympathy.
Apart from the huge sum involved, the fact that the project was to be executed by Koreans even though there were qualified Ghanaians to do so at a cheaper cost is enough to confirm that those who initiated this STX project had ulterior motives bordering on impropriety. In our peculiar Ghanaian context when the construction industry is fraught with the kickback syndrome, something must have undergirded the choice of the Koreans for this project. Were they brought in because they were considered to be more capable than Ghanaian real estate developers? Inconceivable. Could some proponents of this project have gone into overdrive in anticipation of lining their pockets with kickbacks? Possible.
We can tell from the controversy that has dogged this project right from its conception that the government failed to do diligent work before committing the country to that deal with the Koreans. So far, we don’t know the quantum of money spent on this still-born project (at least, in setting up offices and other administrative structures to manage it) but we can infer from goings-on that the country has already lost much in this deal. Someone has to be held accountable for this loss.
The failure of this STX project clearly demonstrates the vicious intransigence with which our leaders handle national affairs. It confirms apprehensions that our leaders are our main problem to solve. They can’t solve national problems. That is why the voters must use better reasons in choosing our leaders.
Now, to Alban Bagbin, who has turned out to be a big liar of the kind to be feared in national politics. He has adamantly defended the STX project and misled Ghanaians into believing that it was viable and would be executed without any hiccup. Having all along given the assurance that enough money had been sourced for it to take off, he has now back-tracked to say that the government was considering abandoning it.
The framework within which the STX project is placed is itself hideous. It is fraught with mistrust and a grievous appetite for personal gains. Right from scratch, opposition to this STX project indicated that Bagbin and all those directly connected with this project lack the moral capabilities to see it through. The government team, led by Albert Abongo, that negotiated the deal started off on the wrong footing, allowing themselves to be bribed with petty items by the Koreans. Having already sold their conscience for mere pottage, what else could they do but staunchly defend the project only to be humiliated by what we are now being told?
The collapse of this project is another confirmation of the shoddy manner in which President Mills and his government are handling national affairs. This level of shoddiness is disappointing and won’t justify any entreaties for the electorate to renew the government’s mandate.
Undoubtedly, with what has been happening all over the place, President Mills is likely to be down on his luck. He will find it difficult to persuade voters to retain his government in power because there is no firm assurance that it can do anything re-assuring or that it has the panacea for the country’s problems beyond 2012. What has happened for the past three years isn’t convincing enough that another four years will not be a painful repetition of the flim-flammery that has characterized his administration.
We are being blunt to say here that the foundation on which to build anything between 2012 and 2016 hasn’t been laid at all, which threatens the re-election bid. What has been happening to date is disappointing. That is why those in government claiming that President Mills’ chances for 2012 are bright make me want to puke. What significant accomplishment is there to build on? How will the government prove to the electorate that it has already laid a solid foundation on which to build after the 2012 elections to warrant its mandate being renewed?
Even though we are quick to criticize former Presidents Rawlings and Kufuor, we can’t fail to acknowledge their accomplishments in their first term, which justified their clamour for a renewal of their mandate. And the electorate bought into that plea and retained them in office. What is the achievement on which President Mills can bank his hopes and point to as a justification for any appeal to the electorate to renew his mandate? Let nobody talk about infrastructural development because it is nothing new to enthuse over.
I want to tell President Mills that as he continues to preside over mediocrity in the governance of the country and fails to prevent laudable projects from collapsing, he is fast liquidating his own political fortunes. This STX project would have helped him claw back lost goodwill had it been approached seriously to improve housing conditions for the prospective beneficiaries. As the situation stands now, it is a big blow; and it won’t motivate this disappointed segment of the voter population to root for him. Another constituency lost!
President Mills has to take a huge chunk of the blame for all that has happened to make this STX project flop. He hasn’t been actively involved or serious enough to tackle the teething problems, leaving everything to Bagbin and the STX Korean and Ghanaian feuding parties to handle. That’s not how a President seeking re-election should act in a matter concerning such an important project.
Of course, this project has wide political ramifications and should have been pursued to conclusion and not abandoned this way to give his opponents the political capital that they’ve been hell-bent on grabbing out of this STX deal. Having looked on for this project to be checkmated by official incompetence, President Mills shouldn’t be surprised if the STX fiasco turns out to haunt him as he campaigns for votes. He has tall hurdles in front of him to jump in this last lap of the race toward Election 2012. With all these failures to contend with, what does he think will boost his chances for re-election?
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