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Opinions Thu, 15 Mar 2018

I will not say anything about the Komenda Sugar Factory

Today I am not sure if I’m writing. I have felt upset, to the point that I decided not to write anything. There seems to be no end to how we are determined to be poor at what we do, as a nation, and so I am not going to write anything.

It has been in the news, for a while, that the Atta Mills Library, which was commissioned two years ago, has been shut down, for lack of funds. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, who has oversight responsibility for the library, says the facility incurs a daily electricity bill of GHC300, something they cannot afford, and so they have shut the facility down until the government brings soso and so.

Now, listen to this: Challenging Heights, in the same year as the Atta Mills Library was opened, opened a big coldstore, to serve the women in our program, and to fight poverty, as well as addressing the root causes of child trafficking in Winneba. That facility pays GHC500 every single day. It is a challenging situation, to pay GHC500 in electricity bills, to operate a not-for-profit facility, which is meant to serve a public interest. We don’t have any money coming from anywhere, to pay for our operations, but there is no excuse for us not to develop innovative ways of sustaining the operations of the facility.

But a government builds such a huge absolutely essential facility, in a regional capital, placed it under a whole university, with all the available government agencies, Municipal Assemblies, Regional Development Corporation, an autonomous University of Cape Coast, Regional this, regional that, all staring at the facility as it goes down. We are all waiting for the facility to rot so that we can go for another loan, and give the money to another contractor, after our 10% is down, then we will recommission it in celebration, and we will restart all over again, the cycle of neglect, eiiii Ghana!

Four years ago Challenging Heights built a 50-seater capacity community library in Winneba. The arrangements we had with the donor was that she was funding the construction and the initial book stocking of the facility, after which we will take over the operations, and fund it 100%. I am happy to announce to you that the 50-seater Challenging Heights library is still functioning, four years after it was commissioned by the American Ambassador to Ghana.

Mr. President, if no one is willing or is able to manage the Atta Mills Presidential Library, give it to me, let me manage it. I don’t have a PhD in odology or eology, but I can, at least, manage a very simple thing like a library, aabah! Sometimes we make education look too small in the eyes of the unlettered.

And did you hear that the Komenda Sugar Factory is still shut down, two years after it was commissioned? That facility caused us $35million, you remember? My brother, I will not remind you, that, that money which was used to build the factory was a loan we contracted, which we are currently paying with interest, do you get me?

Dr. Henry Lartey of GCPP says he has lost a lot of money, after he cultivated over 100,000 acres of sugarcane plantation, to supply the factory. And the last time I was in Komenda, I saw many sugarcane producing men and women, who have all invested monies into raising their plantations in anticipation that they will sell same to the factory when operations begin.

So the factory is up. Raw materials are available, with more people, including myself, interested in establishing sugarcane plantations, but the people to spark the machines are currently sleeping, snoring. They will only wake up, again, when the facility is done getting rotten, then they will institute another committee to develop another budget (while we are still servicing the current loan), then they will award themselves the ensuing contract, and get themselves rich, all over again, thereafter we will all surround them, in our party colors, and we will (sheepishly) clap for them, for paying us back in our own ignorance, and our auto-piloted support. You see why I decided not to write today?

Let me go off track a little bit, to reduce my stress levels: Yesterday Challenging Heights received 14 boys and girls we have rescued from some 12 fishing communities along Lake Volta. The children, who were aged between 8 and 16, had worked as child fishermen and fishmongers for an average of 8 years, most of whom were sold for an average of GHC80 to the fishermen.

Now I’m back: When you are driving from Cape Coast to Winneba, just after Ankamu (Apam Junction), just look at your right side of the road, you will see a certain market, which was built about twelve years ago. Those who took the decision to build that facility, only did so, I guess, for the purposes of public commissioning, not for the purposes of it being used, for how could we have cited a market for a rural poor community in such a distance away, and so inaccessible to the very communities who needs them? That facility, which was built with hundreds of thousands of Ghana’s money, is still sitting there unused, rotting away, more than ten years after it was built.

When I asked Simpa Panyin, he told me that some of our leaders have found another smart way of stealing from the people. They will look for budget opportunities. Ones they put the project in the budget, and the money is on, they don’t care how functional or dysfunctional the project will be. They need the project to be immediately executed, for the purposes of pocketing their share (quickly before they are changed from the position), and that is why you sometimes see irrigation dams being built in people’s bedrooms, that is why you sometimes see PhD scholarships being awarded to toddlers and nursing babies, that is why you sometimes see hairdressers being given research allowances, ewifo!

Let me go off once again: Last year I announced to you that Challenging Heights has begun implementing its 5-year strategic plan. The biggest take away from the strategic plan is for us to, together with our partners, rescue 700 boys and girls from slavery on Lake Volta in the next five years. I believe I warned, that, that goal was a very ambitious one to achieve.

The good news is that we are off to a flying start. We and our partners together, we rescued 91 (74 boys, and 17 girls) between the ages of 5 and 17 in the year 2017. I am excited, already, that we have done two separate rescues, this year alone, bringing the total rescued this year to 31, and an overall total of nearly 1,600 since Challenging Heights was established in 2003.

We continued our support to our previously rescued children, ensuring that those who are already receiving care, are gaining the best of services required to thrive in their communities.

This year 2018, we aim at continuing delivering on our strategic plan - we will rescue, together with our partners, 140 children. We are bringing back our youth empowerment program, providing skills and entrepreneurial training for young persons for the purposes of becoming employable, we will support a total of 260 women in our projects, to address the root causes of child trafficking in fishing, as well as improving upon our advocacy for change program.

In the meantime, let’s allow the Atta Mills Presidential Library to rot. Let’s allow the Komenda Sugar factory to collect dust while we pay the $35million loan and the interest, and let’s continue collecting our salaries, as we ask for more taxes, and more everything, adzetowo!

Columnist: James Kofi Annan