Is SADA A Reality Or Myth?

Sun, 23 Jun 2013 Source: Ziem, Joseph

By Joseph Ziem

For more than four decades now citizens, in Northern Ghana, have moaned and groaned about how they have been left behind; about how they have little resources; about the “yawning development gap” between the North and the South of the country and about how they need donor intervention and equitable development.

Now the people have the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority [SADA]: a complete vehicle for speeding up development of the Northern Ecological Zone and catching up with the South.

SADA is an independent state agency mandated by an Act of Parliament [Act 805 of 2010] to coordinate a comprehensive development agenda for the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone. It is a positive venture that intends rapid, concentrated investment in strategic areas of the economy of Northern Ghana in a manner never seen before in the history of the country.

Ironically, SADA has used up four years of its 20-year lifespan and it is yet to find its feet. The Chief Executive Officer was employed in 2011 and some of its staff assumed office just in the first quarter of 2013.

SADA hit the ground running with a lucrative butternut squash business and other snapshot projects; but just as this success was about to be hailed, the organization inadvertently plunged into the controversial abyss of tree planting scandal, guinea fowl rearing palaver and now the importation of seeds for farmers in the project area.

SADA is riding on the vision of a “Forested and Green North by 2030”. Its strategy entails a major paradigm-shift in promoting economic growth and sustainable development. It is ensuring that smallholder families and poor farmers develop a long-term stake in agriculture through inter-cropping with economic trees.

Revolving around this forested North are complimentary investments in roads, energy and water resources, education and health. It proffers short-term food and livelihoods security measures that also address social protection and peace issues.

Putting the cart before the horse

Paradoxically, up till now, majority of the people of the North do not know whether SADA is living up to the strategies it is supposed to implement. The SADA Secretariat is not forthcoming; information on its activities seems to be classified. Even most urban based CSOs including the media do not understand what SADA is all about or what it is doing, how much more community based organizations, traditional authorities and rural communities.

Of late, SADA has become popular for the wrong reasons. The lack of information about its operations opens it up to speculation and leaves its stakeholders in the dark. Yet SADA states in its operational manual that: “The provision of information on available services and programmes both to participants and potential investors within Ghana and outside Ghana will be a crucial driver of the changes anticipated in SADA development strategy framework. Such information may include that which will help participants as well as potential investors to make the appropriate decisions and choices.” This is not happening. If it is happening, how many of us are aware?

Since it began operations, residents in the SADA project area otherwise known as the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone, have been overly anxious and looking forward to enjoy the benefits of project outcomes within the shortest possible time. They keep on hearing one thing after the other, mostly in the media and this has made most of them even confused just because the Corporate Affairs Department [Public Relations Department] has either become ineffective or acting like an agency dealing with secret information. Thus, one will ask, is SADA a reality or myth?

A grievous mistake in the organizational structure of SADA is lumping up the Human Resource and Administrative Directorate with Corporate Affairs. Information and communication are the lifeblood of any serious organisation including the SADA Secretariat. A Corporate Affairs Department with a well planned and effective communication strategy should have been the first thing to be thought about or put in place right from the beginning when the idea of a Savannah Accelerated Development Authority was formed by government and stakeholders before thinking of hiring a CEO and other Directors.

But, placing Corporate Affairs as an appendage of Human Resource and Administrative Directorate is a bane in the organizational structure of SADA. No wonder when the guinea fowl and tree planting scandal erupted, the management was and still is unable to clear the air. What SADA has done is to provide a field day for public/media speculation and opprobrium. The unfortunate situation lingers. It has only been doused by the on-going 2012 presidential election petition at the Supreme Court.

Again, worrying reports from civil society indicates that if precautions are not taken, a number of challenges that could derail the gains of SADA would soon emerge and these include, replacement of government funds for normal development activities with SADA funds; inadequate consultations with key stakeholders by SADA; politicization of the programmes and activities of SADA; dependence of SADA’s current funding regime on political will and non-functioning of some structures of the Authority. But, it seems nothing is being done to preempt these speculations, and only time will tell when these issues would degenerate into another public debate.

Way forward

It is imperative for SADA to embark on intensive awareness creation and information sharing programmes on its financial, fiscal and regulatory incentives and how people can benefit from or take advantage of such incentives for the development of their business.

SADA could also provide information and education, or initiate communication activities, that help micro-entrepreneurs to re-align their enterprises and prioritise them in ways that enable them to move away from investing overly in social ventures, to embracing economic investments.

There must be a too-way communication channel between SADA and its stakeholders. It must ensure constant flow of information to its stakeholders and to elicit information from them, which could be used to determine the subsequent direction and levels of services provided by SADA.

For this to be effective, the Corporate Affairs function should be separated from the Human Resource and Administrative Directorate and a seasoned communication specialist who understands the nuances, tradition, culture and peculiarities of Northern Ghana be hired to put SADA on course.

Finally, the SADA strategy also entails active support for Civil Society and Non-governmental Organisations. These are stakeholders that have long sustained livelihoods and provided a base for mobilizing citizens to engage actively in development throughout the three regions and adjoining districts. Their stake in SADA cannot be underestimated. They can provide backup services for SADA through monitoring and advocacy.

Mr. Alhassan Andani, Chairman of the SADA Board once said: “What will make SADA a success is the ownership the people of the area will feel towards it. It is about their development and they should not allow the SADA process to be bastardised through narrow, parochial party partisan lines. They should own it.”

Indeed, the impact of SADA on the lives of the people in the North can be assessed effectively through careful monitoring and evaluation. Information gained through this process can be used to ascertain impact, determine the adjustments needed to improve the SADA strategy and to spread programme benefits equitably.

The writer is a freelance journalist and a social media fanatic based in Tamale. Views or comments may be sent to him via ziemjoseph@yahoo.com.

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph