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Musings and observations from beloved ogyakrom
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Musings and observations from beloved ogyakrom

Wed, 1 May 2013 Source: Sarfo, Naasei Akoto

PART 1

I had heard much dispiriting and depressing stories about the situation in Ghana prior to my arrival at Easter. Though individual experiences may differ, I certainly found many of the stories validated by my own experiences. Most people I met had a deep sense of foreboding. Advertising banners announcing how the president is “working hard for you” sharply contrasted with peoples’ sense of drift in the country, sky-rocketing prices of food and commodities, “dumsomania” lack of water etc. The country appears on a full-speed in reverse gear. I think we delude ourselves in to thinking we’re on the cusp of middle income status country yet we can’t even supply basic amenities like power and water..

I watched a David Ampofu programme in the evening of Easter Saturday on the subject of load-shedding (amazingly the power stayed on throughout) which I thought was very well put-together and very informative. I was most struck by the answer to a straightforward question David put to the head of Electricity Corporation when he asked him point-blank that is it not the case that many of the problems are frankly the result of just too many incompetent personnel in positions of responsibility who are simply not up to the job? While not actually admitting or refuting this charge, the boss spoke of new contracts for senior management officials with performance-linked remuneration. And failure to meet expected targets would result in sackings. I welcome that but I’m cynical about whether it will work. In my experience, even in more advanced countries, such contracts are often little more than window-dressing as most officials are paid-off even though they fail to achieve their targets. In spite of my cynicism, I would hope that the principles of responsibility and accountability could be embedded in the psyche and culture of our country. Too much lazy attitudes permeate our way of doing things. People literally get away with murder because no one holds them to account. Those you will expect to set a good example are actually the worst culprits. Any lame excuse is given for not turning up for work. And because bosses never set a good example, they often lack the moral authority to enforce the rule.

In a conversation with a friend about why she did not go to work (she works in the health service) on a particular day, she said she just didn’t go to work. She wasn’t on annual leave, it wasn’t a day off, she wasn’t on training or time-owing. She just said she didn’t like going to work on Fridays. What did her boss think of it, I asked? She just shrugged her shoulders. “Haven’t you got a contracted set of hours to work weekly or monthly or whatever?” She said she had a contract but it didn’t matter. I don’t think this was an isolated case. People just do not think their work matters, and whether they turned up for work or not matters little. Same cannot be said of their salary, which duly went into their back account at “moon die”. The link between work and wages (where some one is coughing up the money) appears to be lost on many people. Is it any wonder people do not think they need to work to get paid?

Talking of being paid for little to no work done, why are workers paid even during strike periods? I thought you forfeited wages during periods of strikes. May I make it clear though that I am not knocking workers and their legitimate grounds to take industrial actions if all other avenues are not yielding any results. However I think there has to be some price to pay for withholding ones labour so it is not an easy path to travel to seek improvement in conditions of service. After all, the public is in some way inconvenienced by every industrial action and most have to make an alternative arrangement for the service lost, often at some personal extra cost. I do accept that in our infantile democracy with little accountability from people in authority, the potential for abusing workers and basically telling them to p*** off without offering any negotiated route out of any industrial dispute, things would only get worse at the work place and the little morale would easily dissipate. However I am convinced that as a nation we have to start somewhere in an attempt to bring some sanity into the system. Some accountability has to be brought into the system to encourage responsible behaviour other wise we will continue to drift.

Doctors and pharmacists were on strike during my visit, (they still are, apparently) which was bad enough. But the Minister of Health, in her wisdom told the country that doctors at the 37 military hospital were still at post. I believe she meant for that statement to undermine the strike action but what it betrayed for me is the puerile and unsophisticated nature of our political discourse. I wonder if the minister was actually asking people in the country to descend on 37 military hospital in Accra if they were unwell regardless of where they lived. Things are often done for cheap and immediate political point-scoring ends regardless of the cost. Instead of sitting down to discuss the issues that led to the industrial action in a bid to find genuine solutions, the Minister thought it better to display her ignorance and partisan credentials. Frankly, what intelligence has such a person got, to be given responsibility for the health ministry to run? It just sums up our plight.

Poor roads remain the order of the day. I acknowledge some improvements, particularly the George W. Bush Road, otherwise named the N1, the old Abeka Lapaz way that goes all the way to Tetteh Quarshie Circle. It is an exception though, because the normal situation is still one of extremely bad roads, sometimes out-rightly dangerous roads. In fact so bad are many of the roads that, when driving, I often found myself concentrating so hard looking for the least inhospitable part of the road to drive on, I wasn’t always checking my mirrors, only to see a car just zoom past me. Some of the roads, you would be forgiven to think they led to animal habitats, but they actually lead to places inhabited by other human beings and businesses.

If we run things properly in our part of the world, we will have power and water suppliers first laying the groundwork for new residential areas to have access to these essential amenities. Whatever it will cost to extend services to any new areas, the new residents are bound to pay for the services, which mean such supplying companies aren’t likely to lose their investment cost. Instead we have a situation where those organisations are lacking in vision and are unable to be a partner in development. There is nothing like social housing in Ghana, instead what we have is private construction of homes. Let’s set aside the poor planning regime that allows for any structure to be built anywhere resulting in the slums we have created in certain parts of the country. As buildings are constructed by private individuals, couldn’t the government ensure that a strong electricity corporation and the water and sewerage company, whether in public or private hands ensure that new residential areas never go too long without these essential services? After all what else should be their raison d’être? Instead we have two companies well past their sell-by date united by a common characteristic of severe inefficiency. How huge residential area could go without water supply for weeks, sometimes months is so mind-boggling. These companies are symptomatic of all that is wrong in our society.

Our journey is very long but one gets the sense that our leaders haven’t got any clue about when to set off. What they are good at is propaganda but history gives no examples of nations built on propaganda. Castles built on sand stand a better chance of stability.

The practice of billboards in town centres bearing names of deceased persons is now the going thing. If you ask me, it’s a rather macabre thing. Frankly what is the point of this practice, which has become so widespread? I thought a person’s deeds will outlive them and preserve their memory but to actually go to the trouble of erecting a billboard complete with a picture of the deceased and telling the world when they lived and died seems to me to be at best bizarre, at worst pointless and should be discouraged or even banned. Let’s leave our dearly departed to stay in the cemetery. These billboards are even an eyesore at certain places. In some cases they even impede sight. We seem to have an unusual fascination with deathly issues. Just take a look at films churned out by the films industry. Mediocrity doesn’t begin to describe those awful films. Any creativity or competition is in the area of which producer/director can introduce the most ghostly/witchcraft story lines. As for the acting, the least said of them, the better. I recall better acting in primary school plays including better delivery of lines than what’s spewed out by our very ordinary films industry. How those terrible products get patronised is beyond me. And frankly if those pathetic story-lines are really a reflection of the society then our under-development owes more to our backwardness than laziness, bad leadership, corruption and dishonesty, which I have often thought were the main reasons for our sorry state.

Naasei Akoto Sarfo

London

Columnist: Sarfo, Naasei Akoto