By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Indications are clear that the STX housing project is a millstone hanging around the government’s neck. Consequently, it will be easier for the government to abandon it now than to stubbornly insist on pursuing it into a political doom. Either way, the government is in trouble; it can’t escape blame for failing to get the project carried out and will pay dearly for its lethargy.
Its lopsided approach to this project is a clear demonstration of the purposelessness in officialdom that irritates the citizens. It confirms fears that the government is not managing the affairs of state competently, which demoralizes the citizens, leaving them in the lurch to be oppressed by a sense of futility and despondency. Such a demoralized people cannot be galvanized for national development.
No doubt, the principle behind this STX Housing Project is good but the practical steps toward executing the project lack honesty and raise serious questions. The project is fraught with so much controversy as to make me wonder whether it won’t turn out to be the death warrant that the government has signed for itself.
History tells me how contentious such ambitious projects could be and how much harm can be done to the government’s political fortunes if its opponents carry the day. Down the memory lane, we will recollect what transpired in the First Republic when Nkrumah began infrastructural development, especially in Accra (the Akosombo Dam notwithstanding).
The Busia-led United Party threw caution to the wind as it locked horns with Nkrumah for daring to construct development projects that the opposition wrote off as “mere prestigious projects.” Those projects included the State House (Job 600), the Tema Motorway, and many others that have since the 1960s dotted the skyline as a reminder of the Nkrumah government’s foresightedness.
Other governments added some projects too. The Rawlings government, for instance, constructed some major projects (e.g., Accra International Conference Centre, National Theatre, etc.), cross-country roads and many intra-city ones too. No serious opposition to Rawlings’ infrastructural development agenda came to notice.
Under Kufuor, the NPP government also concentrated attention on infrastructural development; but Kufuor’s decision to construct a new Presidential Palace provoked stiff opposition. That project is serving no useful purpose because it shouldn’t have been constructed, in the first place. The negative reaction to it is enough to confirm that it is more of a waste than anything at all. The country’s President already has enough facilities to serve his official and residential purposes and doesn’t need that Taj Mahal. Anyhow, the millions of dollars sunk into that project cannot be recovered!
It is with this understanding that I unpack the controversy surrounding the Atta Mills government’s lopsided approach to what it has chosen to do as a major landmark of his government’s accomplishments. It is the STX housing project, which entails the construction of 30,000 houses for security personnel at a cost of $1.5 billion; and a total of 200,000 housing units by the end of the project period overall.
That dream may not be realized. Right from scratch, the government hit a snag even before anybody could say “Jack!” And it hasn’t been able to free itself from sloppiness ever since. The project can’t take off and the government seems not to know how to solve the teething problems.
I wonder why this government can’t do one thing right to shame its critics and sustain any positive momentum for its activities. As far as this STX housing issue is concerned, the government’s flim-flammery began long before it announced that it was embarking on such a project. Many people have already written and said much about this STX affair to suggest that this particular project is not in the best interest of the country; but the government has remained stubbornly fixated on pursuing it, mindless of the credibility problems it is creating for itself in the process. The problems manifest at several levels:
High Cost of the Project
In terms of value-for-money, the unit cost of the houses has been criticized as too high. Arguments have been raised that local real estate developers have the expertise to construct such houses at a far lower cost than what the STX demands. Viewpoints have been raised that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) has all the expertise and competence to do such an assignment and that the government should not turn to outsiders to do so.
Despite all these firm indications, the government failed to heed the call from these indigenous real estate developers and sent a team to negotiate with the South Koreans. Under the NDC’s Albert Abongo, the team brought home some assurances that the South Koreans were capable of doing the work and that all was set for it to be launched. The team also brought shame as its members accepted inducements from the South Korean business partners, which many of us interpreted as an instance of corruption.
Funding for the Project
Funding has been another source of controversy since day one. Although Alban Bagbin has assured Ghanaians on many occasions that funds had already been sourced for the project to begin, evidence on the ground proves otherwise. We are told that the government’s sovereign bond (or whatever that instrument may be) is currently being circulated all over the world as part of efforts to solicit the much-needed funds for the project. To date, nothing concrete has been done for the project to begin although President Mills had broken the ground in January this year for the project to take off.
Government has disregarded suggestions that funds can be mobilized locally for the project or the suggestion that the project can be carried out in phases instead of what the STX agreement entails. The question is: Why the rush? Of course, the government wants something to be done so it can have some bragging rights at election time. That’s where the appeal for votes lies.
In-fighting Among STX Management Personnel
As if these technical problems are not troubling enough, the very people charged with overseeing the project are fighting among themselves. Two technical teams constituting the Ghanaian part of STX and the South Korean group are at each other’s throat, what for, no one knows. These boardroom squabbles have reached a head and drawn the government into it; but its negotiation isn’t solving any problem.
There are too many infuriating circumstances surrounding this project. The strident opposition to this STX housing project that the Minority in Parliament mounted appears to be vindicated by what is unfolding right in front of our eyes. We don’t appreciate the fact that the agreement covering the project was approved by the NDC Majority in Parliament while the Minority staged a walkout. But just like the Executive, that Majority in Parliament doesn’t seem to know any better, anyway. That is what has left this project still born.
For all that it may lead to in the end, the failure of this project will hurt the government. Indeed, it is already being condemned for the shoddy manner in which it has approached the issue so far. Added to that, having already raised hopes among the prospective beneficiaries, if the project fails, it will so annoy them as to turn them against the government. And they will give vent to that anger at the polls.
The government is really hamstrung at this stage. Having already boxed itself into a tight corner, it seems to have no leeway to wriggle out of trouble. This is the price it has to pay for making promises without first ensuring that it has the means to fulfill them.
Considering the huge public interest that this STX housing project has generated, the government needs to do better than what it has displayed so far. I can say with all certainty that this STX housing project will be the most potent bug to destroy the NDC’s electoral chances if matters continue to worsen. Critics even see the project as a misplaced priority. Ghanaians have more pressing needs on which such a colossal amount should be spent.
That is why the government has to face reality and abrogate the contract if within the shortest possible time it can’t secure funding or resolve the management problem tearing apart the Ghanaian team and their South Korean counterparts. Then, it will face the most arduous task of explaining to Ghanaians why it toyed with their sentiments or insulted their intelligence. Either way, the government will not come out of such a situation unscathed.
It is within this context that statements attributed to the Minister of Works and Housing that Ghana as a country will not suffer any fatal injury if the controversial STX Housing project fails to materialize must be treated with contempt. It is not a matter of Ghana’s fate but that of a government that is too commonly known for flim-flammery. It is about a government that seems not to know how to use all the resources available to it to administer affairs. It is about a government that is doing (or failing to do) what the people expect but will do all it can to use all the benefits of incumbency to attempt remaining in power.
And as Bagbin rightly noted in his interactions with Joy News’ Araba Koomson (August 26, 2011), the failure of the STX housing project will erode public confidence and respect for the government. The government will definitely lose a “political mileage” if it fails to honour its promise. And there are many other unfulfilled promises to refer the government to.
From what has happened so far, even if the STX housing project starts today, it won’t redeem the government’s image. Fear abounds that it may not be completed before next year’s elections. What is the guarantee that if the NDC is voted down, the incoming NPP administration will complete it? We know how the Mills government has abandoned projects initiated by the Kufuor government, and we are all too familiar with this vicious circle of politicization of development projects.
There is too much shoddiness in officialdom. I shudder to accept the fact that those in government today were the very loud-mouthed critics of the Kufuor government who, while in the opposition, never ceased tormenting Kufuor over any move that his government made. But almost close to the last lap in their administration of affairs, they come across as no better than those they were scolding left and right. What lesson did they learn in the opposition to help them outdo the NPP administration and avoid being kicked back into the opposition?
While all this sloppiness goes on, the government is deceiving itself that it has so far achieved much by way of infrastructural development throughout the country and is confident that its mandate will be renewed. Public sentiments contradict such a vainglorious exercise at flattering its own vanity. The government will help itself survive if it takes a harder look at its performance so far to make amends. The numerous instances of mediocrity that have dogged it can’t win any public goodwill for it.
In all honesty, it appears that the government doesn’t know how not to shoot itself in the foot. Such a government cannot get my trust or respect.