By Transferring Legal Ownership to Township
Finding Solutions through Decentralization.
By: Dr. Kwaku A. Danso
The news that one of Ghana’s premier high schools, Achimota, is about to be closed down due to a damaged sewage system that can cause squalor and diseases in the school and neighborhood came as a shock to many of us within the last week of January to February 2010.
According to a report provided by the Achimota Association, the following is a summary of the events, issues and facts:
1. THE NEWS - On 19 Jan. 2010, the AMA issued an ultimatum to the Headmistress to solve the health crisis caused by the collapsed sewage system or close down.
2. CURRENT ESTATE DESCRIPTION–
A. Achimota School consists of Achimota Secondary School and Achimota Primary School. The Estate sits on approximately 1,300 acres of land. Achimota Hospital, located on the campus, is now managed by the Ghana Health Service. The post office on the campus is managed by Ghana Post. Achimota Golf Club leases land from the School for its golf course.
B. The sewage treatment plant is located in an area of the campus known as the Achimota Folly, and an extensive network of underground pipes that carry waste to the treatment plant for processing into harmless products. The treatment plant is nearly defunct and can no longer process waste well. This is partly because it was installed almost 80 years ago, and since then the number of users has more than quadrupled. In the last few years, land encroachment has accelerated the sewage system’s deterioration.
C. The sewage system serves Achimota Community and its neighbouring community.
3. PROBLEM DEFINITION -
A. The sewage system is used by more than 5,000 students, staff and others. Since installation in the early 1930s, it has never been upgraded.
B. Because of its size, Achimota’s maintenance needs far exceed the maintenance funds it receives from Government, even compared to other secondary schools. Even if its maintenance budget were increased, the school would still not have the financial means to undertake a project as complex as re-engineering an 80-year-old, 5,000-user sewage plant.
C. The sewage system’s efficiency has declined rapidly because the encroachments built on top of the main pipes have cracked and blocked some of the pipes, causing the spillage of raw sewage. Secondly, rehabilitating the sewage treatment plant may be virtually impossible unless the illegal buildings next to it are demolished.
D. There are reports that the buildings constructed on the Achimota lands include properties of some high profile people in government.
E. The Public Health risks were listed as: “An outbreak of air-borne or water-borne communicable diseases. For example, flies feeding on faecal matter could alight on food eaten by students. The water supply could also become contaminated. The situation will only get worse until something is done.”
F. The potential legal issues include the following: The AMA has previously warned the school about unacceptably low public health standards. The violations were not corrected because of lack of funds. It is further alleged that a student recently died from cholera, possibly contracted through food from a street vendor. Therefore, if another student dies during this current health crisis, the school authorities and the Government could face a major lawsuit. There have been enough warnings and danger signals.
4. RESPONSIBILITY –
A. The School Board according to the 1932 legislation is in charge of the school. In 1922, the colonial government acquired land from two Accra families for £4,000 to construct the school. The colonial government vested Achimota School’s real and personal property in the Council (now the Board of Governors) under the terms of the Achimota College 1934 Ordinance. The school’s geographic coordinates are described in detail in the 1934 Ordinance. It cost approx. £660,000 to build the school, and annual maintenance costs were about £50,000.
B. Achimota is a (central) government public school which admits students from all over Ghana. The government sets the curriculum, sets the school fees and chooses the teachers. The school therefore falls under the Government’s responsibility. The bulk, if not all, of the money must come from Government.
C. The students did not create this crisis by some deviant misbehaviour, and neither their parents. They are not responsible and should not be “punished” for the failure of adults paid to be responsible for public schools. They only took an exam and got admitted. They have a right to be able to pursue their studies in a sanitary environment that does not pose a high risk of disease. This is a human rights issue.
5. CURRENT ATTEMPTED RESOLUTION –
A. Achimota’s Old Students continue to support the school actively. However, a major infrastructural project such as this goes beyond the charity or goodwill of the alumni. They are under no legal obligation to support the school, and cannot be compelled to give.
B. Engineering experts will consider a range of options. However, many experts indicate that what the School needs is a cost-effective, low-maintenance, environmentally-friendly, gravity-fed sewer system that covers the current usage area (Achimota Folly, Anumle, etc). It should not be an Achimota School-only system, because that would cause chaos when the other users are cut off. They have nowhere else to go. The financial outlay will be substantial, but the cost of doing nothing would be even higher.
C. How this case is handled may set an important precedent. If the encroachers get away with it, other people eyeing other school lands will be emboldened. Encroachment is not an Achimota-only problem.
(Ref: Achimota Health Crisis –Fact Sheet, Posted on GLU forum, Fri 2/12/2010 4:08 PM)
The MISMATCH and Broken-Down Systems -
Cases like this oftentimes become the visible example of how a governmental system has broken down. The poor rate of progress in economic and human development of post colonial Africa, compared to societies in south East Asia such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, can only be justified by understanding how a modern governance system, aka democracy, was imposed on a platform of centuries old traditions and cultures. This dilemma has created a leadership that are self-centered, lack discipline and integrity, exhibits weak managerial skills, poor sense of organizational responsibilities, and worse still lack of love for their people.
In the olden days of Africa, the Chiefs and Kings had vested ownership of the land, and showed interest in the land and the people, if not for taxation and war, at least felt good in being their King or Chief held up in palanquins. According to research conducted by Prof. George Ayittey (ref his book: Indigenous African Institutions) most African systems of government had a form of accountability, and Chiefs could be removed for non-performance by their people through the elders. Today’s system of democracy seems like a total mismatch for African leaders, who, even though well educated from Western institutions, fail to realize any sense of responsibility, accountability and show no love for the people they serve.
There seems to be a dependency syndrome that suggests that no matter how much the Ghanaian or African educated official spends, some “development partner” will pay the deficit expenditure. These elites do not care to stop and think of how much revenues are generated from productive activities on their land, or to preserve the land, or to protect the people’s interest. They however want to enjoy the adulation of the people but show no long term plans and constantly seem to seek opportunities to consolidate their power through nominations and appointments, and maneuver to find moneys for their re-election and even for a post-service emoluments. It is hard to describe this mindset with anything other than open-thievery or blatant disregard for the welfare of the people who elect them and pay them. Study shows that the post Nkrumah leadership exhibits a lack of vision and sincerity, and a leadership who cannot even plan for long term offices for the members of Parliament, let alone think of providing water for the communities or cater to their public schools! What is observed in Ghana falls within what has been described by one Professor at Harvard as “broken down” government.
The ROLE OF GOVERNMENT -
Understanding leadership in a democracy has been difficult for Africans. The concept of diverse groups of ethnicities working together under one leader who may not be royalty of their own but elected through the ballot seems very strange. The role of leadership in modern governance is explained from both a theoretical and practical application standpoint in a previous work called “Leadership Concepts and The Role of Government in Africa: The Case of Ghana” (2007, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 978-1-4257-2500-6, 978-1-4257-2499-3).
Achimota school, and Achimota College constitute one of Ghana’s most prestigious educational institutions, which have produced or been associated with many prominent Doctors, Engineers, Scientists, Lawyers and other professionals scattered around the world, including first President Kwame Nkrumah, President Rawlings and now President Mills. Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, Achimota had a pair of shoes named after it called Achimota Sandals, which was recommended or mandatory footwear even for those who attended what has been called the Kings high school, Prempeh College.
It therefore becomes strange that a school belonging to the central government of Ghana does not seem to know what to do when lands belonging to Achimota are encroached upon, sewage system is damaged, and the school is on the border of being closed down due to environmental contamination! Who is responsible for Ghana!
Finding a solution to any organizational problems demands localized attention and analyses and assigning responsibilities. Let us study what others have done. In the US, as in other democratic nations, Towns and Districts are incorporated as legal entities, with ownership of their schools, public libraries, parks, etc, and a legal mandate to collect taxes from residents.
What is missing in Ghana is leadership that is close to the people and solved local problems. Since the first experiment in Socialism failed, the next common sense administration of Ghana should have seen the need to empower localities to elect their own leaders and for them to learn to manage their lives as done in modern societies. There are courses and mentors who can help in this process.
To create a local governing body, one needs to give ample notice and have residents of a town or district meet, discuss, and then vote to set up a legally mandated and chartered City Council.
Second the people gathered can nominate and elect an interim body to prepare a city charter which is a legally binding document of how the city should be administered and managed. This gives powers to collect taxes and hire people to manage and work for all residents.
In the third phase, the help of the electrical commissioner is needed to conduct a local election to choose a Mayor and City or Town council.
It must be noted that this is how democracy started in 587BC in ancient Athens. We should not make this so complicated and bring in the boys form World Bank with PhDs who may lack basic administrative management experience. We should keep it simple. Samples of City Charters are provided freely on the Internet if anybody cares to do a Google search. There are tons of articles on the history of democracy, development of the City Council, through City commission, and finally to the Professional City Manager position that anybody will find interesting to read (e.g. www.historyworld.net). There is a Discovery Channel documentary by Canadian Professor Thomas which is also a very interesting study.
Overall, managing ourselves as a people should not be an academic exercise, but a practical means that we can learn from other societies. If local people can have a vote, it will force every homeowner in the area to contribute towards the development of the public schools, development of public parks, covered central sewage system and more in that district as found needed and within budget by the governing town or city council body. It is interesting to note that even Haiti has public parks and covered sewage. Since the Jan 12, 2010 earthquake, CNN in the US had almost continuous 24 hour coverage for more than two weeks. Careful observation shows Haiti has covered sewage. The poorest country in the Western hemisphere may have an edge in infrastructural development over Ghana. Think about it.
The SHORT TERM solution will be to "beg" for money our usual style from volunteers and donors. We would raise more money if it was a funeral, as you all know in our culture. We should not wait till students and children around Achimota School die of contaminated food and infestation! It might take 6 months to raise say $500,000 if we are lucky. "Begging" from international sources might take the same or longer. The issues is how long it’s going to take us and what pain before we learn to work together as communities, as other humans on earth are doing! We need a long term solution.
The LONG TERM solution - It will also take 6 months if we accelerate, to set up a long term democratic system – from initial meetings, to announcement, voting and elections, and ready to execute action! It is to be noted that there are many communities and towns in Ghana where rich people live, and yet such disgraceful things do happen. The answer is simply due to a breakdown in our governance, as well as lack of clear definition and concept of leadership and expectations in the modern age. Personal favors from politicians seem to be a norm, whiles Presidents are invited to funerals and paid personal visits with gifts of goats and sheep by rural Chiefs. Some MPs also receive visitors from their constituencies asking for personal favors, assistance to obtain travel visas, and even personal loans.
For our long term survival as a people, such traditional ways and expectations of leadership should cease. The President can make it clear through numerous communication opportunities that such practices should end. Eventually laws can be made to prevent such gift giving and personal demands of public figures illegal. What we need to do as a people is to develop beyond self, learn to think long term, and use the power of organizational wealth distribution to develop our roads, schools, police stations, public libraries and parks for our children, and water and sewage systems. We must be cognizant that as civilized people we all live in communities, and even though not everybody may have a car, or have a child in school at the same time, we all have things in common! Instead of individuals spending an average of say $10,000 to $20,000 on their personal water reservoirs, electric generators, personal sewage systems, if we have 20,000 homes and each contributes $10,000 one-time fee during the construction phase, we can raise $200 million to build a city council.
On an annual basis, if each of the resident homeowners pay say $500 per year average and you have a Budget Revenue of $10 million, which can support the City Council with their own offices, pay for a professional City Manager ($100,000 per year), 4 City Engineers and Architects ($80,000 /year each), a staff and workers of say 20 working for the City local government and the community. There will be money left over for vehicles and trucks and enough left over to build the sewage system! We can do this on an Excel ™ spreadsheet and adjust the numbers if need be to make this a modern way of management!
Ghanaian leaders have to remember that in a democracy there is serious responsibility in being elected a President. The job is not a chief or King and there are expectations like on ever job. The level of dissatisfaction about our Ghanaian leaders in the last 10 years was found to be about 70% based on the results of a study in 2006 (Danso, 2007). First Premier Kwame Nkrumah did his best and he is dead and gone. The rest is up to us educated folks. This is our own land, as the national anthem says! It is the duty of the youth of Ghana, in a democracy, to push the system to change. The rest of the world is moving at a fast pace in this age of information technology, and the youth cannot allow the old system and leaders to shackle them down.
The strategy to change our society and my recommendations for long term solutions are as I have outlined in my earlier writings, correspondence, and in my book. In summary,
1. Every district and town in Ghana should have their own local governing body, a Town Council with paid staff and a legal mandate to collect taxes and manage their town.
2. By pooling our funds together, towns can have enough money, negotiate and pay for world class expertise to set up modern water delivery, high speed (broadband) telecommunication and road and transportation systems, and develop our towns like any in America or the West so that we in Africa will move out of the dark ages and into the modern era.
3. An investment climate can be created for each town as they generate wealth and develop their infrastructure, and soon Ghana will not be centered on only Accra but government services will spread throughout Ghana.
4. Central government can demand a contributory tax as revenue for the regions and districts towards first class transportation system of highways as done in America and most of the West. The bulk of the revenue should be for development of local facilities, providing services and maintaining a healthy environment and schools as the Achimota School deserves.
Our children deserve better than open gutters and sewers that breed mosquitoes and kills an estimated 55,000 to 100,000 every year! Ghana’s youth are seeking a better condition of life, and see a better life daily through the Internet and on Television. Ghanaians have proven in the last 50 years that we are intellectually at par with our counterparts everywhere in the world.
Some of us older members of society scattered around the globe and in Ghana are willing to help, as the Achimota Old Students Association is doing. However, volunteerism is not enough. Is the government asking for help? Let us find solutions now to help Achimota school and to create long term solutions. If the President shows leadership and willingness to have the constitution amended to allow local election of town and district Mayors and Chief executives who will be accountable to their people and solve local problems, we can learn to manage our lives as others have done.
So, please, let's just do it! (As Nike would put it).
Dr. Kwaku A. Danso
East Legon, Accra, Ghana & Livermore, California, USA