Summary of Meeting with Directors of Urban Roads.
(I wrote this for our GLU forum on Nov.21, 2009 and choose to share it now with minor edits, now that I have seen from CNN shows that Haiti, considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, does not have open gutters – we have lots in common with Haiti – Ghana being the second black nation in the world to obtain our Independence from colonialism in 1957, more than 150 years after Haiti (1804). Haiti was brutalized and isolated by the West for about 80 years, and later colonized or occupied by America from 1915-1938. Yet, it is ahead of Ghana in this regard of open stinky gutters, and guess what! Not to tease, but they have public parks also! It is our duty to help Haiti in their time of need with our non-perishable food items like gari (farina) and shito).
Read on: (Report on GLU Forum, Nov.21, 2009)
I have been meaning to write a comprehensive report on this week’s very fruitful creative confrontational (CC) meeting with the Director of Urban Roads. However, as some of you know, perfectionists sometimes never get a job done and so this is as good a time as any, as Brenya woke me up and it’s not even midnight yet here.
As most of you know one of the ugliest aspects of or lives in Ghana and Africa has been the Open Gutters and Drainage which we know is one of the major causes of mosquito breeding and hence causes of malaria. I had a life-long preparation on this ugly issue and did not need notes.
After fulfilling my promise to deliver a bag of Nkatie Burger (Ghana’s premier King and mother of all roasted nuts) to the Director’s Secretary (Mary), we finally got to meet. We had enough advanced time for me to invite others. The GLU Forum group included Michel Bowman-Amuah, who invited our long lost friend Nana Darko Ofori (aka Prof Nti Asare, Wyoming), Nii Allotey Brew-Hammond (one of the silent and wise members of GLU, an ICT Consultant), Attorney Rowland Atta-Kesson (our local Law Practitioner with the Legal Resource Center) and I guess one friend who seemed to be silent and not sure if he was with the Newspapers of with the BNI, CIA or British Intelligence (Ooops!).
Boy! My electricity has been interrupted and I am in total darkness, at 11:50pm here, and using backup battery power. One of the rarest forms of skills here is called long term Planning, and I suspect one day we shall have 24/7/365 power – my own nephew is a Senior Engineer at the ECG, electricity Corporation of Ghana, and so I have hope. The man has traveled to Europe, Canada and some other areas of the world on Power Delivery issues and so technically I have no doubt we have the solutions, when talking with him. Why am I in darkness then? Is it the Devil doing this or from our stars? Well, my brilliant nephew was here this evening giving me the inside scoop on how power is so erratic here in Ghana, and I will respectfully share only that if even the Director of an utility company like ECG becomes political, appointed by the President, then professionalism is often thrown out of the door in favor of possible cronyism with no clear mandate to deliver and make executive decisions based on purely technical and customer related reasons.
Well, with my electricity back on, how do I rate ECG now? Based on how quickly the power came back on, or how many appliances – refrigerators and Air conditioners which did not blow up and burn due to the surge when the power came back on? Folks, one guy was here blaming his office staff for not turning off power when the power goes down, but what he forgot was the human disappointment when such things happen. My spirits sink when such things happen! Yes, I grew up studying with candles but for God’s sake this is 55-60 years down the road of civilization! In two months in Ghana I have replaced the motors and parts on three (3) refrigerators in my Guest Flats, serviced two air conditioners with blown up Transformers and Contactors (I have pictures of these when we go to court one day – trust me), and of course three expensive surge suppressors two of which are by APC and CyberPower companies in the US, and rated “life-time protection”! [Yes, they wish!]. Gosh! Over $600 total lost on me alone in two months due to the negligence of somebody delivering electricity to me? Lord have mercy on these people when we meet finally in court! It will be my pleasure to meet the ECG attorney in court and argue before a jury or judge!
Coming back to the CC meeting with the Director of Urban Roads, Dr. D. D. Darku, we found out that he obtained his PhD from Florida, USA (Tallahassee or Gainesville), in “pavement traffic engineering”! Please don’t anybody ever tell me potholes are acts of nature again! Okay! The Honorable Director was kind enough to bring his Honorable Deputies, including Akwasi Nuamah, Peter Amoako, Lanquaye Odartey (Dep. Director –Planning and Development), Phillip Lartey (Finance), Amo Godfrey, and a couple more that my pen was not fast enough to catch.
I gave the introduction speech and explained that we were there as brothers (Hmm! there was no woman) and professionals for a common cause to help our country seek the health and dignity of our people through modernization and technological skills we have all acquired, and also that we were not there to tell them what to do, or how to do it, but to share ideas. I added that the nation depended on us due to investment in education in us. I added that most of us in the room had overseas exposure and hence the concept of covered Underground sewage should not be a mystery. I gave a little history that the art and science of underground sewage systems started in ancient Rome and France hundreds of years ago, and that places like New York city would be impossible to fathom if we use population growth as an excuse not to seek the best and the most healthy environments with covered sewage.
Dr. Darku in his response speech said open sewage has been a culture in Ghana, and its continuous use was due to a combination of factors: water flooding in our cities, channeling of water, problems cleaning the sewage system when covered, and of course resource limitations. He added that the current technology (Open sewage) makes it easiest to clean, and these are the biggest reason why open gutters are still being built. On cost efficiency, he said covered sewage is more expensive to construct with underground storm drains and secondary drains. An example was cited of the Kaneshie system which becomes “disastrous” when flooding occurs due to piled up debris. How much more expensive, we did not get.
I brought the issue of a leadership vision, and was helped by a member that the concept of covered sewage had been a vision of Dr. Busia as far back as the early 1970s [1970-72], with the Teshie-Nungua (suburb of Accra) underground sewage as an example. However due to inability to clean it, the system has broken down for years now.
Prof Nti Asare asked if there was a Plan to train people to achieve the technology if we did not have it. One of the Deputies and the Director agreed that we did indeed have the technology in Ghana to do underground sewage, but equipment is what is lacking. Dr. Darku added that the only few areas with covered sewage were built with Donor Agencies, and the problem or challenge was a matter of cost. (Where have I heard that before?- we don’t have money!)
BUDGET, PLAN AND COST –
Lawyer Atta-Kesson asked about the culture element mentioned by the Director, and asked if there was any PLAN and COSTING to achieve a gutter-free “heaven” (Ooops! That was my own addition). Director Darku reiterated that any serious costing has to be done locally and that the District Assemblies will be the right place to determine the cost and source of funding an underground sewage system. In other words, it is local politics. Huh! Talking about my push for “Decentralization”! Michel Bowman-Amuah asked about national Budgeting and funding distribution to agencies, and shared that his experience working with some Governments in the Caribbean and other parts of Africa indicated that when budgets are made, they are cut back to a percentage of what is needed or asked for.
At this stage Mr. Phillip Lartey (Finance) was beaming, and he shared that this year’s budget submitted from Urban Roads was Ghc 87 million for needed work on roads, and the government gave them only Ghc 7 million! [Not sure but this gives a hint the reason Spintex Road, one of Ghana’s most industrial corridors in Accra-Tema, has potholes that would swallow a small Volkswagen!]. Mr. Lartey said after several demands, the amount was raised to Ghc 25 million. (Last we heard, $25 million would not even pay for the pro-gratia emoluments of housing and luxury vehicles for our estimated 250-500 MPs and Ministers and top officials at Ghc80,000 each! – this is what the government has for building and maintaining all urban roads in Ghana???)
I must add that I had added in my speech that the cost of not doing anything about this open-gutter system of ours costs the people and nation of Ghana in excess of $2 Billion every year (a good 12.5% to 25% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Income (GNI), depending on who you believe) - in purchasing malaria tablets and preventive care as well as hospitalization, not even adding the cost of funerals. One of the Deputies asked where I got the figures from and Michel answered for me that some studies he had read even indicated a higher figure in many billions of dollars!
POINT is this: How many of our children and people need to die before we start to do something about this only-African menace of malaria in the 21st century! How many Bill Gates and other donors do we need to babysit us in Ghana and Africa before we find real solutions as Americans and other nations with mosquitoes have done to control the mosquito that breeds and/or transfers the malaria parasite or virus? Why can’t we start from the sources of the problem instead of hiding under mosquito nets!!! Why not kill the darn mosquito! Prevent it from breeding! For God’s sake, how long will the educated African in Government refuse to think for his people!
HOW DO WE MOVE FORWARD for REAL?
It was generally agreed among the participants that the problems is not technology, lack of manpower, but rather financing and leadership directive. The Director suggested the best place to start may be the local government or Assemblies. I recall Nana Kyei has reminded me of this also when he called a few weeks ago.
Final proposed solutions included CC Meetings with the Leaders of:
The District Assemblies /Metro Chief Executives
Ministry of Roads and Highways
Ministry of Local Government
Chief Executive of Accra Metro, Kumasi and others.
GLU will convene and host a direct Creative Confrontational Meeting with these leaders but we may do it together as a convention.
As we used to say in the late 1960s where I went to University in Berkeley, California, let the Power be with the People! Power to the People of Ghana!
It is the God-given duty and responsibility as educated Ghanaians /Africans to push for change, modernization and better standards of living and human development for our people, and not simply waste money covering our individual gutters in our fake and delusive posh homes with private water reservoirs and fenced gates like prisons, when our neighbors not far away live and die by open stinky gutters as seen in so many areas in our cities in suburbs of Madina, Dansoman, Sukuula, Dome, Taifa, Chorkor, Nungua, La, Osu and even the so-called affluent Cantonments, Airport and East Legon residential areas.
We will announce the next meeting so you stay in touch.
PS Nov.24, 2009: I have to add that within one week after our meeting, all the potholes in the main roads in East Legon area had been filled with good stones and bitumen and for the first time I could drive straight without stress! In addition the Motorway under-pass from East Legon to Spintex Road has been assigned to a contractor who had a huge bulldozer working as of Nov.24, 2009 when I left for vacation.
Nobody can build Ghana for us and it is the duty of all educated people to seek the best, and to push our elected officers, starting from the towns and districts to the President, to deliver! It is our duty!
Dr. Kwaku A. Danso
East Legon, Accra, Ghana.