Opinions Sat, 3 Jul 2010

The STX Korea Deal: The People v The Government of Ghana

By Kobby Andam, London

Why should a well-intended housing project generate so much controversy? That our security personnel need decent housing is incontrovertible. And equally incontrovertible is the government’s responsibility for its provision.

We have witnessed the exchange between the NDC government and ‘others’ over the pros and cons of the project. The government, through its various ‘spokespersons,’ believes this is, perhaps, the panacea to the apparently insoluble housing problem facing the country. I will reserve the debate on the significance of exclusive provision of housing for all security personnel for another day. But for now, back to the STX Korea Deal.

The clarity (or rather lack of it) of the entire ‘agreement’ has become the subject of recent debates and it is very fascinating to observe from the sidelines the verbal pugilism between those outside government (like the Danquah Institute, NPP etc) and those within. Emanating from these exchanges is an undeniable exposure of the level of polarisation of the intellectual dimensions of both sides of the argument. On the one hand, perhaps in the blue corner, is a structured, detailed digestion of the supposed housing giant of ‘global’ acclaim, STX Korea, its financial health and bleak long term survival, its perceived intentions and suspected ‘hidden agenda’ and most crucial of all, the inevitable doom staring, unblinkingly, at the nation and its future generations should this deal see the light of day. Then, in the red corner, is the dismissive bunch of ‘patriotic democrats’ with nothing else to say than superficial platitudes, glorification and unsurprisingly, the usual name-calling.

The people of Ghana exercised their democratic rights to elect legislators and a government to take decisions on their behalf. That trust reposed in the elected must never be taken for granted. While not all Ghanaians have had the benefit of standard high quality education to appraise, and derive desired outcomes from, seemingly complex technical data, they are all, undoubtedly, intelligent and quite rightly, in their own ways. So when our decision-makers cause a stir in near tsunami proportions, nothing prevents them from seeking the opinion of those who put them up there. It is not failure; it is democracy at its best.

The details of the agreement in the public domain so far – thanks to Danquah Institute, Ghana Real Estate Developers Association, Ghana Institutes of Architects and Engineers and the media – are too frightening to be dismissed by the likes Hon Hannah Bisiw and Okudzeto Ablakwa with such superficial childish effusions being blown on the airwaves. In the real world, decisions affecting the long-term economic stability of a nation ought to be critically examined. Telling the nation that the use of potential oil revenue to guarantee the Korean loan has been withdrawn does not make the agreement any better. What does Hon Bisiw take Ghanaians for? The issue of sovereign guarantee still remains. Guarantees in the financial world are backed by collaterals. Can she or the government tell Ghanaians what replaced the oil revenue as collateral? Surely, there has to be something to back the guarantee and whether it is gold, cocoa or diamonds, the question still remains: When Ghanaians gave the NDC the mandate to govern, did we empower them to exchange our natural resources for houses for security personnel?

I am sure every Ghanaian will be pleased to see our soldiers, police personnel, prison officers and their families treated to decent accommodation and better conditions of service because they deserve it. But the government should also be reminded that better policing and intelligence gathering are best achieved when relevant security personnel are housed among civil communities. Therefore, a comprehensive housing policy for all that allows the police, in particular to live among the population, rather than cocooned in police barracks, is equally vital. But do we need to mortgage our natural resources for this purpose when the same could be efficiently delivered with proper governmental support to our tried and tested local institutions?

We have witnessed in the past, wanton and reckless dissipation of our nation’s finances and resources epitomised by ex- presidents Rawlings’ and Kuffuor’s Presidential Jets when the national airline lacked aircrafts, Ghana @ 50 unnecessary over-celebrations when pupils attended schools under trees, construction of Jubilee House when Accra Children’s hospital lacked basics like mosquito nets. Now NDC is moving gear to unprecedented territory – a deal that makes the sale of Ghana Telecom looks like a Sunday morning mass by the Pope at The Vatican.

The stakes are too high to be left in the hands of marginal spokespersons to sell to Ghanaians. The silence of the Vice-President, arguably, the most admired and respected, political figure in the country besides the President and who brokered the deal, is too deafening to ignore. I hope they are listening.

If there is no hidden agenda, why can’t the government engage all the relevant stakeholders in a consultation exercise, lay bare the details of the agreement, allow the media, professionals (and Ghana has a lot of them!) and Ghanaians, particularly at the local government level, to explore and sift fact from fiction rather than the current drips of the juicy parts of the deal being spewed out by Hon. Bisiw and co? Ghana will not be the only nation on earth to consult and utilise its intellectual repository in policy formulation and delivery. The UK government consulted widely on its intention to diversify its energy base to nuclear technology because of concerns over sustainability. The expansion of Heathrow is undeniably, an economic jackpot to the UK but had to be consulted upon due to environmental concerns. This is what a listening government looks like!

Ghanaians love and trust President Atta-Mills for his honesty, humility and quiet diplomacy. I believe his overall awareness of current developments surrounding the STX Korea deal will prompt a re-think. I also believe he will not wish to go down in history as the one who sold our oil, gold or financial independence to South Korea in exchange for houses for the police. The government should be honest enough to put the agreement in the public domain for the deal to be scrutinised. Like most people, I do not trust the Ablakwahs to read it privately and tell me on radio and television that it is good for Ghana. Ghanaians are too mature for that.

Kobby Andam


Columnist: Andam, Kobby