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Opinions Mon, 27 Jan 2014

Was Davos a wasted opportunity for Mahama & Ghana

An old wag I know, was apoplectic that the opportunity this year's World Economic Forum, at the Swiss resort town of Davos, presented Ghana, to finally take on the foreign gold mining interests that have (to quote him) "ripped Ghana off for centuries", on a global platform, was wasted - because the geniuses around President Mahama, who advise him on such matters, failed him miserably.

Well, safe to say that actually, the multinational corporations mining gold here are a relatively recent phenomenon, there are some who will say that he is right, of course. For such Ghanaians - who trace the quest for gold from our shores in exchange for worthless bric-a-brac by foreign commercial interests to the 15th century - to go to Davos at this time of year, and figuratively throw up one's arms in despair, and complain to the world that a sovereign nation once ruled by President Nkrumah, is being dictated to by foreign mining interests, really is bad form.

Although a tad uncharitable, perhaps they are also spot on in arguing that it shows the calibre of some of the people around the President, who advise him on such matters: closed-minded provincials who haven't the faintest idea how to use such occasions to raise Ghana's image and make powerful friends for her.

In their view, instead of lamenting to the world, President Mahama should have used the platform offered by Davos, to condemn those greedy gold mining entities, which have a take-everything-in-sight-and-give-nothing-back-in-return relationship with our country, in no uncertain terms - for their unparalleled greed and ruthless disregard for the well-being of Ghanaian democracy and the welfare of ordinary people in our country.

How do they expect Ghana to remain a stable democracy if development does not take place - because sharks like them will not pay their fair share of taxes? Are we not talking about actual-earned-profits, from actual-revenue-flows from a given period of unprecedented spikes in gold prices, that took their earnings to stratospheric heights, I ask? So why the mealy-mouthed excuses?

Did it not occur to the President's advisors that Davos offered Ghana the perfect opportunity to tell the world about the disgraceful pollution of the Ghanaian countryside by those tight-fisted gold mining companies - to an extent that would have landed the executives of those mining companies in jail in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world, to a man, had the scale of the poisoning of vast swathes of the Ghanaian countryside occured there?

The President could then have gone on to tell their shareholders, after informing the world of the apocalyptic destruction of ecosystems across our country wreaked by runoff from mountains and ponds of toxic tailings, for example, that there and then, he was directing his minister of finance to ensure that Ghana's fair share of the vast profits those gold mining companies made when the price of gold reached historic heights, was extracted from them.

The pure-nonsense-on-bamboo-stilts notion that because the price of gold has now fallen, they are unable to pay the windfall tax, is one that ought to be rejected - because they would never dare make such a preposterous claim to the tax authorities in the US, the EU, Australia and Canada. Who do they expect to clean up the mess they will leave behind - as sure as day follows night - after extracting all the gold they can?

From that viewpoint, could it not be argued that Ghana is better off leaving the gold in the ground - and that they are therefore welcome to depart our shores if they so wish: after meeting all their statutory obligations (including fair redundancy packages, properly funded employee pension schemes and fully paid-up reclamation bonds)?

A documentary film to show the crimes against humanity that their poisoning of soils and rivers in Ghana represents, could have been shown at Davos - something that would have pricked the conscience of the institutional investors with shareholdings in those selfish gold mining companies: who would have been horrified by that harrowing evidence of the true cost of their dividends, and of the magnitude of the perfidy of those gold mining companies operating here as if they were above our laws, and arrogantly refusing to share their windfall profits with their hapless victim, Mother Ghana.

Far from scaring off investors, President Mahama would have been given a standing ovation - by the selfsame people who, as we are all aware, now roundly and routinely condemn the greed and callousness of bankers in the US and the EU. What a wasted opportunity for, amongst many other positive examples, telling the world about the many opportunities in Ghana for renewable (especially solar) energy and IT companies to invest in our national economy. Pity.

Columnist: Kofi Thompson