MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Common sense appraisal of Mahama’s “massive” projects

Kwame Nkrumah interchange
Kwame Nkrumah Interchange

The initial title of this article was, “Any idiot can borrow money and build projects.” I had to change it because those who might not read beyond the headline would, as usual, accuse me of insulting the President. But that is the essence of this article.

And this is not an insult to the President. The expression “any idiot can” is often used to mean one does not have to be a genius to do something. In the Greek city-state from where the word originated, an “idiot” was the one who took no interest in the affairs of the state: one you would describe as apolitical. Now, we use it to mean an ordinary person who should be able to do something. So when Asiedu Nketia said “any idiot can go to court”, he was not insulting the NPP. He was only saying anybody at all could go to court.

Since the campaign for the President’s re-election started, the government, the president and his party have been campaigning on one main achievement – building of tangible infrastructure. The latest is the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange, which was opened last night amidst fanfare and a great speech similar to one in acknowledgment of a Nobel Prize for a novel discovery.

But is there anything special about borrowing money for infrastructural projects, some of which are fraught with allegations of overpricing? Any ordinary person can do that. Or differently put, any idiot can do that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not downplaying the importance of the impressive (by our standards) infrastructural development we have witnessed in this administration. When I recently traveled to the Mole National Park in the Northern Region, I was impressed by the fact that the road has been done and a journey that could take up to five hours in the past now takes less than two hours. I have since not stopped praising the government for paying attention to that road.

There is a huge infrastructural deficit in Ghana so the hospitals, roads, schools and interchanges are needed. We must commend the government for building them. My concern, however, is how governance has been reduced to only borrowing, building and bragging. There is more to governance than borrowing money and building roads. I can do that. And you the reader could do that if you were put in charge of Ghana. If you had a huge collateral called Ghana, with its vast resources, the lenders would be prepared to give you the loans, especially when the interest rates are exceptionally high.

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In 2008, when the NPP and its government were making noise about infrastructure, then running mate of the NDC, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, said it was an exercise in mediocrity because every government built roads, schools and hospitals. He was right. And he is still right.

Any idiot can borrow money and build schools. Any idiot can borrow money and build hospitals. Any idiot can borrow money and build an interchange. What an idiot might not be able to do is to buy a drone for Felix Kwakye Ofosu to take aerial shots of the projects and flood social media with them. That’s the innovation here. Building infrastructure would have been an extraordinary achievement if the government had used innovative ways to raise funds on its own to build them.

Here is a common sense explanation of what is happening. Some of the loans will be repaid by our children and grandchildren. So it is like your grandfather borrowing money in your name to build a house, for which you will pay, and then your grandfather wants you to call him the best in the world. Because you need the house, you may praise him for the initiative, but there’s nothing extraordinary about it. Governance is a much more serious business than borrowing money to build.

Last year, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) accused the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government of not initiating social intervention policies. On Top Story on Joy FM, Evans Mensah put this accusation to Koku Anyidoho, the NDC’s Deputy General Secretary.

“Evans, water they say is life,” Koku began. “We have provided water in Kyebi.” Efo Koku, provision of water is not a social intervention policy to boast about. That’s not what governance is all about. Any idiot can borrow money and provide water.

Nobody can downplay the importance of water, but if a government borrows money and provides water, that should not be presented as a peerless achievement. “It’s an exercise in mediocrity.”

Those who knew me back at the Ghana Institute of Journalism would attest to the fact that I did not think highly of President Kufuor and his NPP government. Kojo Asiedu-Odei, a known NPP sympathizer and the first person to write a rejoinder to my article, will confirm what I’m saying. After witnessing eight years of the NDC and seeing the promises of the Akufo-Addo-led NPP, however, I’m beginning to see President Kufuor as a giant in the political space.

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For instance, if my mother in Bongo falls sick today and she’s rushed to the hospital, I will not have to send money before she receives treatment. The National Health Insurance Scheme, with all the mismanagement and exaggerated allegations of its collapse by the NPP, is still a live wire for many people in the country. Simple ailments such as malaria do not have to kill patients because they cannot pay cash before they are given treatment.

But is seems we are lowering Kufuor’s standards. Akufo-Addo, for instance, is talking about free senior high school education. Any idiot can borrow money and pay the school fees of senior high school students. Is that our most pressing need in education? I can pay for my child’s education, but there are only a few decent schools in the country. That’s why Vice-President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur had to personally intervene in admissions in Wesley Girls’ High School.

President Mahama is infatuated with building community day senior high schools. Common sense ought to tell anybody associated with those projects that the communities in which those schools are built cannot produce a quarter of the students needed to fill them, except those in the city. Pupils in those communities also aspire for the top senior high schools in the country so it is only those who fail to get admission and those who would choose the day schools as their first choice will enroll there. Students from nearby and far away communities would need an accommodation to be able to attend the community day schools because there are no commuter vehicles in many of those communities. And it is not wise to rent rooms in communities for teenagers as young as 12 years to stay on their own and go to senior high school. So it is not a wise idea to build DAY senior high schools in the 21st century.

Infrastructure is important, but the youth need jobs. In 2006, youth unemployment became a national security threat to Ghana so the National Security Council advised the government to initiate the National Youth Employment Programme, which later became known as GYEEDA. Between 2009 and 2012, when this government managed GYEEDA, nearly ONE BILLION CEDIS was pumped into GYEEDA. Unfortunately, however, about 80% of that money was stolen by ministers, government officials and their accomplices in the private sector.

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One major social intervention policy this government can boast of initiating, which could have had a very far-reaching impact on its beneficiaries, is the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). Sadly, however, through corruption and mismanagement, SADA was brought to its knees. When a new team was appointed to help revive SADA, the government has since starved the organization of funds. That’s not all, the government borrowed about 42 million cedis from SADA in 2012, but has failed to pay till date.

Is it not strange and shameful that President Mahama brought a woman from the SADA Zone to parliament to deliver his evidence-based State of the Nation Address this year and the person was not a beneficiary of SADA? She was a beneficiary of LEAP, a social intervention programme left behind by President Kufuor.

The government cannot boast about the economy. The government cannot boast about tackling the biggest problem in our country – corruption. The power crisis appears to be in hibernation. Our education, health and other important aspects of human development are retrogressing.

The government has stopped employing, and the private sector is laying off workers because of harsh economic conditions and the power crises we suffered recently. These are issues that should concern the nation.

Infrastructure is good, but if the achievements of a government were all about borrowing money and building schools, hospitals and road, then my illiterate father could do well as a president. All he needs to do would be to surround himself with family and friends and get an expert to advise him on the purchase of a drone so that the projects can be captured and splashed in the Green Book and on billboards and in a special propaganda edition of Ovation Magazine.

“Our people are not enlightened,” the expert would advise. “When it’s close to the election, flash the projects before their eyes and they will forget about the corruption, the unemployment and the power crisis, and all the ills they have endured for years. They will say you have brought the Whiteman’s land to Ghana. They will cheer and vote for you.”

The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is [email protected] The views expressed in this article are his personal opinion and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.

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