Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Aftermath Of The Deportation Of The Three South Africans

The past few days have seen the media landscape dominated by discussions on the deportation of the three former -Police Offices from South Africa who were arrested while providing military training to youth in the Central region. The Lawyers have occupied all the space in the discourse. Some argue that the three South Africans should have been prosecuted. Others described the country's Judicial System as a failure since the three were not tried here. There is little discussion so far about holding accountable those who brought the three South Africans to the country in the first place. The inherent threat or potential threat of the activities of these former Police Officers to the peaceful co-existence of Ghanaians seem to have been relegated to the background with focus on the legal merits.

The public is being led to believe that a judicial process should have determined the issue. One is tempted to ask, is the legal system not about protecting the fundamental rights of Ghanaians and State which includes, safety, peace and well-being? Yes, Ghana is a Democratic State and the rule of law should be upheld at all times. As a people, we should appreciate the real harm that was brought unto Ghana regardless of all the justifications provided by the people who brought the South Africans to Ghana. That is the issue to be discussed.

There is the need to have the social courage to abhor such behavior and stop the polemics about the Justice system. Whether or not the three South Africans were prosecuted is less harmful to the people of Ghana. The bigger and much more pertinent issue is the danger posed to national security and peace in view of the military training the youth were undertaking .The militarization of these youth increases our vulnerability as a people in a volatile West African security environment. What is required is to acknowledge the harm that was done and avoid the mistakes in future. With the assurance from the Ghana Police Service to provide security protection to Presidential Candidates, should serve as a useful lesson for us as a people. Those who brought the three South Africa should take responsibility by acknowledging what is wrong and apologize to Ghanaians. They should stop justifying such unacceptable action. For those who choose to make commentary by comparing the presence of the former two Gitmo detainees in Ghana with the activities of the South Africans, it is the case of comparing apples with oranges. Under the arrangements that permitted the two Gitmo detainees into Ghana, the Security Agencies and Government will be held accountable if the two detainees were to renege on the terms that allowed them passage into Ghana. For the youth who were receiving the military training who we hold accountable, should they engage in activities that can undermine the peaceful coexistence of Ghanaians. Is it a Political Party or a Political Leader who should be held accountable for the behavior of civilian youth exposed to weapons handling ? This is enough food for thought.


Debate Over Celebrating World Water Day

There is no doubt that Ghana has made significant progress in the provision of water to both urban and rural communities. Available data shows that the country has attained more than 80 percent coverage in ensuring access to safe water, and therefore met the water targets of the now ended Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), on reducing by half the proportion of people who lacked access to safe water by 2015. In spite of this laudable attainment, a significant proportion of the population still depends on unsafe water sources. On almost daily basis, there are reports in the media about how residents in some communities have to make do with water from filthy murky ponds, while in other places, people have to share the water source with cattle and other animals. The periodic outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea, which are all water related, attest to the endemic water problem in those parts of the country. Perhaps, it is on this basis that some people, including seasoned journalists have argued that there is no basis to celebrate World Water Day. On the surface, this argument sounds plausible but upon deeper and sober reflection, these bothersome water related issues also provide the basis for Ghanaians and the world at large to celebrate water.

In 1992, the United Nations designated March 22, as World Water Day, to draw global attention to the importance of water as a vital resource to life. The celebration is also used to remind people everywhere that scarcity and misuse of fresh water, pose a serious and growing threat to sustainable livelihoods and development. Furthermore, the celebration is an opportunity to learn more about water related challenges and be inspired to take action to make a difference. The international celebration of this year’s World Water Day focused on “Water and Jobs. The national theme for Ghana was, “Improved Safe Water Access for Sustainable Livelihoods.” Both themes highlighted the two-way relationship between water and decent work agenda in the quest for sustainable development. The celebration made water the subject of media reportage and debates throughout the country. The media engagement brought to the fore, the issue of how water scarcity and shortages in supply are undermining job sustainability, livelihood opportunities and socio-economic development in some parts of the country.

One can therefore argue that water needs to be celebrated because it is about life. It is estimated that one point five billion people including farmers have their jobs dependent on the availability of freshwater. In his statement to commemorate the Day, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon expressed concern about the fact that people with the least access to water and sanitation often also lack access to health care and stable jobs, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty. He was convinced that “the basic provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services at home, school and in the workplace enables a robust economy by contributing to a healthy and productive population and workforce.” The Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing, Dr. Kwaku Agyemang Mensah pensively re-echoed the Secretary General’s conviction that the quantity and quality of water can change the lives and livelihoods of workers and even transform societies and economies. He said the theme for the celebration, is a clarion call for everybody to reflect on the state of the country's waters, and how best to implement and achieve the water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goals, to transform the lives of citizens. If for nothing at all, the celebration has helped to position water high on the country’s political agenda. Some would dismiss this as a mere rhetoric. But if one considers that administrative and political heads are equally worried about the water crisis which some Ghanaians face, then one can conclude that celebrating water is the best thing to do.


Conversion of Polytechnics to Technical Universities

President Mahama has taken yet another giant step towards fulfilling one of his 2012 campaign promises when he officially launched the conversion of Polytechnics to Technical Universities policy. Over the years, graduates from Polytechnics have complained about how they are discriminated against at the job market. In many instances, they play second fiddle to their counterparts from the universities. There were also issues of academic progression. In fact, the highest qualification from a polytechnic is the Higher National Diploma while universities run courses up-to Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Polytechnic graduates would have to go back to university, and in many instances, start from scratch when they want to pursue higher education. The role of technical education in the development of any nation cannot be under emphasized. In this time and age, technology rules the world. This fact was acknowledged by the President himself, when he noted at the launch of the policy at the Takoradi Polytechnic, that it is time to lay a solid foundation that will produce the technical, creative and analytical problem solving human resource base that will move the nation forward.

There is no doubt that the conversion will help re-position the polytechnics as strategic institutions for the training of highly-skilled human resource to drive the nation’s socio-economic development. In as much as this is good news, care must be taken so that the converted polytechnics do not mimic the traditional universities by duplicating their courses and programs . The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology was set up as a purely Science and Technology University, but unfortunately it is now competing with the University of Ghana and co for courses and programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This fate must not befall the converted Polytechnics. They must focus on the provision of technical training to their students. The universities of technology in South Africa, and the universities of Applied Science in Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are good examples of such industry-focused higher education institutions.

It is laudable that the Committee that worked on the conversion did not recommend a wholesale conversion. The committee set out 16 criteria, some of which are the qualification level and practical industrial experience of lecturers, the collaboration of the polytechnics with industry and business, infrastructure, equipment and training facilities. This will undoubtedly ensure that each converted Polytechnic is adequately positioned to deliver on its mandate. So far, six Polytechnics have met the 16 criteria and are ready for conversion. They are Accra, Kumasi, Ho, Takoradi, Koforidua, and Sunyani polytechnics. Four others, Tamale, Wa, Bolgatanga and Cape Coast polytechnics could not make the cut. As a result, students from these institutions, particularly, the Tamale and Sunyani polytechnics have been protesting. This may have been largely inspired by anxiety about the future of their institutions. But, sadly, it is observed that several misrepresentations about the processes have been thrown into the otherwise useful discourse. It is unfortunate that the discussions have also assumed tribal and political twists and turns. It is regrettable that, almost everything in Ghana is viewed with political and tribal lenses. It is equally disturbing that intellectuals, who have been made aware of clear cut criteria for the conversion, and are expected to argue whether or not their institutions meet all the criteria or whether or not any of the converted polytechnics did not meet all the criteria, are also towing the line of serial callers. The National Council for Tertiary Education has given assurance that the four polytechnics will be given the needed attention to enable them to overcome their short comings. The Cape Coast and Tamale Polytechnics have applied for reassessment based on progress they have made since the last exercise. Information available indicates that an expert panel sat yesterday and will sit again on Friday to reassess the two institutions. This should be enough to calm nerves. Perhaps the desire to convert the polytechnics also calls for a change of attitude towards and a re-invigoration of technical and vocational education right from the basic level. The notion that those who pursue technical and vocational skills are not academically talented must be erased completely. The point has been made abundantly clear that technical education is the panacea for Ghana's development challenges.


2016 World Health Day

Every year on April 7, the World Health Organization celebrates World Health Day to draw worldwide attention to a priority global public health concern. Since the institution of the Day in 1948, the WHO has highlighted important global issues ranging from mental health and maternal health to food safety and road safety. This year, the focus is on diabetes. The World Health Organisation is by thus calling on governments, health care providers, advocates and families to scale up prevention, strengthen care and enhance surveillance to curb the global diabetes epidemic. The main goals of the World Health Day 2016 campaign are to increase awareness about the rise in diabetes, and its staggering burden and consequences, in particular in low- and middle-income countries; and to trigger a set of specific, effective and affordable actions to tackle diabetes.

The issue of diabetes must be taken seriously because the disease and its complications bring about substantial economic loss to people with the disease and their families, and to health systems and national economies through direct medical costs and loss of work and wages. WHO estimates that about 422 million people worldwide live with diabetes. This figure represents an increase of almost 400 percent from the 1980 figures. It is also frightening that an estimated 3.7 million deaths were directly attributed to diabetes in 2012, out of which 2.2 million were due to high blood sugar. This is alarming and calls for urgent action on the part of governments and families. Governments, especially in the developing world must come up with measures to regulate the fat and sugar content of foods to ensure the availability of healthy options to people. Ghana can take a cue from Mexico and Britain by imposing taxes on sugary drinks. In 2014, Mexico became the world's first country to impose a sugary soft drink tax. In March, Britain also followed suit with Chancellor George Osborne announcing a new tax on sugar-containing soft drinks slated to take effect in 2018. It is also important to note that the menace of diabetes can be curbed with simple life style changes such as regular exercise, maintaining body weight and a healthy diet.

The surge in the disease also calls for better urban planning that encourages people to cycle and walk. According to the WHO, even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes. It must be noted that diabetes is treatable and can be controlled to prevent future complications through "increasing access to diagnosis, self-management education and affordable treatment. But many people in especially developing countries are dying from the disease due to non-availability of facilities or the cost of treatment. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that the price of insulin, which is an essential drug in the treatment of diabetes, almost tripled from four point three four dollars per milliliter in 2002 to 12 point nine two dollars in 2013. According to the Director of WHO's Department for the Management of Non Communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, Dr Etienne Krug, about 100 years after the insulin hormone was discovered, essential diabetes medicines and technologies, are generally available in only one in three of the world's poorest countries. This point is further corroborated by the latest Afrobarometer survey findings which reveal that almost half of Africans go without needed health care, and one in seven have to pay bribes to obtain needed care. Public ratings of government performance in improving basic health services have worsened over the past decade, with almost half of Africans saying their government is doing fairly or very badly. This re-enforces the need for African governments to scale up their investment in the health sector. Efforts to prevent and treat diabetes will be important to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goal 3 target of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030. Many sectors of society have a role to play, including governments, civil society, and the media.


Leakage Of WAEC Questions Ahead Of The Examinations

The West African Examinations Council is in the cross hairs again, after three subjects in the ongoing West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations were leaked to students mainly in the Greater Accra and Eastern Regions. Social media has been swashed with pictures of students with answers written on their thighs to be transported into the examination hall. WAEC has been dogged by such incidents of leaked questions year after year, and seem incapable of stemming the tide. Last year, five Basic Education Certificate Examination subjects had to be cancelled due to a similar incident. It is most disheartening for students to prepare assiduously for three years only to be confronted with incidences of examination leakage. Last year, when the BECE papers leaked, there was hue and cry and the BNI was called in to investigate. According to reports, 13 people were initially picked up and the Head of the Ghana Office of WAEC, Rev. Samuel Nii Nmai Ollennu was also interrogated. Currently, two people are being prosecuted for their roles in the leakage of the 2015 BECE papers while three staff of WAEC have been dismissed.

The latest leakage is shocking especially coming after assurances from the examinations body that it has put in place adequate measures, including technology, to prevent any such incident. What is more baffling is the attempt by WAEC to confuse Ghanaians  with technicalities. According to WAEC, what happened was not leakage but fore-knowledge. Whatever technical name is given to it, the fact still remains that some students had access to the questions prior to the examinations. But this notwithstanding the Council has said it will not cancel the leaked papers. This raises a number of questions. What will WAEC do to those schools and students who had access to the questions? How will the Council compensate those schools and students who did not have fore knowledge of the questions? The point has been made over and over again that the perennial leakage of the question papers cast doubts over the integrity of the certificates awarded to the students. Some teacher unions like NAGRAT have suggested the scrapping of the WASSCE system so Ghana can hold its own examinations supervised by an independent body. A policy and research Think Tank, VIAM Africa Center for Education and Social Policy, has also suggested the setting up of an alternative independent examinations body, as it is in Nigeria, to break WAEC’s monopoly, and ultimately stimulate competition and quality. But, that cannot be the panacea to the problem. It will be disingenuous and hypocritical to put all the blame on WAEC. What about those parents, students, teachers and proprietors of schools who go to any length to have access to the papers ahead of the examinations.

Unless, there is a change of attitude among all the stakeholders, even if the examinations body is made up of angels or CIA agents, there will surely be leakages. In the same vein, sacking the Head of WAEC, cannot solve the problem. The craze to have access to the examination papers ahead of time is due to unhealthy competition between schools. It is now fashionable for schools to erect giant bill boards advertising their schools as having clocked 100 per cent in examinations. And because of the unnecessary value placed on paper qualifications, parents and students prefer schools where all the students supposedly pass in the examinations. But what is the essence of achieving a 100 percent pass when it was fraudulently procured? As a nation, it is about time we found better ways of assessing students. The best student is not always the one who tops in an examination, and it is not also the case that the one who did not do too well, is not a good student. Moving forward, the nation will also have to take a second look at lumping all students together to take the same examinations. Perhaps, the marking scheme can be adjusted to reflect the facilities available in each school. In other words, a student from a remote village who scores an aggregate 36 should be seen as having performed better than a student from a well-endowed school, who scores an aggregate 15.


Prophet T. B Joshua's Prophecy Of Terror Attack On Ghana And Nigeria

The prophecy by popular Nigerian Prophet, T. B Joshua, Founder and Leader of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations, about a possible terrorist attack on Ghana and Nigeria has reinforced the need for the security agencies and individuals to be more vigilante. Prophet T.B. Joshua on Sunday encouraged his church members to pray for Ghana and Nigeria as he foresees imminent foreign attacks on the two countries.

Ever since this prophecy came out, there has been mixed reaction from the Ghanaian public. Some have questioned the credibility of the prophecy, and wondered why Prophet T.B. Joshua was not able to foresee some disasters which befell his church both in Ghana and Nigeria. The issue is so contentious that even pastors and christian bodies appear divided over it. But regardless of any criticism, it is an acknowledged fact that Ghana faces a real threat of terror. This is in view of series of deadly terrorist attacks on neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Mali and the real fear of Ghana being the next victim. It is no wonder that the last attack in Grand Bassam in Cote d’Ivoire, which killed at least 16 people and injured several others, compelled the government to review the security situation in the country. At a meeting chaired by the President and Commander in Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, and attended by service chiefs and all other members of the National Security Council, it was determined that Ghana faces a credible terrorist threat. Prophet T.B. Joshua's prophecy therefore only re-echoes what citizens have already been made aware of. On that basis, one can agree with security analysts and other commentators that one needs not be a Prophet or have divine inspiration in order to appreciate the possibility of such an attack on Ghana. There are questions as to whether it is necessary for the media to give the kind of hype it is giving to the prophecy. For some, it has created fear and panic among the citizens. Perhaps, it is in view of this that the Ghana Police Service quickly stepped in to urge the public to remain calm.

The Police in a statement have assured the public that it will collaborate with other security agencies to put in place measures to avert any possible terror attacks. According to the police, all the requisite operational strategies, including intelligence gathering and tactical deployment of personnel have been unfolded to nib any breach of the peace in the bud. The statement from the police cannot be more timely and appropriate. Even though, the police and the other security agencies have long put in place measures, the prophecy gives them an added impetus to intensify their actions considering the context and the time it was delivered. And as the police succinctly put it, any piece of information that borders on security, be it a whimper from a class one child that gives a hint of disaster, a hint of attacks, or a hint of violent crime, is enough hint for the police to sit up. The increasing threat of terror attack on the country, calls for vigilance and security consciousness on the part of everybody. It is worrying how many people do not prioritize issues of personal safety and security. For most people, they see issues of security as a duty of the police and other agencies but that is erroneous. Ensuring security has always been and will always be a shared responsibility. It will be disastrous for people to ignore this fact. Perhaps, the police must intensify public education on safety tips and clues to look out for to avert crime. It is necessary for the public to report any suspicious parcels or items left at public places and other vantage points, or questionable characters and movements to the Police for the necessary action. Owners and operators of beach resorts, restaurants, hotels, malls, schools, churches, mosques, transport terminals and markets among others must also complement the efforts of the police in ensuring the safety of the places. Of course, people should avoid public gatherings when they have no business being there.


Raging Controversy Over Ghana’s Voters Register

The controversy over the voters register appears unending. The opposition NPP and Pressure Group, the Let My Vote Count Alliance, have been on the heels of the Electoral Commission to compile a completely new register towards the November elections. That suggestion has been dismissed by the Commission, but the focus has shifted to what is now known as validation. The development is worrying especially looking at the entrenched positions taken by the various parties. This is contributing to an increasing tension in the country and may be a foundation to dispute the election depending on the outcome. Ghana has so far succeeded in organizing peaceful elections since the inception of the 4th republican constitution in 1992. Though, the last election was disputed, it was peacefully resolved at the Supreme Court. It is not surprising therefore that Ghana is regarded as a beacon of democracy and a torch bearer on the continent. There should not be any room for complacency, and certainly more needs to be done to maintain, if not improve on the status quo.

To achieve orderly election in November, the Electoral Commission must continue its open door policy and have constant engagements with all the stakeholders including the registered political parties, the academia, religious and traditional leaders. It is true that the EC is an independent body and it will not be out of place for it to guard its independence jealously, but it will not do the Commission any harm if it opens up for advice and ideas. After all, the EC will not be bound to swallow any such advice and idea hook, line and sinker. There is also the need for the EC to be forthcoming with information on all its activities geared towards the November polls. On the other hand the Let My Vote Count Alliance and its partners must hold their horses. Truth be told, their proposal for validation is simply not practicable. How do you delete people's name just because they fail to turn up to check their names on the register? The point must be made that during voters register exhibition, less than 50 per cent of registered voters turn out to check their names. And therefore deleting names of those who do not turn up will mean, disenfranchising millions of people.

The Justice VCRAC Crabbe Committee set up by the EC to look into calls for a new register has denied ever recommending validation as claimed by the NPP and the Let My Vote Count Alliance. In any case, there will not be any legal basis for such an action. It is true that a credible register is the foundation for a credible election. Therefore no effort should be spared towards ensuring a clean register. There is unanimity that the current register has questionable names in it and needs to be cleaned. The point of departure has to do with the mode of cleaning. On this score, one is tempted to go with the recommendation of the Justice VCRAC Crabbe Committee that the EC should extend the time for the exhibition. It is fantastic that the EC intends contacting other agencies like the birth and death registry, and the Controller and Accountant General's Department to assist with the names of dead people. This can be complemented by individuals and groups who can provide information on the death of people on the register. Above all, let the New Patriotic Party that claims it has names of hundreds of foreigners on the register, go and point out those names on the register and provide the proof that they are indeed foreigners. In as much as people have the right to make certain demands, everybody must ensure that the tension is minimized and the peace sustained. God bless our homeland Ghana.