Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Woman of Courage Award conferred on the EC Chairperson, Mrs Charlotte Osei

The good book, the Holy Bible in Mark 6:4 quotes Jesus Christ as telling his audience on one of his evangelism projects that “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town among his relatives and family.'' The truism in this statement has been manifested in the honour conferred on the chairperson of the Electoral commission Mrs. Charlotte Osei by the U.S Department of State. The Department adjudged the EC Chairperson as the 2017 Woman of Courage. The award is presented annually to women around the world who have shown leadership, courage and willingness to sacrifice for others especially in promoting women's rights.

Presenting the award, the U.S Ambassador to Ghana Robert Jackson affirmed that Mrs. Charlotte Osei epitomises the phrase woman of courage. He commended the EC Chairperson for her bravery before, during and after the 2016 general election. According to Mr. Jackson the reforms Mrs Osei undertook at the Electoral Commission guaranteed the credibility of the 2016 elections and minimised the risk of a disputed outcome.

In fact, Mrs Osei can aptly be described as the most vilified public servant in Ghana today. Since her appointment to the position as EC chairperson, Mrs Osei has known no peace. As the first woman to be head of Ghana's electoral body, she has been described by some political actors in derogatory terms. As if those were not enough, pressure group, Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) petitioned the U.K's Royal Institute for International Affairs not to confer the 2017 Chatham House award on Mrs Osei after she was shortlisted for the prestigious award. According to AFAG, the EC boss faced too many lawsuits in the run up to the 2016 elections hence did not deserve the award. The E.C was dragged to court a record twelve times under her leadership in less than 24 months.

Currently before the Chief Justice is an impeachment petition filed by some faceless staff of the Electoral Commission against the chairperson. Again, she is before court in a suit seeking to have the E.C to explain measures it has put in place to implement the Representation of the People's Amendment law, ROPAL. Mrs. Osei in her determination to ensure accountability at the EC recently sought the intervention of the Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO) to investigate the disappearance of nearly GH¢500,000 belonging to the Commission's Endowment Fund, a decision that has led a Deputy Commissioner, Mrs. Georgina Opoku- Amankwa being asked to proceed on leave. This created a whole lot of hullabaloo at the Commission culminating in a petition to the President listing a catalogue of malfeasance at the E.C.

It is instructive to note that in her acceptance speech at the Awards ceremony, Mrs Osei defined courage as ignoring one's fears and going on, focused on the end goals and the solutions to the challenges describing it as Ghana's greatest need. She noted that the Ghanaian society faces two major challenges; ignorance and the need for bold leadership at all levels to address those challenges. Mrs Osei indeed hit the nail on the head when she indicated that she is aiming at ensuring that the process of electing the country's political leaders is credible and transparent whiles ensuring national peace, stability and cohesion in its aftermath.

The Woman of Courage Award conferred on the EC chairperson, Mrs. Charlotte Osei has indeed vindicated her handling of the 2016 general election which contrary to the expectation of her detractors was won by Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo Addo and not John Dramani Mahama who appointed her to office. It is unfortunate Mrs. Osei did not get most of the women's groups going to her defence when her back was at the wall. Some rather joined the chorus in lambasting her adding more to her woes. This fuels the perception that women are their own enemies.

It is obvious Mrs. Osei was vilified because she was a woman. The EC Chairperson no doubt has proven to be a woman of valour and a role model for the up and coming youth. The award should motivate her to do more to enhance Ghana's democratic credentials in the comity of nations.

Mrs. Osei has indeed made us proud and should be applauded and not vilified.

BY JUSTICE MINGLE A JOURNALIST.

The Humanitarian Situation in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Lessons For Ghana

Last week Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown witnessed a devastating mudslide and flooding that claimed more than 400 lives. About 600 others are still reported missing or presumed dead. Without mincing words, the response of the International Community to the Sierra Leonean disaster leaves much to be desired. Ghana’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia was in Freetown to present one million dollars worth of relief items to the victims. One can only say better late than never. The least said about the UN, the Western World and the International Media the better.

After all, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah says the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs? The lingering question however is, could the disaster have been avoided or the impact minimised? The obvious answer is Yes. Indeed, many have referred to the disaster as man-made. BBC reporter Umaru Fofana indicated that most of Freetown's forest cover has been depleted. Construction of houses is poorly regulated and town planning virtually nonexistent. According to some commentators, there were clear signals of a looming disaster and residents in those areas should have been moved out two years ago. The authorities stood aloof and the disaster struck.

Unfortunately, no one is being held responsible for negligence or dereliction of duty. This is not surprising. This is Africa where the Culture of ultimate responsibility is a taboo. Sierra Leone has had more than its fair share of challenges in recent times. From a civil war that killed and maimed thousands of citizens to the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus that debilitated the nation and the entire World. It is sad that just when one thought the country had overcome these difficult moments, this disaster struck.

Obviously, this could not be simply a consequence of climate change. It had everything to do with poor environmental practices, poor planning and bad attitudes. It is a fact that parts of Sierra Leone are flood prone but what has been the attitude of residents and citizens to putting up buildings?

The point should be made that, these negative habits permeate the whole of the continent. The 2009 Unjust Water report found examples of worsening floods in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. The report indicated that this was generally caused by the growing occupation of floodplains, increased runoff from hard surfaces, inadequate waste management and silted drains.

In Ghana for instance, it is common to see people of all classes filling up natural water receptacles, and even lagoons to put up structures. People build on water ways, and dump solid waste, including fridges into drains. One would have thought that after the infamous June 3 disaster, Ghanaians would have changed their attitudes, but that has not been the case. The Sierra Leonean disaster though painful and regrettable, should serve as a wakeup call to citizens and authorities in Ghana to be alive to their responsibilities.

That is why government needs to be commended highly for the relentless war on illegal mining. The contribution of illegal mining to environmental degradation and deforestation is very visible in most of our communities. The clamp down on illegal mining is not enough to prevent flooding and its associated havoc. It should not be too much a task for city authorities to breakdown all buildings in unauthorized places. Business and house owners must be put in charge of drains in front of their houses or businesses. Punitive actions must be taken against officials who are either negligent or connive with people to put up structures in undesirable locations while people are made to build to specification.

Just at about the same time the mudslide and flood disaster happened in Sierra Leone, about 200 people also lost their lives as a result of a landslide in DR Congo. While we mourn and empathize with the people of Sierra Leone and DR. Congo, let us learn lessons from the unfortunate disaster and mend our ways to forestall recurrence.

BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.

NEED TO AVOID SPEEDING ON THE ROADS

About 90 percent of causes of road traffic crashes can be attributed to human errors. These errors are manifested in many negative road user behaviours including speeding, drink driving, talking on mobile phone while driving, wrongful overtaken and other indiscipline driving attitudes on our roads. Speeding remains a major contributory factor to the other related cases of road crashes. There is a slim chance for a vehicle on a top speed to prevent a crash from happening, whereas a driver driving on the normal speed limit can manage to control potential accident or minimize the impact. What then is the required limit to say speed is too much?

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defined speed as the case of a motorist travelling at a speed greater than the legal limit. The same Dictionary defined speed limit as the maximum speed at which a vehicle may legally travel on a particular stretch of road. The underlined word is legal limit. It means that speeding on our roads has a certain limit which motorists must adhere to. Once a driver exceeds this limit it is considered an offense. If you speed, you are not only breaking the law but putting yourself and others in danger.

Currently road safety is considered a public health issue due to the magnitude of the road traffic casualties across the globe. Statistics available to the National Road Safety Commission, NRSC, show that 38 percent of pedestrian knockdowns, deaths and injuries are as a result of speeding. It also accounts for 17 percent of passenger deaths and injuries, motorcycle related crashes, wrongful over takings, head-on-collisions and tyre burst related crashes.

Many motorists speed because they think their vehicles are fast. Others speed when the roads are smoother and wider while others are simply under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Whenever, there is a crash due to speeding the vehicle transfers the speed to the occupants and if not restrained by a seatbelt, an occupant may be thrown within or outside the vehicle.

From January to April this year, Ghana recorded 4,049 road accidents out of which 708 persons were killed and 3,983 injured. 1,199 were pedestrian knockdowns involving 6,468 vehicles and 1,289 motorcycles. It is estimated that the country loses one point six percent of its GDP each year as a result these casualties. There are approved speed limits at various sections to ensure that every vehicle is within the approved limit when in motion. As contained in the National Speed Limit Law, maximum urban speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour, while maximum rural speed limit is 90 kilometers per hour.100 kilometers per hour is the limit for the Motorway. The question however is, how is the law being enforced?

The NRSC as the lead agency in the road sector charged with the mandate of coordinating all road safety activities is doing well when it comes to campaigns and advocacy. The Commission generally employs road user educational campaigns to help complement other road safety measures. The Commission needs to be louder and visible with its educational campaigns at both the National and Regional levels. The Enforcement Agencies like the MTTD of the Police Service should also be more visible on the roads and ensure greater compliance with speed limit regulations. The Police should adopt a sophisticated ICT based practices together with measures like spot fine and the use of speed cameras to help check the menace.

Also offenders must be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others. The Ghana Highway Authority, Department of Urban Roads and Department of Feeder Roads must build more speed reduction measures such as signage and markings especially the "zebra" crossings. More footbridges should be constructed on major highways in cities and towns. The media must also intensify reportage on road safety issues to create greater awareness. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the country wins the fight against speeding on our roads.

We need to kill the speed before it kills us. Save Lives, Reduce the speed. Your family needs you. The nation needs you.

Stay Alive! Arrive Alive!

BY SAMUEL OWUSU-YEBOAH, A COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER WITH THE NATIONAL ROAD SAFETY COMMISSION.

Role Of Micro Finance Institutions

The role of microfinance institutions in building the Ghanaian financial sector and the socio-economic development of the country cannot be overemphasised. In recent years, the Ghanaian economy has witnessed the establishment of several microfinance institutions. Financial analysts believe the introduction of microfinance companies is timely to fill the lending void created in the financial sector. They posit that the presence of microfinance institutions allows individuals, small and medium scale enterprises,SMEs to access loans for sustainable growth. Microfinance services are valuable in a free market economy such as Ghana. Per their incorporation, microfinance institutions acquire provisional licence required for their operations from the Bank of Ghana and subsequently issued with the substantive licence to fully authorise their operations in the country. 

Further, effective and efficient microfinance institutions are required to be active members of the Ghana Association of Microfinance Companies. In recent times, the activities of some microfinance institutions such as DKM and God Is Love, to mention, a few have raised concerns and doubts among a section of Ghanaians and financial analysts about the ability of the non-bank sector of the financial industry to effectively complement the efforts of the main-stream banking sector.

As at July 2016, the non-bank financial sector had about 385 microfinance companies, 60 money lending institutions and 10 financial non-governmental organisations, NGOs in good standing with the Bank of Ghana, the Regulator. The existence of these microfinance companies in the books of the Central Bank affirms their adherence to existing rules and regulations governing the financial industry; and their readiness to make significant strides in the capital market. The underlining mandate of the microfinance institution is to contribute to Ghana’s socio-economic development by becoming a significant vehicle for mobilising, channelling and allocating funds to the banked and unbanked. They are to provide quality but affordable financial services including deposits, loans and investments. To achieve this objective, microfinance companies are committed to motivating their staff; adhering strictly to banking rules and regulations; becoming socially responsible; and ensuring higher returns on investment to meet the expectations of stakeholders. The investment option at most microfinance institutions is fixed deposits. The Revenue mobilisation drive of most microfinance companies is quite encouraging.

However, as characteristic of nascent companies, the average total expenses of most of them are high, relative to their average total revenue; and this translates into an average total loss. The dwindling financial fortunes of many microfinance institutions is comprehensible given that, most of them are still at the development stage of the company life cycle. Board, management and staff of microfinance institutions are expected to exude strong financial intellectualism; and demonstrate effective ideas in microfinance and banking in general to ensure their rapid transformation from microfinance to savings and loans; and eventually to a full-fledge bank.

Key stakeholders in the financial market are entreated to play active roles by providing the requisite intellectual and financial resources needed by microfinance institutions to effectively occupy their enviable position in the financial industry.

Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Association of Microfinance Companies must intensify education on the activities of microfinance companies to the general public using the media. It is imperative for the BoG and GAMC to use local and community radio stations across the country to outline the mandate of microfinance institutions within the financial regulatory framework; and to constantly announce microfinance institutions in good standing to the general public. Through such initiatives, individuals, businesses and investors would begin to regain confidence in microfinance companies and their operations to create room for expansion and employment opportunities. They must strive to be creative, innovative and adopt productive ideas for an accelerated growth.

BY DR.EBENEZER ASHLEY, FELLOW & COUNCIL MEMBER INSTITUTE OF CERTIFIED ECONOMISTS OF GHANA AND CEO OF EBEN CONSULTANCY.

Takeover of UT, Capital Banks by GCB Bank

News about the takeover of UT Bank and Capital Bank by GCB Bank has sent shock waves down the spines of many stakeholders in the banking sector.

The Bank of Ghana on Monday issued a statement revoking the licenses of UT Bank and Capital Bank and entered into a Purchase and Assumption transaction with GCB Bank.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers was appointed a receiver to manage the assets that were not taken over by the GCB Bank and work with customers to recover those assets.

Customers who have deposits in the two banks are living in fear and uncertainty since they do not know what is likely to happen to their deposits.

It is gratifying to note, however, that the Bank of Ghana has assured the public that all such deposits are safe and that all depositors will have access to their funds.

Another worrying issue regarding the collapse of the two banks is what happens to the about one thousand staff of UT Bank and Capital Bank.

Here, the management of GCB Bank has made it clear that they will need to critically examine the skills of the staff to be able to determine which of them qualify to be re-engaged or absorbed.

The profit motive of GCB Bank as a business entity cannot be swept under the carpet, its management will have to reorganise things better in order to re-engage the staff of the two banks and utilise their talents for the maximisation of their operations.

The nation expects the GCB Bank not just to be happy with the takeover, but to see to it that it performs well to contribute its quota to the economic growth of the country.

A number of factors tend to influence positively or negatively on the performance of banks everywhere.

Banks thrive on credits through the offer of loans to their customers.

However, in granting the loans, there is the need to pay critical attention to risks.

Assessment of risks of borrowers is necessary to protect the assets of banks. If attention is not paid to risk management, a bank may perform below expectation.

When there are miscalculations regarding risk management, it is possible for a bank to experience huge losses, a situation that may lead to its collapse.

Distressed banks may be the result of the inability to re-finance their debts or repay them on a timely basis.

All these influence the level of performance of financial institutions, so it is important for the management of such institutions to take appropriate corrective measures to prevent the collapse of their institutions.

Also, banks perform better when the economy thrives well. If the general market conditions are unfavourable, they can have a negative influence on investors to lose faith in them.

For example, high interest rate can adversely affect their performance. It is very regrettable that the UT Bank as well as the Capital Bank should end up this way, raising fears among existing and potential banking customers.

The unfortunate development must serve as a learning curve for all financial institutions across the country. For as the saying goes if your neighbors beard is on fire, the wisest thing to do is to get water on a stand-by.

As a nation, we need to put the economy on track and also ensure rigid regulatory measures from the Bank of Ghana so as to avoid a recurrence of such situations.

The Bank of Ghana has done very well in taking the right steps to withdraw the licenses of the two distressed banks. We must applaud the Central Bank for the manner in which the issue has been handled so far.

Going forward, any other bank in distress must be carefully monitored to assess their risk levels so that appropriate steps can be taken at the right time to protect the interest of their customers.

If the economy is put on a sound footing as is being done now and appropriate regulatory measures taken by the Bank of Ghana, there will be expansion and continuous growth in the banking sector to promote business growth and create jobs.

BY KOFI AMPONSAH-BEDIAKO, HEAD OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, GHANA STANDARDS AUTHORITY.

THE SECOND NATIONAL POLICY SUMMIT

In May 2017, the Ministry of Information began the first ever National Policy Summit to provide a platform for Ministries, Departments and Agencies to engage stakeholders in policy dialogue on government strategies for revamping the economy for sustained growth. It is gratifying to note that three months down the line the Ministry has fulfilled its pledge of making the programme a regular one with a second session on Trade and Industry after the one on Economy and Energy. The importance of the Trade and Industry sector cannot be overemphasized as a catalyst for sustainable job creation and national development. Job creation was a key message that endeared the NPP to the electorate in the last elections.

If the Vision of the Ministry of Trade and Industry to make Ghana a major manufacturing, financial and commercial hub in West Africa is to become a reality such summits are vital. It is important to emphasise a point made by the Chairman of the Council of State Nana Otuo Sirebuor II, the Omanhene of Juaben Traditional area in the Ashanti Region at the opening of the summit that trade and industry are areas where partnerships are priceless in ensuring sustainable economic development and employment creation.

Key Government policy strategies such as the One village One Dam initiative, Establishing industrial parks, special economic zones, export diversification and establishing of strategic anchor industries are the subjects for discussion during the summit. It is hoped that stakeholders from a broad spectrum of society will come up with pragmatic ideas for Ghana’s industrial transformational agenda. 
Opening the second session President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo reiterated his call on all Ghanaians to actively contribute their quota to decision making by being citizens and not spectators. This was echoed in an earlier remark by the Minister of Information, Mustapha Hamid on the need for all to hold in high esteem the adage that ‘two heads are better than one’. This should prompt us not to leave discussion on policy interventions in the hands of just a few in government. Our policy formulators such as the National Development Planning Commission NDPC and the Ministry of Planning will do the nation a great service by taking inspiration and suggestions from such summits to guide them in policy formulation.

This notwithstanding one will ask what has happened to the 40 year long term development plan being developed by the NDPC. Is it not supposed to be the blueprint for the development of the country for the next 40 years? The impressive multi-stakeholder work done by the NDPC on the 40-year Development Plan must not be left to gather dust on shelves of the Commission as has been the case for many such documents.

The Ministry of Information deserves applause for this initiative. Consensus building is indeed important in today's interconnected society. Even as we commend all who were instrumental in putting up this programme, it is useful to mention that this is not the first time that a summit of this kind has been organized. The onus lies on organizations responsible for implementation the decisions taken at the summit not to remain on the shelves, for posterity will judge us if we do.

May this policy summit bear the needed fruits.

BY DAVID OWUSU-AMOAH, A CULTURAL JOURNALIST & HEAD OF RESEARCH, INFORMATION SERVICES DEPARTMENT.

OPERATIONS OF THE ANTI GALAMSEY TASKFORCE

Two weeks ago, the Anti-Galamsey Task Force, Operation Vanguard, embarked on its mandate to address the Galamsey menace. Apart from warding off operators of the illegal act it is was also charged to see to the reclamation of degraded lands. The task force is within three regions, Ashanti, Eastern and Western, though Galamsey is in eight regions. Prior to their deployment, the illegal miners vowed to resist them and to continue perpetuating their havoc on the environment. It is therefore not surprising that more than one hundred of them are in police custody presently.

Exploitation of gold dates back to centuries hence the country was once called Gold Coast. During those days, people could pick the mineral after heavy rains, in gullies and along river banks. This type of gold mining along water bodies known as alluvial mining was said to be environmentally friendly compared to underground mining. The alluvial process was digging and sifting through muddy sand by using shovels, sieves and in most cases bare hands were used after which everything was washed into the rivers.

This form of water pollution was worsened when excavators and the Shun fan machines were introduced. Galamsey is from the word "Gather and sell" which is now used to refer to illegal mining. The mining industries were vibrant during the pre-independence period when the mining policy was geared towards maximisation of mineral production in the interests of colonial powers. In all these, there was no law regulating small scale mining until 1989 when PNDC Law 219 was passed. This provided officials marketing channels for gold produced by small scale miners.

It is on record that there has been significant investment and improvement in the mining sector, with the contribution of gold from the small scale mining contributing more to GDP than that of the big mining companies. But this has come with a price, which if not well addressed, will cost the nation greatly. The pollution of water bodies through the use of chemicals, underground water contamination, destruction of farms and loss of biological diversity persist due to lack of enforcement of laws governing the sector. With failed attempts by previous governments to address the menace, the current government based on public outcry and a sustained media campaign has vowed to address the issue head-on. It is in view of this that a moratorium was put in place starting from 1st April 2017 to temporarily suspend artisan and small scale mining operations for six months.

In furtherance of this, the issuance of new licences to small scale mining operators is on hold. The issue now, is not about having a licence or not. For now, with the exception of big mining companies, all other mining activities per the directive should cease. This is to enable the Ministry to properly sanitize and put in place the right measures to promote sustainable mining. The removal of excavators from concessions is one of such measures.

One point that the government keeps emphasizing is that it is not against small scale mining, hence coming up with the five year programme known as the Multilateral mining Integrated Project. The project hinges on five pillars: the Review and Enforcing regulations in the sector, Reclamation of degraded lands and Silting Estuaries, Implementing Social Intervention Programmes, Adapting technology to map areas for mining and Capacity Building.

Operation Vanguard was deployed because the temporary ban is being violated. So far one will say the Taskforce is doing a yeoman’s job as reports have indicated improvement in some water bodies where the illegal mining had been practiced. One will sympathize with families that have lost dear ones to galamsey activities. It is not justifiable for one to argue that a person killed during an encounter with the taskforce had a licence and as such was not a galamseyer.

For now the order is no small scale mining. It is gratifying to hear that ‘operation vanguard’ has rescinded on burning excavators after public condemnation. Since they will be helping with reclamation those equipment will be needed and one wonders what informed their earlier decision. The death of the four illegal miners in a pit at a village near Kwabeng, in the Eastern Region and many in the past, though unfortunate should serve as a wakeup call for Ghanaians to know that this form of mining is deadly.

What people should know is that the task force is to protect all Ghanaians and all must support the campaign to end the practice. The Association of Small Scale Miners should engage its members in adhering to sustainable mining practices which they have been trained to do. The NCCE and other state institutions like the Information Services Department should let their presence be felt by educating the citizenry on the need to help fight the menace.

We should all encourage the Anti-Galamsey Taskforce and the Media Coallation Against Galamsey to continue their good works to stamp out galamsey in the country. For a stitch in time saves nine.

BY JOYCE GYEKYE , A JOURNALIST.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES

Ghanaian most the Hajj village in Tamale have been flown to Mecca with the assurance that the remaining ones and those in Accra will all make it to the holy city, even though there were still some uncertainties over the schedule of the flights. The annual ritual of challenges that come with the organisation of the Hajj leave one to question the continuous involvement of the State in these religious affairs.

Just a few months ago, the Minister of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, Kofi Dzamesi gave indications that government intends to extend the same courtesies to Christians by facilitating movement of Christians from Ghana to Israel and other parts of the Christian world on an annual basis. It may also be recalled that on his way to the 60th Independence anniversary parade at the Black Stars Square in Accra, President Akufo-Addo cut sod for the construction of a national cathedral.

According to the President, the cathedral will serve as a national non-denominational Christian worship centre. The relationship between the Church and the feudal States during the medieval period went through a number of developments. The struggles for power between kings and Popes shaped the western world. At a point, Jesus Christ Himself was called upon to make a ruling on whether or not, believers had to pay taxes to government. That led Jesus to make one of his profound statements, give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and give unto God what is God's. This is a clear indication that there ought to be a careful separation between the church and for that matter, religion and the State.

In the US for instance, even though the phrase "separation of church and State" does not appear in the constitution, the first Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It is against this backdrop that one finds it a bit worrying the increasing involvement of government in religious activities in Ghana.

Naturally, there should be nothing wrong with the construction of a national worship centre for Christians. Similar facilities exist in countries like France and the UK. In Africa, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire have national cathedrals. The question is to what extent can the state be involved? Ghana is constitutionally a secular state. In that regard, there is freedom of worship and religion. There are Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans and of course atheists, people who do not even believe in the existence of God in this country.

The question that arises therefore is, is it fair for the State to sponsor or facilitate the construction of a worship centre for one or two religions and leave the others? Is it appropriate for the State to facilitate the pilgrimage of adherents of a few religions and leave the rest? Will it not appear that government is promoting certain religions over others? There is no doubt that religious organisations have over the years, made significant contributions to the growth of the nation especially in areas of education and health.

Indeed, the best second cycle institutions in Ghana are largely mission schools. There are also a number of very good hospitals built by the churches. Yes, they are complementing the role of the State in providing critical facilities. Government must therefore redefine its role in the organisation of purely religious activities. Government must have no business building churches, mosques, temples, shrines or any kind of a religious worship or prayer centre. It shouldn't be the duty of the State to send people on prayer missions abroad. Because of the unnecessary involvement of the State in the organisation of Hajj, government has incurred needless debt running into millions of Ghana cedis.

In order to ensure an incident free Hajj, government must wash its hands completely from the organisation. Anyone who intends to embark on a pilgrimage must do so on his or her own. They should acquire their own visas, make their own flight and accommodation arrangements and so forth and so on.

State resources being invested in the organisation of these religious activities could be channelled into projects that will benefit the generality of Ghanaians.

BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.

Government’s intention to lay off public sector workers

Reports that government is considering cutting down the workforce in the public sector has sent shivers down the spine of most public sector workers across the country. The statement has generated anxiety with workers wondering what government's intention is on the matter. The Senior Minister Yaw Osafo Marfo is reported to have stated at a Forum in Accra that “the public sector is full and government is even contemplating laying off some workers.” The Senior Minister disclosed that government does not have the capacity to employ more public servants. He noted that graduates can only find jobs if the private sector grows, stating that if we do not get our mindset in this direction, then we are heading for trouble as a country.

The 2010 Population and Housing Census by the Ghana Statistical Service puts the entire workforce of Ghana at 9.7 million with the public sector employing 641,633. Many are questioning the rationale for the decision to reduce the workforce. One will be tempted to ask, what studies have been conducted into the performance of the public sector to arrive at this rather undesirable decision. The declaration by the Senior Minister runs contrary to the promise made to Ghanaians during the 2016 elections.

The NPP rode on the back of job creation as captured in its 2016 Manifesto dubbed “CHANGE, AN AGENDA FOR JOBS: Creating Prosperity and Equal Opportunities for All”. Is it therefore not ironic for government to be talking about job cuts seven months into office? Were the economic experts not abreast of the facts while in opposition before the numerous mouthwatering promises? What supports have been given to the private sector to stimulate growth for jobs since the government took over the management of the economy?

Well, we are aware government is rolling out plans to ensure that jobs are created from the private sector. This has seen the implementation of the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ programme which is expected to create over 750,000 jobs and also the provision of tax incentives for private sector businesses with the aim of employing more persons. These are at the gestation period and it takes time for these interventions to yield tangible results.

The NPP sorely chastised the NDC administration for freezing employment in the public sector and accusing the NDC of kowtowing to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, IMF. The signing onto the IMF program by the last administration saw a freeze on recruitment into the public sector as part of austerity measures to reduce budget overruns and to create space for infrastructure and economic development. Even though some window was provided for the replacement of dead or retired staff in some institutions this has been stalled for some time. What happens to state institutions which are understaffed if this decision is to be carried through.

It is a fact that there are state institutions that may be deemed overstaffed while others are understaffed. The amount government spent on wages and salaries constitutes about 44 percent of the tax revenue in 2015 and also makes up about 7.9 percent of GDP. The argument has always been that the public sector wage bill is a burden on the State.

The question is, is government aware that the Wage Bill is high because of the number of Article 71 office holders? Is government considering the huge salaries and entitlements of some CEOs of State owned enterprises as it ponders over taking this austere measure? It is however refreshing that the umbrella bodies such as the Trades Union Congress, in a number of media interviews has rejected the decision and is calling on government to clarify the pronouncement on job cuts.

The leadership of the Civil and Local Government Staff Association of Ghana CLOGSAG went to the extreme of asking government to first cut down on the number of ministers if it intends laying off workers in the public sector. CLOGSAG has indicated that it will resist any attempt by government to send workers home.

Was the Senior Minister just testing the waters as is being speculated to get public reaction on the matter? Government needs to come out to clarify the pronouncement to allay the fears of workers and douse the agitations.

BY DOMINIC HLORZI, A JOURNALIST.

THE LAW ON VEHICLE TOWING

It is mind boggling the twist and turns as well as the argument for and against the implementation of the law on the mandatory towing levy. Why is it sometimes so difficult to know what Ghanaians want? Is it not apparent that the enforcement of LI 2180 of 2012 on the vehicle towing levy will benefit the majority of motorists in terms of road accident prevention? The gory road traffic crash involving the Kumasi Asante Kotoko football team on July 12, 2017 and many of such crashes in the past must trigger our minds for an immediate solution to accidents involving disabled vehicles on our roads.

In 2007, the National Road Safety Commission estimated the cost of road traffic crashes to be about one-point-six percent of GDP which is about $165 million. Road traffic accident is said to be the eighth leading cause of death globally and the leading killer of young people aged between15 and 29. Available literature shows that road traffic crashes cost developing countries between $65 billion and $100 billion annually and constitute about one to two percent of GDP. It is projected that by the year 2020, road traffic crashes will move up to the third position as the leading cause of death and disability that will confront global communities.

The Daily Graphic on May 9, this year reported that the National Road Safety Commission recorded 4,049 road traffic crashes involving 6,468 vehicles resulting in 708 deaths. It also recorded about four thousand injuries from January to April 2017. Properties and lives are lost every now and then when moving vehicles rammed into stationary vehicles. The gory happenings on the roads should serve as a clarion call for a rapid and sustainable way of removing broken down vehicles hence the vehicle towing levy.

Some critiques have observed that “with over two million vehicles in Ghana currently, this new policy whose yearly collections is expected to be over and above GH¢100 million is simply going to serve as a cash cow for those behind the policy and not necessarily cure the problem of having some reckless drivers abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road. Will this really be the case? Those agitating for the scrapping of the policy should be guided by the underpinning idea of saving lives and avoid emotional sentiments about which organisation is spearheading the implementation process. This is a life and death matter that our lawmakers have deliberated upon and have given the green light for its implementation. Is the protest against the law a vote of lack of confidence in the work of the lawmakers?

Others have also suggested that the Insurance Act 764 be amended to cover the towing of disabled vehicles. This may be a laudable proposition but the question is how have the Insurance Companies fared when it comes to payment of insurance claims and how prompt can they be in paying for the removal of broken down vehicles on our roads. It is worth indicating that the rhetoric about towing broken down vehicles should not be limited to disabled vehicles on our highways.

The fight should also be taken to those who park vehicles at unauthorized places in the streets. These parked vehicles on our streets also cause accidents in our communities. The District Assemblies must do their best in ensuring that people who live close to the streets do not turn them into parking lots. Dialogue on the policy must continue while the towing companies carry on their work to save lives.

Ghanaians must stop the emotional rhetoric and support the law to help fight the carnage on our roads. The five year grace period is enough, we cannot continue to lose our dear ones to accidents on our roads as a result of broken down vehicles. The Act LI 2180, 2012 was not passed for nothing. The DVLA, NRSC, and MTTD must be allowed to do their work.

Procrastination is a thief of time and a stitch in time saves nine.

BY JONAS ANBAZU, UNIVERSITY FOR DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TAMALE.

Dr Kobina Arthur Kennedy: The Founder's Day Debate

News Commentary admonishes Ghanaians to spend their energies discussing and doing things that will build the country for posterity instead of huggling over who founded the nation.

There is a raging debate over who founded Ghana, our motherland. Before proceeding further, it is important to establish the fact that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah has been Ghana's best President by a wide margin. It is equally necessary to note that winning elections after independence does not correlate with a person or party's role in the struggle for independence. Robert Mugabe's party did not win the post-independence mandate in Zimbabwe because he led the struggle for independence. He won because he belonged to the Majority Shona tribe. The continuing questioning of Dr. J.B. Danquah's loyalty is an unproven and disloyal stain on a man who deserves better from all of us, regardless of ideology.

As to whether Nkrumah was our sole founder, how could he be? As Danquah stated eloquently on 4th August, 1947, "Love of freedom from foreign control has always been in our blood. Eight hundred and seventy years ago, we struck against the attempt of the Arabs to impose a religious slavery upon us in Ghana. We left our homes in Ghana and came down here to build a new home." Thus the struggle for our freedom started eight centuries before the founding of the UGCC, and it continued after 6th March, 1957. It has heroes, beginning with some of those buried on the journey from ancient Ghana to our current home, through the leaders of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, some brave chiefs, the founders of the UGCC, and the CPP, Sergeant Adjetey and his fellow martyrs before independence and then more people after independence.

Make no mistake about it. Our colonial masters have been gone for 60 years but we have not been free for 60 years. We lost freedom as a people under our military dictatorships-- NLC, NRC/SMC, AFRC/PNDC. Those who fought against these internal oppressors were as gallant as those who fought our colonizers. To say Nkrumah is our founder assumes that when Usain Bolt anchors Jamaica in a relay, he is the team. It presumes that when Real Madrid won the champions league this past season, Ronaldo alone deserved all the credit. How could Nkrumah alone be credited with founding Ghana when he cannot, in good conscience be credited with founding CPP alone? Where would the CPP be without the organizational genius of Gbedemah?

No great country has one founder. Most American historians list seven founding fathers. This list does not include Francis Marion of South Carolina whose exploits were described by George Washington as crucial to the success of the war of Independence. A few years ago, Tracy Lindeman of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation listed 36 founding fathers for Canada. India had founders beside Ghandi with historians ranking Ambedkar's contributions greater than Ghandi's. South Africa had many founders beside Mandela-- of all races. We should stop peddling the palpable fallacy that Nkrumah was our sole founder. When Danquah told a crowd that Nkrumah would never fail them, he was wrong. Nkrumah failed them by taking away the freedom he helped to win-- spurred by power and sycophancy. While we are pre-occupied with this farcical debate about our founders, we are losing the nation we are arguing about.

As President Akufo-Addo said on 6th March, "Sadly, the economic dividend that was meant to accompany our freedom has still not materialised. Sixty years after those heady days, too many of our people continue to wallow in unacceptable poverty". That is not all. Mobs, from streets or organized by our government can snuff out the lives of innocent citizens, as happened to the judges in 1982, the KUME PREKO martyrs in the next decade and just this year, to Major Mahama and others-- thus mocking our motto-- Freedom and Justice.

Our environment is drowning in garbage while sinister forces with the collusion of government agencies pollute our rivers and streams under galamsey. We cannot even name and shame them. Our argument should be about our future, not our past and over who will be hailed by posterity for securing that future.

Let us built Ghana for posterity.

BY DR KOBINA ARTHUR KENNEDY, A US BASED GHANAIAN PHYSICIAN.

THE FOUNDER'S DAY DEBATE

Currently dominating discussions on the airwaves and the media landscape is the decision by the Ghana @ 60 Planning Committee to hold a memorial and thanksgiving service as well as a lecture Friday, August 4. On this day in 1897, the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, a group critical of colonial rule was formed in the then Gold Coast by traditional leaders and the educated elite to protest the Crown Lands Bill of 1896 and the Lands Bill of 1897 which threatened traditional land tenure. Also significant to note is August 4, 1947, when the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the mother party from which the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was birthed, was formed. August 4, 2017 therefore marks the 70th anniversary of the UGCC. At Saltpond in the Central region, a thanksgiving and memorial service has been organised to commemorate the day.

Later at the National Theatre in Accra, there is going to be a lecture to be addressed by no less a person than the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Ocquaye. The topic is August 4 - Ghana's Day of Destiny, which a number of people are contesting.

It is significant to note that it was the leaders of the UGCC who brought down Ghana's founding President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to the then Gold Coast to fight for independence for the country. Nkrumah was then studying in Britain and the UGCC had to pay for his flight and other expenses down to the Gold Coast to become its General Secretary. It is equally important to understand that before Nkrumah was brought down, he was already actively engaged in and at the forefront of the struggle to end colonisation of Africa. In less than two years with the UGCC, Nkrumah and the other leaders of the UGCC fell out due to doctrinal differences leading to Nkrumah breaking away to form the Convention People's Party, CPP.

In a speech to commemorate Ghana's 60th Independence, President Akufo-Addo expressed his belief that the nation's founders chose March 6 as the date for Ghana's independence in order to repudiate the Bond of 6th March 1844, which led to the Gold Coast becoming a British colony. The Bond of 1844 was a peace agreement signed by Commander Hill on behalf of the British government and the people of Southern Ghana. President Akufo-Addo in his speech eulogised a group of our forebears who were moved in 1897 to start a campaign against the terms of the colonial relationship between the then Gold Coast and the United Kingdom.

In the words of the President, if the signing of the Bond marks the formal start of the Gold Coast colony, then the formation of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society in August 4, 1897 in Cape Coast marks the start for political independence. He described August 4 as sacred and seminal in the annals of the people of Ghana. The celebration of August 4 is good if it will not skew the history of the country. People need to be given their right place in history. Nobody can take away from Nkrumah his pride of place in Ghana and Africa at large.

Also, J.B. Danquah's place in the history of this country is and should be cast in stone. To make it clear, UGCC was a forerunner to the CPP which eventually led this country to attain independence. The lines are clear, CPP is a direct offshoot of the UGCC but their principles differ. Nkrumah's CPP wanted independence now whilst the UGCC was campaigning for independence within the shortest possible time. Nkrumah therefore used his oratory skills, styles, vision and his understanding of the political dynamics at the time to galvanise the people in the struggle for independence and self-determination.

Eventually, he was proved right and Ghana attained Independence. Apostle Paul in biblical time said ''I planted, Apollo watered but God gave the increase." History cannot be twisted. It is made up of two elements, facts and interpretation, no matter how hard people will interpret history, the fact still remains. Nkrumah has done his part, JB Danquah has equally done his, let us celebrate them both. Any elimination by substitution will be regressive and must be discarded. August 4 and September 21 are important days in the annals of the country and must be celebrated as such.

Posterity is the only judge. The hullabaloo must cease. One man alone cannot make history. People like Nelson Mandela, Patrice lumumba, Che Guvera, and Fidel Castro just to mention a few, have left footprints in world history. The Big six comprising, Ako Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo , J.B. Danquah , Kwame Nkrumah , Obetsebi Lamptey and William Ofori Atta will also be remembered for their roles in bringing Ghana where it is now as the star of Africa in terms of democracy and good governance .

BY JUSTICE MINGLE, A JOURNALIST.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Fight Against Fall Army Worm Infestation

The fall army worm was first detected around the Krobo area last year. It was initially thought of as stem borer by farmers and extension officers. Having failed in their attempt at controlling it with known stem borer pesticides, it dawned on them that there was more to it. By September of the same year, only the Western region was spared out of the ten regions of Ghana.

Unfortunately, the Western region has also given in to the Fall Army Worm attack by March this year. It must be said, however, that, these initial attacks were somewhat isolated regardless of the presence in all the regions. Government in its quest to curb the ravaging effects of worms has budgeted 16 million Ghana cedis for the purchase of pesticides and awareness creation.

Indeed, the Minister for Food and Agriculture at a news conference in May said eight million will be used for awareness creation while the other half will go into the purchase of pesticides. Several months after this intervention, the annihilating effect of the worms has however assumed catastrophic levels. Current figures suggest that more than 112 thousand hectares of farmlands have been infested while 14 thousand farms are in complete ruin.

As a result, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, through its Programme Officer, Charles Nyaaba has asked that government to declare a state of emergency relative to the invasion. Information available suggests that farmers are resorting to crude and rudimentary ways of fighting the worms.

Reports are that, farmers in the Tumu area of the Upper West region for instance, are using washing powder mixed with pepper to deal with the canker. This, according to the farmers has led to the curtailment the havoc caused by the invading worms. While this may be effective in dealing with the problem, there are dire food safety consequences.

Detergents are known to contain heavy metals; Cadmium, Zinc and Copper. These metals are known carcinogens. The question that arises therefore is whether or not, we are not creating problems out of solving another? Ghana is not the first nor the only country to have witnessed the fall army worm invasion.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and many others have not been spared the devastating effect of the worms. Since this menace has huge food security implications, governments in most of these countries are panicking, rightly so, and have embarked on aggressive control measures, particularly, distribution of pesticides.

These pesticides kill the larvae through contact or may penetrate the plant tissue and later poison the larvae that feed on it. Uganda and South Africa have particularly been singled out for their aggression in distributing pesticides to deal with the scourge.

In the specific case of South Africa, there has been an emergency registration of all agricultural chemicals to ensure that farmers only apply recommended pesticides.

Agricultural extension officers have also been trained to monitor the strict adherence to label instructions by farmers. Additionally, a Fall Army Worm action group made up of researchers, seed producers and distributors, industry players has been formed.

The group’s responsibility is to provide technically correct information to stakeholders and also evaluate progress. South Africa, in addition to all these, has also embarked on the importation of pheromone traps to determine the exact extent of spread and the specific strain of the worm that is being dealt with.

Although it is understandable that the fastest way of dealing with this debacle is the use of pesticides, one should be deeply concerned about the continued and unregulated application. If the credits of pesticides include enhanced economic potential in terms of increased production of food and fibre, and amelioration of vector-borne diseases, then their debits have resulted in serious health implications to human and the environment.

Studies are replete with the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health. These chemicals could be directly ingested by children through feasting on soil, they could also be taken up by plants and eventually eaten by humans. Pesticides may also pollute water bodies in addition to their recalcitrant nature in the soil.

According to the Center for Agricultural and Biosciences International, conservative estimates of the loss to be caused by the worm on maize fields in the coming years in Africa stands at three billion dolars.

For Ghana to effectively tackle the dreaded worm, in order to forestall any devastating economic hardship, particularly on smallholder farmers, there is the need to adopt a multi-prong approach that is quick and well-coordinated. There must be massive and far-reaching awareness campaign, stakeholder consultation and institutional collaborations.

BY JUSTICE KOFI AFENU, A PhD. CANDIDATE, SOIL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF GHANA, LEGON