There are certain things that happen in Ghana that make one wonder whether our officials can be quite sane.
Last week, for instance, it was reported that our Members of Parliament were finding it difficult to carry out their duties because the House was suffused with a bad stench.
When I read that, I thought the media were using a figurative term and that they were in fact talking about “scent” – a word that, in popular parlance, has come to mean corruption in high places.
But I soon discovered that the media were using the word “stench” in its raw, literal sense. They were talking about the smell of a mixture of unflushed excreta and urine!
What? Parliament is the body that authorises the use of taxpayers' money to buy cars for the President and members of his Cabinet. It also authorises the payment of salaries to our public service.
And it was operating under a cloud of bad smell? Where was the Speaker (head of Parliament)? Where was the Clerk (head of the parliamentary administration)? They summoned Parliament without first making sure the place was salubrious?
We later got details of how the workers from a company were using buckets to bring water from a nearby fountain to try and flush the toilets. Apparently, all the taps were dry.
In a way, it is a good thing our MPs got a “taste” of what daily happens to millions of Ghanaians in our metropolitan areas. Some citizens haven't seen a drop of water running through their taps for donkeys' years. They people have to buy water from tankers.
Or else, from water-hawkers who supply water in plastic containers. Horse and donkey-drawn carts sometimes play a part in this.
The water people buy from such sources can dangerous, because no-one can guarantee that the water traders use absolutely clean plastic containers. To escape the danger, some people drink water sold in sashes by the roadside. But again, no-one can guarantee that the water being sold is quite safe. I was once given such water to drink without realising what it was. I had a tummy upset that lasted for three weeks.
Our MPs must see these things or hear of them. But nothing ever changes. How many MPs really believe that water, electricity and telephones must be retained as “publicly-owned utilities” that must be kept going at all costs?
How many are convinced that these utilities – irrespective of who owns them – must be made to provide an excellent service to the public, and do so as economically as possible? Is that impossible? No – it happens in Singapore where, as far as I remember, the water board is publicly-owned and yet provides a service that is second to none.
Privately owned or not, our water service once littered the Accra suburb of Ashaley-Botwey with pipes and even dug holes to put the pipes in. That was nearly ten years ago, but I believe that not a single pipe has been connected to the general water system in Accra. (That is hardly a unique situation, by the way.)
Many of my friends complain that they haven't had water in their homes for months and months. What does one do when such things happen and yet one knows that this is a country that has enough money to pay over C600 million in settling dubious judgement debts without batting an eyelid?
Well, our MPs have really “smelt it” themselves now. Will they give the Government a hard time on behalf of their constituents? Or are they going to allow themselves to be fobbed off with “no shows” by Cabinet Ministers such as Dr Kwabena Duffuor?
Dr Duffuor has apparently failed to go to the Assembly several times to answer questions posed by MPs. He has been asking his deputies to answer questions on his behalf.
With respect, I urge him to go to the library in his Ministry and read some of the bound volumes of Hansard (parliamentary debates) that are no doubt gathering dust there. I urge him also to ask for the files that contain the research done to enable Ministers to answer parliamentary questions.
He should look for debates in which two of his predecessors - at least – were involved. The two former Ministers on whose seat Duffuor is sitting, and who were very fast on their feet, answering every question under the sun with wit and knowledge, were our first Minister of Finance, the late Komla Gbedemah (1954-61) and J H Mensah (1969-72).
Gbedemah had strong Opposition MPs to contend with – such as Joe Appiah, R R Amponsah, Victor Owusu and S D Dombo. But he satisfied them – by accurately answering questions on such contentious and complex issues as the Volta River Project and Tema Harbour and Township. Not even his worst enemies could claim that Gbedemah was an incompetent Minster of Finance or one who cooked figures.
Indeed, the story is that Dr Kwame Nkrumah quarrelled with him because Gbedemah wanted to carry on running the Ministry of Finance in a cautious manner, while Dr Nkrumah wanted to use unorthodox methods to finance his schemes.
When Dr Nkrumah removed Gbedemah from Finance and put someone there who was more easy to handle, Ghana was put on the road to bankruptcy, and indeed, by the time Dr Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966, all our balance of payments reserves had been exhausted and Ghana had become a debtor of major proportions.
Mr J H Mensah too was held in great respect by his fellow MPs. He was the only Cabinet Minister with socialist leanings in the Busia Government. But he believed in dismantling the corrupt administrative controls, in the form of import licensing, that held the economy back. His jousts with such Opposition MPs as the jocular Alex Hutton-Mills, made Parliament a lively place.
I am sure a man like J H Mensah would regard it as extremely dishonourable to “run away” from Members of Parliament who had questions to ask about how well he was running his all-important portfolio.
Now, who is this Dr Kwabena Duffuor who is allowing himself to be so disgraced by MPs? You can't believe what he's alleged to be doing if you read his official biographical notes, as presented on the Ghana Government portal on the Internet. Here are a few extracts:
Holds a Ph.D in economics from the University of Syracuse, New York; also possesses two Masters’ degrees in Finance and Banking, and in Economics. Appointed by President Mills as Minister of Finance and Economic Planning on February 13, 2009. Until his appointment, [was] the retired Governor of the Bank of Ghana.
A native of Kumawu in the Ashanti Region; attended Prempeh College; from 1964 to 1968 he studied at the University of Ghana, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics. Between 1973 and 1979, he was at Syracuse University where he was awarded MBA (Finance and Banking) in 1974, MA (Economics) 1975, and Ph.D in 1979.
Dr. Duffuor’s working experience spans 33 years. He worked first with the Volta River Authority; thereafter he worked with the Ghana Commercial Bank and held various positions within the Bank.
Appointed General Manager of the London Branch of the Bank in 1991. He also served for a year at the IMF Africa Department as an Economist. In 1995, he was appointed Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana and then the substantive Governor in July 1997, until 2001 [when he retired.]
Dr Duffuor has been Director or Chairman in eminent institutions such as Star Assurance Company, State Gold Mining Corporation, Unibank Ghana Limited, Shell Ghana limited, Accra Brewery Limited, Ecobank (Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire), Ashanti Goldfields Company and Ghana International Bank PLC, London.
How can a man with a CV like that not understand that Parliament has been elected by the people of Ghana to oversee their welfare and that the MPs cannot do their work well unless Ministers tell, them exactly how the country is faring financially and in other respects? Did Dr Duffuor ever watch “Prime Minister's Questions” on Wednesdays when he was at the Ghana International Bank in London? Britain did not become “developed” out of the blue.
Each institution in the nation played its part – and none more than the Houses of Parliament. It is illusory to pretend that we can get anywhere if we do not take inspiration from those countries whose institutions we cannot help but admire.