New Ghanaian

Little Voice from the Forest – Behold Ghana (2) – dancing in the light: contemptuous behaviour of public officials

Papa Badu Donkoh


20 November 2023

Dancing in The Light – Contemptuous Behaviour of Public Officials 

“Power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages” (Stanley Baldwin, former British Prime Minister).

It seems a group of people have taken over the affairs of Ghana, in all spheres – leaving nothing to chance, and have blurred the boundaries between personal interest and national interest. These people come from similar backgrounds and mingle in the same circles – social and political clubs, and churches – as such they are unable to hold each other to account. Maybe the academics at the sociology, economics and political science departments of Legon can explore the background of this cabal to understand social mobility in Ghana. Their flagrant behaviours  include contempt for ordinary people, gaslighting, abuse of power, appropriation of state resources among themselves, stealing state resources, nepotism, penchant for titles and honours. The children of the revolution, who shouted let the blood flow, have grown to be the lord humunguses and ayatollahs (Mad Max 2). They want to be called all sorts of titles and woe betides anyone who forgets to mention their names with the titles – honourable (even those who invited it don’t use it outside formal events), doctor (without the academic qualifications to show for). When did the prefixing of names with lawyer and engineer start in Ghana? Chiefs are not to be left out – they add doctor, professor or whatever is around to their ‘Nana’ title. Is Nana not reverential enough? This acquisitive and vain glory attitude is sipping onto their underlings, who not wanting to be left behind in the scrambling and grabbing of state resources (akin to Western Europe’s scramble and partition in the 19 century), have been infested with the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Assembly men and district chief executives demand to be called honourable. 

An Uber driver in Agboba, Kwame, says everyone goes bonkers once they are allocated public funded air conditioned offices and land cruisers (four wheeled cars). Look at what is happening in parliament (the scratch my back I scratch yours malarkey); the big state enterprises and agencies (Cocobod, GNPC, VRA), destruction of water bodies and forests. As for state lands they see them as ripe pawpaw ready to be plucked, sliced and eaten. They are renter seekers profiting from where they haven’t sown – abenwɔha mafias. The illustrious Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, describes this so well in the ‘Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born’: how long will Africa (insert Ghana) be cursed with its leaders. There were men dying from the loss of hope and others were finding gaudy ways to enjoy power they did not have. We were ready here for big and beautiful things. But what we had was our own black men scrambling to ask the white man to welcome them onto their backs.  

Public officials and politicians should be conscious of John Gottman’s ‘four horsemen of apocalypse’ regarding communication and relationships: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling. Contempt is the Biggest of Them All (BoTA) and assumes a position of moral superiority over others. Contempt shows itself in how we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless (John Gottman). Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. The much talked about conduct of public officers bill should outline the key expectations and principles of public life. If well thought and laid out the conduct of public office and the criminal offences (amendment) bills should be able to moderate the creeping arrogant and unaccountable behaviour of public officials.

How do chief executives of state institutions and enterprises find time from demanding schedules to appear on media platforms for political discussions, almost daily, (the smooth Nana Akomea, STC; Henry Kokofu, EPA; Oko Boye, NHIA and others) and also run campaigns of aspirants presidential candidates (Sammi Awuku, NLA; Nana Akomea, STC). More than a quarter of heads of all state institutions and enterprises are running in their party’s parliamentary primaries. How are they able to run their agencies effectively? Even the accountant general is contesting in the primaries. That’s a first. Is it a surprise that most of these agencies are poorly managed, and barely breaking even? And is it not strange that many of these chief executives are receiving trophies all over for ‘best performance, and outstanding leadership’? One wonders the criteria for these awards. I have to declare that my very good friend, from university to London fields, Alhaji Arafat Sulemana Abdulai, has an impressive collection. They should remember that these agencies are called state not government ones because they are required to be run on non-partisan basis. Once you are appointed your loyalty is to state not your party. What action has the public services commission taken? Zero. 

The respected industrialist, Tony Oteng Gyasi, is reported to have said, at university of Ghana alumni lecture on 08th November 2023, that the reward system in the country favours traders and importers of goods over local industries. True. What has he done about this all this time? Is he not the chair of the Ghana Revenue Authority (and others) and member of the political and business elites club? 

Osagyefo’s observation is evermore true. Africa (insert Ghana) needs a new type of citizen. A dedicated, modest, honest and informed one. A citizen who submerges himself in service to the nation and mankind, abhors greed and detests vanity. One whose humility is his strength and whose integrity is his greatness. 

Volta River Authority (VRA) and Akosombo Dam – Look more closely and the Akosombo dam spillage disaster, which begin on 15th September 2024, is nothing but professional negligence in its magnificence. The VRA committed two errors. One was poor planning – suspect they were spooked by Libya’s Derna dam collapse in September 2024 and rushed into spilling water from the dam. The other error was their response – limited visibility. A wise response would have redeemed the original mistake.  An organisation led by responsible and competent leaders would not have conducted the spillage exercise in the way VRA did, in the first place. An empathetic leadership would have responded to the catastrophic effects (displacement of 36,000 people and collapse of business) differently – quicker and humanely. The response to the disaster by VRA manifests the characteristics of dysfunctional institutions – lack of high calibre personnel at the top, hostility to legitimate criticism, unwillingness to admit mistakes and a resistance to accountability. In any respectable organisation the CEO would have resigned (or be sacked by the board). 

Amidst the claims and counterclaims of who did what, why and how, serious questions awaits the VRA, emergence agencies, and the government:

  • When was the decision made to conduct the spillage exercise? When did the planning begin?
  • Which organisations were involved in the planning, and implementation of the plan? 
  • Who had oversight of the planning, implementation and post implementation aspects of the plan? 
  • Was the VRA board aware of the plan and timetable for the implementation? 
  • What was the role of NADMO and community leaders in the planning, implementation and post implementation of the plan? 
  • How effectively has the plan been implemented? Has the been a review of the plan in response to the changing context?

VRA is one of the respected organisations in Ghana, staffed by world class engineers who are supposed to be adept at scenario planning, risk assessments and mitigation , contingency planning and the like. So what happened? Yes, climate change maybe an influencing factor, which makes the slapdash approach of VRA even more alarming. A quick check of the VRA leadership structure shows no senior leadership role (director level) for community engagement and development – a key mandate of the VRA is the socio-economic development of the area (this they have woefully failed). The irrigation and tourism aspects of Volta lake project- VRA  mandates – never materialised. Even though, Acheampong, under operation feed yourself, started a successful but short lived irrigation project on that Volta. The late Dr Leticia Obeng, Ghana’s first female scientist, never stopped banging on to whoever would listen, about the poor upkeep of the lake – weeds galore.

Political parties – The uproar about vote buying and the pervasive influence of dodgy money and persons in the political landscape is uplifting, but it is hypocritical for political party leaders to express the same sentiments. The EC and political parties can easily put heads together and agree pragmatic steps including setting spending ceilings for aspirants; setting out what they can spend on and punishing (disqualifying, suspending, sacking, prosecuting) candidates who float the set ceiling. Parties will disqualify or sack members who float the rules. The Electoral Commission (EC), Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), and Economic and Organised Crime (EOCO) will provide additional oversight. The EC will prosecute candidates if parties refuse to enforce the rules. The OSP or EOCO will step in if the EC doesn’t prosecute. And citizens can act as the last bulwark and start proceedings against the candidates, parties, EC, OSP, and EOCO, if they fail to do their bit. Why wouldn’t they do it? Not without serious pressure from the public.

The attempt by the OSP to veer into these matters is insincere. The OSP invited a candidate in the NDC parliamentary primaries (Ejura) for ‘spraying’ wades of cash (more likely to be in lower denominations) on delegates at the election centre. What was her crime? Don’t people do the same at traditional functions? What about those who paid hefty amounts in dark rooms. One suspects that the lady aspirant couldn’t match the financial might of her opponent and decided to cause a scene at the voting centre, not to influence but to show off (me too I have arrived). Go after the high hanging and big fruits. Again, the OSP is reported to have invited an ex-MP for Obuasi (Edward Ennin) to authenticate his allegations of government officials buying state lands on the cheap. Senior politicians including Ken Agyapong have said same, and worse (are they too powerful to be invited and was Ennin’s invitation an attempt to shut him up?). The OSP should be careful about language and posture. He is reported to have said that nobody is an angel and nothing is sacrosanct when it comes to the powers of the SP. Well, all persons are innocent, until proven guilty by the law courts, and people’s civil rights are scared. 

Judiciary – his lordships and ladyships saw it as unnecessary to prioritise key contested issues – the forced retirement of an auditor general, Yaw Domelevo, and executive edicts  – and took a tortoise two and half years to give their verdicts, when the cat had bolted. They ruled as unconstitutional the auditor’s forced retirement but the man had reached retirement by the time of the judgement. A perilous practice for democracy. The judiciary is already under huge criticism from all quarters including from the national security minister (for being too biased in favour of the government), retired justices, civil society organisations, and leading opposition members. On another level it is mind boggling that her ladyship, the chief justice, didn’t understand why people complained about the refusal to admit a young lady, Ama Ghana, to the bar. She expressed such bewilderment at a public function, of all places. Someone who recently ushered her own daughter to the bar? The same chief justice should have wondered why her backers suddenly realised that she is a Fante and added the previously missing Fante middle names (Araba Esaaba) to her name – Gertrude Torkornoo. What ethnic mischief were they trying to play? Appeal to ethnic sentiments from the public regarding her nomination? Mind the dangerous traps please. 

Minerals Commission and Environmental Protection Agency – hardly took the Appiatse annihilation serious. No repercussions. No heads rolling. No lessons learned reviews. No parliamentary scrutiny. Another, explosion at a quarry in Shama, although not on the scale of Appiatse’ but four people were killed. The response: reshuffle regional managers of the Minerals Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, national leaders not bordered – Ghanaian lives and safety valueless

Health Services – where is the health minister? The auditor general’s report shows that Ghanaians were given expired COVID vaccines. The health ministry can’t even do the mundane stuff – stock taking and monitoring inventory to ensure timely arrival of essential medicines (partly funded by donors) and prevent their shortages – antiretroviral drugs and measles vaccines. Ghanaians should be thankful to their green and white flag neighbours for coming to their rescue. The recent dialysis issue exposed the fault lines of Ghana’s health service – patients are dying because they can’t afford the cost of dialysis and the leading renal unit at Korle Bu hospital has closed because they can’t met the GHS 4 million running cost. They cite tax on dialysis consumables, as the culprit. Even common sanitary pad has become a luxury because of the reported impact of tax on the pads. Montgomery (my former supervisor and colleague) and his co researchers show how access to sanitary pads improve girls school attendance (Sanitary Pad Interventions for Girls’ Education in Ghana: A Pilot Study

The display of ignorance by parliamentarians about these issues is patronising. Don’t they know about the impact of the taxes they approve on these items? Why didn’t they ask for exemptions if they were really bordered? Is the fact businesses in Ghana are not supported to produce sanitary pads or dialysis consumables not a disgrace? Nearly completed hospitals including the Military hospital in the Ashanti region are being occupied by lizards and weeds, while people can’t find hospital beds or access facilities nearer to their areas. Where has the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) been very quiet of late. Don’t they care about the welfare of their patients? Dr Justice Yankson (my childhood ‘gutter-gutter’aman ball mate – he’s also a very good footballer) why the silence? Oko Boye, the likeable chief executive of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), has made some good proposals regarding sustainable funding for the NHIA, including direct transfer of the NHIA levy into NHIA coffers (not into that of the finance ministry) and ‘sin’ taxes on goods with harmful health effects, given the growing trend for over processed sugary and salty foods in Ghana. Worthy to note that this trend has resulted in high rates of type 2 diabetes in Barbados and Jamaica and they have become the amputation capitals of the world. Just asking: Why is Oko Boye, the NHIA CEO doubles as the board chair of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital? Is that not conflict of interest?

Cocobod– The board of Cocobod has been dominated by the high and mighty in Ghana but it is in dire sharp and struggling to put together the usual international syndicated loans (shameful practice nevertheless for Ghana to be still doing) for the cocoa season. Cocoa production is three times less than Côte d’Ivoire’s output. The chief executive would rather spend his time campaigning for his favoured NPP presidential aspirant than solve the daunting problems of Cocobod. Is this not incompetence at its peak? 

Bank of Ghana  (BOG)

Arrogance of power and contempt 

  • BOG makes a huge loss ($3.5 billion) and confidently tells us that central banks are not there to make profit and that it is not usual for them to make losses (all granted)but failed to tell us that losses of such magnitude are uncommon. He didn’t forget to tell us that the bank had been making tidy profits in the recent past. Thought they were not bordered about making profits?
  • The BOG governor called demonstrators hooligans, never mind it included members of parliament and the parliamentary leaders, political party and civil society leaders, and all shades of Ghanaians. Protesters, even without the political leaders, don’t deserve such derogatory labels. These demonstrators have every right to scrutinise the activities of the BOG and show their anger at the poor running of the institution. He is a public official not a politician and must avoid using such distasteful labels. The taste of power is stupefying indeed. Little wonder he and his executive team felt too uppity to receive the demonstrators petition, and sent the bank’s head of security in his stead – they were mere ‘hooligans’ that needed to accosted and tamed by security. 

The sins of the BOG 

  • First plunging the economy into its worst shape in recent times through excessive printing of money, well beyond its mandated levels, to finance the government’s unfettered appetite for individual luxuries. With monthly inflation rate in the 40s (worse still at household levels), the high unyielding level of inflation tax has robbed Ghanaians from all backgrounds – pensioners, investors, salaried workers, businessmen and women, the unemployed of their savings and purchasing power.   The ‘misery index’ is higher than ever before. So you know, inflation tax reduces the spending power of the people, hitting the poor disproportionately while increasing the spending power of the government.  Little surprise, a World Bank report last year revealed that 850,000 Ghanaians have been pushed into poverty, joining the 6 million already languishing in that category. I am sure BOG  governor is aware of the fate of his colleagues in Nigeria and Lebanon. 
  • Second, for a public institutions entrusted with the state’s finances the BOG is extremely profligate.  Spending on its consumables and running costs are unusually astronomic, the bank has ventured into non-core businesses such as guesthouses/hotels and hospitals with dubious procurement practices (is the BOG hospital accessible to all Ghanaian or just the preordained few bankers, politicians and their acolytes? Don’t know, just asking). Granted the hospital was not built under the current governor but couldn’t it have been more beneficial if the funds had been used to build more hospitals in the areas around the country in dire need of such facilities?
  • Third, the BOG and friends in the finance ministry botched the so called financial sector clean up or whatever name they called it. The cost of the clean up is trumping the cost of non-cleaning up. A little more understanding and appreciation of contextual aspects of the Ghanaian business life would have helped them. As a former banker turned street economist advised: the real economic lessons are on the streets – streets brings the theories to life (tests and refines them).
  • Fourth, the new BOG headquarters is budgeted to cost a whooping $250 million, as we know big public projects always tend to be double or more than budgeted for in Ghana (National Cathedral?). The whole project has been dogged by opaque practices including  procurement, disclosures, and oversight. Does the bank need this gigantic edifice, given the country’s size? What will they do in such a building? Are they going to lease parts to others? Well, the area is now a security zone so no leasing, I guess. 

Ken Ofori Atta’s Race to the Top of the Gaslighting Pole

The incessant gaslighting of Mr Ken Ofori Atta, the smooth talking finance minister, is very nauseating, to say the least. He told us that the economy had strong fundamentals (ticked all the questions set by Dr Mamudu Bawumia for the late vice president – Paa Kwesi Ammissah Arthur); that the e-levy would solve all of Ghanaians revenue problems; Ghana did not need advise from the IMF small boys and will not go to IMF for support; and now we hear him say Ghana has turned the corner, and the bank of Ghana is the most prudent and efficient institution in the neighbourhood (for those who noticed: didn’t the text of the Bank of Ghana press conference looked like one written/edited by Mr Ofori Atta?). He sprinkles his eloquent and smooth speeches with biblical quotation to appeal to the emotional and religious sentiments of Ghanaians. He does this well – far better than his management of the economy. Disclosure: I was enthralled, as a then national service personnel, by his speech at the first homecoming summit organised by the newly installed Kufour government. Who thought he will be terrible at a job he has craved for a long time.  He should be mindful of what Romans 16:18 says about gaslighters: “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” And 2 Peter 2:13 “They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.” For God’s response to such men and women, see Psalm 119:118 “You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain.” I am he already knows these.

The Media and Journalists – their passivity and unquestioning style is doing more harm to the society. Press releases and assertions (made on media platforms) by government and public officials are taken as fact. Some resort to banter instead of deep probing making government and public officials revel in their dead cat strategy manoeuvres. Dead cat strategy is the deliberate release of shocking information (dead cat) to divert attention from unpleasant problems in the spot light. The media and public then shift attention and talk about the new information (deliberately planted) and forget about the serious failures they had been talking about. 

Appointment of media personalities to the board of state organisations, and the reported dependence on politicians for favours have undoubtedly undermined the credibility of the media. The media should be aware that the real magic is what people don’t see during the magical act. A good magician misdirects attention from the secret act to the outcome of the act so that the audience don’t see, more so think about, the process. The media need not be adversarial or belligerent but firm, honest, and empathetic to the plight of their fellow citizens, if they want to be taken serious as the fourth estate of the realm. They should be mindful of the dead cat strategy, the magical misdirection, particularly in this era of artificial intelligence and misinformation, and be masters at delayering the Russian doll, as the the French film  ‘The Monk’ (Le  Moine) vividly showed. 

A side issue: of late the term duty bearer, has gone viral and it’s rare not to hear it mentioned in public discourse. Where did this come from?  Isn’t everyone, citizen or non-citizen, a duty bearer (not limited to only public officials)? Of course, citizens can effectively fulfil their duties if they know and understand those duties and are able to do so without incurring penalties. The National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) and allied groups have much more to do. As Gatsby once said “whenever you feel like criticising any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” (The Great Gatsby). Point is: you can’t criticise the ordinary citizen for neglecting their duties of holding public officers to account, collecting money from politicians before they vote, or electing bad leaders without, first, educating them on their duties.

Where is the Love from the Ghana National Lottery 

The National Lottery Authority (NLA) aims to be the biggest lottery on the continent, says Sammi Awuku, CEO (no timeline is given for this feat). The NLA has legal monopoly of lotteries in Ghana, established in 1958 and it became an authority in 2006.  I accessed the website of the NLA this week attempting to locate its annual reports and financial statements but could not find any. When I accessed the website of the National Lotteries Commission of South Africa I found annual reports and financial statements from 2013 to 2021. In the annual report the board had laid out its revenue, and the hundreds of millions of Rand it had disbursed to the eligible organisations it supports, among others. Same for the UK lottery website. The South African lottery commission funds nonprofit entities working for the public good at the national and community levels including public benefit trusts, sporting bodies and sports clubs, educational institutions, recreational clubs, and cultural bodies. The UK’s national lottery disburses over £30 million every week to national and community projects. Funding is given to arts and films, heritage and conservation, sports and recreation, nature, communities and groups. In the year ending 31 March 2023, the funds were shared as follows: health, education, environment and charitable cause (40%); sport (20%); arts (20%); heritage (20%). We need a framework for the NLA similar to those of South Africa and UK on the utilisation and disbursement of its income. We all know culture and arts facilities/industry need enormous support, so do support for sportsmen and women at the national and local levels. The UK Lottery funds all their national athletes and grass roots sports development. The NLA could start with publishing its annual reports and financial statements. 

Wayside Archimedes Wanna be Rich

Who remembers the late 1980’s hit tune: ‘I wanna be rich’ by Calloway?  Betting stirs up strong passions for different reasons – religious, cultural, personal, economic, moral. The new tax on gaming/lottery winnings including those from betting has generated much debate. The average brokeman senses conspiracy from above to deny him the temporal enjoyment he gets from whatever he uses the winnings for. Heartless! He says. The permutations, sequences and the historical analysis the brokeman do before staking the bet/lotto will  pose a challenge to the big brain of Professor Francis Allotey. Some argues that lottery particularly betting is addictive and disproportionately impacts the poor. True, an indicator of quickly knowing the economic status of a community in the UK is counting the number of betting shops that you find in that area. Betting shops tend to concentrate in poor areas. Others argue that average brokemen are attracted to betting (and become addicted) because they are unemployed and have no other economic activity to do. Betting is their only means of getting returns on their sweat. In any case all, are casinos and trading stocks any different from betting? Different, because the clientele is different? A brokeman friend made a valuable suggestion: tax the revenue of the gaming businesses and spare the brokeman. Brazil is proposing to legalise and regulate sports betting, and slap an 18 percent levy on the annual revenue betting firms plus a $6 million five-year licence fee.

Housing Supply

What happened to development of social and affordable housing in Ghana? In the 1970 loads of social houses (referred to as low cost housing and mostly built by the A Lang company), as accommodation for public and civil servants, and affordable houses (built by state housing corporation) were completed all over the country. In Takoradi there were Effia, Anaji, and Ketan estates (private houses), and social houses in Effia and Anaji estates. These social housing units were allocated to secondary schools, public and civil services. The 1980’s had the SSNIT flats building scheme. Unfortunately, the government started selling the social housing units to their occupiers in the late 1990 (accelerated in the early 2000’s) without replenishing the stock. They lifted the ‘right to buy’ policy, one of Margaret Thatcher’s defining policies, hook line and sinker without considering the local context. In UK this policy has decimated the social housing stock and fuelled the housing deficit. 

The Saglemi affordable housing scheme (affordable to whom, one might ask) attempted to close this housing shortfall in Ghana. One would say the expended cost of the project is unreasonably high and the designs unimpressive. They could have added more levels – minimum five stories – to cut the project cost and made it more  affordable. Look at all the new public buildings (district hospitals, schools, community health centres) around – unappealing designs. The windows don’t make use of the abundant natural light. Where is the Ghana institute of engineers and architects? All said, the abandonment of the project, which is reported to be 80 or 90 completed, is heartless and a financial loss to the state. Sector ministers and senior civil servants, of the previous government administration (including my lecturer at Legon – Kwaku Agyeman Mensah), are being prosecuted for dubious financial practices relating to the project. But one would say that the sector ministers of the current administration equally qualify for prosecution for causing financial loss to the state and dereliction of duty – installed equipments and appliances have been stolen or allowed to rot, interest on loans are still being paid, and thousands of people are in need of accommodation. 

The government plans to sell the project to a private developer to finish it off. Ghanafo smell a rat and suspect it will be sold at ‘dongomi’ to connected party lickers. A sensible path is to handover the project to a new trust (parliament can ratify the membership). The trust should then be given the required money, as a government loan, to complete, sell, and manage (facilities management) the Saglemi housing scheme. Affordable housing should not be built only in the outskirts of Accra, and city centres, public servants and ‘mobrowas’ also deserve to live in the centre. Government acquired lands in central and convenient locations like Cantoments, Airport, Achimota, have been cheaply sold (dongomi) to politicians and the well connected. These people have in turn sold the lands to developers, making millions of Cedis (and dollars) in the process.

Public Infrastructure 

Many projects (worth billions of dollars), some nearly completed, have been abandoned by successive governments to rot. They do not care about the financial loss – opportunity cost and loan repayments – and the public benefit that would have resulted from the projects completion. The recent declaration by John Mahama, ex-president and NDC presidential candidate that the NDC will continue all abandoned and ongoing projects is encouraging. An unsolicited advice for the NDC: compile a list of all abandoned projects, starting from Osagyefo’s era – identify those in bad state, unsafe for continuation, and need to be dismantled and those that need to be continued. This will save you time if you form the next administration.