SELLING ABURI GARDENS WILL BE A GROTESQUE ACT OF VANDALISM
By CAMERON DUODU
WHY is it that when Ghanaians of a certain mentality find that they have a problem on their hands, they go for only ONE solution?
I remember getting into an argument with a “big man” about our open storm drains a long time ago.
“They are a hazard to drivers,” I maintained. “If you burst a tyre and you spin off the road, your car falls into a gutter.
If someone fails to dip his lights at night and dazzles your eyesight and you lose control of your vehicle, you fall into a gutter!… Why can’t we cover these huge drains like they do elsewhere in the world?”
The “big man” said: “The storm drains are kept open so that they won’t get blocked. If they get blocked and the rain water becomes stagnant in them, all sorts of diseases can be caused and we shall have epidemics.”
I admitted that stagnant water was dangerous, but retorted: “However,” I said, “if the drains were covered, the chances of things falling into them to block them would be minimised. Besides, what they do in other places is to make sure that there are covered ‘manholes’ which can be opened every now and then to inspect the drains and remove blockages from them, if any.”
The “big man” thought that was a dangerous risk to take. “Suppose the maintenance people fail to do their job properly?” he asked.
We have that mentality to thank for the smelly drains that we continue to find in our cities and towns. We have had Cabinets half of whose members have travelled to, or lived in, some of the most modern cities in the world. Yet we can’t manage to keep our city and town centres clean and stench-free. For once a negative idea becomes accepted by our ‘Establishment’ — which is to say, if they think something is “impossible to do”, it can hardly ever be shaken out of them.
Is there any other reason why there is an outmoded, unhygienic toilet, built in the early colonial days — waste from which has to be removed manually each night — in some of our city market-places (such as Osu Market, in Accra)? Replacing it with a modern toilet staffed by attendants would create some problems, sure. So don’t attempt it at all but keep the old one!
The current idea which our ‘Establishment’ has swallowed hook line and sinker is that “privatisation” ensures “quality” and the “efficient” running of industries and companies.
We have examples of failed privatisations before our eyes but we dismiss those examples as exceptional cases and find reasons to explain why they have failed.
For instance, if you ask why there are still areas of our capital that do not enjoy a regular supply of water — despite the fact that our water company has been privatised for many moons now — you could be given a number of reasons. One would be that people don’t pay their water rates regularly. Another might be that the Government has not fulfilled all the terms in the agreement it reached with the private company before privatisation took place. Or both reasons!
And you ask, “But didn’t the company carry out “due diligence” before it signed on the dotted line? Did it examine the Government’s record with regard to other privatisations that it had committed itself to? The answer, most probably, would be, “Oh, we came in under the impression that the Government would act in good faith.” If you turned the question round and asked the Government, “why haven’t those people managed to fulfil the promises they made when they made a bid for the company?”, it would say, in all probability, “Don’t mind them! They are only interested in profits!”
Whereupon, if you are a quick-witted person, you should retort, “Oh yes – and the idea that private companies exist to maximise profits from their enterprises was discovered only yesterday, wasn’t it? No wonder you hadn’t heard of it before these guys came and took the water supply system out of your hands!”
All this points to one thing: good management is good management, wherever it comes from. And vice versa. Some of the worst and most inefficient practices in the world can be found in the private sector, just as some of the best-run companies are in the public sector. If you look at the banks, for instance (all private institutions) the number that were – or almost — run to the ground and brought about the crisis of 2008, were in the private sector. If I were to recite their names, it would sound like an advertisement for old-oak probity. But it was Governments and their public-sector institutions, which are constantly maligned by the apostles of free enterprise ensconced on the boards of the private companies, that rescued them! Some were deemed “too big to fail.” Others were thought to be of “strategic importance”. Or, they “employed too many people” to be allowed to go to the wall.
These thoughts were among those that occurred to me when I heard that our current Minister of Tourism Ms Akua Sena Dansoah was proposing to privatise the Aburi Botanical Gardens.
I just sighed and said to myself, “Here we go again!”
Now, I don’t in the least want to excuse the obvious deterioration that has been allowed to occur at the Aburi Gardens. The point is: it is the Ministry of Tourism itself that has allowed it to become the poor image of itself that it now is. The question the Ministry should therefore ask is this: WHAT was it that was done in the past that earned Aburi its reputation, and what CAN BE DONE TODAY to bring it back to that state?
The wrong question to ask, most certainly, is “who can take this ageing institution off our hands?”
Certainly, Aburi is showing – and should be showing – its age. For it was opened as long ago as 1890 – that is, 122 years ago!
Yet in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was “only” in its 70s and 80s and I became conscious of it, it was a fabulous place to visit. First of all, it is close to Accra – it was close then, and it is closer now, because of the relatively new road that now links the two localities. And then, there is what it contains: botanical wonders of the first order.
The royal palms at the entrance alone would command a visit. And then, there are the plants that visitors to Accra would never get an opportunity to see – cocoa trees, palm trees and other tropical plants that overseas visitors, especially, would have read about but never seen.
And then there are the really magical plants, like my favourite: asoa or asaa [Akan] or taami [Ga]. If you want to entertain your city-dwelling kids, go to Aburi when this plant (its botanical name is Synsepalum Dulcificum) is in season.
Ripe “Magical Plant” or Asoa
Take an orange with you; if possible, take an orange you have established is pretty sour. If you can’t find one, take a lemon. Give the kids a taste of the bitter orange or lemon first. They will spit it out! Next, give them a red-coloured berry from the asoa tree and let them lick it. Then, perform the magic: let them eat the orange or lemon that was so bitter they spat it out. Result? The orange or lemon would have turned sweeter than any sweet orange they had ever tasted!
But apart from such delights, the Aburi Gardens provide a fabulous and cheap way of spending a few hours away from noisy, overcrowded, stinking Accra. The air there is cool and fresh. And the sights are out of this world. There is a vast area of forest in a valley at the edge of the park, whose mist-covered canopy provides a panoply of greenery that charms the eyesight.
All that is needed to ensure that this well-endowed public property remains in the hands of the public is that it should be well managed. How can it be well-managed?
- Give it the capital it needs to be restored to its best state. I am sure there are hundreds of proposals in the files of the Department of Parks and Gardens (as it once was) which have been absorbed by the Ministry of Tourism and are gathering dust on the shelves of the Ministry. It is these proposals that the Minister and her officials should be poring over, to find out what are practicable and can be implemented quickly. If there are no acceptable proposals, the Ministry should invite some on a consultancy basis.
- Provide incentives to the staff to improve their work so that more visitors can visit the Gardens and give it an income befitting its status. If necessary, give the employees a bonus – say, 30 percent of the gate and catering income.
- It would amaze the Minister to find out that such incentives, however small, can change people’s attitude to their work. There are many officials who are only waiting for someone to recognise their work and to encourage them to put more imagination into it. I do want to assure the Minister, though, that if she decides to go ahead and privatise the Aburi Gardens, with less than 3 months to go before an election, she will be accused of selling a national asset to her cronies. This accusation will stick, whether it is true or not. It would simply not be a rational or wise thing to do, if she values her good name. And even if she doesn’t value her good name, she should remember that there can always be “abrogation”, and that “abrogation” can bring endless committees of enquiry and Woyome-type litigation – of the sort which she must be very much aware of, due to the ongoing recent controversies. For it is certain that, with Aburi having willy-nilly become “prime estate”, anyone who can lay hands on the title deeds of the Gardens and later alter its site plan to accommodate bungalows, restaurants and even flats, would be a fool not to try his or her hand at it. The trouble, however, as the Minister should know, is that Ghana is not made up of fools, and this type of thinking — “crony capitalism” to give it its proper name — is simply too politically dangerous to be indulged in, however “in-your-face” a politician and her party happen to be. Especially with an election campaign in full swing.
DO YOU AGREE THAT IT WOULD BE A TRAGEDY TO SELL ABURI GARDENS? IF SO, PLEASE STATE YOUR VIEWS IN THE “LEAVE A REPLY” BOX BELOW. ALL VIEWS WILL BE SENT TO THE MINISTRY OF TOURISM IN ACCRA.