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Jul
18

THERE IS HOPE FOR GHANA!

THERE IS HOPE FOR GHANA! By CAMERON DUODU

One of the most inspiring stories I have read about Ghana recently goes like this:

QUOTE: A private legal practitioner has gone to court praying [the court] to compel the Ledzokuku Krowor Municipal Assembly (LEKMA) to construct a section of a road leading to her house at the Teshie Nungua Estates.

According to [the lawyer] Mrs Margaret Acheampong, the road leading to her house was so bad that “she had to dance agbadza” to and from her house!

[She] contended that she was a tax payer who paid her property rate and so LEKMA should also perform its obligation by constructing roads.

At the court last Monday [13 July 2015], Mrs Acheampong wanted to move the court to the site (Locus) [where the road is]. . However, the court, presided over by Mr Justice A.K. Okwabi, noted that the counsel representing LEKMA, in their defence, had admitted that the roads were bad and mentioned that funds were not readily available to make way for the construction.

Counsel for LEKMA said he had held talks with the Assembly to find the way out.

Mrs Acheampong, who represented herself, told the court that when the Municipal Chief Executive chose to reside within the Estates, he ensured that a road known as the “Cocoa Street” was reconstructed.

The High Court has adjourned the matter to July 14 [2015] for parties in the matter to discuss issues with the view of settling it. UNQUOTE

Now, Mrs Acheampong is 72 years old! Normally, at that age, a Ghanaian woman can be expected to have (1) sold her soul completely to religion, as conveyed to her by a ‘bling’-spattered “charismatic” church leader, prophet or evangelist; or (2) she would be sunk in semi-depression or dementia, most probably induced forcibly by having to cope psychologically with the belief, held by some of her relatives, (especially the ”ne’er-do-wells” among the menfolk), that she was a “witch” who had used her evil powers to make it impossible for them to find jobs; or that when they got jobs, she ensures that they use all their pay to drink akpeteshie and thus be perpetually broke; or worse, that she had stolen away their manhood and got their wives or girl friends to desert them!

But not Mrs Acheampong. She has a clear mind and a strong voice. She is fully aware of what her duties are to her community, which is strange in itself not only among Ghanaian women but Ghanaians in general: she pays her taxes. And she also knows what reciprocal obligations the council that serves her community owes to her and other residents.

I want to put special s emphasis on the fact that she says she “pays her property rate.” That is extremely important. For Ghanaians who pay income tax sometimes believe that it should also cover the “property rate” specifically levied by councils. Property rate is often seen as some sort of additional punishment which the Government has imposed upon them.

They do not know what is done with their property rate, of course. In the UK, for instance, one knows exactly what one gets from “Council Tax”: it pays for rubbish collection; it is used to maintain roads, and best of all, it provides free transport, by bus, tube or train, for elderly people who might have retired and would, thereby, most probably living in reduced circumstances. Can you imagine a government in Ghana anticipating that retirement might bring loneliness to elderly people, and deliberately going out of its way to provide them with free transport to enable them to move about and visit relatives, if any?

In Ghana, many people do pay their property rate. Many are forced to pay it, by council employees who go about threatening to take people to curt unless they pay.

But their local councils seldom have a regular, organised way of collecting their rubbish.

The shops from which rates are collected regularly are sited behind gutters that are chocked with garbage and still water, a combination that creates an odour that smells to high heaven.

Where the rate-payers have no pipe-borne water – as is the case, to my knowledge, at a huge suburb like Ashaley-Botwe, in Accra – the council does not lift a finger to help them obtain water. The Ghana Water Company, and before it, the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation, has dug deep holes in many places where pipes are supposed to be laid to convey water to people’s homes. In some places, the pipes have actually been laid beside the gutters! But they have not been installed. And the people have to buy water from privately-operated tankers.

What could be more important to the welfare of residents of an area than good, clean, pipe-borne water that flows regularly? Nothing! But the residents have been handed over to the mercy of the Water Company, which gives all sorts of excuses – including the legitimate one that it is short of funds – for not being able to fulfil its function of providing water to the people. If the councils really cared, they would enter into agreements with the Water Company to enable the Company to obtain the funds it needs and then recoup the money by increasing property rates. But do the councils even think of such things?

Furthermore: the evacuation of residents’ septic tanks is usually carried out through a complex and tortuous process.

The markets residents use are dirty and smelly.

The gutters ought to be widened and covered and pavements constructed over them to enable people to walk safely along the roads without exposing themselves to oncoming motor vehicles. At the moment, residential areas are served by gutters which – it cannot be repeated enough – are filthy and open and can easily trap the feet of pedestrians. When it rains heavily, the drains turn into rivers, forcing people off the side-walks to seek shelter at – petrol stations, where, as we know to our cost, flood and flame can combine to send many people to an early grave. As happened on the night of 3-4 June 2015.

These open gutters that fail to conduct rain-water away from shops and homes after heavy rains, but floods them, ought to be the responsibility of our councils. But the councils rather expect the Central Government to assume the responsibility of preventing floods. They probably have a good case to make to the Central government to give them a proportion of the Sales/Purchase Taxes and/or VAT collected in their municipalities for the express purpose of making the pavements and markets safe. But do they think of these things? They are hand in glove with the Central Government, which has a hand in appointing the heads of councils. So a failure at the Central Government level also becomes – unnecessarily – a failure at the local government level. This is surely the route to collective social suicide?

In municipalities where there are beaches – which could be a lucrative source of income from tourists – the councils don’t care to employ people to keep the beaches clean and well-provided with facilities. Unaware of the aphorism that you can only “catch fish with bait”, they will tell you they ”have no money” for such expenditures. So the greatest source of tourist income – a clean, warm beach, also made safe for swimmers by efficiently-spaced breakwaters — remains untapped.

Ghanaians tolerate all these things. They know no way of influencing their councillors to take any serious notice of their problems. Yet because they vote every four years, they believe they live in a democracy. They are largely unaware of the fact that democracy is a contract between voters and their elected representatives, which allows the elected representatives to coerce the voters to pay a lot of money, called revenue, which should properly be used to provide services for the voters.

Instead of thinking about such creative ways of raising revenue and serving their communities at the same time, the elected representatives use what little money there is to buy fine motor-cars for themselves. You cannot visit any municipality without noticing the large number of luxurious vehicles, operated by Government and parastatal entities – all purchased with the allegedly “non-existent” public revenues paid to the Central Government and local authorities.

Both elected and appointed officials allocate part of the “non-existent”revenue as “allowances” which they pay to one another to make life easier for themselves. At the very top, the decision-makers people are allowed to use public funds to pay for drivers; cooks; steward boys; night watchmen and garden boys. The highest earners are – paradoxically – those who are given free petrol. But ask them to justify their privileges by solving local problems, such as repairing roads, or providing any of the services discussed in this article, and their stock answer is: there is no revenue left to do it with.

The populace largely shrugs its shoulders and goes about its business as best it can, thanking God for any scraps that fall on to the social services tray, from the tables of their official “masters”, the politicians and bureaucrats.

So, whether Mrs Acheampong succeeds in her action or not; whether the case is settled or not; she has set an example and blazed a trail of which the Ghanaian public would do well to take note and emulate.

We should all act together, like Mrs Acheampong, to pile a lot of pressure on our officials. Write to them. Go and sit in their offices. Demand, demand, demand that they provide the services the public pay them to provide! And involve the media in the demands! Mrs Acheampong’s “battle” could easily have been ignored by the media as a “private” between a resident and the council which collects property rate from her. Fortunately, the media saw the wider implications of the case and publicised it. And now, her case is going viral on the Internet. Because so many people identify with it. As they will, if others do indeed follow her good example.

Those people who enjoy taking money from us without providing any appreciable service in return were not born to be officials – they were either elected or appointed, supposedly with our consent! They can be dismissed or be forced to resign. Don’t think that because they are so arrogant, they cannot be touched. If you constantly name and shame them, those who appointed them will find it embarrassing to keep supporting them, and eventually, they will be replaced. And when the new ones come, let them know that you were responsible for getting rid of the old, useless ones, and that you are prepared to name and shame the new one, s too, unless they PERFORM.

The only way to prevent a democracy from being stultified and morphing into a dictatorship is through constant public pressure. The operative word here is “’constant”. Officials do not feel threatened by ”EPISODIC PRESSURE”, for they know that the public has a shirt memory and that if they “stick it out” when they are criticised, the public will soon forget any grievances they entertain against officials. So, hit them and hit them and hit them again.

Mrs Acheampong could have used the time she is using in pursuing her case
to do other things that are of importance to her. But she has fully understood the principle of the contract between the governors and the governed. I love the straight-forward way she put it: “I pay my property rate”, she said, if one may rephrase her argument. “I must therefore have access to the property. And I cannot have access to the property because the road to it is so bad that I have to dance agbadza before I get to the property. You took my money as property rate. You therefore have an obligation to use it to enable me to access the property for which I am paying the rate.”

Logical! She is the sort of person who should be given a national award; who should be invited on to TV and radio discussion panels, to impart some of her wisdom to the younger members of the populace, who are largely apathetic to such concerns.

I doff my hat to you, Mrs Acheampong.
Well done!
Some of your countrymen are very proud of you!  

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