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Of 116 Buses, Images, Our Flag and Creeping Megalomania. 

scam salasi

About a year after Samuel Nuamah-Donkor had been appointed Chief Executive of the State Transport Corporation (STC) now Intercity STC in rancorous and quite comical circumstances, he announced: (myjoyonline.com 22/4/15 “Intercity STC to name buses after national heroes”) that one of the things he planned to do to was to name STC buses after leaders like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Busia, J.J. Rawlings and J.A. Kufour and that of their wives, traditional leaders, past heroes etc. How giving names to buses would improve STS’s efficiency, timeliness, safety, reliability, ensure profitability and recover STC’s once loyal passengers, now understandably and almost irrecoverably lost to VIP, OA Transport and other private transport operators I couldn’t rationalize, but Nuamah-Donkor sounded smug at his ‘invention’. I thought “silly idea”.

STC’s plethora of problems, as Nuamah-Donkor very well knows, will not be solved by naming buses after our leaders, past and present, dead or alive. In any case how does being the wife of a Head of State make one a national hero? What apart from a scheme to enrich someone would drive such a project? So what if a bus named after J.A. Kufour is involved in an accident and is damaged beyond repair? Will they say J.A. Kufour is dead? I hope STC did not implement this not well thought out, misplaced idea.

Then last week it was revealed that our country, Ghana, had contracted Smarttys Management and Production Ltd “Smarttys” owned by the fair complexioned, well connected, prominent NDC activist, Selassie Ibrahim to brand (not re-brand) 116 new Metro Mass Transit buses with images of past and present Presidents and Heads of State of Ghana. A pro-forma invoice from Smarttys dated 17th July 2015 addressed to the Minister of Transport put the cost of branding each bus at GH?30,400.00 or US$8,444.00 (the cost of a brand new Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto). This consisted of materials for spraying the buses (ie paint, thinner etc); Gh?14,200.00, “Vision Stickers”@ Gh?1250.00 each and, as per the quote for 8 of these stickers, Gh?10,000.00 per bus. These “Vision Stickers” are the “Transforming Ghana” ‘’Agenda for Transformation” etc stickers emblazoned on the buses. Going by the quotation there should be 8 of these stickers on each vehicle. If there are less than 8 per bus, the Attorney-General must prosecute Smarttys for fraud and initiate civil action for the recovery of the amount paid for this component of the contract. That is if there is a contract… I suspect Smarttys may have sent a proposal which was accepted. Other aspects of the Pro-forma are; Cost of coated SAV sticker; Gh?1,210.00, Labour for spraying; Gh?3000.00 and “Labour Cost (I presume to fix) for stickers”; Gh?2000.00. Total per vehicle: Gh?30,400.00 or US$8,444.44 @Gh?3.6 to US$1.00, at today’s bank rate. Total cost to the Government and people of Ghana (the beneficiaries of this public awareness campaign): Gh?3,600,000.00, the equivalent today of US$1,000,000.00. One million dollars…. It will be interesting to know if Smarrtys has paid any tax on this income or whether tax was withheld before payment was made to them.

Some of those buses are parked at the State House car park. They’ve been there for months. The sight of them, makes me cringe. The Smarttys job includes sticking bus window height photos in black and white of democratically elected former heads of State like J.J. Rawlings, J.A. Kufour, J.E.A. Mills, Edward Akuffo-Addo, Hilla Limann and K. A. Busia on both sides of the buses aft of the front doors. They are in Black and White as I’ve just said. There is no information on them, no indication who they are. Who are they? What do they do? Are they dead? They seem to represent ‘‘The Past…’’

Separate and distinct from them to the front of the buses, in full living colour and framed with the Red, Gold, Green and the Black Star of our national flag is our current President, John Draman Mahama, ‘’The Current One” “The Living One” it would seem. At least he’s “The Current One” and on that score alone he deserves highlighting, extra prominence, or? We are told that the purpose of adorning our buses with the photos of past and present leaders is to raise our awareness of their role, place and importance in our history or something like that and that a lot of people do not know who their past leaders are. How a picture on a passing bus without words, dates or historical context educates a child or me, I’m not sure. Government spokespeople who lamely try to raise this ‘public education’ argument to defend this smelly contract should please accord Ghanaians some respect!
The public, except for some stubborn NDC die-hards and plainly dishonest people, has been generally and justifiably outraged at the cost of what it has rightly perceived as a reckless waste of our poor country’s resources and asked questions. An educated woman cried on radio whilst contributing to the debate on this scandal. Of what benefit, save ballooning of the President’s image and his aggrandizement, his glorification, is this exercise going to achieve? How was the decision to brand these buses to enhance the image of our President arrived at? Who arrived at the decision? Where, save for the Pro-forma Invoice from Smarttys, is the contract governing the deal? So far there doesn’t seem to be a contract in the public domain. Who authorized the payment of Smarttys from our precious oil production receipts? Is that proper? What else is being paid for from our precious oil receipts? Given the priorities we face as a nation, is this an important exercise and prudent use of our scarce resources?

At Martey Tsuru, where I live and which I cite regularly as an example of a neglected neighborhood, we have a total of only about 500 meters of tarred road out of our 20km network. This cash would have helped construct the major roads in our neighborhood. Looking unselfishly beyond my neighborhood, I thought what a million dollars, properly applied would do in rural Ghana. It would have sunk a minimum of 360 hand operated boreholes, at a maximum cost (including a tidy profit) of Gh?10,000.00 per borehole. Our village folk face the daily drudgery of looking for water. 360 boreholes would surely reduce that toil in many households and communities and water borne diseases will be measurably reduced both in kids and adults. Clean water ensures a healthy life and 360 boreholes will ensure good health for thousands of Ghanaians. I thought of the reduced expenditure in health this would have meant. I thought how much that cash would have meant to our ailing Mosquito Control Programme and the rotting wards at Korle-Bu Hospital. In January, my friend’s company handed the completely refurbished First Floor Maternity Ward of Korle-Bu Hospital to the hospital. It cost a fraction of this ‘branding sum’ to do it.

But this is not the first time that the President’s image has adorned and been synonymous with a public asset. With increasing regularity and now frightening frequency the President’s picture is used simultaneously with the Ghana flag when new projects are commissioned. Examples are the recently commissioned Tettteh Quarshie, (Austrian government funded) footbridge and scores of billboards across Ghana proclaiming the launch of the President’s 200 school blocks project. They are usually accompanied by a phrase under the President’s picture which says something like “Working for You”, “Building Ghana” “Transforming Ghana” etc. At what cost are these billboards constructed? What is the purpose? Until recently, there was giant one in front of the Petroleum Commission’s offices at Dzrowulu. There’s still one at the junction leading to Gomua Otuam (President Mills hometown) where the President recently gleefully and animatedly commissioned the first of these schools. One may argue that the President doesn’t have foreknowledge about these billboards and banners, but I think the image of our President running concurrently with our flag when commissioning these projects is too glaring to escape his notice. Is it meant to project his ‘achievements’ like the sad recent launch of a book highlighting his achievements? During the 2012 campaign period, RLG laptops paid for by the State and given free to puzzled school kids had the President’s photo on them. A dash from him… I wonder whether those laptops really helped the kids, especially in ‘Dumsor Ghana’. It’s almost Kim-il-Sunglike, Gaddafitype, Mobutuesqe and Eyademaish, this welding of huge photos of our President to our national colours and to state funded projects. The thing of image obsessed despots. There seems to be no distinction between the President, his personal life and activity, his family, friends, private associates, his party and the State. It’s eerily megalomaniac and despotic, narcissistic, this President’s picture on our new infrastructure thing. The difference from the above mentioned dead leaders is that our President is not a tyrant. The President seems obsessed with a need to physically tag his name to infrastructural developments initiated or completed under his watch. How can one explain his commissioning of a fraction of the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange or his elaborate re-commissioning/reopening last week of the Adomi Bridge which was closed for repairs? It’s embarrassing and painful to watch such things. And physical infrastructure alone does not make a well governed country.

The President is an avid social media person. He’s on Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. I wonder if he has seen comments on this matter and given them thought. It’s a grave matter the use of our public purse. Every Cedi must count. Every Cedi must work positively for Ghana. Ghana’s money is for Ghana!! How would President Mahama have reacted if J.A. Kufour had put his pictures on these buses? How does he feel about the financial implications to our country of his personal ‘image building’ exercise when he drives past Parliament House and sees the buses? Prudent use of our cash? He must give this matter and scores of dubious, selfish, crooked schemes, hatched by people close to government and for personal/private profit, serious impartial thought. President Mahama must shut himself off from family, friends, praise-singers, party men, everyone, and reflect soberly at his governance style, these contracts and their true implications and benefits to Ghana and exercise self introspection on his governance and his tenure. We cannot mortgage our country and its future to family, friends and cronies of government. The majority of Ghanaians are throttled by grinding poverty, lack of electricity and water, poor sanitation, malaria, lack of basic healthcare, high cost of living, poor education for our children, fear and uncertainty about the next day, their future and emasculating despair. But some rogue business men and their lawyer accomplices are carefully hatching painfully corrupt schemes to enrich themselves, their unborn descendants and their cronies in government the expense of the masses. A million dollars is now small change to people who prior to being associated with this government hadn’t done any measurable work or achieved anything for themselves. Dubious contracts like the Ameri and Karpowership deals will impoverish us further but they have been railroaded through to enrich a few greedy people. They are NOT in the ‘best interest’ of Ghanaians. There is too much waste of our public purse; the continued purchase of hundreds of huge V8 Toyota Landcruisers and Nissan Patrols for every conceivable government functionary is a glaring example. Can’t a Minister go to work in a 1.8L Nissan Sunny? Does he need a 5.7L V8 petrol fuelled Nissan Patrol? When painful ‘heists’ such this painful branding deal occur, I remember Ivor Greenstreet shouting repeatedly at the President during the NDC National Delegates Conference a couple of years ago: ‘‘You Don’t Care!” Sadly I agree with Ivor on this.

I think J.J. Rawlings, J.A. Kufour and the families of Limann, Busia and Akufo-Addo should ask the state to remove their images from this ‘felony’. I sincerely wish they bravely would. Leda where are you? Stand up for your dad.

Our advertisers can tell us how much profit Metro Mass Transit could have made from “renting” the spaces used for this pointless (save for advertising the President) exercise to Indomie, Yazz, Agya Appiah and other products. Metro Mass Transit please let us know how much potential income you’ve lost.

Given the circumstances governing this contract and the actors and stakes involved, I doubt that the Chief of Staff’s inquiry will yield anything positive, nor will the Gh?1,900,000.00 he’s ordered Smarrtys to refund to the State be retrieved. Dzifa Attivor had to resign. She had no option. She hasn’t done anything epoch by resigning. What about this ‘financial loss’ that occurred under her watch? Shouldn’t charges of causing financial loss to the State, if established, be brought against those who handed out this contract? The questions are endless…

I have no case to make, no conclusions to arrive at, and no recommendations to make, except to share the anguish of Ghanaians in this matter and to appeal to the consciences of those in charge of our country.

‘’Ghana is for all of us”, is a common retort when people feel bullied or cheated.
To the disrespected, frustrated, cheated, hungry, angry people of Ghana, take heart: ‘’Dairris (There is) God”!!

All shall pass..

Make the most of a most dreary 2015 Christmas and go into 2016 with prayer.
God bless Ghana.
Johnny Blukoo-Allotey,
Accra, Ghana.

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