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for defending and protecting it in the market place.
We should have no inhibitions about following the practice of the major countries of the world in identifying foreign affairs and defense as areas of national interest requiring consensual policy formulation. But for me, there are two other areas that must be elevated to the national interest pedestrian. I speak of education and what I consider the most unpardonable shame not only to the nation, but to the African continent, namely the filthy environment and the consequential health hazards to which we are exposed.
As you are all aware, from the day of our ascension to the Golden Stool, we proclaimed education as the centre-piece of our reign. We launched the Otumfuo Education Fund and through that and other interventions, we have educated over 7000 Ghanaians, from the primary to the tertiary level. We have supported deprived schools with infrastructure, and have initiated schemes offering incentives to teachers to motivate them to work in the most deprived areas. We have done this because of my passionate belief that education holds the key to the development of the nation. Yes, I am the King of a Warrior Kingdom, but as I declared on our last Akwasidae Kese, the only battle we want to fight is the Battle of Brain Power and the only battleground for that is education. So our commitment to education is total and we have been encouraged by the fact that every government during our 15 years has similarly highlighted education as its number one priority. Indeed, all our statistics show that education consumes the largest chunk of the national budget.
And yet, results of our examinations such as the W.A.S.S.C.E. results just released leaves me wondering whether we are getting real value for the huge investment and effort in education. However one looks at it, a 50% failure rate is not and should not be acceptable to the nation. It tells me that we can no longer ignore the turmoil in the education landscape with teachers and government and employers daggers drawn almost as a matter of routine. Clearly, the turmoil is having an adverse effect. And clearly, the victims are our children.
Beyond the strife and turmoil in labour relations, there is an even more fundamental crisis. In the short time that I have been Asantehene, the education system has changed three times, from three years of senior high school to four years of senior high school and back to three years of senior high school. In fact, if you calculate the delays in their initial enrolment because of the clash of pupils from the four-year period, and the time lost to them through teachers strife, the present crop of pupils only had two and a half years to cover curriculum which had been covered over four years previously.
Our children are the victims today. But in the long run, it is the nation that will suffer. For if we fail to lay the right foundation for our children, we cannot hope to raise the skilled manpower, the men and women with the brain power to lift the national economy from the depths to which we are stuck.
This is a matter of the gravest national interest and some crucial decisions ought to be taken to put an end to the reckless changes which only demoralise and confuse the educational establishment.
Mr. Chairman, even as we enjoy this happy evening, we cannot fail to spare some thought for the plight of our sister countries battling against the new dreaded disease called Ebola. Our hearts go out to our brethren in the affected countries in the sub-region. But while we have been spared thus far, we should not forget we are already in the grips of another wasteful even if easily preventable disease, cholera. We all know the source of the disease. It is caused by our failure to respect the normal simple rules of hygiene.
After nearly 60 years of independence, Ghana is being swallowed in filth and murk. We have created a haven for breeding mosquitoes. Man and cattle breed together in the heart of our cities. We exude pride in ourselves not just as Ghanaians, but as the torch-bearers of African renaissance. How does that pride square with the mounds of refuge in the heart of our cities? And have we dared to count the cost of this shameful neglect. Even beyond the threat of ebola and the tragedy of cholera, the main cause of death in our nation remains malaria and malaria is caused simply by mosquitoes which we are breeding ourselves.
What makes this more tragic is that all available evidence points to the fact that our forefathers and mothers lived in a cleaner environment than we are. The local authorities before us maintained rigorous standards of sanitation control and our mothers, who had not had the benefit of the education we have enjoyed, knew why they had to keep their homes and environs well kept, well swept and devoid of stagnant pools of water. Are we saying that what all our education and social advancement have done is to condition us to abandon our sense of responsibility for our own health and well-being?
And what of our authorities? Our forefathers did not have the benefit of science arid technology as we do today. The fire is such ample technology today that nations have turned their refuse into wealth. While creative nations turn their refuse into wealth, we prefer to let our people die from the refuse.
Mr. there is no tenable excuse for this negligence in Ghana or in any African country and my message today, as Africa confronts the twin threats of ebola and cholera, is for our leaders and policy makers to put on their thinking caps.
We need to place the issue of sanitation as a matter of national concern.
Indeed, I suggest we consider a National Emergency for a Clean Environment to bring together, the local authorities, health authorities, education authorities and our traditional rulers to find practical ways of saving our nation from the health hazards brought by our insanitary conditions.
It is not for me to comment on policy challenges that have given rise to the weakness of our economy, the fate of the cedi and the consequential tension we feel around us. But there is one thing on which I simply cannot stay silent. It is something more vicious and more corrosive that is gnawing through our system and which threatens to derail much of what Ghana has achieved. It is called corruption. You know what it is. I know it. The President of the Republic knows it. The chiefs of national security, the law enforcement agencies know it. You, the media, know it.
And yet, the more we have known, the worse it has become. Among my people, from businessmen to farmers to simple folk seeking places for their children, there is mounting despair. The community of international business and finance is expressing concerns that Ghana may be drifting to the tipping point of irredeemable corruption. Is there some salvation on the horizon? Not if you listen to the political class and the debates in the media. For them, corruption is not the issue. The issue is who is better at it, which party has been more corrupt. It tells us that we are in danger of coming to accept the inevitability of corruption as our way of life. And there is plenty of evidence that points in that direction.
As you will appreciate, I have had several encounters with various people with complaints about corruption. There was this one who felt he had become the victim of an obnoxious public officer and was going to teach him a lesson. How was he going to do it? Simple. He had prepared a hefty envelope which he was going to give to a senior police officer to induce him to arrest and “put the fear of God into him”.
When I reminded him that he would be committing a crime by trying to bribe a
police officer, his answer was Otumfuo, how am I going to have redress if I don’t do it? That’s the only way now.
Then there was the other who was certain that he had been cheated out of a contract through corruption. He was determined to expose the corrupt process and for that, he too had prepared another substantial envelope for a media man who had promised to help him. I asked him whether he was going to bribe the media man to expose the bribery of
the public officer.
Oh no, he said, the envelope for the media man was just “solidarity”. Musical artistes who have approached me tell me that in order to have their music played on radio, they have to hand out, not bribes, but “payola”. So you see, we are all on what I call a corruption
carousel, whirling around with the music.
And yet this is not something to trifle with. It is destroying business. It is undermining national governance. It is frustrating individuals. And it is eroding international confidence in our country.
We must accept that it is part of the problems afflicting the economy today and while we ponder over policy options, we must cry out for some act of courage to tackle the scourge of corruption, not on the peripheries but at the top.
Mr. Chairman, where does all that leave the great hope for “development journalism”? In the face of the elements of corruption, functional deficiencies and resource shortages, can we still put our faith in the media to pursue the national interest espoused here? I believe we can if all concerned are prepared to take some tough measures. First, the media sector will do well to embrace some major structural changes to improve their viability and lessen their vulnerability to extraneous pressures. I recognise that in a multi-party democracy, the media, particularly newspapers, will reflect the views of different political parties, but in a curious way, the interests of democracy are better served by the media loosening ties with political parties and attracting more independent minded expertise.
It is a matter of regret that the media scene has not attracted sound financial investment but I am sure that the success of the pioneering efforts of men like Osei K warne Despite will encourage serious investors to consider what can be done to build a strong and economically viable media. This is important to ensure the media can recruit and sustain the quality of professionals who will take the media to a new level.
The need to consider and embrace change goes beyond possible consolidation of diverse interests. Changes in format will appear imperative if you are to be able to make sense of development journalism. It certainly is offensive to present the entire nation with one set of panelists who will speak with the authority of experts on every subject under the sun, from how to grow tomatoes to nuclear energy, with sports thrown into the bargain. I despair when you assemble a panel of political party communicators with no background in finance or banking or business to discuss critical issues of finance and the national currency.
Surely, This country has an accumulated body of experts who have handled the economy from the first to the fourth Republic, participated in the toughest negotiations with the international financial community and seen us through the peaks and troughs of the economy and we also have men and women in business, banking and finance whose insight the country can benefit from. Make the most of the available expertise and the country will be the better for it.
Mr. Chairman, it is good and right that we maintain our perspective in the midst of all that is falling around us. I have already alluded to the fact that we are passing through difficult times. The fact that we may have been through a similar or even worse experience before can be no comfort.
What matters is to fix the problem. And while we contemplate the role you can play, we must look to the leadership of the state for the solutions. The tendency to tinker with problems by a process of shifting cultivation does not inspire confidence. I am sure the host of business entities that have sponsored you tonight must all be hoping that in the not too distant future, somebody will be providing solutions to the myriad of problems afflicting their business. I am confident too that the multitudes who read or listen to you every day are waiting for solutions too.
The solutions, I have to say, lie in the bosom of one man and only he can provide the answers. So I say unto the President of the Republic, in the seminal words of the Methodist hymn: Master speak. Thy servant heareth.
And let’s hope we will not have to wait too long for a response. In the meantime, Mr. Chairman, I will conclude by asking our dear journalists to ponder over what the Rotary International refer to as the four-way test of the things we think, say or do. The Rotary credo challenges us to ask ourselves four important questions:
Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and better friendship? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
These· questions are not to unsettle you but are fundamental to the common good which are pivotal to any social project of creating a better society and changing the lives of people and country.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your attention and forgive me if I have not helped your appetite.
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