From my Rooftop: What next after the familiarisation tours?

It is standard practice for newly-appointed ministers to pay what is described as familiarisation visits to installations, facilities and institutions under their ministerial responsibility.

There is everything good about these visits since no minister will go straight and sit behind his/her executive table without having a fair idea about the issues at stake and expect to execute his/her mandate with any appreciable level of success.

Some of the visits can be frivolous of course, because the problems therein are obvious and, therefore, no need for any visit before appreciating what is expected of a minister. However, all said and done, the visits are necessary and it will leave no room for excuses in the event of failures.

The latest crop of ministers have not missed this ritual and like previous ministers, gone round the country to have a first-hand experience of what are in wait for them.

What is of great importance to some of us is that these tours should not end as purely ritual purposes but should be transformed into serious problem-solving exercises.

One minister, whose visits caught my attention, is Mr Akwasi Oppong-Fosu, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development.

Mr Oppong-Fosu’s visits took him to the national offices of the Births and Deaths Registry. This is an institution that has been housed in some wooden structures for ages. You may call it a forgotten institution and one will not be wrong because by all indications, there is no evidence that our governments care about what goes on in the Births and Deaths Registry.

Under normal circumstances, one would expect that if even it is a matter of inadequate resources, the interest of the Births and Deaths Registry would take precedence over many other public institutions, but in Ghana here, no. We are taking care of more important things.

The Births and Deaths Registry is a storehouse of national record-keeping whose activities impact on other state agencies.

We know that the acquisition of passports, insurance claims and even registration with the National Identification Authority and with the Electoral Commission as a voter have to rely on the records of the Births and Deaths Registry.

We are in a country where even though national identity has been clearly defined in the Constitution, we still find it difficult to determine who a Ghanaian is anytime we are conducting a national exercise such as voters registration because we lack vital documents such as birth certificate to back our declarations or applications.

Those who have been following American politics will remember that the nationality of President Barack Obama became an issue until a birth certificate issued in a hospital in Hawaii was produced to settle the matter.

This is how far the neglect of a national institution such as the Births and Deaths Registry can cause damage to individuals and the whole country.

Official attitude towards the institution has made it a case of abandonment. This has made it very easy for other nationals, especially those from neighbouring countries, to come here and in a matter of days, they are in possession of birth certificates as Ghanaians and with that enjoy all the privileges and rights as a national.

Apart from the physical structures, which are pathetically appalling, the registry lacks modern equipment to capture and maintain a credible database that could even be helpful to the security agencies and other state institutions when the need arises.

As a result of the state neglect, the Births and Deaths Registry has become an empire of a sort which the workers, at least some, are exploiting to make extra income on the side.

Mr Oppong-Fosu has seen the plight of the Births and Deaths Registry at close range. If in the past, he only heard of it, now he knows that the Births and Deaths Registry needs serious attention to put it at the proper place it belongs, as a very important institution.

I believe he will make a resolution that by the time he leaves office, the Births and Deaths Registry will move into modern and well-equipped offices located on a plot at Kinbu-the land, we are told, belongs to the registry.

Another department under his care which has been neglected is the Department of Parks and Gardens. Under this department comes the Aburi Botanical Gardens, which is a monumental reflection of our lack of appreciation of our national institutions, monuments and historical places of national interest.

The Aburi Botanical Gardens, which is a colonial legacy, has every potential to change the economy of Aburi and its environs and by extension reflect on Accra, if managed well. This is a goldmine left to rot while poverty is starring us in the face and without any sense of national shame, we are always on the move begging others for support.

Accra was once a beautiful city buried under dense canopies of trees lining its streets. These trees provided protection against the scorching tropical sun and served as habitat for birds.

Today, Accra is bare, deprived of foliage, thanks to the culture of tree-cutting for whatever reason, only God knows.

Mr Oppong-Fosu should make it his target, the revamping of the Department of Parks and Gardens and to restore it to its past glory. Even bigger cities such as New York, Washington DC, Istanbul and many others have pockets of dense forests breaking the monotony of concrete and steel.

Accra can do the same, if we make conscious effort to plant trees and create more recreational parks which are non-existent in the national capital and other major towns in the country.

I do not think I can offer any advice to the Minister of Roads and Highways, who even before his appointment, knows that a journey between Accra and Kumasi, the nation’s two major cities, can be a nightmare.

I can only advise that every minister should make it a personal resolve to make history and not just be part of history as a former minister. If each of them could pledge to leave at least one major physical structure as a legacy and not just a pile of speeches, this country will be taking giant strides to glory.

We have done enough development with our mouths in the form of plans, pledges, promises and expression of commitments. We have lost count of the number of projects that never went beyond the sod-cutting stage. A lot of them, and they are in the majority, are forgotten as soon as the fanfare of the sod-cutting ceremony ends.

The familiarisation visits must begin to yield dividends through the positive changes we shall see in the state of our country after the problems have been seen and appreciated at first hand.

Otherwise, they remain unnecessary and vain rituals that bring no benefit to anyone.