Celebrating Grandpa Harry Sawyerr at 87: Has paid his due to Ghana and the NDC

FLASHBACK: Mr and Mrs Harry Sawyerr shortly after he was decorated by President John Atta Mills with the highest state honourFLASHBACK: Mr and Mrs Harry Sawyerr shortly after he was decorated by President John Atta Mills with the highest state honourA chartered surveyor with many years of successful practice and one of the most revered statesmen, both within the Ghanaian political class and the Ga State, Mr Henry Romulus Sawyerr, aka Harry Sawyerr, turns 87 today – Thursday.

At 87, even though Uncle Harry is not as physically strong as he used to be, he is very alert mentally and continues to engage in his usual analytical discussions, especially after listening to Radio Gold’s Power Drive, Konkonsa and the Alhaji & Alhaji talk-show.

Days before his 87th birthday, Mr Sawyerr, a former member of the Council of State, former Minister of Transport and Communications, former Minister of Education and former Member of Parliament, resigned his position as Vice-Chairman of the Council of Elders of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC). Even though the decision may be partly due to failing health, it was triggered essentially by a desire to pass on the baton to others to enable them to contribute their quota to the development of the NDC in particular and the nation as a whole.

Mr Sawyerr has, over the last six decades, distinguished himself in the areas of politics, nation building and private practice as a chartered surveyor.

Part of the citation accompanying his recognition by President J. E. A. Mills with the highest honour of state, Companion of the Order of the Volta, indicated that “as Minister of Transport and Communications he would be remembered for introducing into Ghana TATA buses for public transportation, procuring at his own expense the first conveyor belt for the Kotoka International Airport and securing ships for the Black Star Line in a bid to resurrect the company. He was also instrumental in the setting up of the FCUBE, the Best Teachers Award Scheme and the Distance Education Programme”.

His residence at Labone is usually a beehive of activity as it is constantly populated with his children and many grandchildren doted on by himself and his industrious, loving wife, Mrs Esther Sawyerr. Indeed, their home has been a safe haven for many. 

A firm disciplinarian, homely but strict family man, selfless and dedicated, both to home and nation, the output of his strong family values and his demand for the best in his children are reflected in President John Mahama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Dr Valerie Esther Sawyerr, who served in the same position under the late President Mills; Mrs Olive Yeboah, a Manager at UT Bank, and Dr Angela El-Adas, the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission.

Mr Sawyerr was appointed valuer for the Kumasi City Council in 1962 and a year later became the first African to be appointed Chief Federal Lands Officer for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

His hard work, dedication and planning excellence endeared him to many in the Nigerian politburo and business class.

Prior to joining the City Council, Uncle Harry served in various capacities between 1953 and 1962. These included working as a probationer with the London County Council Valuation Department while studying at the London University College of Estate Management and later with the Lands Department in Accra and Kumasi.

A man of many dimensions, Mr Sawyerr was the first President of the Ghana Institution of Surveyors between 1970 and 1972, and between 1971 and 1977 he was the Organiser and Convener of the Association of Recognised Professional Bodies. He was also an External Examiner in Rating Valuation for the Department of Land Economy at the then University of Science & Technology (now KNUST).

In 1990, prior to becoming a Minister of Education, Uncle Harry became the first Chairman of the Executive Council of the University of Ghana Medical School. And since then, he has been sponsoring prizes for graduating medical doctors of the Ghana Medical School.

Politically, he has transcended various regimes and governments. His political career started in 1969 when he served as a member of the Constituent Assembly and went further to win elections as an Independent Member of Parliament for the Osu Klottey Constituency from 1969 to 1972.  As Convener of the Association of Recognised Professional Bodies, Mr Sawyerr led the group to oppose the military government of General I. K. Acheampong, a development that landed him in cell, albeit for just a day. His professional colleagues saved him from jail.

Exhibiting a fine combination of professional know-how and political astuteness, Uncle Harry chaired a Special Committee set up in 1973 to advise the government on the mode of paying compensation for government acquisitions.

In 1978 he was again a Member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1979 Constitution and later member of the Constituent Assembly that finalised it.  In his quest to advance his political ambitions, Mr Sawyerr together with others formed a new political party, the United National Convention (UNC) led by William Ofori Atta, and proceeded to contest the 1979 parliamentary election, which he won. That was his second time in parliament representing the people of Osu Klottey.

He represented the constituency until December 1981 when the government was overthrown and parliament dissolved. Between 1979 and 1981, he was Minister of Transport and Communication.  It was during that short period that he commenced the Tema- Accra Railway Service and secured four ships for the Black Star Line, which hitherto had been almost dead.

As Minister, Uncle Harry is also credited with his patriotic and remarkable decision to procure at his own expense the first-ever luggage conveyor belt installed at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.

Mr Sawyerr who is acknowledged for introducing into Ghana, TATA buses for public transportation, also built the conspicuous red and white tower with an underground water reservoir at the Kotoka International Airport. 

After the 1981 coup d’etat he, in the company of others such as Peter Ala Adjetey of blessed memory, were incarcerated at the Nsawam prisons for more than three months and later released when no wrongdoing was found against them.

He subsequently joined the NDC and was elected National Vice-Chairman of the party.  He chaired the National Campaign Committee in 1992.

He was appointed Minister of Education between 1993 and 1997 and during that period reformed the ministry and the Ghana Education Service to a great extent. One of his major hallmarks was ensuring punctuality to work.

He was instrumental in setting the framework for the attainment of the FCUBE programme as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution, establishing the Best Teacher Awards Scheme and the Distance Learning programme.

He was appointed to the Council of State in 1998 and served till 2000.

A good friend of the late Prof Mills, long before he became Vice-President in 1996, Mr Sawyerr willingly handed over the now famous Kuku Hill Campaign Office of the NDC for the use of the late President after the 2000 elections. The facility served that purpose for over 13 years before its return.

A senior member of the NDC, Uncle Harry, until last week, was the Vice-Chairman of the party’s Council of Elders.

An ardent football enthusiast and staunch Accra Hearts of Oak supporter, the 87-year-old was a Life Vice-Chairman of Patrons and currently Life Chairman of Patrons. He won five trophies for the club in the 1980s when he was called upon to take charge of the management of the club and save it from further decline. 

His contribution has not only been financial but also inspirational. It is said by some die-hard fans that his home was a must-visit place after matches on Sundays because food and drinks were prepared and served to the technical and playing body and any supporter who visited the house.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Harry!  At 87, you are still contributing to the building of Mother Ghana.

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