Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This is What Young Ghanaian Journalists Should Aspire to!

With less than a week before the Jubilee celebrations, the country is undergoing reflection—whether serious or not is a very moot point!—on the state of a number of things. The state of Ghanaian media is no exception. Now, let’s be – yet again – clear: I am no journalist; a few courses here and there have helped me appreciate the practice, but I don’t have a journalism degree to my name. What I do have are a few journalist friends/acquaintqnces who remind me that the proactiveness of the young journalists in this country is a great deal better than one would have expected.

Let’s take the case of the Stanbic Bank/ADB issue. The Sunday after I wrote that article, I contacted a journalist from the Business and Financial Times. I gave him what he has considered a "scoop" on the ADB/Stanbic story, which I am quite chuffed about. More importantly, though, was his tenacity, his questioning, his seeking of clarifications for the story, which turned out to be a front-page story like this:

This, within two days!!

I was more than impressed. As I was equally impressed to have heard that Bernard Avle, broadcast Journalist-cum-Economist of the private radio station, CITI FM 97.3, had had his show win the award for "NEW RADIO STATION of the year" and "TALK/INTERACTIVE SHOW of the year", for no less than BBC's Africa Radio Awards for West Africa!

I have spoken and interacted with Avle a number of times, and can say that he thoroughly deserves it! Full of humility on the evening of the win, in his response to the flagship CITI Eyewitness News, he praised the producers (Soloman Alhaji—sp?), among others of the show, and the number of unsung heroes who make the show possible. He told me he did a google search of his name—only to find his name featured in a number of entries yours truly had made about him!;-) It is good to know that it is something he appreciated.

Whatever the case may be, my view is that this is how the budding journalists in the country should be behaving...fifty years on!

Friday, February 16, 2007

As the Week Draws to a Close in Accra: Thoughts on... Stanbic Bank’s Taking Over Ghana’s Indigenous Agricultural Development Bank (ADB)

Let me be clear: I have a problem with the increasing number of South African interests in Ghana. From the so-called Accra Mall--set to be ready by May 2007, to the very expensive Woolworths, and Stanbic Bank, these are all ventures spearheaded by South African interests. Big South African interests.

When I first started work in Accra in 2004, not once was I tempted to save, or bank with Stanbic as soon as I found out that it was a South African bank. I have nothing against the country, but everything against big power interests that seek to distort small economies, like that of my beloved country of Ghana.

So, you can imagine my rage to have heard on CITI Business news at 1pm yesterday afternoon that Stanbic bank was going to take over the very profitable and indigenous Agricultural Development Bank that was established in 1965. According to December 2000 statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the total assets were $190m. Six years later you can imagine what it might be, especially with its portfolio for agriculture being a formidable65%, even though an article maintains it has fallen to 50%.

Now, yesterday, after I almost suffered a heart attack upon hearing the news, I decide to check my facts on-line. I got a cache of a story from Business Week Ghana online entitled Stanbic Bank Bids for ADB, which indicated:

Stanbic Bank is in negotiation with the Government of Ghana and the Bank of Ghana to acquire the Agricultural Development Bank. Government and the central bank are ADB’s shareholders. The discussions are still centred around technical details concerning how ADB would be run, and no bid price has been offered as yet. As of the end of 2005, ADB had total assets of ¢3,431.73 billion and shareholders’ funds of ¢619.66 billion

Now, consider this: once Stanbic bank takes over ADB, it has no intention of focusing on agriculture, like it has been doing traditionally for the past 42 years. Note that Ghana is the world’s second top producer in cocoa, and so imagine the impact that this takeover will have on the country’s farmers!

Stanbic Bank, its Ghanaian subsidiary, does not want to be committed to a specific proportion of its lending for agriculture

The article ends that Stanbic bank is in rapid expansion mode, and I ask myself: to what end? Then I read statements like this:

South African investor confidence has been bolstered by Ghana's educated and skilled workforce, vast mineral and agricultural resources, the official use of English and a shared colonial legacy.
South Africa companies can also use their operations in Ghana as a springboard to other West African markets

Enough said.

Except, that I have been following ECOBANK’s Pan-African aspirations, as exemplified by the quote below:

Following the adoption in June 2006 of its new strategic vision, the Ecobank Group is, now determined to transform itself from a regional banking group to a pan African group. "In spite of its international dimension, including the opening up of its capital to international shareholders, Ecobank remains focused on Africa," said MandÈ SidibÈ, President of the group. "Ecobank will continue to be true to its mission of supporting Africa’s economic and financial development"

Now you no longer have to scratch your head in wonderment at the possible fears being espoused by South Africa on the West african “leadership”, that seems to be led by the very efficient ECOBANK.

All these points underscore real fears about the loss of jobs when the takeover happens. I called CITI FM this afternoon, and spoke to the business desk. One guy there informed me that he knows very well a high official from Stanbic Ghana, who is equally furious at the developments. He confirmed to me that the news is reliable and credible that the takeover will happen most likely by the middle of the year.

It behooves anyone with any iota of information to spread the news on this most scandalous South African takeover of a profitable Ghanaian bank!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Darkness Falls in Accra (3): PURC Talks: How Ghana Govt is Compounding Consumer's Problems; Ghana Chocolate Day!

Earlier this morning, I called home – only to be told that the electricity had gone off around 9am. It was then 11am. I decided to call the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), and spoke to Grace [name changed to protect the innocent] of June 2006 fame, when I first blogged about it here.

I wondered why the electricity was so sporadic, and was informed that they were working on changing the transformers that feed electricity into Spintex road parts and beyond. Puzzled, I quizzed her as to why despite the initial announcement on the radio, ECG could not simply announce on the radio (and elsewhere) that there would be intermittent outages so that citizens could prepare themselves.

She promised to speak with the district engineer of ECG in that area. One thing lead to another and I got to questioning her on why despite the every-five-day-outage of 12 hours, this outage was happening in the first place. She explained that government owes the electricity company some ç300bn!

I have seen news of this in the dailies, but have, regrettably, not been able to get it on-line. Either way, I queried further, and she revealed that the so-called MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) had run their bills to that tune. Instead of the Ministry of Finance (which receives the bill) issuing the payment, it is stuck there!

In any event, she was displeased with the fact that the tariffs, which had been proposed had been dismissed by the government, ostensibly in order to continue absorbing it. I remember that upon reading this last year (, I was a bit mad that the Chairman of the PURC, Pianim, would want to have an adjustment. I would still disagree that an adjustment to attract investors is woefully wrong approach to energy policy. Rather, an adjustment to ensure that those who can afford it pay for electricity is better.

That said, a comprehensive thinking-through is needed, and dare-I-say-it, a referendum on an issue as important as this. A referendum, though, is something that seems anathema, or alien, to government policy, so I don’t foresee any of it happening here soon. However, our journalists could be discussing this in greater depth, and leaving the unnecessary discussion of politics to those who should be politicking—the politicians!

I suspect Grace was telling the truth, if this report on news is anything to go by:

The Tema Regional Directorate of the Electricity Company of Ghana is replacing its obsolete equipment at the cost of 15 million US dollars to curb the intermittent power outage experienced in the City.

Addressing a Press Conference in Tema, the Regional Director, Dr Nicholas Smart-Yeboah said the amount is generated from the company’s own internally generated funds.

He said it is expected that work on the rehabilitation of the equipment would be completed in August this year to enable customers enjoy uninterrupted power supply.

I finally asked about the so-called Charter whose aim is to protect consumers and compensate them for lost energy (and water). Grace suggested that that would probably be ready by the middle of the year. Fingers crossed!

Oh yeah, as it's Val's day today, let me wish you a happy Chocolate day, too, as it is -- for the first time ever -- Ghana "Chocolate Day". A great article you can read here on fair trade chocolate.

Finally, it just struck my little brain that there are a number of pre-paid electricity meters in estates all over the country. Now, in order to avoid MDAs taking advantage and wasting precious ECG service, might it not be a good idea to remove them from metred electricity onto pre-paid ones, where they would pay upfront?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Taxi Tales#3: Long or Short?

This isn't a trick question, but conceiving of it seems a bit absurd--at first.

According to one taxi driver I took from down the road from where I work, he prefers to ply short routes than long ones.

Don't ask me how I got to know. There I was, looking forward to enjoying my fresh bread,then he starts that his "paddy" (he isn't Irish, incidentally!) asked him to go to Teshie Nungua, which is some thirty minutes drive, near Tema--the port--, away, and he declined. He maintained that if he had received 80,000 cedis (circa $7.50), he wouldn't have gone, because for him you make more money from short ones, where he charges 10,000 cedis, than the long ones.

So, it's all about the money, then, is it? I thought, wondering why he wasn't wearing his mandatory blue uniform and navy trousers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Taxi Tales: Taxi, oh Taxi drivers, Where art thou uniforms?

I came into work this morning, half-expecting to see the taxi drivers, mandated to start wearing uniforms (sea-blue shirt and navy blue trousers), as of 1st February--i.e. today. Not too much to my surprise, all the taxi-drivers I saw on my way to work, and my Dad noticed a few, too, were, in effect, breaking the law.

Even if the Accra Metropolitan Assembly had botched things up with their lack of enforcibility, the decision not to wear uniforms smacks of disrespect for the law.

On my way home from work yesterday evening, where I took this picture (in part to show-case the erection of streetlights on the Spintex Road), I asked the taxi driver, driving a colleague and myself home, whether he was prepared. He sputtered out forlornly that "emi, me nshe uniform, o", or "I will not wear any uniform". That kind of gave me a taster of what to expect today, but one could hope anyway;-)

Just for good measure, here's some more about AMA:

"The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) is a corporate body and the highest political and administrative organ in Accra. The Assembly has legislative, deliberate and executive functions. Development in Accra is financed from several sources and at two (2) levels; central and local. AMA is a facilitator for development rather than profit making institution. This is consistent to central government policy. AMA spends 66.70% of its revenue on recurrent expenditure whilst 33.30% on capital expenditure. The expenditure ratio indicates low commitment of the city authority to development."

Let's see what the rest of the day will bring!



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