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  SALT: LOCALS WANT A COMMUNITY FRIENDLY LAW                                                                                                    …As they reject alternative livelihood 

 By Jeorge Wilson Kingson

A consultative process has begun for the people of Ada Traditional Area in the Damgbe East and Damgbe West district of the Greater Accra Region that will see to the development of the area and the protection of the major source of livelihood of the people- salt weaning and fishing. This is against emerging attempts by government to regulate their activities without their input, The Business Analyst has gathered.

There are 45 communities of an estimated number of bout 90,000 people living along the coast of Ada. Majority of the people have depended on the weaning of salt “White Gold” as their major source of livelihood, a profession bequeathed unto them by their ancestors.

But there are suspected moves by the government to interfere in the smooth flow of their business and they are not happy. The people say they have picked up reliable information that the current government is putting in place measures to relocate the communities and give them alternative livelihoods and the salt concessions are given out to private companies.

Minister for lands and Natural Resources, Mike Hammah, earlier on in the year announced government’s plans of setting up a limited liability company to manage the Songor Salt Project. He said a law is being formulated to that effect and will soon be passed by parliament to pave way for the project.

 “We have depended on salt weaning and fishing throughout our lives and we are comfortable with it. We don’t understand why the government is trying to regulate our source of livelihood and take us out of our community, our indigenous community,” stated Rebecca Narh, vice president of the Management Committee of the Ada Songor Cooperative Salt Mining Society Limited, a nongovernmental organization advocating for the protection of the heritage of the people.

The organization in collaboration with Radio Ada, a community based radio station and with support from Mwananchi , has started a community sensitization drive aimed at gathering the views of the local people for presentation to government on what their stake on the issues are.

The people say they want a community friendly law that  will see to  the development of the area, an improvement in their livelihoods, protection of their heritage and one that will make them have adequate control over their own resources.

At one of such community meetings held on Sunday, November 18, 2012 at Lolonya near Sege, the people clearly stated their disagreement with any moves by government to take over their source of livelihood for any alternative livelihood.

Among the demands of the people is that government must acknowledge that from time immemorial salt and fish have been their source of livelihood and the resources they have lived on, as such they are not ready to give it up or change it for anything, no matter how lucrative.

They want issues related to the songor lagoon to be devoid of partisan politics and free from political intrigues.

They want any private that will come to the area to adequately negotiate with the landowners. They also want security of tenure from any company private or government which would want to explore the area for investment purposes, and demand that government respect their culture. This specific demand according to the people is in view of recent attempts by government agencies to publicly play down the culture of the people.

They want representation on any board that will have oversight responsibility over the management of the Songor salt resources, if any as well as on the administrative body for the lagoon resource.

There were two schools of thought on the share holding demands, while some prefer 50/50 agreement others want a non-negotiable 80/20 agreement in favor of the people.

“We want government to acknowledge that salt and fish is our livelihood. We don’t want the terminology that salt is a natural mineral, for us it is our livelihood, it is our life. We want a legislation to keep our heritage. The must be a law for generations unborn to know that our ancestors have lived on salt and fish from time immemorial they have lived on salt and fish from the lagoon and it should be protected, that it has always been our livelihood.” Albert Apetorgbor, Secretary to the Ada Songor Salt Mining Cooperation and an opinion leader in the area Stated in an interview.

During the community meetings also it emerged that there are two separate documents that has been proposed for consideration in the management of the songor salt resources. There is the Cuban Master Plan for salt production in Ghana document which was drafted as far back as 1991 as the work of a technical committee that looked into salt mining activities in Ghana. There was also the landuse programe but details on that one are sketchy.

The report submitted by the Cuban Technical Team contained some recommendations to be applied in maximizing salt production in Ada Songor Lagoon, among others.  These recommendations in principle coincided with those of the Ghanaian Technical Team which in 1989 studied the conflict and proposed a ‘CONCORDE SYSTEM” of common brine processing and management as viable solution for the development of Songor Lagoon.

The people by consensus agreed that the contents of the Cuban Master Plan document is more detailed and aligns with their interest, and wondered why government is putting it aside in favor of the land use programme. They have therefore called on the government to implement the Master plan. Currently, none of the documents is in use causing the whole salt sector to look unregulated.

The people said they are worried about this development because people are using illegal means of weaning salt and it is having effects on the land scape of the area.

The community consultation process is expected to culminate in a formal meeting with government where the views of the people would be made known to o the authorities.

The Songor lagoon area has been identified as the best place for solar salt production worldwide. If properly managed the area has the potential of producing about four million tons of salt every year, this can feed the whole of the West African Sub-Region.

TOWARDS AN EFFECTIVE LOCAL CONTENT LAW: EXPECTATIONS OF THE LOCAL PEOPLE

A local content law is currently under formulation in Ghana by the relevant authorities. This is in view of the commercial discovery of oil in the country. Expectations are high for the new law which is expected to define how Ghanaians will benefit from the country’s natural resources. JEORGE WILSON KINGSON considers the expectations of the people.

The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) defines Local Content as the level of use of Ghanaian local expertise, goods and services, people, businesses and financing in oil and gas activities.

A local Content policy which came into being effect in 2011 demands that “all regulatory authorities, operators, contractors, sub-contractors and any other entities involved in any project, operations, activity or transaction in Ghanaian Oil and Gas Industry shall consider local content as an important element in their project development and management philosophy for project execution.”

 

The Local content law currently under formulation is towards the maximization of the full benefits of the country’s abundant natural resources, among them gold, diamond, petroleum and its associated products. For some time now stakeholders have been meeting and considering what should make a good local content law and it appears progress is in shape for an effective law. It is therefore imperative that such a law takes into consideration the concerns of all stakeholders especially the local people whose life stands to be impacted by the law in no small measure.

Across the country, in particular the host communities’ expectations are extraordinarily high as to how the resources being extracted from beneath them would benefit them. Individual opinion leaders, traditional heads, groups and organizations have all come out in one form or the other to really question authorities on the continues extraction of mineral resources from their land without any direct benefit to them.

"You realize that already as the oil companies have started polluting our sea with toxic substances and the only way to demand justice is to tackle them because through their actions and inactions, they are destroying our beautiful land. What are we getting for all these troubles, nothing. " Kwame Nyokey, a native of one of the oil rich communities in the Western Region told this writer in an interview. 

Obuasi is arguably one of the world’s richest gold mines, but for over a hundred years the precious metal mined there has been carted to jewelers in the West and beyond, earning millions of dollars for mining companies and their shareholders. But for the inhabitants of the community and its surrounding areas the activity has brought only hardships to them. Cyanide-polluted streams and farmland contaminated by toxic water are few of the harmful outcomes.

“Obuasi is the ultimate example of how mining is developed in Africa,” says Yao Graham of the Third World Network, a civil society group. “The resources are taken out and very little is left for the community or the country where the mineral is produced.” His concern echoes that of several other resource rich communities in the country.

Already, the effect of the oil discovery has started impacting the people of the Western Region and they are asking for government’s intervention in the areas of legislations that would protect them and still give them the life they have always lived.

Data released by the Ghana Statistical Service show that the Western and Central Regions registered uncharacteristically high inflation rates for the first two months of 2012. Since the discovery of oil off the shores of the Western Region, in July 2007, real estate developers, anticipating rising demand for residential and commercial properties, especially in the Takoradi metropolis, have snapped up prime lands, forcing prices up from below GH¢1,000 to about GH¢2,000 per plot of land.

Investors, considering setting up heavy investments in ancillary industries, such as refineries, bulk oil storage and jetty services, prefer the Axim area of the Western Region. An invasion of apparently unskilled migrants to the region has also triggered concerns about disruptions to the social order and its implications for security and law and order. These are few of the expected difficulties and which is why the people are concerned for legislations.

EXPECTATIONS OF THE PEOPLE

Awulae Amihere Kpanyili is the chief of Atuabo, the community expected to host the gas processing plant. He is also the paramount chief of the Eastern Nzema traditional area and earns great respect from his people. In articulating the concerns of his people towards an effective local content law he enumerated a number of issues that he thinks must make the law. He wished for a law that will guarantee real jobs for the indigenes of the community. It is his wish that the law will specify a quota to be allocated to his people so that they will not have to go struggling with people from around the country who will soon be rushing to the community in search of jobs.

“I want the best for my people. If our local people benefit, that will keep the wealth here, we agree that some contracts are for foreigners because they have the expertise, but there are some for us…Elsewhere, like in Nigeria, in the oil industry, I know a foreigner cannot own anything, it has to be a Nigerian, may be some of those things if we study it well and understand the benefits we should apply it here. We can’t hoard all the wealth but we should have our share, at least a portion of what is going out should be made to stay here, buy so doing we also get our people trained.” Awulae Kpanyili noted.

A recent visit to the Atuabo township revealed a speedy progress of work on the gas processing plant. The land was being cleared and, the pipelines being laid through, huge containers of equipments were being taken delivery off. It was buzzing scenery of activities involving some of the youth of the community doing some menial jobs in support. According to Awulae “So far, we have had our people doing some temporary jobs. We are expecting more than that. We want jobs that will grow with us as a community”.

He was emphatic in his statement to the effect that the local content law should be effective such that the women in the community will have the sole rights to petty trading without having to struggle with ‘outsiders’ for space even in the market place. “Already our women are doing small businesses like food vending and other market related activities. We want it that way, we don’t want anybody coming from outside to come and challenge us for space in those areas, and the law must reflect that” Awulae stated.

Philip Ackah is a 19 year old electrician and a native of Anorchie, a neighboring community to Atuabo. He was staying and working at Takoradi until he head of the relocation of the construction of the gas processing plant from Jomoro to Atuabo, in desperation he packed bag and baggage and relocated to his hometown even before the project takes off. He has been around for about three months and like all others he believes the gas project will change the fortunes of the community. His expectation for the local content law is for a legislation that will ensure that the influence of male expatriates on the women in the community is minimized.

“I know our women are beautiful and I know these expatriates like beautiful black women. If the government can make a law such that they will not touch our women, we’ll be very happy, as for me that is all I am expecting” Ackah passionately stated as he turned back to his work of clearing a heaped rubbish from the land.

Bright Akwesi Eghan is the manager of a popular car washing bay at Takoradi and has been in the business for about nine years. He is worried about the difficulty in the living conditions for the people and wants some form of legislation that can capture that. “Takoradi is now becoming a red light city; living conditions are high and getting higher by the day. I have never seen anything like this before. I think government must make a law to control the situation, else, I don’t know what Takoradi would be like in the next five years” He stated.

Emmanuel Obeng-Gyan is the news editor and the producer of the morning show on Sky Radio in Takoradi; it’s a magazine programme with a segment that discusses concerns of the people on daily basis. The programme has been running for years and according to Obeng-Gyan on regular basis contributors to the programme have expressed concern about the mushrooming of schools that claim to offer courses in oil and gas with promising and ready jobs.

“Almost every corner you turn these days you are likely to find a school that is offering a course in the petroleum sector. More people are rushing there for skills training but our concern is whether these schools have the required accreditation. So you find that after attending these schools you’ll still be hanging around looking for jobs, and the people are getting worried” Obeng-Gyan stated

He was also concerned about the increasing cost of accommodation. “Accommodation in Takoradi has increased dramatically. There are more cases at the regional Rent Control department thn before because landlords are ejecting tenants unlawfully so they can rent the rooms to foreigners and companies for more cash.” He added while urging the law makers to factor into the regulation a clause to protect the tenants from unscrupulous landlords.

ADDRESSING THE CONCERNS

Checks from the various agencies working on the draft local content bill have revealed that actual works are on course to address the various concerns of the people. The chairman of the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, and the Convener of “Publish What You Pay”, Dr. Steve Manteaw said several reviews have been done on the draft bill and that there are indications that within a short time the draft will be sent to Parliament for consideration.

“We have really played our part as civil society, we have made relevant inputs and we believe the final draft will address all concerns of the people.” Dr Manteaw stated.

Victor Kofi Sunu-Attah, the Project Director of the Ghana Gas Company agreed with Dr Manteaw that the bill when finally passed by Parliament will address all concerns. “It is an issue dear to our hearts and we won’t compromise it” he stated.

A policy brief document on local content implementation released by the Integrated Social Development Center (ISODEC) in February 2012 has urged government to expedite actions on the law in the interest of the people.

“The Government needs to expedite action on the Local Content legislation and to ensure that the full complement of institutions and infrastructure necessary to deliver on the objectives of the Local Content Policy are in place without further delay; “

The Parliamentary Select Committee on Mines and Energy is responsible for the recommendation of the passage of the law to Parliament. A leading member of the Committee, Gifty Eugenia Kusi, said Parliament has long been expecting the draft bill and that the committee is anxious to start work on it. She said the issues raised by people are “genuine concerns” and are worth considering “and so will be considered”.

“These are issues that must by all means reflect in the law. When the bill gets to us we shall examine it and when it doesn’t address the issues we’ll cause it to address the issues. That is our responsibility as a committee” She stated. 

This Report is under the auspices of The Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), under its programme “Strengthening Media Oversight of the Extractive Sectors Pilot Program"

THE GRAND POLITICAL DEBATE ON FREE SHS EDUCATION IN GHANA 

 Political parties in Ghana have recently been touting the idea of providing free education up to the senior high level. The issue has developed into a grand debate with stakeholders taking entrenched positions. JEORGE WILSON KINGSON examines the debate.

Article 25 (1) (b) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana states that “Secondary Education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education”.

This is the constitutional provision that has caused sections of the political divide in Ghana to believe that free senior high school education is an unavoidable constitutional obligation. But not many share this view as some have vehemently and publicly opposed the idea citing various reasons why it cannot be possible in the country at this time.

Among the groups that have publicly highlighted their stand are the policy Think Tank groups IMANI Ghana and Challenging Heights, two of the country’s perceived objective analysts. While IMANI views the policy of free SHS education as impossible, Challenging Heights is of the opinion that it is a compulsory constitutional requirement that must be carried out by any government in power; no matter its political ideology.

Reasons pushed forward by IMANI include the fact that Ghana could not afford to pay for the policy; that most parents are happy to pay for the fees of their children at the high school level; that more emphasis should be placed on day schools; that we already have too many unemployed graduates; and that it was their taxes that would be diverted to pay for the policy, among others.

Challenging Heights believe the whole discussion should be centered on how the country would be able to implement such a policy, rather than discouraging its introduction in the first place.

Currently, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) have all taken a policy decisions to implement free SHS education if they are voted into power in the impending general elections.  The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), doubts the practicability of this policy and is not ready to give it a try. The Vice President, John Dramani Mahama recently stated that the ruling NDC administration is not keen on jumping onto the wagon of free secondary school education in Ghana.

According to him the government has identified that the trouble with second cycle institution in the country is accessibility and not a free entrance. He said rather than make it free, the money can be used to expand infrastructure and build more secondary schools so that a greater number of basic school students can gain access to one institution or the other.

Not much is known publicly about the stands of the People’s National Convention (PNC) and other political parties which plan to contest this year’s elections. 

Nana Akufo Addo, the NPP’s flagbearer in the 2012 presidential elections is undoubtedly the loudest voice on free SHS education in Ghana today. He has on several platforms indicated his preparedness to brace the odds and make Senior High School education free in Ghana under his administration. His critics have quizzed him on his inability to put a figure to how much the implementation of the policy would cost the country when the question was put to him on BBC Hardtallk interview. The NPP communication team later came out with a figure of Ghc400 million as the estimated cost of implementing free senior high education in Ghana.

But Akufo Addo and the NPP believe the cost should not be a determining factor in the consideration of whether Ghanaians deserve free SHS education or not. To them, it is only enough if a particular government is determined to empower its people with knowledge.

Proponents of free education in Ghana believes spending money to allow the youth to access secondary education is one of the best investments Ghana can make for its future. Indeed, the debate over money and affordability ignores the facts of history and makes cowards of us because no nation waited to become rich before providing free education for its citizens. An increase in knowledge and skills leads to increase in productivity which leads to higher incomes for the citizenry.

As succinctly put by economist Dr. Nii Moi Thompson in a recent article “Money should never be an obstacle to great ambitions. If others have put men on the moon, the least we can do is put every Ghanaian child in a classroom”

For sure, this is not the first time an attempt is being made at implementing free education in Ghana. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah gave Ghanaians free education from elementary school to the university level. In fact, most of the country’s current leadership both in government and out of government are products of Dr Nkrumah’s free education system.

SHOULD THE COST MATTER?

Following government’s bashing of Nana Akufo Addo for not being able to cost the policy he has spoken about intensively, the NPP campaign team has come out with a figure of about Ghc 400 million per annum. It is not clear where the NPP intends to source this money from but perhaps the answer to that may not be farfetched. After all, there is the oil money and Chinese loans flowing in the system.

IMANI, has projected that about US$1.1 billion would be needed for the implementation of the policy for four years, an amount three times more than the NPP’s figure of US$400 million. This on itself has generated several views but members of the NPP insist they’ll rather implement it than debaing it in public. 


According to the Franklin Cudjoe-led IMANI since the policy aims at expanding enrolment and shifting the cost burden of secondary education from private individuals to the public purse, it will definitely raise the budget deficit of the country. 

Members of the NDC and to some extent government which obviously have no plans of implementing a free SHS education are among those who have raised concerns on the practicability and the cost it would put on the nation should any government decide to implement this policy. The NPP under President John Agyekum Kufour implemented a free School Feeding Programme at the basic level of education. Even though there were calls for this particular policy to be extended to the SHS level it never materialized. The Mills administration is currently implementing the free School Uniform and Exercise books policy through which government provide uniforms and exercise books to pupils in public schools across the country free of charge.

There is no gain saying that these policies have helped immensely to increase enrollment in schools which is the ultimate aim of every government. How much did it cost both governments to implement these policies? Will free SHS education be expensive? These are the questions being asked on the streets as the nation approaches a very crucial election in December. As expected, politicians have started using the issue as a major campaign tool urging the need for the average Ghanaian to seek a better understanding of the issue.

The cost implications of the free secondary school education are what almost everybody seems to be concerned about. But, the cost of implementing free SHS education should not be a challenge if the country believes in empowering its people with knowledge, for it is said that “Knowledge is power”.

Since independence various governments have used the taxpayer’s money to fund one project or the other to meet their social responsibilities.  Where did Dr. Nkrumah get the money to make this happen? How did we fund the Ghana School Feeding Programe (GSFP)? Where is the source of funds for the implementation of the free school uniform policy for basic school pupils which is currently on-going?

There is money in the system. A successful agenda for free secondary education, however, must be situated within a broader strategy of educational and public sector reforms with a clear ideological and political commitment to that agenda. It cannot be a political gimmick or done in isolation.

Funding Education in Ghana

For 2012, 21.22% of the total budget was allocated to education. The total 2012 budget was GHC13, 529, 706,950 out of which GHC 2,871,680,218 was budgeted for education. Total allocation from general education budget for basic education was GHC1, 784,540,000.

In 2011, 25.02% of the total budget was allocated to education. A total of GHC 1,983,217,447 was allocated to education out of a total national budget of GHC7, 926,223,191. Out of this, GHC1, 105,651,000 was allocated to basic education.

In 2010, 26.26% of the total budget was allocated to education.

In 2010, government allocated a total of GHC 1,729,450,088 to education out of a total national budget of GHC6, 584,781,600.

In the 2009 budget 23.44% of total budget was allocated to education.

In 2009, government allocated a total of GHC 1,693,735,829 to education out of a total national budget of GHC7, 226,919,484.

Despite the investment, the sector still faces some challenges. Prominent among them is the poor performance of BECE students over the past decade. A total of 1,562, 270 students have failed the B.ECE exams over the past decade. The year 2009, recorded a national pass rate of 50.21% in B.EC.E examinations, meaning that of the 395,649 presented, 198,642passed and 197,007 failed.

It worsened in 2010 with a percentage of 49.12% [total failure of 178,529 out of 350,888 students presented for the exams] and further deteriorated in 2011 to 46% [199,152 failures out of 375,280 students presented for the exams]. The question is; where are the 1,562270 children who dropped out over the decade? What is their fate? How can hope be restored to these people? How do we curb the situation?

The Ghanaian educational system among other things lacks the needed quality, and monitoring. This can be linked to the quality of trainers that we churn out from our teacher training colleges, availability of facilities and instructional materials and the poor performance of our Monitoring and Supervision teams at the Ministry of Education and GES both at the national and district levels.

In the 2012 budget, Government has highlighted some priority areas in education and has committed some resources to ensuring that basic education is achieved. These include: provision of school uniforms with a government allocation of GHC28,800,000, free exercise books at GHC28,967,500,capitation grant GHC 25, 368,008, B.E.C.E subsidy ofGHC6,718,332, SHS subsidy of GHC48, 197,652 and the removal of school under tree program amounting to GHC28,000,000.

These efforts will not be meaningful if the free education is not extended to SHS level. At basic level, we will only be curbing basic illiteracy and numeracy. Beyond this, is the need to build at least knowledge based low-medium level manpower should they end up immediately in employment or a relevant raw material for our tertiary institutions which will end up as the engine to drive our developmental agenda. And this must be done having in mind a 21st century approach to education. Currently, the major sources of funding for education in Ghana include:

 

·         GOG – consolidated funds

·         Internally Generated Funds [IGF] from Ministry of Education

·         Donor funds

·         Ghana Education Trust Fund GETfund

·         Annual Budget Funding Amount [ABFA] – Revenue from oil exploration

 

Education in Ghana is largely funded by government through tax revenues.

Internally Generated Funds from the Ministry of Education also contributes significantly to the funding of education in Ghana. In the 2012 budget for instance, IGF amounts to GHC425, 340,050.

Donors have been benevolent over the years with support of GHC 69,418,281 in 2009, GHC89, 238,185 in 2010, GHC 88,295, 350 in 2011 and GHC130, 113,724 in 2012.

GETfund, a government fund that sponsors education in the country with a contribution of 2.5% from VAT revenues is the second largest financier of education in Ghana.

The table below shows Get fund allocations from 2007-2011.

 

GETFUND ALLOCATIONS AND BASIC SECTOR PAYMENTS 2007 -2011

SECTOR

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

GHC

GHC

GHC

GHC

GHC

TERTIARY

56,200,000

51,200,000

74,250,000

80,200,000

90,898,000

SECOND CYCLE

47,200,000

27,050,000

63,975,000

106,519,000

119,257,000

BASIC

42,596,300

31,323,000

47,875,000

52,500,000

114,450,000

OTHERS

27,903,700

53,452,000

88,900,000

87,474,000

52,275,000

TOTAL

173,900,000

163,025,000

275,000,000

326,693,000

376,880,000

 

The latest to be added to the funding component, Annual Budget Funding Amount [ABFA] – which represents revenue from oil exploration contributed GHC20, 000,000 to the 2012 budget.

 

THE REAL CHALLENGES

·         Poor quality education

Investing over 20% of our national budget in education is quite significant and it is expected that this translates into impressive results. Unfortunately, this is not the case. B.E.CE. results keep falling from 2008 up to date with the number of failures increasing every year.

Over the past decade, a total of 1,562,270 students failed their BECE examinations out of a total number of 3,669,138 representing almost 50%.  Recently, it was reported that over 70 percent of students in the northern part of the country cannot read. The fate of these students remains unknown as society cannot offer them much. It is not surprising that many of them end up in all sorts of social vices; with a significant number finding solace in hawking on the streets in search for decent livelihoods.  

THE TABLE BELOW SHOWS PERFORMANCE IN B.E.C.E. OVER THE PAST YEARS 

Year

Number  who sat for exams

Number passed

Number failed

Percentage passed

2000

233,785

141,535

92,250

60.54%

2001

247,663

149,600

98,063

60.40%

2002

264,979

160,262

104,717

60.48%

2003

268,284

163,613

104,671

60.99%

2004

278,391

170,324

108,067

61.18%

2005

287,297

176,959

110338

61.59%

2006

308,383

190,924

117,459

61.91%

2007

320,247

196,240

124,007

61.28%

2008

338,292

210,282

128,010

62.16%

2009

395,649

198,642

197,007

50.21%

2010

350,888

172,359

178,529

49.12%

2011

375,280

176,128

199,152

46.93%

Total

3,669,138

2,106,868

1,562, 270

 

 

It is obvious that our education system lacks the quality it deserves and this is worrying. If the issue of quality is not resolved, efforts to provide compulsory and continuous education will yield very little. To achieve quality, which is the basis for success, we need to solve these other related problems:

Unattractive teaching profession, low teacher motivation, low teacher- students’ ratio

The Teaching profession must be made attractive. As a matter of priority, Teacher Training Colleges must not be positioned as a place for dropouts, instead a real PLACE OF CHOICE. The most intelligent brains must be retained in the classrooms and must be given what it takes to compete with brains in other industries.

Many foreign countries which are economically resilient today, did not only give free compulsory education but they also invested in the human resource who delivers the training – the teachers. In Korea, a four-year educational study at a Teacher's University is required for those who wish to teach in elementary schools. Teacher Training Colleges in Ghana can also be upgraded into universities with improved facilities and equipment. 

At the centre of poor performance by students is the issue of inadequate teacher motivation. Low remuneration and poor conditions of service hinder trainers from delivering quality service. In addition to financial rewards, capacity building training will be helpful and recipients must justify investments made in them by passing prescribed training tests. We need to make our teachers feel proud of their profession rather than perceive it as a means to an end, this remains the only way we can attract more and solve the problem of manpower shortage/inadequacy in this sector.  We must build houses for our teachers as part of improvement in educational facilities countrywide.

Inadequate teaching facilities and instructional materials

Even in Accra, it has been found out that there are many schools which cannot boast of decent teaching and learning environment. The environment in which teaching is delivered is equally crucial in achieving quality. With the abolishing of the shift system, there is enormous pressure on facilities as many teachers and students compete for limited classroom spaces. This does not allow for better teaching and learning.

Library facilities are hardly found in many of our basic schools, talk less of internet facilities. Even new school blocks fail to make provision for playgrounds, creative art departments, among others. Access to up to date text books in many basic schools is more of a privilege than necessity. All these must change if we want to achieve quality.

Poor supervision/monitoring

Statistics show that the gender gap in schools is gradually closing up but the challenge now is to ensure that investments made in education translates into good results. To this effect, we must enforce the monitoring and supervisory bodies in the education sector at all levels to ensure that knowledge is impacted the way it should.

This team should be made answerable to government when students’ performance is not impressive and this should have a bearing on their career. We need to treat this business of education as real business, holding people accountable for their actions and inactions.    

Also linked to quality is the problem faced by industry players over inadequate skilled manpower to meet current industry demands. In the cases where there is adequacy, the quality is suspect. There is a lot of rush in and out of the various schools with students learning for examinations purposes only. This trend is even being extended to our tertiary schools and the result is obvious. We are churning out semi illiterates with little problem solving skills and slow analytical minds. There is need to decisively deal with this phenomenon if we aim to improve our manpower base.

GLOBAL EXPERIENCE IN EDUCATION

We live in a competitive global village and cannot afford to continue wallowing in ignorance and believe that somehow we will be able to attract the capital and industry that Ghana needs and gain the benefits that can be shared broadly in this country if our people do not have the needed skills and knowledge to offer high end local content.

Perhaps it is time Ghana start comparing its policy and practice in education to that of other nations.  A critical comparative analysis would reveal that the country’s would have to do more in the areas of education it its children are to be guaranteed a successful future. Indeed, there must be a dramatic shift in education policy and practice.

A critical look at global practice/standards of education reveals that most successful countries are willing to invest in people and also focused on key areas of training. It is said that “knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print.” The importance of education in this century cannot be overemphasized; many economies whether developing or developed, are investing in their people. Whether this translates fully into building a knowledge-based society is another matter to consider, but approaching basic education as a right than a privilege may be the first step to ensuring that the human capital of Ghna is well resourced.

Bolivia, a developing country with a Medium Human Development Index, [medium standard of living] with a poverty level of over 50%  and a GDP growth rate of 5.1%  [2011 estimates] devotes 23% of its annual budget to educational expenditures, a higher percentage than in most other South American countries, albeit from a smaller national budget. Aside this, it also offers free education up to high school. This underscores the importance that country attaches to education.

Malaysia, a country which got its independence same year as Ghana, and reported to have solely palm oil as its largest export commodity offers free primary and secondary education for all children with six years of primary education being compulsory. Its education budget is 20% of the national budget. The literacy rate among Malaysian citizens aged 10 - 64 years improved from 88.6% in 1991 to 93.5% in 2000 as a result of the investments. The percentage of Malaysian citizens aged 20 years and over with post-secondary, college or university education increased from 8.9% in 1991 to 16.0% in 2000. At 93 percent, Malaysia's literacy rate is one of the highest in the world. This reflects the enormous importance given to the pursuit of knowledge and education. Although secondary school is not mandatory, more than 92 percent of all students go on to the upper secondary level.

Taiwan, a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources, to the extent that it has to import sand and gravel from China for construction, has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. This is because, rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence, both men and women through quality free and compulsory pre-tertiary education.

Singapore, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having promising/robust economies because of their investment in the human capital.

The Republic of Korea for instance offers free, mandatory education for all children and maintains an autonomous educational administration system established in each of 16 municipal or provincial with 230 county offices to guarantee independence and individuality in regional education. Korea now boasts of one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Korea's well-educated people have been the primary source of the rapid economic growth the nation has achieved in the past three decades.

Japan offers free, compulsory public education and all children are required to attend a six-year elementary school and a three-year lower secondary school. Its education budget is 23% of the national budget.

Education in Singapore and Japan have strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education.  A child in Singapore undergoes at least 10 years of general education. This comprises 6 years of compulsory primary education and 4 – 5 years of secondary education.  Also countries with high levels of natural resources, have a strong education sector because these economies have established deliberate policies of saving and investing these resource rents, and not just consuming them.

England and America, two of the world’s super powers with relatively impressive living standards which meant that individuals could, to a large extent fund their wards’ basic and secondary education also offer free and compulsory education up to Senior high school level. This underscores the importance of free education up to the SHS level.  In America, Most states require attendance up to age 16, some up to 18. Thus, every child in America receives at least 11 years of free education. This is true regardless of a child's sex, race, religion, learning problems, physical handicaps, ability to speak English, citizenship, etc. In England, education is compulsory for all children from their fifth birthday to the last Friday in June of the school year in which they turn 16. This will be raised, in 2013, to the year in which they turn 17 and, in 2015, to their 18th birthday.

The success of education in these countries also stems from the fact that most of these countries have not entrusted education into the hands of private owners, a phenomenon which is the reverse in our country, quality education can only be found from top private schools leaving government schools for the less privilege.  Public education is what is experienced by most children in these countries.

In America, nearly 90 percent of American students below the college level attend public elementary and secondary schools. There are 47 million students in America's public elementary, middle and high schools and 5 million in private schools.  About 94 per cent of pupils in England, and the rest of the UK, receive free education from public funds, while 6 per cent attend independent fee paying schools or homeschooling.

Investing in people is not enough, as this in itself is not a sure guarantee that a country can build knowledge based human resource. What is critical is to invest in relevant areas which will eventually translate in economic growth and freedom. Canadian education for instance, focuses on core subjects such as languages, mathematics, sciences and technology, with an increased focus on themes of contemporary topics such as globalization, competitiveness and productivity.  To meet China’s economic and social development and the challenges of the rapid progress of world science and technology, China has formulated and implemented a strategy to revitalize the country through science and education and has made the development of education a strategic priority.

In most of the economies under discussion, if not all, fund education through state funds.  In countries where education is decentralized, aside the federal government, the states and local provinces also provide funding.  In England, State-run schools and colleges are financed through national taxation. The schools may levy charges for activities such as swimming, theatre visits and field trips, provided the charges are voluntary, thus ensuring that those who cannot afford to pay are allowed to participate in such events.

Even in countries like New Zealand, government takes three fourth of university funding with students paying only one fourth.  In Korea, The financing of education is centralized, and government funding constitutes the largest component of school budgets.  America relies on local and state taxes to fund education.  In Malaysia, The Ministry of Education [as at 2010] remains the major financier for education since the involvement of private sector, federal government and donations are still small.

CONCLUSION

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Albert Kan Dapaah, has mentioned that Ghana loses about $3 billion every year due to lack of proper record keeping. Poor sanitation also costs the country over $290 million annually. Over $20 million is lost in taxes involving fake phone importations, among others and there are many more of such colossal loses all over.

Can we sincerely believe that we cannot afford additional senior high school expenditure when we lose over GH¢6 billion to preventable situations? What we will have to do is to prevent these losses, so that Ghana can have more than enough to pay for free basic, secondary and tertiary education!

In summing up the debate, we should be asking ourselves whether it is a necessity for Ghana to introduce free universal SHS education. If we think it is, when is the right time to introduce it? Should it be when the size of the economy can sustain the expenditure commitment, and would the economy ever grow to such a size? What is our priority as a nation in terms of developing our human capital? We have to address all these questions at the same time if the debate is to be meaningful.

While discussing the major issue of the cost of free SHS education to Ghana, perhaps we should take into consideration the old saying “If you think education is expensive try ignorance”.

TOBACCO CONTROL FUND ADVOCATED

By Jeorge Wilson Kingson

The coalition on the tobacco control bill has advocated the establishment of a tobacco control fund for Ghana. According to the coalition the fund when established would afford government the opportunity to raise money for the purposes of treating ailments that may occur as result of tobacco use directly or indirectly, among others.

They have proposed that taxes on tobacco products as well as finds and levies on tobacco manufacturing companies be directly lodged into this account so it can serve its intended purpose.

The coalition made this demands when its members petitioned the Minister of Health on the implementation of pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs and the establishment of a tobacco control fund for Ghana.

“We urge your office to officially write to parliament for the establishment of the Tobacco Control Fund within the Public Health Bill to implement the tobacco control measures” the petition partly stated.

The tobacco control legislation is at the consideration stages of Ghana’s parliament. The bill forms part of the enlarged Public Health Bill which is currently before the House. Parliament is currently on recess and will resume in the later part of May.

Before it went on break in March the House had scheduled to commence work on the Bill, however, the pressure of the workload could not make it possible. Sources within the Health Committee of Parliament however told Corporate Guardian that all is set for the bill to go through the various stages of the House and passed as soon as they resume sitting in May.

The coalition is a network of civil society organizations advocating for the implementation and enforcement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the passage of the tobacco control portion of the public health bill into law, with the objective of protecting present and future generations from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Ghana ratified the FCTC in 2004 and became the 39th party and the first country in West Africa to do so. February 27, 2010 was the deadline for the first 41 countries including Ghana to have implemented Article 13 of the Convention which demands a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Article 8 also demands a comprehensive smoke free legislation.

Ahead of this the Ministry of Health in 2007 issued a directive for the registration of tobacco and tobacco products urging the Food and Drugs Board to effectively and comprehensively implement article 11 of the FCTC which deals with packaging and labeling of tobacco products.

The FDB has not been able to implement the directive on pictorial health warnings for unexplainable reasons and the coalition is not happy. There have been several attempts to get the state institution to ensure the effectiveness of the enforcement of the directives but to no avail.

“The implementation of the picture warnings on tobacco pack is a cost effective way of reducing tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, and reaching smokers and non-smokers with low level of education and literacy and help to reduce disparities in health knowledge” the coalition stated in their petition which was received by the deputy health minister, Rojo Mettle-Noono.

This was after the coalition had undertaken a peaceful procession on the streets of Accra aimed at drawing government’s attention the seriousness of the issue. 

While calling on the minister to urgently see to it that the FDB implement the said directives on pictorial warnings on tobacco packs, the coalition warned of regional demonstrations to further stretch home their demands if government fails to heed to their call.

Mettle-Noono assured the coalition of government’s commitment to ensuring that the Public Health Bill is passed into law in the shortest possible time. According to him adequate provisions have been made in the bill to cater for the concerns of the coalition regarding the implementation of the pictorial health warnings assuring further that their concerns would be facilitated to parliament.

The coalition of NGOs in tobacco control (CNTC), Media Alliance in Tobacco Control (MATCO), Community Health Support Team (CHEST) Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health and Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) makes up the membership of the coalition.

TOBACCO CONTROL BILL FINALLY IN PARLIAMENT

By Jeorge Wilson Kingson

After about seven years of intense lobbying and agitation for tobacco control legislation for Ghana, minister for Health, Joseph Yeileh Chireh, has finally presented the draft legislation on the Tobacco Control Bill for the consideration of Parliament.

The Bill which forms part of the enlarged Public Health Bill (PHB) went through first reading on the floor of Parliament last Friday, July 22, 2011 with the Speaker of the House, Justice Joyce Bamford-Addo referring it to the select committee on Health for consideration recommendation.

Parliament adjourned last Friday and is expected to reconvene in late October 2011. Chairman of the Committee, Alhaji Muntaka Mohammed, told journalists in Parliament last week the presentation of the bill was long expected and that now that it has come they will treat it with the urgency it deserves.

Following this revelation it is expected that the Public Health Bill will go through the necessary stages and passed in the next meeting beginning in October.

Meanwhile, Civil Society has hailed the news of the presentation of the bill to parliament. They claim the centre of their campaign now will be towards Parliament, specifically with the Health Committee and the entire Members.

Chairman of the African Tobacco Control Alliance, Issah Ali, who is also the executive director of Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) who was present in parliament to witness the presentation of the bill said “We strongly support the vision of the Chairman of the Committee, Alhaji Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak to prioritize the Committee’s consideration of the Bill. This shows that the committee and to some large extent Parliament has the interest of Ghanaians at heart when it comes to ensuring the protection of their health. I will like to urge him to go all out to ensure the passage of the bill into law soon”

He appealed to stakeholders to engage with Members of Parliament regularly to know the status of the bill so as to ensure speedy passage of bill into law.

When finally passed the law will among others ban Smoking in public places, ban tobacco advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship, Prohibit young people under the age of 21 from buying and selling tobacco products and mandate the printing of Pictorial Health Warnings on tobacco packs to cover over 70% of the principal display areas.  

To effectively implement the tobacco control Act, the Coalition on Tobacco Control (CTC) including VALD, Media Alliance in Tobacco Control (MATCO), Community Health Support Team, and other allies are calling on government to increase taxes on tobacco products to finance the implementation of the tobacco legislations and its action plans.

WHERE IS GHANA’S TOBACCO CONTROL BILL?                           ...Stakeholders Want to Know

Has Ghana’s Tobacco Control Bill put together by a National Tobacco Steering Committee, for the attention of government gone missing? This was the question on the lips of many concerned civil society groups and individual Ghanaians at a recent strategic meeting on tobacco control in Accra. JEORGE WILSON KINGSON reports.

Provisions of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) make it mandatory for all signatory countries to formulate legislations that will protect their citizenry from the numerous health hazards associated with tobacco use. Ghana was the 39th country in the world to sign unto the convention and the first country in West Africa sub-region to ratify it in 2004.

All attempts since then to enact a law to regulate tobacco use in the country has witnessed several challenges causing many to doubt government’s commitment to achieving the set goals spelt out in the Convention. Though some steps have indeed been taken by government towards the implementation of the FCTC it appears much more has to be done if the efforts are to yield any significant result.

By signing on to the FCTC Ghana has committed itself to among others “Adopt and implement effective legislative, executive, administrative and or other measures and cooperate, as appropriate, with other parties in developing appropriate policies for preventing and reducing tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction and exposure to tobacco smoke”

In doing so the country would be achieving the overall objective of the convention which is “To protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke”

In its efforts at meeting this demand the National Tobacco Steering Committee (NTSC) started formulating a national tobacco control bill in 2005 for the attention of government. It is almost six years now since the drafting of the bill was concluded but, clearly, there is little indication that the bill will be passed into law anytime soon. Latest checks indicate the bill is yet to get to parliament for consideration.

A number of reasons have been deduced as the cause for the delay in the passage of the Bill. Among them is the low level of awareness among stakeholders about tobacco control and FCTC issues. Also included is the inadequate involvement of the media, key law makers and public opinion to support the bill. More importantly also is the interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control policy issues in the country.

Then also the issue of whether the bill should form part of the general Public Health Bill or be made to stand alone. The Public Health bill is a consolidation of all existing legislations on the various issues concerning public health. It includes existing legislations on Mosquito Control, Quarantine, Infectious Disease, Vaccination; Food and Drugs Law. The rest are the Public Nuisance Bill; Tobacco Control Bill; The Patients Charter; International Health Regulations; Ethics in Health among others.

The general consensus as gathered from Cabinet sources is that it is okay to make the tobacco control bill a public health issue; thus the Public Health Bill when it finally comes to Parliament will include the tobacco control bill. This in effect means that Cabinet has given approval to the contents of the tobacco control bill.

However, there are uncertainties as to when exactly government intends to move beyond the rhetoric and put its words into action by forwarding the bill to parliament. The issue is more confusing now that the stakeholders are complaining of haven lost track of the exact location of the bill.

Later last year, the out gone Minister of Health, Dr. Benjamin Kumbuor, released a statement to the effect that the sector ministry has forwarded the draft document to cabinet for attention. A later communication said the bill was with the Attorney General’s Department for fine tuning and final inputs. Recently, it was learnt that the bill has gotten to parliament awaiting passage. Checks for the bill in Parliament have whoever proved futile.

This is what is creating panic among stakeholders in the industry who fear the inconsistency in the whereabouts of the bill at this particular period could cause further delay in its passage which may not be in the best interest of the country’s international image.

At a recent meeting in Accra to re-strategize on the way forward in the fight for the passage of a tobacco control bill for Ghana members of Civil Society Groups, including Vision for Alternative Development (VALD), Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations in Tobacco Control (CNTC), Media Alliance in Tobacco Control (MATCO) and the Community Health Support Team (CHEST) among others expressed deep worry about latest developments regarding the tobacco control bill. 

The Coalition on the Tobacco Control Bill says it is more confused on the issue following the recent cabinet reshuffle which saw the replacement of Dr Benjamin Kumbuor with Hon. Joseph Yieleh Chireh as the Minister of Health. Stakeholders fear the new minister may not demonstrate enough commitment to the bill which may lead to its further delay.

After intensive deliberations on the way forward, members of the coalition have agreed to embark on a nationwide sensitization walk beginning April 10, 2011 to raise public awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke as well as to bring public attention to the government’s delay in the passage of the Tobacco Control Bill into law. Petitions will also be presented to the Minister of Health and the Speaker of Parliament among others.

All these efforts according to members of the coalition is to cause government to state its stand on the bill, to correct the horrendous impression that certain “powerful” elements in government are deliberately frustrating the passage of the bill so as to serve their parochial  interest.  

Ghana has been the choice of many international and regional tobacco control strategy meetings and therefore cannot afford to lose this credibility with the global tobacco control community.

While Ghana’s Bill is pending or basically missing, the government of Niger has effectively passed legislation on tobacco control.  There is currently a ban on public smoking in Abuja, Nigeria, and Nigerian tobacco control Bill is at the second stage of reading in parliament. The governments of Kenya and Mauritius who have all signed onto the convention have all passed legislations on tobacco control.

The swift passage of the Tobacco Control Bill into Law will protect present and future generations from lung, oral and throat cancers, heart diseases, heart attack, infertility, miscarriage, drug addiction and poverty.

But the picture is not entirely gloomy as there have been some successes chalked in thvarious national attempts at controlling tobacco use in the country. The recently launched Civil Society Shadow Report on Ghana’s implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control highlights some of the successes achieved so far.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has issued a directive to compel all existing and prospective importers of tobacco products to have their products registered with the Food and Drugs Board (FDB). The directive which is in line with the FCTC is accordingly being observed. To have ratified the FCTC and gone ahead to prepare a draft bill for the consideration of cabinet and parliament is also no mean achievement.

Until recently health warnings on tobacco packages in Ghana covered only five percent of the packaging. The Food and Drugs (FDB), the agency currently responsible for regulating tobacco use in Ghana has since come out with rotational messages covering 50% of the front and back panels of the principal display surface and one MoH warning at the point of sale covering its specifications.

The shadow report recommends that government swiftly pass the Tobacco Control Bill into law with strong provisions and in full compliance with the FCTC. “The government must pass the Tobacco Control Bill into law with strong provisions on ‘labeling of tobacco products’ and to ensure the enforcement of pictorial health warnings covering 80% of the main surfaces of tobacco pack. The FDB must comprehensively enforce the MoH’s tobacco control directives by introducing pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.” the report stated.

“Despite the present taxes on tobacco products, cigarettes sold in Ghana are still cheap, affordable and easily accessible. The government is being urged to further increase taxes on tobacco products to make them expensive and to raise revenue to finance health related ailments as a result of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke in accordance with the FCTC” Issah Ali, National Coordinator of the tobacco coalition stated in an interview.  

Ghana’s population is expected to benefit massively and rapidly from effective implementation of the tobacco directives, the FCTC, and the tobacco control bill when passed into law. Structures have been established within the public and private sectors for the implementation of the FCTC and all legislations emanating from it.

The writer is a journalist and the First Vice Chairman of Media Alliance in Tobacco Control (MATCO). jokingsghana@yahoo.com, +233244822034/+233277524166

THE MYTH BEHIND THE PREGNANT MAN

 

THE MYTH BEHIND THE PREGNANT MAN

By natural instincts man and woman must sexually know each other for procreation to take place. And so when it is rumored that a male fetish priest who is suppose to serve as a link between the supernatural and the natural has publicly claimed to have conceived and delivered a baby girl, it is deserving of anyone curious mind to want to probe further. Our Features Editor JEORGE WILSON KINGSON recently embarked on a journey to the wonderful town of Sefwi Asawinso in the Western Region of Ghana where he unveiled the mystery behind the rumors. Read on.

How does one begin to narrate this horrific story that has a lot to do with both spirit and man?  A story about the outcome of an alleged sexual intercourse between the overlords of the underworld and a man.  Call it a matrimony of the unseen spirits of this world and their earthly representatives and you will not be far from the truth. A romantic affair characterized by jealousy resulting in the gods impregnation their earthly representative. A pregnancy that lasted beyond measure; lasting approximately 10 months and three days and the subsequent delivery of a baby girl. A bouncy baby girl who weighed three kilograms at birth and 4.3 kilograms a month later. How does one really begin to tell this story to the fullest?

The story first broke out in the local media of a 24 year old man claiming to have given birth to a baby girl. The stories came with pictures of a “lady” dressed in native Kaba and slit with scarf to match, being followed by a thick crowd of people all in celebration mood.

It was the day the entire Benie family of Apentimadi moved from their village to Aboduam, a small town on the hills of Sefwi Agwenase in the Western Region to outdoor the new addition to their family, a newly born baby girl delivered of a 24 year old man who is alleged to have been transformed into  a woman by the gods. This is not the first time the village or the family for that matter is outdooring a baby but the fanfare is as a result of the belief of many people that this particular child was sent from the spirit world by the gods for a purpose.     

The ceremony lasted about three hours with some activities including the pouring of libation by some priests and priestesses amidst loud drumming, dancing and loud jubilations. The baby was then Christened Grace Abena Apomasu, named after the most senior of all the gods who is alleged to have sent her to this earth. Grace, because the mother believes she delivered her by the grace of the gods, Abena, because she was born on a Teusday, and Apomasu, because it is the name of the head of the gods and the shrine as well as the fetish shrine that her mother worships.

As at the time of filling this report doctors at the St John of God Hospital at Asawinso have confirmed that medically, little Grace is strong, healthy and doing very well. They confirmed also that she and the mother have been very regular to the facility and that they are impressed with her study state of growth so far. According to the hospital officials, little Grace has never developed any complications and that each time they come for medical checkup she shows tremendous improvement over the previous records.

The biological mother of little Grace is Nana Abena Benie, a very popular fetish priest in the Sefwi Wiawso district. She is popular for her ability to cure many sicknesses and solve spiritual problems in consultation with the over 300 gods that she works with. She also offers counsel and consultancy services to those who call for any.

The Story of Abena Benie

 

She currently boasts of being a proud member of the female gender. She is 24 years old and has a very feminine voice. Though she has a very flat chest, probably flatter than the average guy on the street, she has masculine features as in muscles, beard, and mustache. She occasionally plates her hair or puts on artificial wig to give her face that feminine look.

But she was not born Abena or as a female. Until recently she was known as Kwabena Benie, a very active young man whose association with the gods generated and continues to bring a lot of excitement to the family. He was the sixth of 12 children of Kofi Nyame and Adwoa Attah, both traditionalists. Together with the family they have served the apomasu shrine for many years now, a religion they also inherited from their parents.

In fact, out of the 12 children of Kofi Nyame and Adwoa Attah, four have passed on. The remaining eight, including a 13 year old boy who works at the shrine as an attendants are all fetish priests who are being used by the gods to serve the numerous people who call at the shrine on daily basis for various reasons.

The story has it that the gods took possession of Nana Kwabena at age 13 and after some initiation rites he became one of the servants of the apomasu shrine. His demonstration of strong will in serving the gods paid off when at age 20 he was promoted to the position of head priest of the apomasu shrine. A position he still enjoys.

Kwabena has no formal education; this we learnt is as a result of a direction from the gods who kept his childhood days very busy with activities of the shrine. In fact none of his relatives have enjoyed any formal education since they started the “fetish business”.

The Sudden Sexual Transformation

So how did this happen that a man will overnight suddenly become woman? Many of those who saw him growing up testified that as a young man Kwabena was adventurous and very daring. He was also commanding and often does things his way.  He even became more audacious as the commander of the shrine as he often takes decisions that they claim causes panic and fear. Some of his decisions in the past are said to have caused serious rifts between the chief god and the Benie household.

So when at age 20 he announced his desire to get married because he has gotten emotionally attached to a lady who was a frequent visitor to the shrine not many people could gather the courage to advice him against it. Attempts by some elders of the family to call him to order against this worldly desire met his fury.

He is on record to have stated that he could no more suppress the human feelings within him and that despite what the gods are using him to do he wants to settle down and raise a family just as his parents have done. “The family tree must continue, it must not die” he is alleged to have then stated, as a reason behind his intentions to get married.   

 This perhaps explains why those around him were not totally surprised when Nana Kwabena out of the blue confirmed a date for his traditional marriage to one of the beautiful maidens (name withheld) of Aboduam who agreed to his proposal. This however met the displeasure of the gods who think that their representative on earth is taking his stubbornness too far.

They threatened to desert him if carries on with the proposed marriage, but this could not concern Nana Kwabena who was bent on going ahead with the ceremony anyway, no matter the sacrifice or the punishment. And so the marriage ceremony came off successfully at Aboduam, between Nana Kwabena and his new found lover at age 24. In attendance were top fetish priests and other spiritualists from the Sefwi traditional area.

But the woman could not survive a night in the house of her husband as she has to pack baggage and leave on the first night of their honeymoon even before the cock could crow. The reason? Her avowed husband is not a man. He has no penis. Aside this, she can feel a sense of insecurity due to some strange noise emanating from certain quarters of the.  She has since not returned to her matrimonial home.

The Deadly Honey moon

Nana Kwabena Benie, now Nana Abena Benie has in an interview narrated the incident of the first night of her marriage, a night she had long expected to enjoy but could not due to the determination of the gods to punish her for the display of gross disobedience. According to her what happened on the night in question is something that can never be explained fully by any mortal and that all those “experts” who are trying to draw medical meanings into it are deceiving themselves and the whole world.

“I see this as a punishment from the gods because I disobeyed them. After my engagement ceremony in my hometown Sefwi Aboduam, we all came back home very excited. My mother prepared food for us after which we retarded to bed. I was very excited because it was going to be my first time with this beautiful lady. Then in the night as I attempted to get closer to her I felt a very sever sensation inside my abdomen. It was so painful I have never experienced before so I screamed for help. But nobody came to my rescue. I don’t know whether anybody heard me but nobody came to my rescue. This pain lasted about an hour or so. When it subsided I used my hands to feel my abdomen only to realize that my manhood was missing. My penis had suddenly disappeared and in its place is a virgina.” Nana Abena Benie recounted.

Though she could not be specific about the size of the penis before its sudden disappearance, she put up a wry smile when she said “I won’t say it was a ‘bazooka’ but certainly, it was normal and average enough to satisfy any woman in bed.” She said she is not disappointed in the new gender which has been allegedly imposed on her by the gods and but she has learnt her lessons enough not to disobey the gods again.  

The Doubts about the Pregnancy

News about Nana Abena’s experience spread quickly through out the surrounding communities like a hot commodity item. As expected people started trooping into the Apentimadi cottage where the shrine is located to witness for themselves at first hand the miracle.

Those who found the story true and easy to believe were legion but so also were those who doubted it. A good number of people particularly young guys from nearby villages who saw Nana Kwabena growing up refuted the story outright. Thos were the people who publicly dared her to prove it that he is no more a male but a female.

Though she was initially skeptical and shy about exposing herself to the “doubting Thomases” she sought permission from the gods to do so when people started attacking her verbally with invectives to the effect that she was striving to achieve cheap popularity through foul means. Most of these allegations as expected emanated from rival fetish camps.

In permitting her to expose her nakedness to the public, the gods gave her conditions. Among them, “Any man who sees her virgina due to doubts must be made to taste it.” Thus by the authority of the gods of the apomasu shrine any man who demands to see her virgina must be permitted to see it but after it he must have sexual intercourse with her.

According to Nana Abena Benie, anytime she sleeps with someone she ends up getting pregnant but the gods advice her to abort it. This continued for a long time until the last one happened when she was advised not to touch it. This is because they say they want to prove a point to men that they also have the power to make the impossible possible. This explains why she kept the pregnancy and maintained it throughout its extended duration of 10 month and three days.

The man whose sexual intercourse with her resulted in the last pregnancy has refused to come and see the baby though he has been duly informed of the outcome of his doubtful actions and sexual encounter with the fetish shrine of apomasu.

Throughout the duration of the pregnancy Nana Benie as she is now affectionately called said she never attended ante-natal treatment but was kept strong and healthy by the gods. She also got some herbal treatments from her mother and some other women but in each case she consults the gods for permission.

 

She said once when she went to the hospital in her maternity dress it had nothing to do with the pregnancy which was then its sixth month but it was because she herself had had some personal problems that needed medical advice. Authorities at the St. John of God Catholic Hospital at Sefwi Asafo have confirmed to The Corporate Guardian magazine that indeed her pregnancy was never treated there, though they once saw her in maternity dress in the premises of the hospital.

Nana Benie said she carried the pregnancy like any other woman and experienced normal pregnancy symptoms. She spitted all over the place, sometimes felt very uncomfortable, developed intermittent swollen feet and felt the urge to taste different kinds of foods at odd times, among others. She said however found so much companionship in her siblings who offered her so much support during her pregnancy. She was not scared when she did not deliver within the nine month normal pregnancy period contrary to expectations because she believes once the gods say they will do it surely they will.

She finally delivered a bouncy baby girl at home one fine Tuesday morning in August this year with the help of some traditional birth attendants associated who holds allegiance to the apomasu shrine.  Maame Ama Nyata, the traditional birth attendant in an interview said though Nana Benie’s delivery has been a wonder it was smooth without any complications. She said they expected it so it did not come to them as any wonder at all, adding that “The gods promised to do it and they have done it.”

Some senior residents in the Aboduam, Apentimadi communities have confirmed to The Corporate Guardian magazine that throughout their lives they have known Kwabena Benie as a man and are therefore surprised at the news that he has turned woman and conceived. Some of the people who claimed they were at his engagement ceremony say they are still finding it difficult to come to terms with the new claim.

But we were told also that even long before the miracle will happen Nana Benie as a man was not a virgin. The story is that he ignored all cautions from the gods to live a sex free life because they are spiritually engaged to him. He dated several girls from within and outside the village. The gods felt jealous that he should be romantically involved with someone else. They warned him to preserve the marriage else they will punish him severely.  

 Senior nurses at the St. John of God hospital also gave their perspective on the issue. They claim to know him very well because he used to visit the hospital for treatment. According to them, about four years ago, Kwabena Benie had some complications in his manhood. He came to the hospital and was admitted for three days at the male’s ward of the hospital.

“During the period nothing shows he wasn’t a male. The problem was with his male organ so it should tell you that we were dealing with a male” Stated Albert Amponsah, a senior nursing officer who claims to have worked with the hospital for over eight years.

The hospital authorities were however not ready to dispute or challenge the assertion that a fetish priest has changed sex and gotten pregnant. To them the whole thing is a matter of belief and “In the issues of the supernatural, we are no authority. I shall venture no opinion on this matter, please.” Pleaded, a senior administrator of the hospital, who wants to remain anonymous.    

Nana Abena Benie is now living as a full female and mother. She menstruates like any other woman and is beginning to develop other female features as well. Apart from her voice that has turned absolutely feminine she has also began developing protruded buttocks and long hair. One can also easily identify her feminine style of walking. She said she has donated all her male clothing to charity because she does not expect to turn male again. This is evident in her new style of dressing; she now puts on “kaba and slit” whenever she is going out and a white linen cloth around her waist when at home. She said she is enjoying her new gender and will not want it changed by the gods even if they want to. “I will plead with them to let me keep the virgina” She stated with a smile.

Asked what she and the gods intends to do to the man who made her pregnant, Nana Benie said “Nothing. We realized he is still in school. He knows he is responsible but he is also scared. He has not been here to see the baby yet but it doesn’t bother me. The gods have not raised any protest about him and so I don’t think they have any plans for him. He is not the first man to make me pregnant; it is just that the gods want me to keep his pregnancy. The gods have assured me they will take care of the baby so to me am ok.”    

Little Grace Abena Apomasu, since she was born has not had the opportunity of enjoying fresh breast milk like any other baby. She has been surviving on lactogen, milk and other baby foods which are mostly donated by visitors to the shrine or are purchased from the open market. Most of her clothes are also donations from well wishers.    

The Reactions of the Christian Community

As expected there have been several physical and spiritual reactions about the news ever since it broke out. While some have hailed it as a real miracle, others have been quick to condemn it describing it as a typical cock and bull story that must be told only to the marines. One of such condemnations came from the Priest of the oldest Catholic Church in the Sefwi Wiawso District.

Reverend Father George Quainoo, of the St. Agartha Parish at Sefwi Asafo, told The Corporate Guardian magazine that the Catholic Church sees the claim of Nana Benie as a joke worth laughing over. To him it is possible for a hermaphrodite to give birth and so they suspect that he must have been a double sex man from infancy.

“We suspect that he was having two sexes but as he was growing up one must have taken dominance over the other. If one gender feature takes dominance over the other does that make it any extra ordinary miracle? From the Christian perspective we don’t see or believe the kind of claim they are making.” Rev Quainoo stated.

To him the popularity of the shrine might have been going down so they decided to re-activate it by coming up with this concoct story. “They want the popularity of their deity so that they can get more money and that’s what’s making them to do this. They must come up with stories that gullible people can easily consume. To me it’s all about marketing their gods. It’s a marketing strategy and people must not fall victim to this. What’s even the guarantee that they did not go to steal the child from somewhere?”

Prophet Asemso Kwaku Aikings, the general overseer of True Divine Prayer Center at Sefwi Asawinso on his side thinks it’s a possibility especially in the proverbial end times. “It is a possibility that such miracles can happen. But my brother, don’t forget we are in the end times and don’t forget also what the Bible said about the end times. It said many strange things will happen, so personally I am not surprised that such a thing is happening and at this time. If it had happened about a thousand years ago I would have been very surprised but around this time I am not surprised at all.”     

 He continued “You see the Bible has given us the assurance that strange things will happen. To be honest with you I am expecting more strange things to happen in the next five decades. Example I expect stones and walls to start talking, not for tourist attractions but as major true signs of the end times. I expect some countries to start disappearing from the surface of the earth just like that. I expect that soon strange and horrible beings will descend on the earth and start attacking people. The Bible has said it so when it happens we must all see it as a confirmation of the scriptures.”

The Medical Practitioner’s Perspective 

Medical practitioners say so far as their profession is concerned the possibility of a male pregnancy is not a reality. Though not in the position to oppose the story in anyway Dr. David Kupualor, the Medical Director at the St. John of God Hospital at Sefwi Asafo told The Corporate Guardian magazine in an exclusive interview in his office that it has not been medically proven anywhere that a male has suddenly changed gender by developing virgina overnight.

He however confirmed the possibility of a hermaphrodite adopting a particular sex organ if he or she feels it comfortable with it. “Even that has to happen over a period of time.” Dr. Kupualor suspect that the Nana Benie might have been a hermaphrodite from birth and that as he was growing up the female features took dominance over the other ones accounting for the ability to conceive.

He said even in such cases the other sex organ does not totally disappear as there will be a bit of trace in it. When hermaphrodites get pregnant they also demonstrate normal pregnancy features as anyone else.   

The Apomasu Shrine

 The ‘holy’ shrine of Apomasu is located in the deep forests of the Apentemadi in the Sefwi Wiawso district of the Western Region. The entire cottage is made up of only one compound of four structures one of which is wooden. The compound has about seven rooms in all. Two of the rooms are meant for visitors, patients and anybody who will need to lodge there for further treatment or attention from the gods. The remainders are for the Benie and Apomasu family who together numbers over 40, children and adult inclusive.

There is no direct vehicle path to the shrine. To get there one has to walk several miles on foot; about one hour and 25 minutes after we packed our chartered vehicle at where the main path ends we were still walking in the pushes. The path is also not smooth.  Apart from the bushy path, the lonely path is also full of dangerous reptiles. The bush path links through several acres of cocoa and cassava farms, through a valley and then up a hill.    

Our taxi driver Kwaku Badu and his brother Yaw who also served as our “tour guide” told us some of those reptiles could be spies sent by the gods to test the courage and bravery of strangers and visitors. Occasionally, we came across children between the ages of seven and twelve who are either carrying a basket of fruits or food stuffs some too heavy for their heads. The warning is that, do not stare at them and do not ask questions. You can choose to greet them and they will respond with courtesy.

The shrine deals with approximately 300 different gods. We learnt that each of these gods has a specific function to perform; as such every problem that one may face can be solved at this shrine. Thus; there are separate spirit that deals with bareness and another for sickness and for turning curses, as well as teaching and seeing into the future.

We were told also that just as we human beings have two genders of male and female same it is within the spirit world. There are those who are very kind and mild and others who are very obstinate. But each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

For example during our visit, we came in contact with a man (name withheld) at the shrine who claimed to be a staff of the St. John of God hospital. He claimed he suffered appendix but was unable to get effective treatment from the institution he works with. Upon his consultations with the shrine the god with expertise in surgery came upon Nana Benie who conducted a successful surgery on him to remove the appendix.

The gods hate stubbornness and demands respect from anybody who visits the shrine. It is compulsory that all visitors form a queue to bow to Nana Benie and give him a handshake immediately he sits in state to work or else one will not be attended to. She demands and reciprocates respect.

When Nana Benie is not busy attending to visitors then she is sleeping, most of those relaxing moments are meant for her to communicate with the gods and to discuss with them about their next plan of action. Her working hours are mostly between 10am and 2pm, and 3 to 4pm every day. When she is sleeping she can be wake to attend to emergency situations.   

Among all the servants at the shrine it is only one woman who is permitted to get closer to her when she is sleeping. In the situation where Nana Benie is interacting with the gods in sleep but has to be called upon to attend to emergency situations, this woman has to hit her forehead three times with a specific leaf and also touch the under of her feet for a while. This is a special way of informing the gods that there is an emergency to attend to.

When the gods posses her she is never aware of what she does or say until they leave at their own time. Her face is then washed with cold water; she is given water to drink to welcome her and is then informed of what transpired when the gods came over.

Nana Benie has resolved not to grant any media interview again henceforth. She claims it is a direction from the gods. This is due the alleged acts of some unscrupulous people who hid under the guise of journalism, to take pictures of her and the baby for publication in their newspapers only to distort the pictures and used them for calendars. This act according to Nana Benie has infuriated the gods and they have threatened to deal with those characters their own way.

The spokesperson of the Shrine Abubakarr Seidu, who is also the General Manager of Beat 95.5 fm, a local radio station in Sefwi Asawinso said some of those culprits have been identified and they have been dragged before the Apomasu shrine where they were made to offer some sacrifices. He said they are making serious efforts to arrest all other people involved in exploiting Nana Benie’s pictures for personal gains.

It actually took The Corporate Guardian team some bottles of schnapps, some baby food and some sacrifices, rites and consultations before we were granted partial audience by the occupants of the Apomasu shrine. Upon initial consultations we were told the gods say we should deposit a non refundable cash amount of GHC 3,000.

 

 

   

 

 

 

    

 

   

 

 

STAKEHOLDERS RE-STRATEGIZE ON TOBACCO CONTROL BILL

By Jeorge Wilson Kingson

Members of the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organization in Tobacco Control have met at a day’s workshop in Accra to re-strategize on the way forward in the fight for the passage of a tobacco control bill for Ghana.

This follows the uncertainties surrounding the draft bill in recent times. There are currently conflicting reports as to the exact location of the draft tobacco control bill. While some are of the view that the bill is currently with the cabinet sub-committee on health others believe the bill has gone back to the Attorney General’s Department for further consultation. There are those who even believe the draft bill has been approved by cabinet and that it is on its way to parliament.

The issue became more confusing following the recent cabinet reshuffle which saw then Minister of Health, Dr Benjamin Kunbuor replaced with Joseph Yieleh Chireh. Stakeholders fear the new minister may not demonstrate enough commitment to the bill which may lead to its further delay.

At the meeting of the coalition which was very participatory, members of the coalition were informed that the tobacco control bill has been completed and approved by cabinet. However, a decision has been taken in cabinet that it should form part of the Public Health Bill which consists of about eight different bills related to the health sector.

The Public Health bill is a consolidation of all existing legislations on the various issues concerning public health. In includes existing legislations on Mosquito Control, Quarantine, Infectious, Disease, Vaccination; Food and Drugs Law. The new additions include Public Nuisance Bill; Tobacco Control Bill; The Patients Charter; International Health Regulations; Ethics in Health and others.

Businessweek gathered that though almost all the bills are ready, there are still issues with the Food and Drugs Law, and the Ethics in Health Bill which has necessitated further discussions. Signals picked by the paper indicates that cabinet’s committee on health is accelerating its efforts to ensure that the Public Health Bill gets to parliament in the shortest possible time.

After an intensive deliberation on the way forward, members of the coalition have agreed to embark on a nationwide sensitization walk on April 10, 2011 to raise public awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke and the delay in the passage of the Tobacco Control Bill into law. Petition will also be presented to the Speaker of Parliament, Office of the President and all the ten Regional Ministers.

Ghana became the 39th country to ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004 and became the 39th Party and the first in West African Sub-region to have ratified the FCTC.

The country contributed greatly to the development of the FCTC during the inter-governmental negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ghana’s Tobacco Bill drafted in 2005 to implement the FCTC is still pending at the expense of the vulnerable citizens who are ignorant of the dangers posed by tobacco use and its smoke.

Ghana has failed to meet its obligations to some provisions of the FCTC.  February 27, 2010 was the deadline for the first 41 Parties including Ghana to have implemented Article 13 which demands “a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship” and Article eight which calls for “a comprehensive smoke- free legislation”.

While Ghana’s Bill is pending the government of Niger has passed legislation on tobacco control, there is a ban on public smoking in Abuja, Nigeria and Nigerian tobacco control Bill is at the second stage of reading in parliament. The governments of Kenya and Mauritius have passed legislation on tobacco control.

FCTC Articles 5.(2b) mandates governments to enact legislations to protect its citizens from the deadly products of the tobacco industry. Ghana has been a choice for international and regional tobacco control strategy meetings and cannot afford to lose this credibility with the global tobacco control community.

The swift passage of the Tobacco Control Bill into Law would protect present and future generations from lung, oral and throat cancers, heart diseases, heart attack, infertility, miscarriage, drug addiction and poverty.

The Coalition of NGOs in Tobacco Control comprises of the Coalition of NGO’s in Health (CNH), Media Alliance on Tobacco Control (MATCO), Community Health Support Team (CHEST) and Ghana Coalition of NGO’s in Health.

Oil Revenue Management Bill

...PARLIAMENT SUSPENDS DECISION ON 10% DEMANDS OF WR CHIEFS

By Jeorge Wilson Kingson

A decision on whether a percentage of the total revenue to be accrued from the country’s oil economy should be set aside for the development of the host region has been put on hold by Parliament pending a decision by the speaker of the House.

This follows a heated debate on the issue which forms part of the proposed amendment initiated by four members of the minority group who are arguing that government can only commit to the development of the Western Region if it is made to do so by an Act of parliament.

Clause 23 of the petroleum revenue management bill prohibits earmarking of petroleum revenues for any special considerations. It states that “Outside of the national budget allocations, extra budgetary activities and statutory earmarking of petroleum revenues for any special considerations is prohibited”

However, four members of the minority group are seeking an amendment to the clause. They want it to now read (1) (a) Ten percent (10) of the Petroleum Holding Fund should be devoted to a Western Regional Development Fund as one of the several sources of the fund;

(b) The Western Regional Development Fund is hereby established;

(c) The other funding sources should be proposed by the minister and approved by parliament.

The Legislators championing this amendment include Kwabena-Okyere Darko-Mensah, MP for Takoradi, Dominic Nitiwul, MP for Bimbila, Gifty Eugenia Kusi, MP for Tarkwa Nsuaem, and Mathew Opoku Prempeh, MP for Manhyia.

Some members on the majority side also argued that such an amendment if carried will be in contravention of Article 108 of the 1992 constitution.

The Articles states that “Parliament shall not, unless the bill is introduced or the motion is introduced by, or on behalf of, the President - proceed upon a bill including an amendment to a bill, that, in the opinion of the person presiding, makes provision for any of the following;

the imposition of taxation or the alteration of taxation otherwise than by reduction; or

the imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana or the alteration of any such charge otherwise than by reduction; or (iii) the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana of any moneys not charged on the Consolidated Fund or any increase in the amount of that payment, issue or withdrawal; or (iv) the composition or remission of any debt due to the Government of Ghana; or (b) proceed upon a motion, including an amendment to a motion, the effect of which, in the opinion of the person presiding, would be to make provision for any of the purpose specified in paragraph (a) of this article”.

The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Edwrad Doe Adjaho, who was in charge of proceedings, after listening to proponents of the proposal and those who were against it, could not take a decision. According to him the issue bothers on the constitution and as such must be looked at with extra care. He therefore ruled that the matter be deferred for further consultations.

It is expected however that the issue will be addressed this week so as to make way for the House to proceed with the consideration of the bill which has been with parliament since August 2010.

The Western Regional House of Chiefs led by its President, Awulae Atibrukutu, last year petitioned Parliament to consider allocating 10% of the total revenue to be generated from the oil find to developing the region. They demand that the petroleum revenue management bill currently before Parliament be made to capture it as such. 

Even though there have been reports suggesting that the Chiefs have backed down on their request after a meeting with the Vice President John Dramani Mahama, the minority group in parliament believes the request is in order.

 

 

 

 

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