Friday, 19 July 2013

PPP: Could It Revolutionalise Ghana's National Health Insurance Scheme?

The need to find a healthcare facility easy to access from McCarthy Hill, led to my opting to go to the Finney Hospital at  New Bortianor (mile 11 junction) yesterday.

I was able to see a medical doctor within 15 minutes of my arrival at the hospital.

Whiles waiting to see the doctor, I wondered how   a creative  way could be found,  to make  it possible for the insurance industry in Ghana  to work with private medical practitioners,  to design insurance packages that  could make it possible for such private healthcare facilities,  to be accessed by all Ghanaians: irrespective of their financial background.

Perhaps the public-sector healthcare system could also learn lessons from successful private hospitals such as the Finney Hospital.

Assuming it were a practical proposition, one wonders what the outcome would have been, if the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) had been outsourced to the insurance industry,  to design and operate as a public private partnership undertaking.

Applied to it, could the PPP concept  revolutionalise Ghana's National Health Insurance Scheme -  relieving taxpayers of the burden of paying  for the expensive bureaucracy that runs it: by shifting it to the insurance industry?

Perhaps it would make it possible to devote the money saved in such a move to improving public healthcare facilities across  Ghana - and make them as efficient and user-friendly as private-sector  hospitals like  the Finney Hospital.

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Food For Thought For Ghana's Political Class

Today, I am reproducing an article culled from  the UK newspaper, 'The Daily Telegraph'.

Authored by   Jeremy Warner,  it is  about Britain's public finances, and entitled: "On public finances, Britain is still living in cloud-cuckoo land".

It ought to be food for thought for members of Ghana's political class.

Having been lax with public finances in the period both major parties have been in power in Ghana, particularly during election years, our nation's politicians  ought to learn to maintain fiscal discipline throughout their tenure in government.

Rather than play the usual hypocritical blame-game the two major political parties are noted for,  Ghanaian politicians should heed  fiscally-prudent Sweden's finance minister,  Anders Borg's advice,  in order  to avoid being forced  to implement  the harsh economic austerity measures needed to rebalance public finances when nations become overly-geared.

Anders Borg's advice,  is that to avoid getting into the kind of recurrent post-election mess public finances in Ghana currently are in (and  always get into just  before  presidential and parliamentary elections when fiscal prudence goes out of the window),  nations must  always maintain strict fiscal discipline.

Clearly, there is no substitute for raising taxes and cutting government spending, in rebalancing public finances,  in  nations with huge  deficits.

All the  political parties in Ghana need to make that clear to ordinary people in our country  - so the public understands the need for austerity measures as public spending is cutback and additional taxes are raised.

It is time Ghanaian politicians  became more responsible and stopped  playing the politics-of-hypocrisy  with the national economy. Please read on:

"On public finances, Britain is still living in cloud-cuckoo land

Asked at the Spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund whether he thought austerity had gone too far, Anders Borg, Sweden’s finance minister, said there was really only one way to avoid painful fiscal consolidation for countries with very high debt and that was never to get yourself into such a mess in the first place.

With debt approaching 90pc of GDP, Britain faces the next big downturn with virtually nothing in the way of fiscal shock absorbers⁠ Photo: Alamy

By Jeremy Warner

8:44PM BST 15 Jul 2013

This might seem a trite answer but it is what has instructed Swedish fiscal policy since the early 1990s, when the country faced a similar banking crisis, and consequent collapse in the public finances, to the one we are seeing in Britain, America and the eurozone today.

In marked contrast to almost everyone else in the EU, Sweden has ridden out the present financial crisis with hardly any impact on public debt. Even at the height of the crisis, the budget deficit never rose beyond 0.9pc and, by 2011, Sweden was back in surplus. For a country notorious for its very high levels of social spending, it was a remarkable escape.

But it was one that was achieved only because Sweden has form. In its very own banking crisis at the beginning of the 1990s, the deficit soared to 11pc, and gross public debt from 41 to 73pc, a trajectory very similar to Britain’s today.

The result was broad political consensus that never would Sweden allow itself to get into such a hole again. A tough new fiscal framework was established, which commanded support from both Left and Right, and essentially holds good to this day.

Despite the much deeper destruction of the current implosion, there is very little sign of the same consensus establishing itself in either Britain or America, while in the eurozone fiscal discipline is accepted only through gritted teeth as the price that must be paid for continued membership of the single currency.

In Britain, there remains a very sizeable political constituency, supported by a small but vocal group of economists, which rejects the case for fiscal consolidation altogether.

In a half-hearted sort of way, Labour has adjusted its position of late but there is still the same denial that fiscal policy under the last Government was in any way the cause of the present meltdown. Ruinously high levels of public debt are instead presented as just an unfortunate consequence of the banking crisis, not a problem in themselves.

Small wonder, then, that nobody believes Ed Miliband when he comes over all fiscally responsible. Gordon Brown was a good deal more convincing when he nailed himself to the cross of fiscal prudence in the run-up to the 1997 election but it didn’t stop him letting rip on an almost unprecedented scale.

According to an Institute for Fiscal Studies study ahead of the last election, Britain had the second highest rate of increase in public spending among 28 comparable industrialised countries between 1997 and 2007, and the highest between 2007 and 2010. At 4.4pc a year in real terms (that’s after inflation), it dwarfed the 0.7pc that had occurred during the previous 17 years of Tory rule. These very high levels of public spending became embedded so that, when the economy collapsed, it automatically ratcheted up to an almost unprecedented peace time record of nearly 50pc of GDP. Predictably, all this extra spending was accompanied by steeply falling public sector productivity such that, had levels of productivity inherited in 1997 been sustained, the same amount of public service provision could have been bought for £42.5bn a year less by 2007 than it cost. Alternatively, service provision could have been 16pc higher.

Nor was this an isolated case of delusional levels of public spending. Boom and bust in the public finances have been a repeated feature of Britain’s post-war economic landscape with at least two other incidents of it in recent times, one of which – in 1976 – culminated in a humiliating IMF bail-out.

You would think that by now the penny might have dropped, with broad political agreement to submit to Swedish-style fiscal disciplines, but no. With Labour, it is perhaps to be expected, yet the Coalition is scarcely much better.

The decision to abandon the debt target and let automatic stabilisers operate in response to economic stagnation has rendered the broader “fiscal mandate” almost meaningless. The Office for Budget Responsibility has succeeded in making the public finances more transparent and accountable but it lacks the political clout of its Swedish mentor, the Finanspolitiska radet, or Fiscal Policy Council.

There are no sanctions if the Government deviates from target, or even seemingly any damage to reputation. On the contrary, the Government is mainly praised for doing the sensible thing by allowing the timetable for consolidation to stretch ever further into the future.

This is all very well but the longer painful choices are delayed, the more dangerous the position becomes. With debt approaching 90pc of GDP, Britain faces the next big downturn with virtually nothing in the way of fiscal shock absorbers.

It is true that Britain has had much higher levels of public debt relative to national income in the past but these periods have been associated with major wars after which, with demilitarisation and the revival of consumption-led growth, the problem becomes largely self-correcting. No such remedy is available this time.

Nor are the longer term fiscal challenges posed by declining North Sea Oil production and the costs of an ageing population being taken anywhere near seriously enough by today’s political class.

When the OBR releases its annual “fiscal sustainability report” (again based on a Swedish counterpart) on Wednesday, there will be great alarm over the rising pension and healthcare costs it predicts but nothing will be done. The publication date, at the start of the summer holidays, makes the contents all the more forgettable.

Policymakers work within a time horizon which stretches only as far as the end of the next spending review. What happens thereafter is for others to worry about. Little cognisance is taken of the long-term liabilities that today’s decisions are building.

To be fair, the Government’s pension reforms ought to be relatively effective at capping the future costs of the state pension – in marked contrast to many other European countries – but rising healthcare and other costs associated with ageing remain largely uncharted waters.

Just to give a taste of what’s in store, a recent House of Lords report estimated that there would be 51pc more people over the age of 65 by 2030 than there are now, and double the number of over-85s. Also doubled will be the number of people with dementia, while those with more than three chronic medical conditions, requiring persistent treatment, will have risen 50pc by 2018.

Perhaps the OBR is trying to be gentle on us but, in its already alarming enough projections of rising debt from 2030 onwards, it assumes healthcare spending increasing only in line with real incomes, with the shortfall absorbed by some truly heroic levels of productivity gain in the NHS. Dream on.

The upshot of all this is that Britain as a nation – households as well as government – needs to be saving far more than it is to finance future growth and the blessing of rising life expectancy.

Yet public policy does the reverse. In order to sustain current spending, it penalises saving and celebrates profligacy."

End of culled Daily Telegraph article by Jeremy Warner.

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

We Must Not Allow Incompetent Individuals To Ruin Ghana

I flew into a rage a few days ago, when I noticed that an article of mine - entitled "Judges In Ghana Do Not Pose A Threat To Free Speech" - which  I emailed  to a Ghanaian newspaper,  had been mutilated,  and words and sentences that weren't mine, had somehow found their way into the article.

To paraphrase an old friend,  to whom  I pointed out the mangled  article in the said newspaper, the genius who took the literary equivalent of a carving knife to  an article that literally had nothing wrong with it,  to begin with, had   succeeded in turning  that  simple piece   into a typical example,  of  the sort of pedestrian and mediocre fare,   one comes across  daily,  in so many of our nation's newspapers. Alas, such is life in our homeland Ghana.

In the calming presence of my old friend, I  came to the conclusion that sending the article to the said newspaper,   was most unwise of me. What did I expect in a nation in which so many pay obeisance to  the gods of the cult-of-the-mediocre?

In a  sense, it was really not  the fault of the  poor chap who 'edited' my submitted piece. Is this not a nation in which for most of  our educated urban elites, speaking pidgin English  is the height of fashion,  and regarded as being frightfully cool?

The question is: as a nation, how have we ended up with so many poorly-educated individuals,  with university degrees - each one of whom   competes with other  young university graduates,  from other parts of our digital global village:   who invariably  are far  better educated than their Ghanaian counterparts?

Little wonder then,   that  when one surveys  the   world of Ghanaian journalism, what stares one in the face,  is an unedifying  landscape of unethical and unprofessional conduct; a barren patch of earth  peopled mostly  by mediocre and incompetent individuals,  many of  who have failed to master even  the  basic tool of their profession, the English language.

Yet,  there are some media-types in this country,  whose  arrogance has made  them opt to be part of that small  army of super-ruthless  individuals, who daily joust for influence,  in their quest for political power.

On a daily basis, they fight  brutal  verbal battles,  on the airwaves of television and FM radio  stations -  in the never-ending propaganda war between the two major political parties in Ghana.

And that is the  unimpressive professional background, of  some of  those  newspaper publishers and editors,  who regularly  put the peace and stability of Ghana at risk.

No one should celebrate such short-sighted individuals as heroes. Their lack of wisdom and  foolhardiness could tip our country over the precipice one day.

The tragedy for our country, is that such incompetent individuals can toy with the destiny of tens of millions of ordinary people in Ghana -  for  many of whom life is a daily  struggle to  survive in a harsh economic climate.

It is said that when good people refuse to  take an interest in the governance of their country, evil triumphs in it.

To save their country from  being destroyed by incompetent individuals,  Ghana's silent majority of discerning and patriotic citizens,  should stop  sitting  on the fence.

It is time they   rose against the   vociferous and reckless incompetents, who daily put the stability of our nation at risk -  and took action  to stop those  dangerous and arrogant nation-wreckers from  destroying  Ghana:  in the name of party politics. A word to the wise...

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Does Ghana's National Health Insurance Scheme Actually Benefit The Poor?

Author's note: This piece was written on 9/7/2013. It is being posted today, because I was unable to do so on the day. Please read on:

The admission to the emergency ward,  of the Children's Department of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital,  of the young grandson of  a lady I know,  has been a real  eye-opener for me.

The little boy  underwent surgery to remove a tumour  a few days ago. The care he has received thus far, has been superb.

There is no question that the  overworked medical doctors and nurses  attending the children,  in Korle Bu's  Children's Department's emergency ward, are dedicated to the children under their care.

However, from what I gather, the little boy's financially-challenged parents have had to pay for virtually everything to do with his treatment at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital: his operation; lab tests; scans; and medicine, including  intravenous  infusion packs.

Since the little boy's parents are paid-up members of the NHIS, it has left me wondering why that is so -  and what exactly,  if any, are the benefits of the National Health Insurance Scheme.

Is it the case, one wonders,  that the young patients at the emergency ward of the Children's Department of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital,  are somehow being taken advantage of,  at a time of extreme stress for their parents,  when they are at their most vulnerable?

One often hears advertisements being broadcast on FM radio stations,  informing listeners that it is illegal to be asked to pay for treatment and drugs at NHIS healthcare facilities.

Yet,  apparently, in the real-world setting of hospital wards in some government healthcare facilities,  patients on admission are nonetheless paying for their treatment.

The question then is:  what exactly are the benefits  for the poor in Ghana,  who pay annually to join the NHIS?

Presumably,  a portion of the  taxes that Ghanaians  pay, is allocated to meeting the cost of operating  Ghana's NHIS - in addition to the fees participants in the scheme pay annually.

Why then do  patients who receive treatment in NHIS hospitals and clinics in Ghana - such as my lady friend's young  grandson, who is   on admission at the emergency ward of the Children's Department of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital -  still have to pay for their treatment?

From the perspective of some of those who hold valid NHIS membership cards, it would appear that the old 'cash-and-carry' system,  is still very much alive,  in some government healthcare facilities.

The authorities responsible for Ghana's NHIS, would do well to  tell Ghanaians precisely what those who pay to join the NHIS should expect,  when they fall sick and have to go to an NHIS healthcare facility  to be treated - in terms of having to make cash payments.

The small fortune, which  that  little boy's struggling parents have apparently had to part with, in order  to pay for his treatment, has left me wondering whether the National Health Insurance Scheme actually benefits  the poor in Ghana.

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Ghana's Political Parties Must Expel Violent Members

Author's note: This piece was written on 7/7/2013. It is being posted today, because I was unable to do so on the day. Please read on:

It is alarming that violence-prone individuals who go into politics in Ghana, can rise to positions of influence,  in the country's political parties.

One  often wonders,   whether  it ever strikes   the short-sighted and verbally-aggressive amongst our nation's political class - such as the Stephen Atugubis and the Anthony Karbos -   that what ordinary people across  Ghana crave above all else, is that their nation's educated urban elites  will have the wisdom,  to enable Ghana avoid the terrible fate that befell sister African nations,  in which violence and chaos  turned the lives of ordinary people completely upside down.

It is in light of the sentiments expressed above,  that one particularly hopes that journalists in Ghana,  will come to understand
that when our nation faces an existential threat, it is vital that they immediately stop serving the parochial interests of both the politicians  who wield power,  and the opposition politicians    who seek to replace those serving in  governments of the day.

Since we appear to be  faced with just such a moment in our history, has the  time not  come for those in  the Ghanaian media,  who are guilty of it,  to  put aside blinkered partisan politics, and start being proactive in supporting the ongoing work  amongst peace-loving individuals and organisations, to help keep Ghana peaceful and stable?

Perhaps the media  could make a start in that direction,  by  demanding  that the most influential politicians in Ghana (across the spectrum)  give an undertaking to ordinary people,  that  they will never allow the  tragedies that befell  Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast  to occur in Ghana.

Were such a terrible and avoidable man-made disaster  to occur here,  because political parties refused  to put the national interest ahead of their selfish concerns, there is no question that it would  set our nation back decades - and we might  probably never recover from the destruction of the  national economy that will  result from any widespread violence and chaos in Ghana.

And as sure as day follows night, countrywide poverty,  will  follow in the wake of such a meltdown of the Ghanaian economy.

To avoid such a fate,  surely, it is time that  all the political parties in Ghana acted to isolate those in their midst  with a violent disposition - including the verbally aggressive men and women, who on a daily basis,   are  engaged in the never-ending propaganda war  in Ghana's  print and electronic media?

To help keep Ghana peaceful and stable - and as a good governance measure to restore confidence  in them amongst ordinary Ghanaians -   political parties in Ghana must act quickly to expel the  violent amongst their  membership. A word to the wise...

Tel: 027 745 3109.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

A Nation That Cannot Protect Even Its Thermal Power Plants & Markets Must Not Build Nuclear Power Plants

When politicians make egregious mistakes whiles in power, it is ordinary people who invariably suffer the consequences of those grave errors of judgment on the part of their leaders.

In less than two weeks, as a result of what can only be very bad advice from the officials in his ministry, Mr. Kofi Buah, the minister for energy, has made two fundamental errors of judgment , which will negatively impact the lives of Ghanaians for years to come.

At a time when global warming is impacting the lives of millions in Africa, Mr. Buah has welcomed a Chinese proposal to build a coal-fired power plant in Ghana.

Why did the highly paid officials who work in his ministry, not advise the minister to suggest to  the Chinese that instead of building a special port to import coal from South Africa for a coal-fired power plant in Ghana, they ought to think of  developing  their own infrastructure in a public private partnership with the Ghana National Gas Company, to  utilise gas from Ghana’s oilfields to supply power to their proposed power plant - which ought to be gas-fired instead of using coal as feedstock,  at a time of global climate change: when clean, low-carbon sustainable development ought to be our national development goal? 

Are  China's leaders themselves not worried about the many coal-fired power plants contributing to the massive air pollution in that nation, I ask?

Then not too long ago Mr. Buah went to  Russia and ended up doing a deal with ROSATOM, the Russian  state-owned nuclear company, notorious for its culture of corruption and shoddy construction work in the nuclear power plants it builds at home and abroad.

For the benefit of Ghanaians I am reproducing below a culled  article from the Bellona Foundation's website ( that ought to food for thought for Mr. Buah and his cabinet colleagues – who should never allow their administration to misled by the nuclear lobbyists in Ghana into making this egregious mistake that we can never reverse from, once Ghana  embarks on  what in effect will be  a journey-of-endless-horrors.

With respect, a nation that cannot protect even its national grid and other power infrastructure, as well as its markets, must not be so foolish as to embark on building  nuclear power plants - waste from which will remain radioactive and dangerous for thousands of years,  and hence must be secured for all that length of time.  Please read on:

Corruption: A new Russian Fukushima in the making?

Corruption, a destructive force in and of itself, may be doubly dangerous in the nuclear energy industry.
Related articles

Corruption in the Russian State Nuclear Corporation Rosatom may cause new nuclear accidents in Russia, experts say. The ecological group Ecodefense! believes the risks are high enough to result in another Fukushima, while the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NAC) has urged Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to initiate investigations into the broadly reported violations and abuses in the nuclear industry, including at new nuclear power plant (NPP) construction sites. Andrei Ozharovsky, 27/09-2011 - Translated by Maria Kaminskaya

Last summer’s arrest of a former high-ranking Rosatom official on embezzlement charges may have been a first widely publicised case of a corruption scandal in the Russian nuclear domain in the recent years, but it was likely just one – and, furthermore, dismissed by some as a see-through PR move by Rosatom – fragment in a sprawling corruption mosaic in the Russian nuclear sector, something that alarms environmentalists and civil activists enough to talk about grave safety risks and the need for the government to take urgent measures.

On September 12, Kirill Kabanov, who is a member of the presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and heads the non-governmental organisation National Anti-Corruption Committee, addressed Prime Minister Putin and Prosecutor General Chaika with open letters urging the officials to take a closer look at abuses reported by a range of national media at new reactor construction sites. (The two statements, in Russian, are available as attachments to this report, on the right.)

‘Situation with corruption’ is adverse, NAC experts say

The National Anti-Corruption Committee has at its disposal information compelling one to assess the “state of the situation with corruption in the nuclear industry as adverse,” the letters say.

The NAC further refers to reports by the official national daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta as it says: “[…] in the past six months alone, removed from their posts on suspicion of corruption and other abuses were heads of twelve Rosatom enterprises. In 2010, 35 industry officials were dismissed for the same reasons. In a notorious development last summer, officials with the Main Department for Economic Security and Countering Corruption of the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation detained former Rosatom deputy director Yevgeny Yevstratov and charged him with embezzling budget funds allocated toward the construction of a number of the corporation’s sites.”

At the same time, the letters continue, “these measures have so far proved insufficient to ensure a drastic solution to the problem of embezzlement of budget funds and corruption at nuclear sites. The issue of abuses perpetrated with respect to the industry’s purchases in NPP construction and modernisation projects remains urgent.”

The statements proceed to describe some of the common corruption schemes reported in the nuclear industry and, while the address to Prime Minister Putin simply informs the head of the government of the situation, the letter to Prosecutor General Chaika ends with a request to look into “whether prosecutorial probes have been conducted into the alleged violations of the law” reported by the media and, if no such probes have been conducted, to “consider the possibility of arranging for such a probe to take place.”

“We are asking to get to the bottom of this. President [Dmitry Medvedev] recently instructed the Prosecutor General’s office to look into any public allegations of corruption,” the NAC’s head Kabanov told Bellona in a telephone conversation. “We simply drew the Prosecutor General’s office’s and the government’s attention to these facts.”

Corrupt cooling towers?

Some of the details concerning the urgent issue of “abuses perpetrated with respect to the industry’s purchases in NPP construction and modernisation projects,” as highlighted by the NAC, which cites media reports, are, in particular, purchases of technological equipment for the cooling towers of the fourth reactor of Kalinin NPP, in Udomlya (some 200 kilometres northwest of Moscow) and the second line of construction at Leningrad NPP, near St. Petersburg:

“Recently, equipment purchases for NPPs have been conducted outside the tender procedure, which is contrary to the law. […] a specially issued regulation […] adopted in 2007 by [Rosatom’s daughter company, national NPP operator] Concern Rosenergoatom allows for the selection of equipment to be bought without conducting a tender – or solely based upon the decision of the design organisation.” 

Furthermore, the letters say, citing media sources, “preferences are afforded to such suppliers that offer equipment without a due guarantee of reliable operation within the duration of the useful life term, as well as that produced from fire-hazardous materials, which, in its turn, could affect the safety of power-producing sites. In a number of cases – and again outside the tender procedure – the choice has been made in favour of a foreign-based company, even though analogous equipment produced domestically is both up to quality standard and significantly cheaper in price (by two or three times).”

Speaking with Bellona on the telephone, Kabanov said: “The special regime arranged for any process within the framework of internal industry regulations is, essentially, a corruption scheme in and of itself. One example is that story with [NPP] construction tenders in conditions of such a special regime. Clearly, it was possible, if one wanted, to set up all tender terms and conditions. Clearly, there are monopoly companies that produce nuclear equipment. But here, too, we must prevent corruption, rather than introduce it with the help of such intradepartmental regulations.”

Violations not avoiding the scrutiny of safety authorities

The consequences of corruption schemes that are allegedly employed by Rosatom companies – such as the use of counterfeit and non-certified equipment in the construction of new nuclear reactors – could not have escaped the scrutiny of the federal industrial and ecological safety oversight agency, Rostekhnadzor. As evidenced by facts published in Rostekhnadzor’s yearly report of 2009, new reactor construction is compromised by run-of-the-mill theft – perpetrators substitute cheaper, subquality materials for the ones approved for construction. The federal service reports, for instance, the following incidents at the construction sites of Rostov and Leningrad NPPs:

 “Supervisory measures undertaken led to the discovery of 959 units of counterfeit concrete reinforcement supplied to Reactor Unit No. 2 of Rostov NPP. The company […] responsible for the delivery of the mentioned concrete reinforcement had [its] license revoked.”

“As established in the course of supervisory activities, uncertified concrete reinforcement was supplied to Leningrad NPP. An administrative penalty was imposed on the [supplier company] in the amount of RUR 30,000.

From violations to real accidents…

Problems that apparently plague the construction of new reactors in Russia finally manifested themselves vividly on July 17, 2011, in the crumbling of steel structures and the carcass of a containment building under construction for a new reactor at the site of Leningrad NPP-2.

Scene of a July 17, 2011, accident at the construction site of Leningrad NPP-2, where steel structures crumbled following egregious violations of technological regulations.

According to preliminary information, the unprecedented accident was caused by violations of technological regulations during construction works. Reports say the accident will have far-reaching consequences since at least 1,200 tonnes of reinforcing steelwork will have to be dismantled to rebuild the destroyed wall of the future containment building.

Incidentally, this is the same site where mismanagement and incompetence during construction works was earlier deplored even by nuclear industry veterans (in Russian) and a local court had had to halt construction owing to outrageous safety and sanitary violations.

In a statement published late last July (in Russian), Bellona demanded that not only the causes of the incident at Leningrad NPP-2 be thoroughly looked into, but that authorities also “analyse and inspect the quality of what has been built to date.”

“We believe that until all these steps have been taken, all further construction works must be ceased. Corruption and unprofessionalism that we observe today in various Rosatom structures may cost too dearly both the state and the country’s population,” Bellona’s statement read.

Neighbouring Ukraine and Belarus none too happy about the revelations

Besides implementing a number of domestic projects, Rosatom is also building or preparing to build new reactors in other countries – such as the former USSR republics of Ukraine and Belarus, where environmentalists and NGOs are likewise concerned that corruption and below-par construction quality may eventually affect the safety of the future reactors.

“The numerous violations of construction norms and standards, and working conditions, which lead to even serious incidents at NPP construction sites in Russia, cast doubt on the capability of the State Corporation Rosatom and its subcontractor companies of carrying out quality and reliable construction projects as per [Rosatom’s] export contracts, in particular, in Ukraine,” said, for instance, a statement on the website of the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine.  

And the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign, which is one among many Russian and Belarusian organisations trying to prevent the construction, in Belarus’s town of Ostrovets, of a new nuclear power plant to an as-yet untested Rosatom design, wrote this in an address to Russia’s Putin and Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko: “The known incidents and deficiencies in the operation and construction of Russian-built NPPs in Russia, Iran, and China, as well as the recent collapse of reinforcing steelwork at the construction site of the containment building at [Leningrad] NPP-2, are evidence that Rosatom and its structures have serious problems of a systemic nature and cannot guarantee the quality of their sites. This propagation of dangerous nuclear technologies places a special responsibility on the Russian government.”

What the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign is referring to is the less than perfect performance record Rosatom has been showing in its international construction contracts, such as problems with completing and launching the reactor at Iran’s Bushehr or the 3,000 or so complaints brought by China to Rosatom’s notice with regard to the quality of the equipment supplied to a station Rosatom is building there.

Corruption risks report: Nearly half of Rosatom’s goods and services contracts concluded with violations

At the end of 2010, the Moscow-based ecological group Ecodefense! and Transparency International Russia presented a study that took a look at corruption risks in Rosatom’s purchasing practices – the results of an analysis of some 300 orders placed by the state corporation and posted on its website for open access.

At issue are contracts concluded by Rosatom with external organisations for goods or services needed for particular projects – orders paid with budget funding – and the study highlights prominent corruption risks present in Rosatom’s purchasing activities. Because of a special status the corporation enjoys in the country, Ecodefense! and Transparency International Russia conclude, Rosatom’s purchases are not subject to the jurisdiction of the federal law that establishes procedure for procuring goods or services for state or municipal needs. And even though Rosatom itself provides a set of guidelines for such activities in its Unified Industry Purchases Standard, the restrictions these impose on the purchaser or ordering party are less clearly defined than in that federal law.

Furthermore, a monitoring study of a selected sample of 200 purchasing agreements made by Rosatom revealed numerous violations of the Industry Standard, such as with, for instance, the selection of a particular method for placing an order, failure to provide cost estimate documentation when ordering construction or renovation works, and more.

Altogether, violations of Rosatom’s own purchasing standard were found in 83 contracts – 27 percent of the total sample or 41 percent of the 200 contracts selected for in-depth analysis. Another conclusion was that the laws and regulations that govern Rosatom’s activities where buying goods and services for the corporation’s needs is concerned are fraught with serious deficiencies that leave ample room for corruption risks.

“We know of the report by Transparency International Russia. But this story [with the cooling towers] did not make it into their analysis. They are now preparing a new report on that subject,” Kabanov told Bellona on the telephone.

Transparency International Russia says on its website that “corruption is understood here as a complex of phenomena involving abuse by officials of their office for purposes of extracting personal profit (bribery, fraud, embezzlement, favouritism, and nepotism).”

But in the nuclear industry, the risks are not confined to state or corporate funding, such as that may be channelled into tenders rigged to cater to specific companies with close ties to particular officials, simply vanishing in the corrupt officials’ pockets.

“Corruption in the nuclear industry leads to an impaired safety culture, substandard construction quality, and, as a result, accidents at nuclear sites. With respect to Rosatom, there is no outside control, so there are truly gigantic opportunities there for corruption,” Ecodefense!’s co-chair Vladimir Slivyak told Bellona. “There was corruption [within Rosatom] before, too […] But it is just recently, brought along with a new wave of NPP construction, that corruption processes [within Rosatom] may have reached a record high in the [corporation’s] history.

Any chance of remedy – or whitewash as usual?

That corruption risks take on a much more serious dimension when it concerns the nuclear industry is noted by other experts as well.

“If someone somewhere steals a bag of something, it’s one thing. But if stealing and corruption are rampant at nuclear sites, that’s a completely different matter, it affects millions of lives, something that’s been proven by both Chernobyl and Fukushima,” Greenpeace Russia’s energy programme coordinator Vladimir Chuprov said during a show on the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Russian parliamentaries are all for fighting corruption, too. In that, their statements are in line with one of the cornerstones of President Dmitry Medvedev’s domestic policy – zero tolerance for corruption.

In light of the recent exposés, members of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, have been quoted in the Russian media proposing that such incidents be dealt with by law enforcement authorities swiftly and without mercy:

“If there are such isolated ‘shady’ cases, then they must, without doubt, be looked into in detail by the relevant authorities, with all the consequences and unequivocal, straight conclusions this entails,” said Georgy Leontiyev, of the State Duma’s energy committee. Leontiyev is a member of the ruling United Russia party. 

“With regard to the specific problems connected with purchases for construction at Kalinin and Leningrad NPPs, these are for professionals to sort out, acting within the mandate of the law,” said a Just Russia legislator Ivan Grachev, also a member of the energy committee.

Given the recent wave of revelations, it looks as though corruption scandals involving the nuclear sector may yet make more headlines in the future. The risk, however, is that even if Russian prosecutors take the matter seriously and more investigations are launched, a new anti-corruption sweep may only brush up the surface dust – a dozen low-ranking officials Rosatom may be willing to sacrifice to improve its public image.

This – giving up easy investigation targets in order to protect the corporation from closer scrutiny – may also have been the motive behind the July arrest of Rosatom’s former functionary Yevstratov.

Yevstratov was charged with embezzling 50 million roubles ($1.8 million) in state funding earmarked for the development of spent fuel management technologies. The arrest was hailed as a success in an anti-corruption crusade undertaken jointly by Rosatom and the Ministry of Interior, but it did not look convincing to Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin.

Nikitin, who heads the St. Petersburg-based Environment and Right Center Bellona, said that the term “corruption” is tossed around in contemporary Russia as frequently as charges of espionage, and that a possible explanation for the arrest could be Rosatom’s ardent post-Fukushima efforts to polish its image – something that would make Yevstratov, the head of safety programmes, a sitting duck for an anti-corruption sweep.

Still, though Rosatom may avail itself of the special treatment it enjoys in Russia – a combination of the influence it has been able to exert since the Soviet era, a meagre to non-existent external control, and the government’s inability or unwillingness to bring the deeper layers of ubiquitous practices of corruption to public scrutiny – the situation may not be as easy with foreign contracts, where corner-cutting or embezzlement schemes face a higher risks of getting exposed." 

End of culled article from the Bellona Foundation's website.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Judges In Ghana Do Not Pose A Threat To Free Speech

The judges hearing the 2012 presidential election petition do not pose a threat to fee speech in Ghana.

Such is the importance of the matter before them, that they have a duty to ensure that their constitutional role as arbiters of disputes in society, is not undermined,   under any circumstances.

We must not forget that the dark forces ranged against our nation are waiting in the shadows - hoping to be hired to cause mayhem after the Supreme Court delivers its verdict.

If,  in protecting the authority and dignity of the Supreme  Court - vital ingredients in the  manifestation of  the independence of the judiciary  as a countervailing power in our democracy -  they have to use their power, to sanction  those who make prejudicial comments  on the matter before them, which could undermine public confidence in their  ability to arrive at an impartial verdict, it should not be misconstrued as a curtailment of the freedom of expression in Ghana.

Media houses in Ghana have  a responsibility to ensure that journalists in their employ, who file reports for them on proceedings in the law courts,  understand clearly the rules governing what can and cannot be published in newspapers,  or aired in   radio and  television programmes,  about court cases being heard by judges in Ghana.

Whiles one has sympathy for Mr. Ken Kuranchie and Mr. Atubigi on a purely human level, those who have the privilege to write in newspapers and take part in radio and television discussion programmes,   must always remember that they must never make statements that either undermine the judiciary  or are likely to lead  to instability  in Ghana.

Above all, the time has come for those involved in politics in Ghana to be more responsible in what they say in public. Nothing must be done or said by them  that could  lead to chaos and violence  in Ghana.

We must all help to preserve Ghana's international reputation as a haven of peace and stability in sub-Saharan Africa.

That global reputation  inspires confidence in our nation amongst  investors who seek emerging markets to invest in - and it is investment that creates jobs for Ghanaians.

The right to free speech ought  not to  be taken advantage of,  to make  irresponsible  statements that cause fear and panic in society,  as well as  have the potential to  destabalise our nation -  whiles  undermining  public confidence in our democratic institutions.

Although it is not a perfect system of government, constitutional democracy is better than all the other systems of government known to humankind,  because it is underpinned by the rule of law,  guarantees the liberties of the citizenry,  gives them the right to elect their leaders,  and to hold those leaders  to account when elected.

We must protect Ghanaian democracy from those irresponsible individuals whose deliberate  carelessness in what they say in public could end up destroying  it.

No well-trained  journalist who is  professional and ethical in his or her work, need worry about being sanctioned by any judge in Ghana, in reporting  court cases.

In demanding responsible comment  from the public,  about the 2012 presidential election petition before them, the panel of nine judges are not curtailing freedom of expression in Ghana.

On the contrary,  in sanctioning those who comment in irresponsible fashion  on the election petition before the Supreme Court,  in a manner likely to undermine public confidence in the judiciary,  ultimately,  the nine judges hearing that case  are protecting the freedom of ordinary Ghanaians -  and in essence ensuring their right to continue  living in a peaceful and stable nation.

Privileged individuals who are either so power-drunk,   or so  lustful for political power that they are prepared to make irresponsible public statements, regardless of the fact that what they say could lead to widespread chaos and violence in Ghana, pose a real danger to society.

If judges can make an example of such individuals,  and stop others from following in their footsteps, when the opportunity to do so presents itself to the judiciary, that should never  be misconstrued as  a threat to freedom of expression in Ghana. Under our system,
judges in Ghana do not and can never pose a threat to free speech.

Tel: 027 745 3109.