Sunday, 30 March 2014

Threat To Ghana's Cocoa Industry From Ukraine

 Author's note: This piece was meant to be saved as a draft,  and  posted on 1/4/2014 - but due to a mix-up, it was inadvertently posted today, alas - making it the world's first 2014 1st April opinion piece, as it were. A thousand apologies all round. Please read on,  in the traditional 1st April spirit, so to speak:

Ukrainian presidential candidate,  Mr. Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire chocolate king of Ukraine, who is tipped to win the upcoming 25th May, 2014,  presidential election in Ukraine, is apparently planning to collaborate with Monsanto to produce GM frost-resistant cocoa beans in Ukraine.

Apparently Mr. Poroshenko, whose company Roshen,  is Ukraine's biggest chocolate   manufacturer, believes that he will be able to do so within two years. And his ambition is to become the world's biggest producer of cocoa beans - with an  annual  production rate of some 5 million metric tonnes.

 The curious thing, is that the president of the Ivory Coast, President Alhassan Quattara, is said to be looking forward to assisting Mr. Poroshenko to produce GM  cocoa beans  in Ukraine. As a producer of high quality cocoa beans, Ghana must read the writing on the wall - Poroshenko's GM cocoa is a harbinger of things to come.

 To counter the threat posed by the Poroshenko-Monsanto GM cocoa beans  alliance, those  charged with overseeing  Ghana's cocoa industry, must act swiftly to end the baleful  influence and  power of the vested interests, which  supply synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to cocoa farmers. It is they whose stranglehold on the Ghana Cocoa Board's  (COCOBOD)  purchases of inputs for cocoa farmers, makes it impossible for suppliers of organic fertilisers and natural pesticides, to  sell their products in Ghana.
To secure the long-term future of the cocoa industry in Ghana, the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) must take steps to ensure  that Ghana becomes  the world's biggest producer of certified organic cocoa beans. Strategically, that is the most effective way to counter the threat posed by Poroshenko's ambition to grow GM frost-resistant cocoa beans in Ukraine.

The threat Poroshenko poses is real. And his GM frost-resistant cocoa, which  grows in temperate regions,  idea, is not as outlandish as it sounds. Let us carve out  a niche as the world's biggest producer of  certified organic cocoa beans to neutralise him. One hopes the powers that be will be up to the task ahead - and act now above all. Not tomorrow - when it will be way too late.

They have a powerful ally in the Latvian company BioDeposit - whose range of organic agricultural inputs could help Ghana produce 1 million metric tonnes of certified organic cocoa beans on a regular basis. They could repeat the miracle they have wrought for coffee farmers in East Africa here too - and help boost the production of  certified  organic cocoa beans in Ghana in record time. Ghana must counter the threat to its cocoa industry from Ukraine.  Now. Not tomorrow. A word to the wise...

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Panacea For Resolving Ghana's Economic Challenges That Its Politicians Never Mention

President Mahama is reported to have stated recently that Ghana will have to keep on "borrowing" money to modernise and expand its infrastructure. And in a public lecture a few days ago, a leading member of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr Bawumia, also outlined a raft of measures that  he says ought to be taken to arrest the fall of the Ghana cedi and improve the national economy.

The extraordinary thing  is that virtually all the members of our nation's  political class know the perfect solution to  our nation's economic challenges - yet it has never once been mentioned by any of them in public: Ghana sits atop of oil and gas deposits worth some US$160 billions - enough money to guarantee living standards for all of Ghana's  citizens, akin to that enjoyed by the citizens of oil-rich nations such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and for generations to come.

Those US$160 billions worth of oil and gas deposits belong to the sovereign people of Ghana - from whom it has been snatched by the employment of fraudulent agreements deliberately entered into by a few of their elected leaders.

The foreign oil companies whose use of sleight-of-hand tactics secured them those oil and gas deposits,  worth some US$160 billions,  are not impoverished entities - and neither are any of their shareholders poverty-stricken individuals facing imminent famine. Ghana must reclaim its birthright from them. Period.

Renegotiated oil agreements that are fair and  guarantee that the bulk of those US$160 billions will accrue to Ghana,  will neither be financially catastrophic,  nor an end-of-the-world-tragedy, for those foreign oil companies and their shareholders. So why are Ghana's leaders not moving to end an egregious injustice - which denies us cash to fund the transformation of our country into a developed nation, and prosperous society,  from our own resources?

The question the good people of Ghana ought to ponder is: if those elected leaders who signed those rip-off agrements had  a fiduciary duty to ensure that the bulk of those US$160 billions would accrue to the Republic of Ghana and its citizens, but failed to do so - because entering into  rip-off- agreements beneficial to foreign oil companies benefited them personally - why are President Mahama and Dr. Bawumia not protesting loudly  and demanding that those agreements must be renogotiated: so that proceeds from the sale of Ghanaian oil and gas  can be used to modernise and expand our infrastructure, as well as pay off Ghana's mountain of debt?

 Oil agreements guaranteeing Ghana the bulk  of those US$160 billions of oil revenues  will enable Ghana to establish a sovereign wealth fund - to provide income for the period when the oil and gas deposits are depleted. It will also enable Ghana to provide free education from kindergarten to tertiary level  for all Ghanaians with the aptitude to study. That will guarantee us a skilled workforce that is world-class and competitive.

 It will also enable the state to provide good quality housing for all Ghanaians who cannot afford to build or buy their own homes, and empower them to acquire their own homes - through social housing schemes in which paid-rent goes towards the total cost of purchasing a property. It will enable those who ordinarily would not be considered for mortgages to purchase their own properties.

 And we will also have access to some of the world's best public-sector healthcare facilities nationwide, if we had our fair share of God-given natural resources that actually  belong to Ghanaians and their nation, to fund the building of those healthcare facilities.

The panacea for overcoming the challenges preventing the transformation of the national economy,  and the evolution of Ghanaian society into an African equivalent of the egalitarian societies of Scandinavia, is to renegotiate all the existing rip-off oil agreements that presently  only benefit the foreign oil companies - and sign new ones giving  Ghana full  ownership of all its oil and gas deposits: and guarantees it the bulk of the proceeds from the commercial exploitation of  those oil and gas fields.

 As things currently stand, over a thirty-year period, all that Ghana will receive out of those US$160 billions, will be a paltry US$20 billions. How can that be - when the total outlay the foreign oil companies will make to obtain the remaining US$140 billions,  will probably be less than US$10 billions? Incredible.

They must take us for the biggest fools on the surface of the planet Earth - which is why when the industry best practice is to build double-hulled floating production storage and offloading vessels (FPSO), the foreign oil companies operating off our shores opted for a single-hulled one, and will commence building a second one soon. Heaven help our coastal fishing communities, should an FPSO vessel in Ghanaian waters spring a leak.

It is time members of Ghana's political class addressed this all-important issue: for it is the panacea for resolving the challenges preventing the transformation of our national economy. It is only when the issue has been satisfactorily dealt with that Ghanaians  will be able to enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world. And so to use local parlance, in view of all the above, one  humbly says  to President Mahama and Dr. Bawumia: "Gentlemen, over to you, Joe Lartey".  A word to the wise...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Creating An Entrepreneurial Culture In Ghana

Ghana's younger generations remain the country's best hope for the future. If our nation is to prosper, we must do everything we can, to create opportunities for younger generation Ghanaians. I have come across some extraordinary young people over the years. And it is such brilliant individuals who restore my faith in Ghana.

 A major source of frustration for many young Ghanaians is the lack of funding for projects. Perhaps if some of Ghana's IT-savvy younger generations  looked abroad for partnerships with other young people,  to exploit the many opportunities they see around them, they could achieve some of the goals they set themselves.

Nations like Finland encourage their younger generations to seek partnerships overseas. It helps Finnish exports, creates jobs and increases Finland's GDP. Ambitious young businesspeople in Ghana could find partners and funding by applying to the Finnfund:

If the ministerial team at Ghana's ministry of trade and industry wants to help create wealth in rural Ghana, the minister and his deputy,  must encourage the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI)  to partner the Netherlands' WageningenUR team, led by Dr. Jan van Dam, which helped the Philippines develop the production of  coir ecoboards, in a project funded by the United Nations Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

 The NBSSI, the Building Research Institute (BRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Rural Enterprises Project (REP) could seek funding from the African Development Bank, the  CFC and the FAO,  to collaborate with Dr. Jan van Dam's WageningenUR team, to replicate their Philippines coir-based ecoboards  project in the western, central and eastern regions of Ghana.

 Coir fibre-based ecoboards are strong and binderless - a perfect high-quality green substitute,  for wood-based boards,  for the building and packaging industries, in a nation with depleted forests: that is  now being negatively impacted by global climate change.  It is  an agro-industrial undertaking with a massive  job-creating  footprint -  that also  has  huge export potential.

The production of binderless ecoboards by private entrepreneurs in those three regions will be a boon for the regions' hard-pressed  coconut farmers  - and create wealth as well as  spawn a lasting entrepreneurial culture in that part of rural Ghana through its value-chain. We must consciously create, nurture and sustain an entrepreneurial culture in Ghana if we are to prosper as a people. One hopes Ghana's  political class will make that a key goal of theirs when elected to power. A word to the wise...

Friday, 21 March 2014

Ghana Must Use Innovation To Empower Its State-Owned Utility Companies

As a people, if we want to overcome the problems that confront us, we must learn to innovate our way out of our difficulties.

The state-owned  utility companies in Ghana  could make themselves more efficient and profitable  through innovation.

 In addition to being a bulk purchaser and distributor  of power, the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), for example, could turn itself into a renewable power company - opening up a whole new income stream for itself -  and help its customers cope with power outages at the same time, by studying and replicating the business model of   the U.S. renewable energy company, SolarCity.

 SolarCity provides electricty to its customers by installing solar power systems in their homes. SolarCity keeps ownership of the solar power systems it installs, and charges customers monthly fees for the electrcity those solar power systems generate.

That business model eliminates the initial-cost barrier that prevents your  average householder from opting for  solar power systems. The ECG is used to partnering private entities to deliver services to its customers - the installation of smart prepaid meters being an example. My humble suggestion is that it replicates SolarCity's business model.

It could either invite SolarCity to partner it to replicate its business model here, or use it in a partnership with Deng Limited, which sells solar power systems in Ghana. The leasing companies in Ghana could finance the solar power systems for the partnership. That will enable households countrywide to have solar power systems. The excess power they generate could be credited to their accounts with the ECG - and lower their monthly electricity bills.

The Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), could also use innovation to make itself more efficient. That efficiency will lower its costs - which it could pass on to its customers. Why does it not use the nano-tech filtration system pioneered by the UK company, Lifesaver Systems? Surely, a filtration system that eliminates the use of expensive chemicals in producing safe drinking water for public consumption makes sense?

They could also partner Lifesaver Systems to sell their nano-tech filtration systems to bottled water producers - and ensure that consumers will get pure and safe water no matter which brand of bottled water they purchase in Ghana. A definite boon for the health of bottled water consumers nationwide.

Above all, the time has come to empower the state-owned utility companies financially, by partially privatising them on the Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE). It will enable them raise interest-free funds to renew their plant and equipment. We have the shinning example of the hugely successful  partially state-owned oil marketing company, the Ghana Oil Company Limited (GOIL) to guide us, do we not? One hopes the sector ministers in charge of the state-owned utility companies will take note of all the above - and act. A word to the wise...

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Is Ghana An Oil-Rich Nation Facing Penury?

Precious few Ghanaians are aware that their country sits atop of oil and gas deposits worth some U.S.$160 billions. And at a time when so many of them are experiencing hard times,  one wonders what ordinary people in Ghana would do, were they to discover,  that over a 30-year period, Ghana will receive only a paltry U.S.$20 billions out of those U.S.$ 160 billions -  because their ruling elites signed what are said to be some of the worst oil agreements in modern history.

Incredibly, under that unspeakable abomination of an oil agreement - the royalty/tax system - the  foreign oil companies are investing less than U.S.$10 billions,  to lay their  hands on U.S.$140 billions worth of Ghanaian oil. Unbeknownst to our ruling elites, Tullow Oil was happy to sign a production-sharing agreement with the Canadian oil company, Africa Oil, to work its Kenyan concession - so why don't they  sign one with Ghana too?

The tragedy for our nation, is that we are losing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity  to improve  and expand our infrastructure from our own resources, because a few clever individuals deliberately signed agreements that gave away wealth that can transform our nation - and give its citizens one of the highest standards of living in the world. The question we must ponder  is: ultimately, do the ordinary people of Ghana, in whom sovereignty lies, not have the right to repudiate those  inimical agreements that a few greedy and selfish officials signed - because it was in their own interest to do so?

Why should we accept this one-sided outrage, when our nation's circumstances could change dramatically - for the better - if Ghana had a fair share of those U.S.$160 billions? The government of Ghana must persuade the oil companies that it is in their own long-term interest to  accept that the present agreements are untenable - and that they must be replaced with  production sharing agreements in which Ghana gets 70 percent, whiles 30 percent of the proceeds go to the oil companies, whenever  oil is lifted.

If that were the case today, and a production sharing agreement was in place, we would not be  an over-leveraged nation beholden to tightfisted and  canny bankers in China,  but would rather have the wherewithal to transform our nation  into an African equivalent of the egalitarian societies of Scandinavia - blessed with well-equipped hospitals in every district capital; have free education from kindergarten to tertiary level for the younger generations;  have well-designed and well-built housing in well-planned new green cities  that millions of  ordinary people could afford to purchase houses in.

 Were the situation,  in which an oil-rich nation and its citizens face penury,  because a few selfish and greedy individuals signed what are inimical agreements with foreign oil companies, to persist, it could lead to the demise of Ghanaian democracy - and the emergence of a Colonel Gaddafi-type leader: who will tear up those inimical agreements. Under King Idris 1,  Libya's oil deposits benefited the king personally, and the  foreign oil companies: not the Libyan people and their nation.

That is why Gaddafi became a hero to Libyans when he overthrew King Idris in 1969. An African  democracy that fails to produce ordinary citizens' share of the democracy dividend, faces a shaky future - as poverty and democracy do not  make good bedfellows. Our hard-of-hearing and self-seeking ruling elites,  who take a lot for granted, have failed to grasp this.

Ghanaians - particularly the younger generations - are an aspirational people.

 They want to live as well as the ordinary people of oil-rich nations such as Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia do. And why not?  It is instructive that all the above-mentioned nations  have service agreements (a 'type' of production sharing agreement in which the foreign oil company does not have an equity stake in the oil and gas deposits,  but is paid for funding and bearing the risk involved in exploration  and production) in place for players in  their oil and gas industries.

One hopes that  the foreign oil companies now busy ripping Ghana off will come to understand that Ghanaians will not remain passive about those one-sided agreements forever - especially as their nation faces penury despite sitting atop of oil and natural gas deposits  worth some U.S.$160 billions. They had better watch out - Solomon Kwawukume's book ("Ghana's Oil and Gas Discoveries: Towards Maximum Benefits")  is reaching many of the younger generations:  and they feel scandalised to learn that their ruling elites foolishly  agreed  to give away their birthright in opaque transactions, without consulting the people of Ghana.  A word to the wise...

Saturday, 15 March 2014

How An Iconic American Brand's Local Franchise-Holders Are Exploiting Ghana's Byzantine System

For the past three years, I have followed a court case,  in which a woman who nearly died after ingesting a world-famous soft drink, is suing the local franchise-holders of an iconic American corporate brand, in an Accra High Court.

Until the Centre for Public Interest Law (CPIL) took up her case, after the lady in question had dismissed the original lawyer who had been handling her case, the case was going absolutely  nowhere - a practical demonstration of the perfidy and obfuscating-power of the said bottling company.

 I took an interest in the case, because I happen to know the lady in question,  and can vouch for her character. An upright and law-abiding ctitizen, I have known her for over twenty years.  She is an honest,  hard-working and responsible lady running a small business, who would never make false allegations against anyone.

 The idea that a company that bottles the products of a global soft-drinks giant, which is a quintessential American corporate brand, can fall into the hands of ruthless and  wealthy individuals, prepared to use their  wealth and the influence it brings them, to exploit our byzantine system to get away with a plethora of egregious examples of sharp practice, such as the importation of raw materials that are near their sell-by date, to manufacture products that make consumers ill when ingested,  and also  exploit their workers on top of that, is intolerable.

 My hope is that the judge who is hearing the case will deliver a judgement that imposes punitive sanctions, including monetary compensation of the Ghana cedi equivalent of at least US$1millions,  for the plaintiff, plus costs, on the defendants - so that they will come to understand that our nation is not some  Banana Republic,  in which wealthy and  ruthless foreigners are above the law.

No groups of individuals must think that they can come into our country to run businesses  that manufacture products that make consumers ill, disable some and  kill others,  and escape punishment - with the covering-up help of a small army of professionals,  including lawyers and healthcare professionals, providing them with a cloak of  invincible-impunity.

Above all, my prayer - on what is World Consumer Rights Day -  is that the global headquarters of the said iconic American corporate brand, will conduct a forensic audit into the entire operations  of their local franchise-holders' Ghanaian bottling plant - and ensure that going forward, corporate good governance principles will underpin the entire value-chain of  an entity whose owners are abusing the power a world-famous American brand enables them to wield. A word to the wise...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why The Media Should Back Pharmaceutical Industry Regulatory Authorities In Ghana

Today,  I am sharing a culled New York Times article by Gardiner Harris,  entitled: "Medicines Made in India Set Off Safety Worries", with readers.

One hopes that those media houses in Ghana that usually back wealthy wrongdoers in the Ghanaian business world's pharmaceutical sector,  when industry regulators sanction such wrongdoers, will read this eye-opening article, and turn over a new leaf - by resolving  that, going forward, they will thoroughly investigate all allegations of non-compliance with pharmaceutical industry regulations, made by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), against players in the industry.

 Most of the pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in Ghana  are reputable and ethical companies that strive to maintain the highest standards. However, there are a number of such companies,  which cut corners and collude with dishonest overseas pharmaceutical manufacturers, to import fake and untested drugs into Ghana.

When such unethical practices come to the notice of the FDA, and the regulator moves to sanction errant drug  importers, for the common good, the media in Ghana  must openly back the FDA, if their own investigations confirm the regulator's claims - for the FDA is only acting in the public interest in such cases  to save lives: by preventing fake and untested drugs from being sold in Ghana. Please read on:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

That Our Leaders Might Have The Wisdom To Let Ghana And Her People Prosper

On 6th March, 2014, Ghana will enter its  57th year, as an  independent and sovereign African nation-state. As a people, we have come a long way and made much progress,  since the end of the colonial era. Much more needs to be done - but we can be proud of ourselves for maintaining the unity and stability of our nation.

It is instructive, that after successfully  freeing itself from the yoke of British colonial occupation of its territory,  on March 6, 1957, Ghana still remains a beacon of hope in Africa.

A peaceful and thriving multi-party democracy, with a vibrant and vociferous media,  Ghana's pluralistic society is unique in Africa. It has evolved into a cultural melting-pot,  in which virtually every extended family clan, in the land,  is made up of a mix of family members from different tribes, who are  united by marriage and blood ties.

 A mostly-tolerant and welcoming people, Ghanaians live in an aspirational society that sets great store by material success. It is this widespread desire to be successful that makes Ghanaians pull back from anything that will tip their nation over the precipice, whenever a political crisis occurs. It has kept Ghana politically  stable - despite the brinkmanship of its mostly self-serving political class.

One's prayer for our homeland Ghana, as it enters its 57th year of nationhood, is that it will be blessed with a ruling elite that is wise and understands the need for sustainable development that ensures a better quality of life for all Ghanaians.

Going forward, one hopes that our leaders will not allow vested interests to force them to reverse policies that benefit the greatest numbers of the Ghanaian populace. Above all, let them initiate policies that will help harness the boundless energy,  and tap the undoubted creativity, of younger generation IT-savvy Ghanaians.

And at a time when global climate change is negatively impacting our country, and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, one hopes that  foolish and shortsighted decisions,  such as the environmentally irresponsible act, of permitting coal-fired power plants to be built in Ghana, will never again be foisted  on  the ordinary people of our country, by the clueless amongst  our nation's  ruling elites.

 Let our leaders also have the wisdom to create conditions for  wealth-creation  in rural Ghana, for example,  by encouraging private-sector entities to  utilise the cutting-edge molecular breeding technology of the U.S. biotech company, San Diego-based SGB - which has enabled the Jetropha 2.0 plant to be domesticated. It yields significantly more seeds than its wild cousins.

 The adoption of the fruits of SGB's DNA sequencing technology, will enable Ghana to have the capacity to develop a biodiesel industry, which  supplies jet fuel to the international aviation industry - by getting unemployed people in rural Ghana to  grow SGB's high-yielding jetropha 2.0 hybrid seedlings,  on marginal land, as well as on land degraded by illegal gold mining and logging, to produce biodiesel from jetropha seeds.

And  were our leaders to launch a nationwide initiative for private-sector  companies and farmer co-ops to grow coconuts in plantations, the humble coconut tree could supply rural  factories along the coast, and throughout the southern half of Ghana, with coconuts for the manufacture of  a cornucopia of products - including coir fibre-based ecoboards, coconut milk,  virgin coconut oil and powdered coconut milk (to name but  a few).

That will create jobs galore and wealth in rural Ghana, would it not?

As Ghanaians throughout the world celebrate their nation's 57th independence anniversary on 6th March, 2014, the prayer of the citiizenry, is that their leaders will have the wisdom to create conditions that will enable Ghana to become a prosperous nation -  whose citizens, particularly the younger generation, benefit from  economic growth that is underpinned by a sustainable and green ethos. Amen.