Thursday, 31 July 2014

Availability Of Treated Water Vital In Halting Spread Of Ebola

There needs to be a sustained  effort to educate the general public about the nature of the Ebola virus - and how those living in Ghana can prevent themselves from becoming infected by it.

Widespread ignorance in the population at large, about the symptoms and causes of Ebola,  will lead to the virus spreading quickly in Ghana.

A key factor  in stopping the Ebola virus from spreading in Ghana, should it reach our shores, is to build the capacity of the authorities responsible for public health in our country: to enable them isolate those who contract  it (and speedily trace all those who come into contact with them) and offer them  treatment quickly.

 And, above all, essential to the maintenance of  public health in our country, as we prepare to contain any outbreak of Ebola, is the ready availability of treated water, in both rural and urban Ghana.

That is how as a people  we must approach the issue of the provision of treated drinking-water: as part of the fight against the spread of infectious diseases.

It is time our ruling elites understood clearly that the unavailability of treated drinking-water impacts negatively on public health in Ghana.

Personal hygiene is a key factor in preventing debilitating and potentially fatal water-borne bacterial infections such as cholera and dysentery - which thrive in areas that lack treated water and in which insanitary conditions exist.

Alas, personal hygiene is virtually impossible to maintain, without treated water. Water indeed is life - and must be made available everywhere in Ghana.

 How can there be frequent hand-washing to prevent infectious disease, for example, when treated water neither flows through taps in homes, restaurants, hospitals, schools, nor in other public places such as  entertainment establishments and stadia?

It is not surprising that there are frequent outbreaks of cholera in many parts of our country - because treated water is often not available in so many areas. That must change. And that change must come quickly: At a time when Ebola could potentially  kill thousands in west Africa, including Ghana.

The time has now come for the government to look to the Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE),  as a platform to enable it raise interest-free funds, for the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL).

That, not never-ending tariff increases,  is the best way to raise funds for the company. Frequent tariff increases in a nation in which millions struggle daily to survive, can never be a sustainable policy.

 The government ought to float at least 45 percent of its shares in the GWCL on the GSE. That will enable the company to fund the entirety of its modernisation and expansion programme itself  - and enable it widen its service-footprint across the country.

That will contribute to the eventual elimination of diseases that spread quickly in Ghana, because of the insanitary conditions that prevail  in many areas,  and the attendant poor personal hygiene forced on many, as a result of the unavailability of treated water in many parts of the country.

The GWCL also needs to be creative. For example, it can quickly increase its production of treated water across the country, by increasing the capacity of its filtration plants - simply by reprocessing settled backwash through the Aquavert system  employed in places like Kenya.

It could also deploy the nano-tech filtration system of SafeWater Systems of the UK - which have the capacity to produce pure and safe water directly from even dirty water polluted by the heavy metals used by illegal gold miners. Malaysia uses SafeWater Systems' kits to produce water for its rural communities.

We will not be able to stop the spread of Ebola in Ghana, were it to appear here,  if the irregular supply of  treated water across our country, persists. We must fix Ghana's treated water supply problem quickly. Simply put, the availability of treated water, is vital, in halting the spread of Ebola in Ghana. A word to the wise...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ghana's Parliament Must Reject Fiscal Provisions in The Draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill

That there has been a sea-change in our country's politics and a profound shift in the national mood is beyond doubt. The many demonstrations across the nation, against the harsh economic conditions prevailing in the country today,  attest to that. Clearly, politicians in Ghana are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon: for Ghanaians will no longer tolerate the selling short of  Ghana by our nation's rulng elites.

That is why  as they consider the draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill, Ghana's parliamentarians must put the national interest ahead of the selfish ambitions of the powerful vested interests that have hijacked Ghana's oil deposits - and want to continue holding on to what actually are depleting assets. The MPs must reject the fiscal provisions contained in the draft bill now before Parliament.

 It is time they understood that it is no accident that Ghana signed on to some of  the worst petroleum agreements in the world - which gave away oil deposits worth some U.S.$160 billions to foreign oil companies. Incredibly, under those agreements, over a 20-year period, Ghana will receive only U.S.$20 billions - whiles the foreign oil companies, investing no more than U.S.$15 billions at the most, will walk away with some  U.S.$140 billions. How can that be, I ask?

Ghana's parliamentarians now have an opportunity to right that egregious wrong, and  take back assets worth U.S.$160 billions for the people of Ghana,  from the foreign oil companies operating here - and they can do so by first rejecting the fiscal provisions in the draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill, now before Parliament.

As we are all aware, it is an open secret that those one-sided agreements were obtained as a result of high-level corruption. They cannot therefore remain sacrosanct. They must be revisited for sure. And the right thing ought to be done about them now. Not tomorrow.

It is instructive that in one of the diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Ghana to the State Department in Washington,  revealed by Wikileaks,  the late President Mills is said to have complained bitterly to the then American ambassador here, about foreign oil company executives attempting to bribe him, when they called on him at the Osu Castle.

They were treading along a  path they had traversed before - and were no doubt expecting the same end-result to their journey: which they previously obtained, when they embarked on a similar journey, in the period before President Mills came to power in January 2009. And we can all draw our own conclusions, too, incidentally.

For the information of Ghana's parliamentarians, Tullow Oil was happy to sign a production-sharing agreement with the Canadian oil company, Africa Oil - in which it agreed to entirely fund the production of the oil in an oil bloc owned by Africa Oil in Kenya: and share the proceeds on a 40-60% basis (if I remember correctltly) in favour of Africa Oil, which did not invest even a pesewa of its own money.

Tullow Oil and all the other foreign oil companies operating in Ghana can do the same thing here too - and sign fair production-sharing agreements with our country. Ghana's parliamentarians must understand clearly that  Ghanaian democracy will not survive if poverty and hardship continue to be the lot of the masses of the Ghanaian populace. It is in the long-term interest of the foreign oil companies to agree to fairer oil  agreements going forward -  for the anger of ordinary  Ghanaians is an existential threat to them and to Ghanaian democracy in equal measure.

The nationwide demonstrations against the harsh economic climate in Ghana is the writing on the wall for our educated urban elites. If they do what is right, Ghana can self-finance many development projects, as well as  expand and modernise our nation's infrastructure,  from revenues from the oil sector.  They must ensure that Ghana adopts a production-sharing  agreement regime that gives Ghana a fairer share of the oil produced on its territory and in its territorial waters (at the barest minimum on a 60-40% basis in Ghana's favour).

Times are hard for the vast majority of Ghanaians. That is why  Ghana's MPs must not fail our nation and its people at such a critical juncture  in our country's history. Parliament must heed the expert advice of the Ghana Institute of Governance and Security. Our nation's MPs must ensure that ownership of  our oil deposits is returned to the sovereign people of Ghana - and they can start the process by rejecting the fiscal  provisions of the draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill now before Parliament.

Ghana's MP's must not act as the agents and lackeys of foreign carpetbaggers. History will not judge them kindly if  they fail Mother Ghana and ordinary Ghanaians in our country's hour of need.  Our nation's MPs must ensure that henceforth Ghana adopts 'pure' production-sharing agreements in all oil-sector contracts that public officials sign on our nation's behalf. Above all, the MPs must reject the fiscal provisions contained in the draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill now before Parliament.  As patriots and sincere Ghanaian  nationalists they have no choice but to do so. A word to the wise...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Why Not Merge TOR, GNPC & GOIL?

What disaster could possibly befall our nation, were the Tema Oil Refinery Limited (TOR), the Ghana National Petroleum Company Limited (GNPC) and the Ghana Oil Company Limited (GOIL) to merge -  creating a vertically integrated oil industry behemoth in West Africa?
(We could then transfer all the assets and nationwide infrastructure of the Bulk Oil Storage & Tranportation Company Limited (BOST) - now more or less a financial basket case -  to the newly merged entity. That will make that new company a real force to be reckoned with in West Africa. But I digress.)

 Existing shareholders in the  partially-privatised GOIL could be given shares in the new entity created by the merger - 40 percent of which ought to be floated on the Ghana Stock Exchange (GSE). It will raise interest-free funds to pay for the restructuring and streamlining costs of the new entity - and help us create a share-owning democracy in our country too: finally giving middle class Ghanaians an opportunity to acquire a stake in their country's oil industry.

There is considerable synergy between the three companies - and by working together they will eliminate their individual weaknesses: and profit from the relationship. TOR needs some of the oil that the GNPC lifts regularly from the Jubilee oilfield. By supplying TOR with crude oil and thus enabling it to produce at full capacity, the GNPC will have a direct impact on the real economy in a very positive manner.

And GOIL could leverage the considerable goodwill that Ghana enjoys in the sub-region  - as a result of the strong ties between many of the nations in West Africa and Ghana: established during the tenure of President Nkrumah - to build petrol filling stations selling TOR's petroleum products right across the sub-region. And exporting refined petroleum products across West Africa will create a new hard currency revenue stream  for Ghana.

Above all, aside from the many jobs that will be created for younger generation Ghanaians, the national  economy will benefit from the assured availability of fuel nationwide that will result from the merger of the three entities. A good enough reason for such a merger in my humble opinion.

However, some will also say it is an impractical and outlandish idea.  But we should think the impossible if we want to transform our nation into a prosperous society. If we are creative in our thinking, perhaps it  might lead us to pose the question: Why not merge TOR, the GNPC and GOIL - and add yet more value to our nation's oil deposits?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Ghana Must Never Build A Nuclear Power Plant

The nuclear lobby in Ghana seems to be making considerable headway. It appears that Ghana may seek funding to build a nuclear power plant in the not too distant future. Rusatom, the corrupt state-owned Russian nuclear power plant builder - notorious for its shoddy work -  might probably end up being selected to build Ghana's proposed nuclear power plant, one gathers.

There is no question that choosing to trod on what is a path-of-no-return, in deciding to build a nuclear power plant, is an irreversible decision that must not be taken lightly in a nation like ours - one with a corrupt and byzantine system, and in which the vast majority of ordinary citizens are oblivious of the fact that radioactive waste from nuclear power plants remain dangerous for thousands of years, and must be safely and securely stored, as well as closely guarded round the clock,  till the very end of time.

 Should our mostly-corrupt educated urban elites - not previously known for  religiously ensuring regular maintenance of our nation's infrastructure  and infamous for their lack of foresight and poor planning - have the right to condemn present and future generations of our people to an existence in which they have to face the possibility of  being exposed to the terrifying effects of radiation poisoning from nuclear accidents without consulting them, and seeking their approval, first,  I ask?

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Perhaps those who make up the nuclear lobby in Ghana are all sincere and altruistic individuals - and genuinely see nuclear power as a perfect solution to our nation's ever-growing energy needs. Let us grant them that - and accept that they act for patriotic reasons only, too.

However, the question they must answer is: What will happen to Ghanaians were an accident on the scale of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster to occur in Ghana  as a result of a major earthquake - if the monstrosity and abomination they seek is eventually built in our country?

 What is our nation's record in dealing with disasters of lesser magnitude  - such as the little local difficulty we have been  grappling with over the years without success: in the shape of our failure to prevent the annual floods we experience and which cause such misery across vast swathes of our country? The plain truth is that we are overwhelmed by the flooding  on each occassion, year in, year out.

And have we also not  failed at the relatively simple task of dealing with the disposal of household and industrial waste efficiently - largely  because local authorities cannot pay (the mostly-not-fit-for-purpose) waste-collection contractors on a regular basis? Alas, as a result of that failure, our towns and cities are now engulfed in filth.

For the information of the nuclear lobby in Ghana, the clean-up at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,  has reportedly cost the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO),  some US$58 billion thus far - and is projected to cost it anywhere between US$250 and US$500 billion eventually when completed and the plant is finally decommissioned.

Where will that kind of money come from, in this hard-up nation that  is perpetually broke, because it is full of thieving politicians and coniving public officials - who, when oil was discovered, chose to sign agreements that gave away a valuable but depleting natural resource, which ought to benefit Ghana and its people in the same manner that Norway's oil deposits benefit Norwegians (because Norway, not the oil companies,  own those deposits) to foreign oil companies: simply because it benefitted them personally and enabled them send their net worth to stratospheric heights?

Who is to tell whether it is not that selfsame self-interest that is also driving this dangerous idea too? Meanwhile, today, as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, even wealthy and disciplined nations like Germany,  are moving away from relying on nuclear power plants, and focusing instead on renewable energy projects - because of the terrible societal consequences (in public health terms),  and the need to commit to  providing open-ended funding for  clean-up costs, after major accidents at nuclear power plants.

With respect, were he to be alive today, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah - the polymath  whose vision the nuclear lobby keeps referring to in its campaign for the building of a nuclear power plant in Ghana - would have abandoned nuclear energy:  because he cared about the welfare of ordinary people and the well-being of our nation.

He would probably be searching for new ideas in the renewable energy sector if he was in power at this point in time: and would no doubt have opted  to  settle on giant wind-power plants on floating offshore platforms anchored to the seabed, which leverage the proven design metrics of oil rigs, to enable Ghana produce inexpensive renewable energy - from massive wind-power farms he would be  building  off our shores.

 A nation in which corruption is rife, and in which newly-built infrastructure is invariably left to decay, instead of being regularly maintained  - because those paid to ensure that they are well-maintained fail to do so - should never contemplate venturing to build nuclear power plants  under any circumstances.

For the sake of present and future generations of our people, one hopes that common sense will eventually prevail in this matter - and that the proposed madness it represents will never see the light of day. Ghana must never build a nuclear power plant anywhere on its territory. Ever. It will be a ghastly mistake with unbearable consequences that will last for generations to come. Why take such a risk? We must not permit nuclear power plants to be built  in Ghana.  Period. A word to the wise...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

What The NPP Ought To Do About The US$300 Million VTB Capital Loan

The response of the minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) side to the majority National Democratic Congress (NDC) side's insistence that they intend voting for Parliament to approve the US$300 million loan from VTB Capital - the UK investment banking arm of the Russian bank, JSC VTB Bank - is most unfortunate.

To say that they are washing their hands of a loan they believe to be fraudulent, is tantamount to betraying Ghana and its people - particularly at a time of extreme hardship: when high-level corruption ought to be fought by all patriotic citizens. Alas, their response illustrates perfectly the lack of creative thinking amongst a large section of  our nation's political class.

 In principle it is a good idea to borrow money to equip our UN  peacekeeping forces, and lease the equipment  out to the UN at a profit (US$100 million in this instance, apparently) - and be given back that selfsame equipment at the end of their peacekeeping mission.

It was Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere who first alerted Ghana to a similar  opportunity when he was Ghana's high commissioner to Sierra Leone during the Kufuor-era. The important thing is to ensure that no fraud is involved in  the VTB Capital loan.

For some pundits,  Russia is a byword for corruption, but fortunately for Ghana, the UK has strict laws against fraud and corruption - particularly in the financial services sector: whose reputation matters a great deal to the UK  authorities because of its contribution to the British economy.

As it happens, the Bank of England (BoE) recently had issues with JSC VTB Bank, the Russian bank that owns VTB Capital - and in April 2014  demanded  an increase in its reserves. It  also ordered JST VTB Bank to undergo additional stress tests.

In complaining about what he said was BoE meddling for political reasons (to do with the West's imposition of sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimea),  VTB Capital's chief executive, Andrei Kostin, threatened to close down the London operation of VTB Capital.

Indeed JSC VTB Bank has reduced the size of VTB Capital's London operation - to focus on retail banking, it says. One wonders what will happen if VTB Capital actually leaves the jurisdiction of the UK. So the NPP is right to urge caution in this matter - especially when the government's own law officers have asked the finance ministry to consult its debt department on aspects of the loan.

The question is: Since Britain isn't a banana republic, why does the leadership of the NPP's parliamentary caucus not write directly to the regulatory bodies for the financial services sector in the UK - and lodge an official complaint with the Economic Crime Command of the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA), about their suspicions that Ghana is being ripped off in a loan deal they believe is fraudulent?

That would ensure that if any Ghanaian officials have indeed pocketed money in exchange for agreeing to those outrageous terms VTB Capital is insisting on, they will be exposed to the world. The NPP MPs need to be a tad more creative in such instances - if they are to be successful in protecting the public purse when such loan agreements are laid before Parliament for approval. A word to the wise...

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Bringing Affordable Solar Power Systems To Ghanaian Homes

Madam Sohua Alhassan, the CEO of WEPIS Solar Company Limited, which is based in Tamale, is reported to have appealed to the government to help solar power companies in Ghana.

But in a society that now pays obeisance to market-forces, is it wise, one wonders,  for a private-sector company to rely on a cash-strapped government with a long list of projects that need financing - in a country full of tax-evaders, and which is  lumbered with a near-empty national treasury?

 Perhaps the question we should ask is: Instead of waiting for government help that might never come, why does the  WEPIS Solar Company Limited  not find a pay-as-you-go solar power business model, which leverages the experience of successful solar power systems financing companies elsewhere in Africa,  itself?

To help it do so, and as my widow's mite contribution to the nation-building effort,  here is some free consultancy for WEPIS Solar Company Limited.

My humble advice to Madam Sohua Alhassan, is that she would be far better off contacting M-KOPA's  Jesse Moore and his  partner, Nick Hughes - and invite them to collaborate with her company in Ghana, to exploit the market here.

 The two gentlemen have used the M-PESA mobile payments platform of Vodafone's partly-owned Kenyan telecom company, Safaricom, to succcessfully finance the purchase of solar power home systems by ordinary Kenyans.

 WEPIS Solar Company Limited and M-KOPA could work together with Vodafone Ghana to replicate their successful Kenyan  M-PESA pay-as-you-go solar home systems financing business model  in Ghana too.

 A word of caution, however:  As she seeks to reach out to potential  overseas partners, Madam Sohua Alhassan should avoid getting entwined  with Ghanaian public-sector  bureaucratic red-tape -  by dealing directly with the minister of communications, the Hon. Dr. Omane- Boamah, and  the  trade and industry minister, the Hon. Haruna Iddrisu for recommendation letters from Ghanaian  officialdom,  instead of the top civil servants who advise them.

One can't help but wish Madam Sohua Alhassan every success.  And in an era of never-ending power outages, in the event she takes one's humble  advice, may her company thrive - as she, Jesse Moore and Nick Hughes collaborate  to replicate the M-KOPA affordable pay-as-you-go solar power systems financing business model  in our country: to bring solar power systems to Ghanaian homes nationwide.

And, finally: I'd be happy to point WEPIS Solar Company Limited in other directions too, should the need arise. For free - and with pleasure.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Ignoring #OccupyFlagStaffHouse Protesters In Ghana Could Be Politically Disastrous

When  I asked an old acquaintance of mine what he made of the demonstrators who said they wanted to occupy the front lawn of the Flagstaff House, to show their concern for what they say are deteriorating conditions in the country, I was astonished by his response.

 He responded derisively: "Many of them are hypocrites who grew super-rich during the golden age of business for Kufuor & Co and their  favourites. At that time, they chose to close their eyes firmly to the selfsame conditions that they are now complaining about. They are only complaining now because opportunities to make easy money at Ghana's expense through their political connections have dried up."

Amazing. Did he miss that toxic "The King is naked" placard, one wonders? Those in power need to take #OccupyFlagStaffHouse more seriously. They, not the loud Antwi Boasiakos, have the potential to start a Ghanaian equivalent of the Arab Spring. When middle-class Ghanaian fence-sitters get off the fence, those in power in our country, had better sit up and take notice.

 I am not so sure that my old acquaintance is right about the motives of many of those who defied the rains to join the Republic Day demonstration by the #OccupyFlagStaffHouse protesters.

 The question is, what if they represent a siesmic shift in Ghanaian  politics? In any case the publicity they generate redounds to the benefit of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) - so ought to be of concern to the current regime. Hopefully the Mahama administration will see the writing on the wall that  the protesters represent.

My humble view, is that instead of scoffing at them,  the president and senior members of his administration would be wise to find time in their busy schedules to have lunch or dinner with the leaders of #OccupyFlagStaffHouse one weekend - and engage them in a conversation about the need for Ghanaians to unite to move the country forward. The Peduase Lodge would be a perfect place for such a meeting.

 The president and his administration must find out from the leadership of #OccupyFlagStaffHouse what their ideas for resolving our nation's many problems are. They might learn a thing or two from them. After all, more than most in Ghana, they are keenly aware that zero-taxes-collected, equals zero development - and thus perhaps are patriots who are ardent taxpayers for that reason.

And for all we know, perhaps many of them actually care about our nation and its fate - and care about the welfare of the masses of the Ghanaian people too. At the very least, perhaps they could be persuaded to collaborate with the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA),   to start a joint-campaign to get private-sector businesses to pay all their taxes - as their contribution to the nation-building effort.

It is a far better way to proceed, strategically, than to dismiss all of them as self-seekers who are bitter about no longer being politically well-connected enough to  enable them prosper from crony capitalism - as my old acquaintance did.

 One doubts if there is any objective and patriotic Ghanaian who does not feel concerned about the fate of Ghana, when he or she hears media reports of state-owned entities  paying astronomical sums to private  landlords as rent for office accommodation. Ditto public officials dishing out blocks in oilfields off our shores like confetti in opaque deals.  Accountability is lacking in most of officialdom, it would appear -  and most Ghanaians resent that.

And who in Ghana isn't inconvenienced by the frequent power outages and lack of  treated drinking-water for lengthy periods - basics of modern life which should not be lacking in a nation such as ours? Those are quality-of-life issues that are of importance to all who live and work in Ghana.

Those of us who called on President Mahama to publicly publish his  assets, as well as those of his wife, feel so sad that that advice was ignored. Alas, we are now witnessing what some of us feared would occur, if he failed to heed that advice, at the beginning of his tenure after the 2012 presidential election: Today, instead of occupying the moral high ground, he is seen by many Ghanaians as the leader of a very corrupt regime.

Yet he is doing a lot to fight corruption.  For example, as a result of measures taken by his administration,  no future president of Ghana will be able to asset-strip Ghana, the way President Kufuor did - and in such egregious fashion too.  In the end, those who benefitted from that outrage were: members of Kufuor's own  extended family-clan; sundry cronies like his oil-sector smoke-and-mirriors-frontsmen behind the E.O Group; close party colleagues such as the Jake Obestebi-Lampteys; and a bevy of fetching "bottom-power" ladies. They all prospered mightily - but it was at the expense of our nation, unfortunately.

And despite the many wealthy and powerful individuals involved in it, the Mahama administration is tackling the scourge of illegal gold mining (and the  illegal logging that funds most of it), which is poisoning soils, the underground water table  and rivers - as well as destroying ecosystems across vast swathes of the Ghanaian countryside. Before President Mahama, no previous president in the 4th Republic had been able to take active steps to halt illegal gold mining across the country - because the powerful and influential criminal-minds behind it successfully lobbied against any such measures.

 Finally, one hopes that President Mahama's hard-of-hearing adminstration  will not make the same tactical error it made when it first came into office - in ignoring advice to publicly publish the assets of government appointees at the beginning of their regime's tenure - in its response to the #OccupyFlagStaffHouse protesters, by choosing to ignore them too. His beleaguered administration must engage with them directly - and the sooner the better. The blowback from ignoring their concerns could be politically disastrous in 2016.  A word to the wise...