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Kudos To Oko Vanpee

It is better late than never is an old adage which encourages us when we get back on track after having gone wayward from what we were originally expected to do. The saying also emboldens us to do what is right no matter how late it is in the day. Nobody in this country should ever envy the position of a DCE or MCE even though there is a certain unfortunate perception out there that holders of such positions are so powerful and perhaps even very rich. Yes, of course, there are avenues for occupants of those positions to be rich through corrupt means but if any one occupying that office wants to work and serve the people, that person would notice that he or she is not that powerful and cannot be that rich as well. In fact that person is the most harassed, abused, disrespected and disregarded among all political appointees in our present democratic dispensation.

For the purposes of this piece, I would not go into the details of the harassment, frustrations, insults and the disrespect shown to the occupants of those positions by the public and members of their own political party in particular. I have had the occasion to outline the unseen and visible hands of government which hamper the smooth administration of DCEs and MCEs under every regime since the Fourth Republic. It happened under President Rawlings, it did happen under President Kufuor and it happened under President Atta-Mills and it continues to happen under President Mahama.

In the Metropolis, efforts by the Chief Executives to clean the cities of undesirable conducts have not only been resisted by those whose abhorring acts are being cleaned up, but by politicians as well. The political resistance does not come from political opponents of the sitting DCE or MCE only but politicians of the ruling government as well. I remember when my brother Philip Kwesi Nkrumah wanted to clean up the Takoradi Market Circle of undesirable traders whose activities had not just created filth but had become a nuisance to traffic flow, the then Member of Parliament resisted and encouraged the traders to remain where they were. She was a very influential Minister of State, the MCE abandoned it.

In Accra, Stanley Agyiri Blankson embarked upon a policy which cleared and cleaned the Central Business Area of the city and ensured free flow of traffic. It took an order by a Deputy Minister for Local Government to halt that laudable and bold effort and returned that part of the city to its status quo of congestion, confusion, chaos, filth and stench only bearable by those who eke out livelihood in that sordid environment. Indeed the negative order was in respect of a pending bye-election which the NPP lost anyway.

President Atta-Mills waded through floods to observe damage done by rainfall to lives and property and pledged to deal with those who build on water courses and without permit. In all these inspections and pledges, the MCE Mr.Oko Vanpee was with him. Oko started something in line with the responsibilities of his office and the NDC went after him. In fact the then national organizer of the party gave a negative description of his beard. By the way, Oko, your hair and beard are they natural? I am amazed at the blackness of your hair and beard because the office holders in those positions hardly maintain such blackness of hair. I grew grey hair as a DCE in a small District because of the problems that I had to confront with.

Well today, the June 3 catastrophe has given the MCE an unfettered power to do what he should have done over the past years. This month of June is something ooooo; the nation’s unforgettable day when bloodletting by officialdom without any trial by any of the courts of competent jurisdiction in Ghana happened on June 4, no one knows what will happen at another June 2 or June 5, Allah kyeayi! Suffice it to say, the sad day of June 3 has now silenced both the internal and external critics of Oko Vanpee in his efforts to live up to the Best Mayor of Africa or is it the World?

Eei, times have changed oooo, Oko achieved his International Honour before rising up to do what he should have done to deserve the ‘Honour.’ It is still better late than never. For the first time, demolishing of illegal slums has not received any biting criticisms as they used to attract. Why as we even allow such weeds to grow around the main crops to hamper their growth and development is an indication of the kind of poor farmers we have been. When we allow weeds to overgrow a cassava farm, we give room to grasscutters and other herbivorous animals to freely feed on our efforts without returns.

Every conceivable space in our towns and cities have seen the growth of slums over time with officialdom, and in this case, Civil Servants who have been employed by the State to ensure that those things do not happen, sitting by unconcerned until a flood had taken lives and destroyed property and Presidents to have put on wellington boots to either issue stern warnings or sympathize with the affected people. But truth be also told, if the Civil Servants are not resourced to effectively do their jobs, we cannot blame them for jobs undone. In some cases, people have used political influence and power to halt the genuine activity of a civil servant. A Civil Servant who puts his feet down may get a transfer for being uncooperative.

There is a news report that Abuja has been engulfed by fire. That slum is one of the most detestable spectacles in the centre of Accra. I believe it was already on the radar of Oko Vanpee and now that fire has done part of the job, painful though it is because of loss of life and property, we should not sit down for the people to reconstruct that place. Oko’s team should move in immediately to clear the place and get the illegal residents off the place. I am also happy Oko is clearing the banks of the Korle Lagoon, from Avenor to Old Fadama and beyond. He must also do something about the Circle Main Lorry Station.

The Kumasi bound vehicles must be made to move to the terminal at Achimota, as long as that place remains a transport terminal, filth cannot be dealt with properly in that very important place. Over and above all, Oko, if you clear the present illegal residents in those areas you are seriously working on and allow those lands to remain open, new occupants would rush in there. The Avenor area can still accommodate residents but in different structures. The land can be leased to estate developers to build high rising two-bedroom apartments to be rented to those originally living there first, and other members of the public.

Other such places can be developed into open spaces as well. The only public open space for children in Accra is the Efua Sutherland Park so Oko can take advantage of this clearance of unwanted occupants of public spaces to create more public green open spaces in the city. What plans does Oko and his people have for Old Fadama? Fence the place first with barbwires, develop the area into green field where children can spend their holidays, there can be an ICT Centre and a Library, for example.

The Abuja area behind the NIB Headquarters can also be turned into a Children’s Recreational Facility to serve the needs of children in Adabraka for example. When public open spaces are properly utilized, squatters do not have the strength to move in there to appropriate them for their selfish needs. Ghana must grow like a modern state which serves the needs of both the rich and the poor, the young and the old with each category of the inhabitants accessing the basic needs of life without jeopardizing the general interest.

Let us all support Oko, but we should also encourage him to make better use of those spaces to avoid the need for us to go back to ‘demolish’ some years to come. Two tots of my usual in this cold weather.

Kwesi Biney