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From Eric’s Diary: The coincidence of a missing $2m for sky train and a stolen $1m

 From Eric’s Diary: The coincidence of a missing $2m for sky train and a stolen $1m

When President Akufo-Addo described the campaign of ex-President Mahama during the run up to the 2020 elections as “atɔ nsuomu”- failed, he laughed, the crowd giggled, I smiled.

Now, there is something else that seems to be suffering the same fate. But this one is not laughable. At least, not for me. It is the indication I am getting that Ghana will not have a sky train, not in the immediate future. Perhaps not in my lifetime. Aow! So, my sky train dream will remain a mirage? 

The Minister for Railways Development, Hon. Peter Amewu gave the hint some time ago, but I dismissed it, because I felt it was doable if we put our minds to it. His reason was that, building a sky train network is a capital-intensive venture. I disagreed, because President Akufo-Addo assured us while in opposition that, “yɛ ti sika so, nso ekɔm di yɛn”- to put it in Sarkodie’s words, “Money no be problem.”

Thus, I listened in pain to a transport expert last week who spoke on TV with regard to the feasibility or otherwise of having a sky train in Accra. My pain stemmed from his conclusion at the end of the discussion that, judging from how we manage our economy, we cannot build and run a sky train system in Ghana in the immediate future.

Prof. Charles Adams said, even a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system has eluded us, how much more a hi-tech venture like sky train. The Associate Professor in Civil Engineering with specialisation in Transportation Engineering at the Civil Engineering Department of the Kwame Nkrumah University (KNUST), did not mince words at all in dissuading our leaders from venturing into this venture.

“We haven’t even learned how to build the first one and we are thinking of jumping to a higher infrastructure or a higher system that probably may be a little more complicated. We don’t have any public transport authority, even the institutional capacity does not exist, and the capacity to maintain a rail network today doesn’t exist. What we know about rail networks is based on old technology,” he lamented.

If you think the above is discouraging, wait till you have read the following;

“You need to have the money to build it, you need to have dedicated power supply for the train, you need to have capacity to maintain the train, you need to have the capacity to buy the spares. You need to ensure that when parts are broken down, they can be fixed. If you look at our recent experience with ‘Aayalolo’, and so on, then it becomes a problem to think of going for a sky train. Because, when you look at what it takes to maintain a sky train and what it takes to maintain a bus service, if we cannot maintain a bus service, which is on the ground, then it may be a big challenge to maintain a train, because that is a very expensive endeavour.

I don’t think that with the state of economy of Ghana now, we can afford sky train. No, we can’t. Because, it will bring debt that the World Bank, ADB and others cannot finance. Then we have to go to China. Already, we are owing and we can’t pay… I think we will need that kind of train, but not in our current state of economy.”

In my pained state, I appreciated the realism in the points he raised. That’s because I can see things for myself. But when I shrugged off the pain, my reality dawned- Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Why not PPP?

Yes. Why not PPP? Because if what I was told about this project management concept at GIMPA is anything to go by, then no infrastructural project, no matter how huge the cost is, should be impossible for any government. So, I googled to find out whether our lecturer deceived us with his explanation of what PPP is. Lo and behold, the World Bank confirmed it. Here is it:

“Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are a mechanism for government to procure and implement public infrastructure and/or services using the resources and expertise of the private sector. Where governments are facing ageing or lack of infrastructure and require more efficient services, a partnership with the private sector can help foster new solutions and bring in finance. PPPs combine the skills and resources of both the public and private sectors through sharing of risks and responsibilities. This enables governments to benefit from the expertise of the private sector, and allows them to focus instead on policy, planning and regulation by delegating day-to-day operations.”-  https://www.worldbank.org.

I also remembered that PPP takes various forms. One of which is Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT). Again, the World Bank confirmed- “In a BOOT project, the contracted company maintains ownership of the subsidiary for many years to decades, to recoup the costs. After the contracted period, ownership is then transferred. BOOT is mainly used by governments for large infrastructure projects. For example, a water treatment plant or power plant may cost many millions of dollars — much more than a small government may have in its budget. Instead of paying to build it, they create a BOOT contract for a private company to build and operate the plant.” Bingo!!! I soliloquized.

That’s because nowhere in what has been reproduced above, does it say that the government must spend on the project. Indeed, the World Banks says, “While the plant is in operation, the company gets the profit from the fees collected from the users of the service, which pays for the construction cost. At the end of the contract, the company makes a profit, and the government provides a vital service.”

That is the understanding I had of PPPs, for which reason I have been calling for a sky train service from Accra to Cape Coast all this while, yet.

Where is the $2 million for sky train?  

The question, “where is the money?” has been on my mind lately. That’s because of all the agitations by the various groups and associations for monies that are either owed them by government, or dividends from their investments that must be paid. Pensioner bondholders, Individual bondholders, School Feeding Caterers, Buffer Stock Food Suppliers. They all had to protest angrily before their concerns were addressed, some half way.

As these agitations began to die down, then it emerged that the government had paid $2 million to a firm in Mauritius, Africa Investor Holdings Limited, for what was described as feasibility study in respect of the Accra Sky Train Project without parliamentary and the obligatory public procurement approvals.

Actually, this discovery was made by the Auditor-General in its report on the Public Accounts of Ghana- Public Boards, Corporations and other Statutory Institutions for 2021. They stated that the Ai Sky Train Consortium Holdings, a special purpose vehicle that was set up in furtherance of the project, is yet to obtain a license to operate in the country.

Suffice it to say that $2 million of our tax proceeds has gone into thin air (into the sky) without any train to show. And the Members of Parliament on the NDC’s side will have none of that.  The Minority Chief Whip, Governs Agbodza, was visibly incensed when he spoke to reporters on the matter in Parliament. He described the expenditure as reckless and demanded investigation.

Here is a feel of how livid he was when he spoke to reporters, “Before the company even started feasibility studies, someone in government had decided to pay $2 million to this entity. Somewhere this year, Joe Ghartey said he has never said the government was going to fund the sky train project. I am not sure he was reading what he had written, because what was the $2 million meant for?”

“The Auditor-General’s report said the company didn’t have the license to operate the system that it wanted to operate. So, the question is, what was the reason for the government to give the company the money? And who gave the directive for the payment? It was wrong to take any decision to pay that money, and so who authorized the payment in terms of the so-called feasibility and which normal entity pays out $2 million for a feasibility study before the project is determined whether it is bankable? So, these things only happen when there is organized crime. When people are careless and reckless, and I think the minimum the Auditor-General can do is to call for a refund.”

Hon. Joe Ghartey, whose name Hon. Agbodza mentioned, was the Minister for Railways Development in President Akufo-Addo’s first term. It was during his tenure that the $2 million was allegedly disbursed. Currently, he wants to take over from his former boss as president. Hence, when the news broke, he quickly dissociated himself from it, “It is the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF) that paid the money. The Fund is mandated to make such payments. So, if the Minority wants anyone to refund the money, they should tell the Auditor-General to ask the Fund to refund the money. It is the statutory corporation that has the power to make such payments and so you can ask them.”

The former Railways Development Minister acknowledged though that under his watch, the Ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the promoters of the sky train project in February and signed another agreement in November, 2018. Hon. Joe Ghartey pointed out that a concession agreement was also signed with the promoters in 2019 with the proviso that several conditions precedent, including; approval by Cabinet, approval by Parliament, approval by the Ministry of Finance, and the conduct of a Value for Money Audit, will be met.

These conditions needed to be satisfied before the concession agreement kicked in. Yet, someone proceeded to authorize payment of such a huge amount. The GIIF is yet to comment on the matter. However, the end result is clear. It will remain an audit query. No one will refund it, no one will go to jail for it. Thus, it begs the question, “where is the money?”

Cecilia Dapaah’s missing $1 million etc

It is a mere coincidence. That’s because Hon. Cecilia Abena Dapaah’s portfolios, past and present, have nothing to do with building sky trains. Hence, one cannot say that the $1 million etc stolen by her househelps is part of our sky train money.

What this incident does though, is that, it gives an incline into how rich some of our ministers of state and other public office holders are. The shock engendered by the wealth of the late Sir John, as contained in his supposed will, is yet to abate and now this. I had thought, that as with many of such cases, nothing will come out of it. But Nana showboy has shown her the exit, albeit via the resignation route. Thus, auntie Ceci is gone to deal with her self-imposed woes.

She may have resigned, but those of us who have eyes can see that, that option serves the purpose of making sure that she does not lose out on ex-gratia. Yes. She worked for it. Meanwhile, her spokespersons are saying that the monies were donations from her mother’s funeral which was held last year. I hear her mum was a very wealthy queen mother, hence some say it was auntie Ceci’s inheritance that she decided to keep at home. And there is this other explanation. That because she had wind of the Domestic Debt Exchange Programme (DDEP) when it was conceived last year, she decided to withdraw all her monies saved since 2001 when she served in President Kufuor’s era, from the bank. The latter justification has been met with a joke- ‘She wanted to avoid a haircut, now she has a head cut.’

When Vice President Bawumia was busy touting the digital/cashless economy that he has spearheaded, someone was busy keeping cash at home? Ghanaian politicians, chai!!! Still, some say this is just a tip of the humongous iceberg. Thankfully, the Office of the Special Prosecutor, headed by Mr. Kissi Agyebeng has waded in by placing her “under arrest.” We wait to see what happens.

It’s time to go

The dissipation of our $2 million on a fruitless feasibility study, the outrageous details of the Auditor-General’s report on the COVID-19 expenditure, the spending of taxpayer’s money on President Akufo-Addo’s personal pledge to God, as well as other evidences of wastage of public funds, make me want to still believe that, we have the means to fund a sky train project if we want to.

What is lacking is the commitment to do so and a lack of appreciation of the enormous benefits we stand to gain from such infrastructure. Otherwise, why should we pay for something that the World Bank’s explanation of PPP means we can have for free?   

And the other day, I read that the Ministry of Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development says it will be embarking on a Household Travel Survey within 29 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) under the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) to ascertain people’s transport choices and challenges.

According to the Ministry, the data collected will inform policy directions in planning effective means of transport for the country. Research on peoples’ transportation choices in Ghana? Why do I smell a big fat rat? Exactly, because this survey has already been done in 2012 by the Public Service organizations mandated to do so- Ghana Statistical Service, Ministry of Roads and Highways and Ministry of Transport.

Hmmm! The more I observe the doings of Ghana’s political class, the more I get convinced that Ghana is heading nowhere. Unfortunately. But the little Christian in me keeps saying to me that, ‘with God, all things are possible.’ And I know that God takes time to make all things beautiful in his own time. So, patience is the watch word.

And ooh! “This one too shall pass”- President Akufo-Addo.

Ta – That’s goodbye in Australian.

Let God lead! Follow Him directly, not through any human.

The writer is the author of two books whose contents share knowledge on how anyone desirous of writing like him can do so. Eric can be reached via email ericayettey@yahoo.co.uk


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